I couldn't stand it any more, so last week, before it was really ready, I picked an ear of my corn. I watched the silks get darker day by day, nearing the blackened stage that denotes the corn is ready. Daily I squeezed the ear to test for the fullness of the kernels. Finally, I decided to take a chance. Picking one ear would at least give me a clue as to when the rest would be ready.
I ate it raw right there in the corn patch. It was fabulous. Sure, it was a week or 10 days premature but, boy, did that give me a taste of what's coming. I can't wait. HERB HARVEST: With herbs, the question often is whether to allow the plant to seed. Many "annual" herbs reseed themselves. which is the reason I don't have to replant them each year. And others, of course, you want the seed as the spice. As a general rule, if you're after the leaves, you want to pluck herbs before they flower, to get the best aroma and flavor. That's when the essential oils are at their peak. These commonly include basil, lemon balm, mint, thyme, oregano, marjoram, chervil, lemon verbena and sage. Other herbs are grown specifically for their flowers -- camomile, borage, lavender. Still others you'll want seeds from -- dill, carraway, fennel, or anise. Dill and fennel often reseed themselves within the same year, and certainly the following year. Some herbs will make pests of themselves if allowed to reseed. Last year, borage spread all over my herb garden. This year my sacred basil (Ocimum sanctum), a cousin of sweet basil, became the pest. I'd never paid much attention to sacred basil, because, while it has a perfumy scent, it really has no use in my kitchen. I grew it because a friend gave me some, and I never turn down a new or unusual herb. There are certain perennial herbs that I don't bother harvesting until right before a frost, choosing instead to pluck them fresh throughout the year as I need some. These include thyme, French tarragon, rosemary, mint and chives. Even if they bloom, I find that they have excellent flavor along with the handsome flowers. I have a horror of seeing sweet basil in bloom, largely because so much of its energy goes into making flowers and seeds once you let it, and the foliage, which is the only good part, suffers. The basil gets pinched back regularly to encourage fat leaves, and I harvest the leaves often for flavoring and for pesto. I usually let my scented geraniums do as they please. The blooms are often very attractive and I only use the leaves anyway. The scenting is rarely affected by good blossom. As the season ends, I take cuttings off the geraniums, if I haven't grown them in pots, and root them for new plants in the spring. If you choose to cut herbs for drying, cut them at their peak -- right before blooming, and dry them in a darkened room that has plenty of air circulation. Hanging them up is the best way, but if that is impractical, they can be spread on a rack. Do not hesitate to bottle or bag them as soon as they are crumbly to the touch. My downfall is to leave them hanging all winter, and I am here to tell you that if you do this, you will be buying bottled herbs from Safeway. They do not retain flavor well unless kept in a closed container. Many people simply freeze herbs raw, and I am told this works well, although I have never tried it with anything other than parsley. I have had excellent luck with parsley and see no reason why this method of preserving can't be used successfully with many cooking herbs. BEDLAM: There was a good deal of confusion over the advice that came from Bob Thomson (host of "Victory Garden"), whom I spoke to a few weeks ago about putting in a new bed. It seems that, between my not understanding what he meant, and a typo or two, the recipe for raised bed soil made no sense. He kindly gave me the correct version last week. Here it is: To good topsoil, add a two-inch layer of sand. To this add one 6-cubic-foot bale of peat moss for each 250 square feet of bed. Now, if your soil is very poor, you use a bale of peat moss for each 100 square feet, but if it is good topsoil, one bale per 250 square feet is quite adequate. Thomson went on to say that the equivalent amount of your own compost will do very nicely instead of the peat moss. Mix this formula well with a fork or rototiller, and you will be ready to grow almost anything. HARVEST: Cukes, zucchini, beans, potatoes, onions, lettuce, radishes, cabbage. PLANT: Broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, summer squash, radishes, lettuce, turnips, rutabagas, cukes, onions, potatoes.