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Rooting for the underdogs

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The Better Boys and Big Beefs are doing just fine.

You could probably just toss a few German Johnsons out the kitchen window and come back in 72 days to a thriving green and red mountain of homegrown tomatoes.

I know those plants will survive; they always do.

But each morning, I first look at the fruits and vegetables that haven't yet fully embraced this Carolina gardening season. There's a mound of cucumbers that's taking the longest time to feel comfortable.

Planted two weeks ago, our World Series peanuts are just peeking out of the soil. The curly leaf parsley and cilantro also took their time before deciding to join the party.

You can't fault the eagerness of sunflowers and yellow squash. I cast their seeds randomly, raked over some topsoil and didn't even bother to water them. Four days later those tiny seedlings were reaching for the sky.

Morning in the garden, with a fresh cup of coffee. That's when it's all worth noticing. The symmetry of the round drops of dew on the ends of each tomato leaf. The new light green leaves on the peppers, the cobweb bridges between the rows and tomato cages.

The stoutness of the Early Girls is reassuring. Half the corn stalks always blow over, but you can count on those sturdy tomato stems.

The hills of pumpkins, squash and melons exude potential. So orderly now, and neatly mulched—six weeks from now, vine chaos will reign. The paths will be absorbed, covered in floppy elephantine pumpkin leaves, hiding their plump orange prizes.

Last week's mid-afternoon showers were such bonuses. When asked what she first looked at each morning in her garden, one friend smiled and replied, "All I see are the weeds." I don't know why, but thankfully cherry and grape tomatoes grow faster than weeds!

The rains did give us an extended asparagus season. By dodging the last few "last frost dates," strawberry and blueberry plants bear the promise of successive bumper harvests. A good year for the neighborhood pick-your-owns. (See "Strawberry season calls for sorbet" for a list of pick-your-own farms.)

A few years ago, I started a new blueberry patch. I rushed it, my bad. The soil was lumpy clay and I didn't take the time to really get it right. Last weekend, I was weeding and tucking in some fresh pine straw. Of the original four plants, only two look healthy. Digging around one of the survivors, I found the twisted plastic label from the original grower.

Like a dog tag, or hospital bracelet, it read "Legacy." That's the bush I most want to survive these soggy weeks and the hot summer months. I check on it nearly every morning.

Saturday, we'll fire up the rototiller one more time. The guy at the seed store said he'd have sweet potato starts any day. The zucchini vines have a huge head start, but if I remember right sweet potato vines are fast creepers.

I'll be checking on them, too.

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