This garden season has definitely had significant highs and lows at our place. If you think that my becoming more “professional” in my gardening–in selling edible flowers and specialty vegetables to restaurants in the city–means that I now have only successes and no failures, then your thinking would be (forgive me, gentle reader) patently incorrect.
(“Patently” is one of my new favorite words. Watch how many times I can work it into this post. 🙂 )
If you grow a garden every year, you’re going to know the meaning of the words “abject failure.” Sadly. And. The bigger I garden, the more distressing the failures can be, because it’s not just me that is counting on my garden produce. Nowadays it’s also my colleagues and the chefs that I sell to who might feel it if I have significant failures, no matter the cause–my lack of planning and/or carelessness, or something out of my control like bugs and/or weather. So many things can (and do) go wrong!
But a garden failure doesn’t have to ruin your day, or even your season. Possibly you may shed a few bitter tears, but, believe me—life will go on.
Doris Day must be a gardener, I think. How else would you explain the words of her iconic song?
Que será, será
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que será, será
What will be, will be
The rest of the song, it seems, appears to be about good looks (and the pleasant anticipation of same) and wealth (ditto), but the chorus can certainly be applied to gardening. And, of course, it’s amusing, when you are on your knees pulling up hairy galinsoga or somesuch awful weed, to compose your own lyrics. 🙂
When I plant seeds into the soil,
I ask my pet chicken just how they’ll do
Will we have tomatoes? Will the beans rot?
What will the bugs eat and chew?
But. Let’s get to the gardening chat, now that we’ve firmly established that I have my share of failures and that I probably better not try to get a job as a songwriter. And that Doris Day was obviously a gardener. All very important issues, right?
Of course, right.
I could write a very, very long blog post indeed on
Doris Day what I’ve learned from my garden this year. So. Much! And so, probably, could any other gardener in the room. In this virtual room.
But. In my new resolve to write shorter posts (ha! Has anybody actually taken this seriously?) and actually hit the “publish” button more often, I will share with you just a soupçon of lessons that I’ve learned in this gardening year. (In my next garden-related post, I’ll share with you some great fundamentals that I’ve learned from gardening professionals this year! I’m super-excited about that and mull it over as I work in my garden every day. I think about you all a lot, you know. 🙂
Okay, let’s get started. Here are the issues, highs and lows that come to mind first.
Issue: Cucumber beetles
Last year’s cuke vines–not to mention melon vines, and most of my squash vines, too–well, probably nearly every stinkin’ vine on the place–all died miserable, inglorious and sudden deaths within weeks of germinating because the cucumber beetles ravaged them, in plague-worthy quantities! (Do you know what those bugs really do to your plants–I mean, BESIDES kill them?) I harvested very few cukes, no melons, and made not a pickle–not a single pickle!–which was a very sad thing, indeed. There were so–many–cucumber–beetles last year! So my thoughts this year: PLANT AS MANY TYPES OF CUKES AS POSSIBLE, to hopefully harvest just a few before those diminutive denizens of the devil descended, thus decimating them all.
high: To my utter astonishment . . . I saw nary a cucumber bug this year, until the past few weeks, anyway. I planted . . . let’s see . . . seven types of cucumbers, in great numbers!! By gum! Cucumber bonanza!
low: What exactly do you do with a daily picking of thirty-two bushels of cucumbers, I ask you? Hmm . . . ? Even my chickens are starting to turn up their noses . . er, beaks . . at the large number of bloated cucumbers I’ve been tossing to them. I’m making pickles, it’s true, but the fam has lost interest in cucumber salad weeks ago. And nobody really believes that the chopped heirloom cucumbers belong in stir-fry, even though the seed catalog insists that you can sauté this weird variety. I’ve tried it. They were . . . okay. . . cucumbery.
Wait. Hummus! I have forgotten all about hummus. That’s another way to
forcethemdownmyfamily’sthroats enjoy another meal of cucumbers.
takeaway: I very nearly got all ninja on last year’s cucumber beetles, by setting up traps (I read about them here) for this year’s cucumber beetles, and if I had, it wouldn’t have hurt a thing. But I wouldn’t have even needed them, since the beetles were so late to the party this year. I would have wasted a lot of time that I simply didn’t have to waste. *phew* Dodged that bullet.
moral of this story: Don’t assume that a pest that you had last year will do the same thing this year. Maybe it won’t show up at all, or will in such small numbers that you can look at it square in its collective eyeballs and say, casually, “pooh.” Perhaps that sounds patently obvious, but I have to remind myself of it from time to time, forever and anon, amen and amen.
afterword-and-will-she-ever-move-on: JUST THIS MORNING, I saw cucumber beetles everywhere. In my cucumber blossoms. Crawling all over the little cukes. Digging into the hollyhock blossoms. Making a mess of the melon and squash blossoms, too. So they are here. Finally. But it’s September, and I’ve had dozens of harvests, so it’s okay. (See Doris Day lyrics* above.)
When I went out and planted cukes
I asked a beetle, what lies ahead?
Will I get cucumbers, day after day
Or will powdery mildew kill the vines dead?
Okay, on to another crop to pick on (snort). Let’s do . . . one of my favorites . . . heirloom tomatoes!
Issue: Every Force in nature wants to kill my heirloom tomato plants DEAD
Newsflash: I planted tomato plants in great abundance, too. OF COURSE. I lost count (honestly) of the number and varieties, but I would estimate that I planted around 160 plants, some in my hoop house, but most out in my first garden. I was poised for glory in the heirloom tomato department. I planted such a delicious assortment of types! Purple! Black! Green stripey! Blue! Chocolate brown! Pink and yellow swirly! Tiny currant tomatoes to huge beefsteak varieties, and everything in-between! I had pre-sold nearly every heirloom tomato that I could grow, and all the rest (the less-than-perfect ones) I would make into this really amazing salsa, (‘else my family would disown me, and fast!), not to mention this sauce and of course would can up like this.
high: All those colors, and more, with the varying tastes to go with the pretty colors, make the prettiest and most delicious salsa, sauces, dehydrated tomatoes, everything. I did everything right, too: I laid out the watering system carefully beforehand, with landscape cloth over it (to keep the weeding to a minimum), and tomato cages (I use these, natch’, they are the best!) carefully placed over each plant. I coaxed my strong-handed, yet distressingly busy hubby to come out to the garden and muscle the pieces of drip irrigation together. I can never quite pop these together myself, with my own wimpy hands. I had some plants show 2,4d damage, but not enough to kill them.
The stage was set for heirloom tomato glut and glory!! Huzzah!
Everything was in place. Done as well as I could do. Much was riding on the success of my heirloom tomatoes! Hope, like feathers, thank you very much, Emily Dickinson!
When I went out and planted tomatoes
I asked my goose Lucy, what lies ahead
Will I have bushels to harvest, Day after day
Here’s what my sweet goose said . . .
Que será, será
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que será, será
What will be, will be
low: My poor heart actually plunged through my chest cavity, past my other various internal organs (to their astonishment, I assure you) to my knees (it was a strange feeling) one day when I was doing my daily garden walkabout, and I saw a couple of my precious tomato plants–they were nearly as tall as the cages by this time, and covered with hundreds of blossoms–sagging in their cages like limp rags. Limp rags that were going to die very, very soon. 🙁 Upon a frantic examination, I noticed a tiny hole in the stems of the affected plants, about an inch or two above the ground. Some stems had several holes.
Holes of death.
Patently, they were gonna die.
My heart, located at that point someplace around my left kneecap, did a wrenching twist. (That was an even stranger feeling.) I do put too much stock, possibly, in my heirloom tomatoes*. This World is Not My Home! my distressed spirit reminded my misplaced heart. What will be, will be!
Que será (*gulp*), será . . .
It’s a miserable feeling to be anticipating a great harvest, and then to see your plants in distress like that. Or, worse, actually dying. I had planted all these plants from seeds, and had adoringly cared for them every step of the way, hauling buckets of water every day down to the basement to water them, fussing and coaxing and (gently, gently!) pinching their little leaves during the winter months to get the smell of tomatoes that I craved.
“Oh no,” thought I, profoundly, at the horrible prospect of losing my entire heirloom tomato crop. Another deeply intellectual thought occurred to me: “Shooooot.” Since it was patently obvious that several of my plants were dying, I pulled them up (not without some effort: they were big, otherwise-healthy plants) sunk down onto the ground and dug into the stems to see what sort of bug had done this.
Me: no longer the o’er-emotional gardener, now turned plant scientist. (While another, even more helpful thought punched my brain: “Blast!”) I found the little dickens right away. It was . . . honestly, I couldn’t identify it. I’d never seen its like before. It was . . . pointed on both ends, long and narrow and had a diabolical sneer on its ugly little face. Rotten teeth. Inappropriate tattoos in embarrassing places. It had it all. And when I poked it, gently, with the point of my knife, it (get this!) actually jumped clean away. I’m almost sure I heard an evil chuckle, too.
Now, I actually am a “look at the bright side” type of person. The glass is always half-full, that sort of individual. An “every cloud has a silver lining” believer. You’d probably hate me for this, some days. But. In this case: there was absolutely NO BRIGHT SIDE. Tons of work had already gone into these tomato plants. Scads of hopes were riding on them! THERE IS NOT ALWAYS A SILVER LINING! (And sorry for the yelling!)
even lower: (I am going to start a new paragraph at this point. My passion in writing this story down will not supercede common grammatical decency to my poor tired readers.) I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. No, that’s totally a lie. I started to cry (see * above), but not until after I had examined all the tomato plants in the vicinity. They nearly all had the same tiny hole (some had several) in their stems. Alas! If there is one thing I am patently good at growing, it’s heirloom tomatoes.
“Ohhhhh,” wailed I, to nobody but a couple of startled chickens that were passing by “the irony!”
After all. I had sold hundreds of heirloom tomato plants at my plant sale, just a month or two prior to this day. My friends quite often ask me for advice on how to grow heirloom tomato plants! And here, I was an abject failure on the subject, obviously. How else could you explain the fact that a bug that I had never seen before, nor heard of, was boring into and killing my tomato plants???
(Squash borers I have extensive experience with, as I battle them every stinkin’ summer. This year I seem to have thwarted them, thus the mountains of summer squash that I pick every week. But tomato vine borers?)
What fresh new hell is this?
a plot twist: Had I only planted, say, a modicum (some might say a sane number) of tomato plants (say, 6 or 8) I might have just pulled up those suckers right then and there and have done with them. But–with 160ish plants in the ground–I simply didn’t have time to do it. So I said a prayer (and asked a dear friend to pray, too) for my poor, beleaguered tomato plants. I pulled up the plants (about twenty of them) that were wilted and obviously dying, just so the bugs in their stems wouldn’t move around to other plants, and carried them across the yard to the dumpster. Because I hadn’t been able to toss the leftover plants from my plant sale (bless my heart, I just couldn’t) I still had several dozen plants in pots in my hoop house, which I immediately–that hour, gentle readers!–planted in their places. I heaped up dirt, where I could, on the stems of the tomato plants that were still alive, just in case a section of the stem was destroyed. Tomato plants will put down roots all along the stems, you know. 🙂 A happy coincidence. I then wiped away my (bitter) tears, squared my shoulders, and decided that I would cry no more that day. Not about tomatoes, anyway.
Que sera, . . . (cof) sera . . .
epilogue: Believe it or not, Gentle Reader, the rest of my tomato plants survived to produce amazing crops, despite the fact that most of them were inflicted by that borer bug. Possibly God answered our prayers, but I also pampered them like crazy, paying attention to their water needs, giving them doses of fertilizer every few weeks, and doing some
obsessive gentle pruning every time I picked tomatoes.
Okay, one more . . . no! Geez Louise, my post counter tells me that I’m already up past 2,000 words! Fie, fie on my patently o’erlong writing habits and mad typing skills. I’m going to have to stop here, but I’d love to hear garden lessons that you, yourself, learned (so far!) this season, gentle reader.
We’re all in this together, aren’t we? So . . . the comments box below awaits, and so do I. I am patently desperate for comaraderie here, as you can tell!
BY THE WAY . . . did you know that I wrote an ebook all about chickens, their care, and over a hundred handy little tips to make it more fun and much easier to keep them? The information in this little ebook is gleaned from over fifteen years of raising chickens. I’m pretty proud of it.
Learn more about it–and hey, find out how to enter the contest for a free copy!–by checking out this post.
Thanks again for popping in . . . you deserve a medal some days, I really think you do. 🙂
OH! Before you go . . . if you
made it through
enjoyed this post, could I ask you a favor? Could you take a second or two and share it with your gardening friends? It would mean the world to me. 🙂 And humble thanks, in advance.