Garden Issues, Highs and Lows, & the obvious Doris Day connection

Rosa Bianca eggplant in child's hands

The sumptuously beautiful Rosa Bianca eggplant. Never mind eating it. Just look at it. So. Lovely.

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?

Doris Day - 1957.JPG

Photo, unknown photographer, used by permission from Wikipedia. You can tell Doris Day was a gardener by looking at this photo: lovely tanned skin, sun-bleached hair, and she is holding a bamboo stick that she is surely going to use to prop up a loaded pepper plant. Boom. Proof. 🙂

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.

lemon cucumbers

These lemon cukes are particularly photogenic, wouldn’t you say? (Say cheese!) Want some??

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

heirloom cherry tomatoes in baskets

So-many–pretty colors and shapes!! (Don’t look at this picture*. Not yet. That’s your spoiler alert.)

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. 

peppers many varieties

Yup, I grew a few peppers this year, 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.


22 thoughts on “Garden Issues, Highs and Lows, & the obvious Doris Day connection

  1. Cynthia Rose

    If anyone needs to punish people, make them farm in Colorado. Hard rains that wipe out baby crops, a plague of locusts (grasshoppers) that eat everything, temperatures that vary wildly, bad soil, and never ending wind. Anything we get out of the garden is a bonus. The only things we count on are garlic and some scraggly onions. Gardening is not for the faint of heart!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      *ugh* Thank you for that comment, Cynthia. I have to remember that our gardening conditions here in Nebraska–though difficult at times–are blessed in many ways. We have abundant (so far, anyway) water supplies, deep fertile soil, and other blessings. Your conditions sound challenging at best!

  2. Julia

    Well I had lots of garden failures this year, mostly due to rabbits. They are my bean vines. When they were gone they started eating my low hanging tomatoes. When they got all those, they started eating my peppers. Bell peppers. Jalapeño peppers. Heck, they ate them all. My garden has an electric fence around it to keep out the deer and netting along the bottom but the rabbits are through that. I put up some thick plastic rabbit netting around my second crop of beans, but they ate holes in that too. I finally put up some chicken wire around the beans and that has kept them out.

  3. Janet Dugan

    Don’t forget Doris D’s fun song from “Don’t Eat The Daisies” – “High,low,anyway the wind blows;anyway the wind blows – blows love!”
    My precious heirloom tomatoes were attacked this summer by every force known to gardening,but the most damage was done by a woodchuck (or gang of the vermin!) who dug under my garden fence and ate bites out of EVERY LAST TOMATO!!! All I can do now is hope for a very late freeze so the few blooms left can fulfill their destiny.
    A few tears annointed the patch this year!
    Sorry for your loss….

  4. gene

    Amy – I am going to reveal to your gentle readers something that you are obviously too modest to do.

    To wit – the three best restaurant in Lincoln (Venue) are totally crazy about Amy’s heirloom tomatoes of all shapes and sizes, and have bought hundreds of pounds of them – along with her fabulous edible flowers and small round summer squash. (She has sold at least 25 varieties of tomatoes, and at least that many varieties of edible flowers!)

    Being the artistic creative type, Amy can’t be bothered with keeping good records, spread sheets and anything that involves math, but that is what I am here for. She doesn’t know this yet, but she has sold more than twice as much (measured in dollars) as the numbers I put in my projections in January!

    And don’t pay much attention to her whining about her tomato plants this year! I have easily lost twice as many, and I’ve been growing veg commercially for 25 years! Not to mention that flea beetles – a tiny little pest that I have never even seen before – totally wiped out my first crop of green and wax beans and every single eggplant.

    Gene (Papa Geno)

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      “that’s what I’m here for” See, Gene, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. You do such a fabulous job on all these things, it would be silly for me to learn how to do the projections, the spreadsheets, the math, etc. 😉 I’m glad you finally agree!!!

  5. gene

    PS: the other two restaurants are Lincoln Country Club and Wilderness Ridge.

    PSS: When I asked Amy just after Christmas to give me her projections of what and how much she expected to grow in 2017, I got this terror-stricken look, and she excused herself to go throw up in the weeds. I’m guessing that financial projections are not something that Fine Arts majors learn how to do.

  6. Sharon H

    Oh how I feel your pain! Partly because you detail it so well….mostly because I’ve been there. This summer in fact! Basically NO cucumbers, until now, and then only a few. Just simply did not want to grow nor produce on the ones that did grow. No pickle relish for me this year.

    But….there is always next year, right? Ever the optimists, aren’t we…..sigh.
    Happy day, dear writer.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Happy day to you, too, dear Sharon. That’s one quality that real gardeners always have in common: that hope for next year. 🙂 And it will be better, right??

  7. William

    Two great blog posts all wrapped up into one. So while reading this, my wife has left me, the dogs are running wild somewhere in Mexico, the chickens, well I’m not sure where the chickens are perhaps my wife took them. I did tell her that you had promised a shorter blog and I would be with her in just a minute. That was hours ago and we are now in a different time zone.
    Glad to hear of your success with the restaurants in selling all the produce. When we travel north we will talk about our garden efforts here in Mexico. This year my wifes chickens would dig up the plants and eat them. No, there is no controlling when Maria lets her chickens roam. Times are harsh when I move too many feet away from the computer area. 2 plus acres and Maria gave me 4 square feet to do whatever I pleased. Raise a garden in pots or have a computer desk. I am lucky I get that space.
    On a brighter note, Maria finally cooked one of her chickens for us to enjoy. We had chicken vegetable soup one day, Enchaladas the next day and a little bone broth as well. Of course she asks me for 500 pesos each week for chicken food so that was about the most expensive chicken I have ever eaten.
    Ok Doris, I shall go look for Maria, hopefully she is still in Mexico and not headed for your place without me.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Oh Chef, you always make me laugh. 🙂 Thank you. And I’m happy to hear that Maria was finally able to cook a chicken. Bless her heart!

  8. rose

    Bummmmerrr…bless your heart! I can imagine how much your heart sank. I’ve never heard of a tomato borer so I googled it. Do you ever have tall grass/weeds (Cough…never right!). Well, this is what I found
    “It is an early season pest that moves from tall grassy weeds and occasionally attacks tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers in the vegetable garden. An individual stalk borer may damage more than 1 tomato plant. The adult is an inconspicuous grayish brown moth. Tomato plants that die should be pulled and destroyed. The destruction of the plants may also kill the stalk borer. Cutting or mowing tall weedy areas around vegetable gardens may also help control the pest. Stalk borers cannot be effectively controlled with insecticides.”

    I have a funny feeling that I may have lost my tomatoes to the same culprit…grrrr.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Rose, I actually read about the long grass, too (uneasy squirming). Next year I WILL DO BETTER. I hope!! I do keep the paths around the garden mowed, but for a period this spring and summer, I was woefully behind on the mowing, so possibly that was where the troubles started! Who knew? Well, we know now!

  9. Elsa

    Icn totally relate to this. This has been the worst summer in recent times, way too much rain and not neough heat. I too started many tomatoes from seed and coddled them , I got them in late due to the constant rains, they did not settle in well, and what few tomatoes I had, didn’t make it in the house, they taste better when they’re warm from the sun. This is also the first year I had no green beans, too much rain. On the other hand, ( the silver lining), the zucchine were ginormous this year, and I have an abundance of various squashes growing in the compost pile. My chickens were also tired of cucumbers. Theres always next year .

  10. Kay

    How did I miss this post?? (It is now Dec. 2.)
    Cucumbers were great this year! Ds2 made a yard-5 foot long “hill” and planted the cucumbers and yellow summer squash seed very closely in each. They were crowded and too close to one another his gardening “expert” momma thought. “HA!” He thought. And then the cukes started to grow & grow & grow & Vine & Vine & VINE!! And the summer squash grew & grew & grew & GREW! And threatened to over-take the adjoining cow pen. It even out-grew the marauding squash bugs! I canned relish and made pickles and we ate summer squash in many different ways and I shredded and froze alot. I ate cucumbers until I was afraid of turning green. And we found our cows LOVE “too-big” cucumbers. They started to stampeded the fence when they heard me in the garden, picking cukes and complaining about the huge ones. I miss those cucumbers.
    As I commented on a later (earlier read) post, my tomatoes (even the ones I got from you) got blight. The orange-purple ones were good but the yellow-orangey sweet egg-sized ones were Awesome! So sweet! The huge red ones were ok, but mostly just produced leaves. Only when I did some severe pruning in September did they start to ripen and then the blight got them.
    We never got to plant onions or potatoes. The herbs did wonderfully.
    The zucchini and eggplant both died early deaths. It was a difficult gardening year, all around. Even the strawberries & rhubarb didn’t do very well.
    And this week the Farmer mowed off the strawberry bed. I hope they are ok. :{ And today he graded the garden as he spread 2 big piles of composted manure over it. I think he scraped up the rhubarb. Spring will tell.

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