Inevitably, every year about this time, a sense of hopelessness begins to set in. I begin to ask myself,
"Why do I garden?"
To be honest, gardening is the easiest in February. The ground is still frozen and nothing has yet to go against plan.
Oh! Those grandiose gardening plans of February!
February, before the weeds and the heat and the mosquitoes and the blight, and the hungry insects with bellies full of toxins and bacteriums!
February, your Garden is like baseball in Chicago: you are 0-0 and full of promise and optimism for the upcoming season!
Up to the 21st, July was hot and dry. This suited me just fine because the mosquito population diminished to barely a presence at all.
As to be expected, the Japanese beetles emerged and immediately began to devour the pole bean plants.
I attempt to combat the beetles with a neem oil spray. I have 32 oz of concentrated neem oil. Each oz makes a gallon of spray. Despite the effectiveness of the spray of inhibiting the beetles from entirely skeletonizing the plants, the pole beans have suffered and are a bit yellowed and bean production has been stunted. Perhaps it is not a result of the beetles after all, but some nutrient deficiency.
Interestingly, the lima bean plants are entirely unappetizing to the beetles. They are growing on the trellis right next to the pole beans and are totally untouched. They have yet to set any pods, but the plants are healthy and have grown past the 8 foot height of the trellis.
The dry weather has also helped to keep the annual emergency of early blight on the tomato plants in check. The Romas have been moderately affected, as usual.
I harvested the Quickie corn which yielded a few dozen smallish ears.
The onion tops flopped over which is a sure sign that they are not going to grow anymore. I am not sure about the total weight of my onions this year but almost every bulb is about the size of my first or larger. I am pleased.
The Yukon Gold potato plants also flopped over and began to die. The total harvest was modest but the size of the tubers was satisfactory.
The Sunsugar tomato plants have been yielding nice amounts of cherry tomatoes since the first of the month. The Early Girls have ripened in the past weeks as well. We have been making lots of rustic tomato based soups lately.
The okra has been plentiful in the past weeks. My wife does not like okra but I have been making pots of gumbo for my lunch during the week.
One of the more pleasant surprises that I had this year was that the yellow squash plants turned out to be patty pan squash which grow into bell shaped fruit rather than a straight neck. The patty pan squash, if you let them get a bit big, can last for weeks out on a shelf and are excellent if hollowed out, stuffed and roasted as one might prepare an acorn squash.
So up until the 21st we were on track for having one of the driest Julys on record with less than a half inch of rainfall.
That third week of July was obnoxiously hot and humid with heat indexes topping 110 degrees for most of the week.
With all that heat and humidity hanging around for weeks it was inevitable that a cold front would come crashing down from the north. When it did, July went from one of the driest to one of the wettest on record.
A huge storm with driving east-west winds and a drenching 6.8 inches of rain was the end result. The power was out for a record 800,000 homes and businesses for days. My power was out for over 48 hours and we lost the groceries.
In the garden, the Kandy Korn, which was eight feet high at that point, was knocked flat again. Within a week another storm blew through. And then another.
With the rain, the mosquitoes and the weeds have returned.
The early blight, too, has resumed killing the Roma tomatoes. It has been too consistently wet for the copper spray to be effective. I do believe that this will be the last year I plant Romas.
What vexes me more than the loss of the sweet corn or the Romas was the loss of about half of my melons. They were just starting to ripen and then swelled up with rainwater and split open.
It is raining right now and there are more melons on the vine which may split.
Some of the melon and cucumber vines are dying because of bacterial wilt which has been transmitted by cucumber beetles: little yellow buggers with black strips or black spots. They are hard to kill by hand and they especially like to hang out inside the flowers of the plants that they are munching on. This is especially troublesome because I don't want to poison any bees which are also hanging out in the flowers.
The summer squash and the winter squash have attracted a number of adult egg laying Squash Bugs. These pests also transmit bacterial wilt as well as a toxin in their saliva. I have been diligent about crushing the adults and smushing the clusters of nymphs as I find them. If left to overwinter, I will have a huge population of these little bastards in my garden next year.
I have pulled the cornstalks up and tilled the ground for fall crops. Fava Beans I planted where the corn was and I am pleased that they have sprouted uniformly and are now nearing 6" tall. I have also tilled up the cabbage rows and the beet/carrot rows and planted a fall crop of Brussels’ sprouts and a row of beets and another of carrots.
Yet that same question comes back again and again as work in the garden gets more difficult and problems multiply,
"Why do I garden?"
I usually begin to answer myself, "It is a good physical activity and it gives me something to do. I should be so lucky NOT to have ample time to be able to tend to this garden the way that I should. If I really needed this garden to survive, it would have to be many times the size that it is and I would have to spend every light filled hour in it, killing pests and pulling weeds to protect the yields that would sustain me and my family."
And then I think deeper and I realize that the garden is more that just a way to pass the time, it is a link to the natural world around me. Life, in a myriad of forms struggles against each one another. Plants compete fiercely with each other for sunlight and nutrients. Insects, spiders, toads, frogs and snakes all make up the food chain. My garden is proof to the fact that from the earth plentiful bounty is possible but that the strongest and the fittest reap the greatest shares. This is The Way of the world.
I see the garden as a bellwether, or a reflection, of my spiritual condition. When I have been neglecting my garden, when the weeds have been left to grow and the insects to feed and multiply, then I know that I have let all of my other little worries and troubles consume me. Worries and troubles which, in the great scheme of things, are like a gnat on the ear of a bull.
They are trivial, these perceived troubles, they exist only in my mind.
It is entirely up to me whether I tend to the garden of worry in my mind or tend to the garden in the real world.
The choice is mine to make.
So often I find that I have chosen foolishly and I must roll up my sleeves.
There is work that needs to be done.