Monday, July 2, 2012

Gardening Update #2

As I think back over the on-the-job-training I've received via my little plot of fertile ground, I find myself fingering over the bruises I've gotten during the daunting challenges faced.  They've been the turns that have threatened to be game changers - with me as the loser.  I want to document these for both the sake of other novice gardeners so as to give you a head's up and hopefully be an instrument of preventive care in your lives, as well as having record for myself of the mountains and molehills faced in my maiden foray into floriculture.

Lesson Seven will be positive: Plant borage.

These have been a wonderful addition, attracting busy, buzzing, beneficial bees.  They've grown at least 3 feet tall and sport such pretty blue flowers, just what I wanted.  I used them as a border, but next year I will place them in more of a background position rather than front and center.  They are quite prickly once they have reached relative maturity, and after a while the winds and rain we've received have caused them to topple over, necessitating bamboo stakes for support.  However, I have been absolutely pleased with them.  I've gathered quite a few of their seeds so that I can plant them next year, but I've a feeling that I will have to be on top of it to keep them from popping up on their own - they appear to be willing to reseed themselves quite happily.

I put in three cucumber plants where we have planted tomatoes for the past seven or eight years, expecting the soil to welcome them as a long overdue change.  Something was ready and waiting for a change, and quickly ate my little ones up before they had a fighting chance.

Lesson Eight: Know when you've been beat.  There's no shame in cutting your losses and moving to a new field if one's available.

I planted another three cucumbers in a different plot.  It's not as sunny, but they are doing much better.  I believe the adversary contending for dominance there is the teeny-tiny spider mite, so a 3-in-1 product was applied.  Here's hoping.  As it turned out, I got a volunteer cherry tomato plant that sprouted up in that original bed.  Its fruitful mother of last summer was well-loved and appreciated by us all, and the daughter is coming along grandly.

One day I sat by the window as my own daughters were taking a math test, when what to my wondering eyes appeared but a miniature chipmunk walking along my stone border for all the world like it was his own private sidewalk.  He nibbled on a few borage flowers, and I considered this thoughtfully. "Well, that's ok - but if he encroaches over into the fruit of my sweat-filled brow, it's on."
Guess what?  Two mornings in a row, my cry of delight at a bright red tomato turned to one of outrage as I picked it and stared into a gaping kid-sized bite taken out of their sweet ripeness.

Ah!  I can't believe I almost forgot to include the latest!  This really amped things up.  

Of all the things we've planted, there have been two I have most looked forward to harvesting - sweet potatoes and my various tomatoes.  Last week, A was finally able to rejoin us outside after having her wisdom teeth removed and being tended back to full health.  She hadn't seen our verdant oasis up close for about five days, so with delight she drew my attention to the changes in the sweet potatoes.  All she noticed were the increase in vines.  What I noticed from seven yards away were the little naked stems all along the vines - shorn of almost every one of their beautiful leaves!  I came howling around to the other side of the yard, absolutely incensed by this new violation! 

Lesson Nine: Don't take it lying down. You have to have a strong stomach, steely nerves, and a willingness to engage with "whatever."
Lesson Ten: Lesson Nine Part II - Desperate attacks call for desperate measures. 

So that's when the blood and rat traps were set out.  Feeling a bit like a witch doctor, I hummed a little tune as I sprinkled (purchased) dried blood 'round the perimeter of my garden wall, then moved on to setting a few rat traps out while Luisa whimpered in pity for poor "Alvin." Of course she named him.  Oh, and two squirrel traps too. The next morning, I began my day with no eerie premonitions, just my regular cup of coffee. Heading outside, I quickly spied one squirrel trap flung several feet from where we'd set it up.  I went to look at the other and froze.  Something not a squirrel was inside.  Dark, a rather narrow nose, and what appeared to be a light stripe down the middle of its back.  Once again, I was overtaken by hysterical laughter so that I could scarcely speak by the time I got back inside the house.  What was I going to do with a skunk in a cage??!!!

One call to a wildlife control representative later, and I was left to consider how to explain all of this to my husband.  The rep quoted me over $200 in permit and removal fees.  How sick is that?!  The clock ticked by - over an hour.  Boy, was this guy making me sweat.  Finally, I decided to risk the need for testing that tomato bath theory and headed outside to take a picture of my trapped irritant.  Slowly, slowly, I edged closer... and spied a skinny tail.  Going around to the front of the cage, I snapped a quick photo.

It's an opossum.
I had the girls scurry over the creek to return our intruder back to nature, hopefully freaked out enough not to ever come around here again.  He tried to play dead for a bit and scared us all, 'till I recalled the proverbial phrase, "playing opossum."  Out he went with a little shimmy, and I rushed back into the house to call off the wildlife rep who assured me that I can expect this now-experienced opossum to run amuck throughout my garden on a regular and increased nightly basis. Splendid, just splendid.

I bought some screen netting that I am now anchoring over my naked and shocked sweet potato vines at night, then removing when the sun comes up again.  I'm trying to give them a fighting chance.  It's a pain, but it keeps me busy and feeling like we might pull this out.  So far, no dead chipmunk, but I have been able to pick all my own tomatoes since then all by myself.  After all, it is my garden.

Next installment, I'm sorry to say, will be early blight.  

But let me reassure you, dear reader - I am still having fun!  I guess this just might mean, hands in overall pockets, shoulders hunched, toe digging in the dirt, "I'm kind of a farmer, huh?"

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  1. What a great story! That was hilarious! We caught a raccoon like that once. I used to think they were so cute until we heard him growl behind the bars of that cage. If he could have gotten out, I am convinced he would have jumped on our heads and attacked. We also have a love - hate relationship with the squirrels. They eat all my bird food and drink our hummingbird food like margaritas. Something has been eating all of my sunflowers, biting them right off when they are only a few inches high. I wonder if it is the squirrels!......

    1. Oh yes, I am quite familiar with the battle squirrels can start. I had them in my attic three seasons in a row. It had me going nuts! (Excuse the pun ;D) I'd relax in my tub just below and then get all tense as I heard them scratching and chattering above me. That's why I have squirrel traps on hand.

      Persistence won the day. It's a good thing I inherited bull-headed genes from both my parents.

  2. Oh how funny... all things I am experiencing myself or have in the past few years! I too planted sweet potatoes for the first time this year. Forget that I'm trying to grow the things in central Minnesota (which I have been assured is actually possible), so they're already at a distinct disadvantage, but something keeps chomping off their tops. Because they're next to my potatoes and I had problems with something digging up seed potatoes earlier this year by pawing them up, I'm pretty sure it's deer. Last year a friend of mine, who has a significant deer problem in her garden, had overwhelming success by nailing a bar of Irish Spring soap to a post and putting it up around her garden. I'm going to try it and see if it helps, because I, too, am really excited to see how they do!

    I've been gardening for three years now on this scale and there seem to be constant new challenges to deal with- this year I have squash bugs and blossom end rot for the first time, and I continue to have no success fighting the septoria leaf spot that always plagues my tomatoes (I'm pretty sure my next method of controling it is going to be fire...). But without all these challenges It would be boring, right?

    Oh, and I love borage as well. But yeah, it self seeds like crazy. That's actually one of the reasons I love it, though. I planted it in the veg. garden the first year here and haven't had to plant any since. I appreciate the beauty, but it's real purpose is to attract pollinators, so as long as it's not in a pathway or smack dab in the middle of a bed I leave it alone, so it dots my garden beds, growing mostly along the ends. I love it. And the whole plant is edible, although I've never eaten it. The fuzzy part kind of turns me off...

    1. I've missed squash bugs so far, but I did get the blossom end rot. From what I understand, this happens when there is a big deluge of rain and the water intake for your squash is gorged and there isn't a chance for the roots to take in calcium adequately. Or something like that. So I figured that if I just picked all the ugly moldy little squash ends so as to get the yucky out of the little forest that builds beneath the leaves, things might dry out and be ok. Sure enough! My zucchini plants are producing wonderfully.

      I yanked up my borage within the past few days. It was pretty well spent and mostly falling over and making a mess. So now I'm going to put in some beets there tomorrow. I overplanted when I had my daughter drop seed for yard-long beans (we have 13 plants promising to have us in beans, beans, beans at the moment.) So I'll yank up three and give okra seeds a go tomorrow.

      Thanks for commenting Brandislee! I love your site's name and attitude. ;D