22 June 2009

How Does My Garden Grow? (or The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of Gardening)

It certainly has been a challenging season, or so I'm told. Everyone keeps saying how it's been an unusually wet spring and summer. Coming from LA, anything over the annual 12.8-inch average is unseasonable but so far this year, we've gotten that much if not more in just a few short months. To be honest, I've gotten spoiled by the rain - it means I don't have to remember to water my garden!
So while all my So Cal gardening friends turn green with envy, let me take you on a Weeder's Digest tour of my garden. Remember that bare bit of earth back in April?
Not so bare any more...
This is what it looked like a few weeks ago. I planted tomatoes under each of the bamboo tee-pees but one of them carried a disease from the grower. I've since replaced that plant with two others but the first one imported the disease to the soil and the two replacements have each croaked. I've had to give up on tomatoes in that spot so I planted a vine on the tee-pee instead. In the beds behind the tee-pees I have an Artichoke and recently planted some 'Turks Turban' squash (don't get me started on what the dastardly striped cucumber beetles are doing to the poor helpless seedlings!). In the bed opposite, the 'Mottistone' lettuce, white onions, and two kinds of cabbage are filling in nicely.

Then......and now.I do get a little help from my friends, too. One of my rounds of bug hunting turned up this little guy. Since I couldn't immediately identify it as friend or foe I spared its life until I could figure out which it was. Good thing, too, because this is a Pyractomena angulata, otherwise known as a firefly.
A word about fireflies: we don't have them in So Cal but I can remember visiting my grandparents in Arkansas and catching the little critters in mason jars. When I came to Longwood, I really didn't even think about what sorts of entomological specimens I would find but the night I walked into the garden and saw them sparkling with soft yellow lights was one of the most magical sights in recent memory. There are few things as romantic as working in the garden at dusk by the light of the fireflies (except maybe candle-lit dinners, long walks on the beach, or a box of dark chocolate on Valentine's Day, preferably 70% organic cacao). I'm convinced that when it comes to fireflies, we're all just little kids inside and I view these twinkling bugs with great fondness. As far as I'm concerned, they can hang out in my garden any time.

Another good guy that's one of my favorites is the Praying Mantis. I had many of them in my garden in LA and always enjoyed watching them watch me. When I found an egg sac attached to a twig in the meadow, I decided that it would be better off in my garden and brought it home. It hatched recently and one of the former residents and I came nose to nose when I was inspecting the lettuce.
Meanwhile, I kept noticing another garden visitor with increasing frequency. A little rufous bird would park on the rebar tree or atop the bamboo tee-pee and chatter away while I worked.

It seemed that every evening when I went out the garden he would be there waiting for me to turn the soil and reveal a tasty new snack. Knowing that an inch-long Praying Mantis egg sac can easily contain hundreds of little baby Manti (Mantises?), and having seen only the one, I began to suspect that my new bird friend was getting fat on my beneficials! It took a while to identify him but I finally managed to figure out he's a Chipping Sparrow. So I named him Chip. This from a person who had a pet rabbit named Bunny. I'm obviously very creative in the pet name department.

You've already met the evil striped cucumber beetles. I noticed that they were going to town on a weed that popped up in the mulched path so I left the weed there in the hopes that the bugs would eat it and leave the squash alone.

In spite of their voracious appetites, the squash is picking up speed and putting on new flowers and fruit daily.

My other market crop, the onions, are getting by just fine. Seemingly impervious to pest or disease, they're going crazy and seem to be earning their keep by repelling any pests that think they might nibble on the basil or parsley.

On the other end of the insect spectrum is this slug. This wasn't your average garden variety slug, this was a slug on steroids. This thing could have been in a Godzilla movie. It was HUGE!

I wasn't about to squish this monster with bare hands so it received a complimentary flying lesson and was launched into the adjacent field.

Over in the Honeymoon Suite, these cabbage moths were enjoying each other's company.
Their progeny are these cabbage loopers that make an otherwise pristine cabbage leaf look like Swiss cheese. They get a squeeze whenever I see them.
Other pests that damage crops are slightly larger and more difficult to deal with. Like deer. Who think my garden is their personal salad bar.
I wanted to do a little experiment since this is my first foray into lettuce farming and let some of the heads bloom. Lettuce flowers are reputed to be quite lovely as well attractive to many species of Lepidoptera so I was eagerly anticipating the show.
And then Bambi came by...

I did harvest some lettuce and make a tasty salad for myself.
The various corn fields are happy and thriving. The sweet corn is about thigh-high now and the broom corn is growing fabulously! Pretty soon I'll be on the lookout for craft fairs and making weekend pilgrimages to Amish Country in search of some artsy handmade brooms so I can study up on construction methods and materials.That's Bambi's foot print in the broom corn. Rar!!!

My giant sunflower seedlings are living up to their name and following the sun.

That's the latest installment on my adventures in farming. According to the weather forecast, sunny skies are coming which means things should take another leap. That's the fun of gardening in a climate like this one - every week it's a new garden!

I am Chip and I approve this message.

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