03 July 2009


In gardening and backyard farming, if it isn't one thing, it's another. I've been pleased as punch with how well my summer squash were faring in the face of so many challenges from the weather and hungry critters but a corner has been turned and despair has (almost) set in. In light of such challenges I begin to think that perhaps armchair gardening is the way to go.

First the evil Striped Cucumber Beetles arrived en masse and on the offensive to zap my zucchini! They made a mockery of our control measures by skating easily off the yellow sticky cards and appearing the day following an organic pesticide application. I could easily imagine them gallivanting around my squash bed in their little Darth Vader masks, rubbing their little tarsi together and emitting a high-pitched evil beetle laugh. With the arrival of Chip, who seemed to enjoy snacking on the wee beasties in my garden, I was willing to accept the beetles as an ongoing challenge and suffered no moral dilemmas in squishing them with twitters of glee when one made the fatal mistake of crossing my path.

Then it was the shady squash bugs.

As if sucking the sap out of my squash isn't bad enough, these guys are brazen enough to land right on my hand while I'm gardening. They obviously are of the "the closer you are to danger, the farther you are from harm" school of vegetable warfare but let me tell you, this one lasted just long enough for me to obtain photographic proof of its position and then WHACK! The squash bug was squished.

Having perfected this mode of defense in the past weeks, it seemed I was finally getting the upper hand. There even came a day when I spotted several healthy unblemished leaves and several flower buds just waiting for their number to be called and turn into vegetable goodness.

A lovely untouched leaf
Developing flower buds = zucchini madness!
A female flower waiting to be pollinated
Once pollinated, the ovary swells to become a squash!
My summer squash (aka Zucchini) were growing, blooming, and attracting beneficials like this bee that spent a happy morning wallowing in pollen (he's doing a little preening here so he looks presentable when he returns to the queen, no doubt).

I was happy to welcome this busy little friend and his mates to the garden but curiosity got the best of me and I relieved him of his duties by pollinated one of the plants myself. I took a swipe of pollen from one of the male flowers and dabbed it onto the stigma of a nearby female flower. Next day, that flower had shut its petals to all other suitors and was busily engaged in the process of making fruit.
And then...da da dum...disaster struck. The unseasonably wet weather seems to be on hiatus and we've had a run of beautiful, sunny, warm days so naturally the plants are thirsty. Being so well established, I wasn't too concerned about some of the veggies but the plant that put on the first fruit was looking a bit worn out. It got an extra long drink and I optimistically expected to see it perk up by sundown. When it didn't I gave it another can-full of aqua vitae, complimented its sunny flowers and robust fruit then bid it good-night. When I checked on it this morning it was far from perky. Au contraire, it was worse than the previous day.
Mind you, this all went down in a matter of hours. One day the plant was fine, the next it was limp as wet spaghetti (hmmm...spaghetti squash....maybe I should try that next time...). Standing bereft over my poor suffering plant, the five stages of grief played out in rapid succession:

1. Denial: "This can't be happening to me! I fed it and watered it and read it poetry! (wagging an admonitory finger at the plant) You aren't wilting! You're just tired from pumping out fruit! Snap out of it!"

2. Anger: "Why me?! I've never grown veg from seed and all was going swimmingly until now! If I get a bad grade because of this, it's all your fault, you contumacious curcurbit!"

3. Bargaining: "OK, look; I know it's not easy being a squash. I've done my best about the cucumber beetles and really, the damage isn't that bad. I realize having leaves that look like they've been hit with bird shot isn't the most attractive thing, but it's what's on the inside that counts. If you'll just perk up I promise to give you an extra helping of Dr. Earth. OK?"

4. Depression: "I'm a failure. I'll never be a backyard farmer. I'm going to go inside and bite my pillow."

5. Acceptance: "I've done everything I can to provide a good cultural environment for this plant. Some enemies are just too sneaky. I guess I'll just harvest this one good fruit and use it to make some yummy zucchini bread. Then I can still enjoy the first fruits of my labors and let this plant go the great nursery in the sky in peace. Besides, I've got a dozen more plants that are healthy and happy. With any luck I'll be able to get a good harvest from them."

Ticking off the mental Plant CSI Checklist, there was only one explanation that fit with the sudden wilting of an otherwise healthy plant - Squash Vine Borers!!! (dum-da-dum-dum-dummmmm).

So you see, gardening isn't for the faint of heart. There are battles to be fought, wars to be won, forces of nature to be reckoned with. Luckily there is an organic compound that will combat this new nemesis - BT (Bacillus thunbergiensis) - and our instructor Harold has offered to spray our infected crops while the senior class, who have thus far been our pest eradicating go-to's, is away on their trip abroad.

Looks like the Angry One Armed Man will be paying another visit to my garden before the season's end.

No comments: