The soggy summer of 2013
It’s July 18, 2013 and I’ve yet to enjoy the first tomato from the garden, or bean, or cucumber. This time last year I had two pressure cookers humming, two food dehydrators desiccating tomato slices. I was happy, blissfully happy while putting up food for my family. Not to be this year my friends. The weather pattern has shifted. We’re in a rainforest this year (not complaining after so many years of drought). It’s not the rain that is worrisome. I can live with the rain; it is the complete lack of sunshine. In fact, July 16 and 17 were the first full-sun days since May.
I had already told Farmer Billy we needed to give up. Stop planting seeds because we were just wasting our time. Kelle’s brought seedlings over (they drowned the next day following a rain storm), I’ve planted bean seeds. She’s planted corn; all for naught. Yesterday, Billy tilled up the chicken lot. The raccoons got his chickens after a summer storm blew the door open in the middle of the night. Once they gained access they returned every night, despite reinforcing the pen, the coons systematically murdered all but seven of his chickens.
It has not been a good year for farming.
But yesterday, with a never-give-up farming spirit, Billy and I planted beans in the chicken lot. I told him, begged him really, to “lay a tarp over the dirt in case it storms tonight.”
“They’re not calling for much. Says if it rains it’ll just be a few drops.”
It rained an inch and a half last night my friends.
An inch and a half!
And with that, I have declared war on Mother Nature. I have pulled out what I call the lettuce grower. A cold frame I used this February that grew Botanical Interests lettuce that was so beautiful I didn’t want to cut them.
I’ve pulled up the tomatoes. (they have zero blooms anyway) and I erected the cold frame making tiny teepee structures for the cukes to climb upon. I replanted beans, believing that when the rains come (and they will come) the structure will keep the ground relatively dry. And because the sun may or may not shine, I’ve also snaked the Christmas Tree lights through the structure.
Yes, my back porch would make Granny Clampitt proud. Regardless of what it looks like, I’ll have some beans and fresh cucumbers or die trying. For newbie gardeners, be not distressed. This just isn’t a good year for growing in most of the South East.
Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes. In 2012 she released Stress-Free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author. 2014 will see the release Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. She is currently working on her first novel. She would love to hear from you. Visit her at http://www.reneawinchester.com
Aah, the rewards of summer. Peach juice trickling down my chin, blackberries staining my fingers and time spent with friends. I’ve coaxed tiny seeds into tomato plants that are seven feet tall. I’ve carried water, scratched in fertilizer, and to be completely honest, I’ve spoken love-words to my tomatoes hoping to entice them into a love-love relationship with me.
“How about some extra water today,” I say as I pour water around the base of my plant, never on the foliage because that might burn delicate, undeveloped fruit.
The plants responded. Clothed in yellow blooms, they grew tall, dark, and deliciously attractive. As the plants matured, my anticipation increased with each passing day.
I had waited, patiently watching the largest tomato change from lime-green to pale pink. With heat scratching my neck, I grabbed my bucket- my mouth watering. Today would be sandwich day.
Imagine my surprise when my precious Park’s Whopper, the one I could already taste even before I’d picked it, greeted me with stripped-bear stalks. The tomato I’d admired for weeks hung half-eaten with a large green worm my happily munching the delicious fruit.
I was excited the first time I encountered a Tomato Horn Worm. A gardening newbie, I naively thought the pudgy caterpillar hanging on the stalk before me would morph into a Luna Moth. I photographed the creature and emailed all my friends that soon I would “be the proud parent of a Luna moth.”
“Kill it!” was the reply from seasoned gardeners. “Take a rock and smash it dead!”
After arguing that I would never…ever kill something so beautiful, I received an email with a photograph confirming their accusations. The caterpillar might be beautiful now, but as soon as it had stripped every tomato in my garden my beautiful caterpillar would become a Sphinx (not a Luna) Moth.
I became a disciple in Horn Worm behavior. Since spraying pesticide is out of the question, hand-picking the creatures was my only pest control option. Worm excrement (for lack of a more technical term) was the best clue in determining the location of my prey. Horn worms are masters at hiding behind immature fruit, far away from view. However, droppings are impossible to hide. If you notice “droppings” like those in the text-box below, begin searching for worms immediately.
Removing the worms is a bit like a treasure hunt. Begin searching at the top of the plant near tender new growth. Look on the stalk, beneath the leaves, and behind green fruit. When you locate one, remove it with one sudden movement (think ripping off a Band-Aid). The worms do not bite. They do, however, release a lime-green “juice” and make a slight clicking sound when disturbed. Place the worm in a cup and-assuming you have chickens-feed the worms to them. In the absence of chickens, you might opt to drown, or smash them.
Be diligent. Once these death-worms discover your tomatoes you are thrust into a battle; either they must go, or all hope of tomato sandwiches will vanish. Small worms you might ignore today will grow to massive three-inch-long-worms overnight ! Now is not the time to be humane. Every worm must die. Check plants for several days to ensure you’ve won the battle.
A dusting of Sevin will drive the worms away, as will a mixture of hot pepper and water, sprayed on a still summer day also works. However, the best defense is to check the plants. Spray or dust doesn’t cover everything. I prefer the hunt and pluck method. So do my chickens.
Happy gardening and remember, keep those hands dirty.