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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Twenty days since my last post is a bit of a clue. I’m overwhelmed…by the weeds, by the cherry tomatoes coming out of my ears that I can’t easily reach because they all fell over for the third time, and by the devastation the miserable squash vine borer (SVB) has caused.

To avoid being all doom and gloom, I’ll begin with the good parts of the garden and then move into the bad and the ugly – which is also visually cued by the order of the photos. The good things include the general garden layout. More room is needed in the tomato rows but other than that, the grid-method of laying out the garden worked. The flowers are beautiful, plentiful, and are attracting a host of pollinators. Besides battling the Japanese beetles, the flowers have been effortless to plant and far more joyful than expected.

The bottle gourds are quite fun. With the vine leaves turning yellow and wilting from the ground up, I’m grateful for the gourds I have and will need to determine what type of death is cloaking them (SVB?). The cherry tomatoes, green peppers, catnip, pumpkins (the one pumpkin plant the SVB didn’t infect) Indian corn, radishes, zucchini, lettuce, basil, and herbs in general are all abundant. I’ve harvested the basil and catnip many times now, had so many zucchini from three plants, I placed some at the curb with a “free” sign, froze 12, quart-sized FoodSaver bags of green peppers (I highly recommend buying a FoodSaver), and today, I’ll try cooking down the cherry tomatoes into a sauce that I’ll freeze. I’m not into canning yet – afraid I’ll kill off my family with some godforsaken bacteria.

The bad aspects include my pathetic attempt at the Three Sisters. My mounds are definitely too small and I’ve done quite an injustice to the corn that looks like half-inch dowels with sickly pale yellow leaves. It’s tasseling, but I suspect the corn to be the size of what ends up in moo goo gai pan rather than alongside burgers and brats. If the beans could talk, I’m sure they’d let me have it about how unstable they feel attaching to spindly corn stalks, how their late start isn’t working, and how anemic they are due to all the neighboring weeds stealing their food.

The cucumber plants never climbed the fencing and only produced a few, somewhat spongy cucumbers. I’ve seen a handful of companion nasturtiums bloom - I’ve not had good luck with nasturtiums. When I was about five, I planted red nasturtiums at the base of the elm tree that held my rope swing. As I observed their growth, I watched our basset hound periodically relieve himself on the young plants. When they bloomed, they were yellow, and I was inconsolable.

The cherry tomatoes are just a mess and many of the companion sunflowers never made it through the gnarled vines. I have one sunflower that’s about 12 feet tall that hasn’t bloomed yet. Obviously, I completely messed up on “how to space and stake tomato plants.” Regarding the large tomatoes, they appear to be forever green and I keep waiting for a hint of color. The fennel, basil, and peppers between the rows of tomatoes can’t be reached at the moment. The heaped-over tomatoes are preventing entry down the rows. One glimmer of fun in the mess of fennel is finding two swallowtail caterpillars.

My other two climbers – watermelon and peas produced but only the peas grew to an edible size. I’m not sure why the pea plants are so sparse but I’m pretty sure the SVB got the watermelon - déjà vu from last year. I don’t even know how the onions, carrots, and beets are doing since they are once again buried under overzealous catnip. And while harvesting herbs, I received quite a slice into my finger from lemongrass. The long, slender blades are seriously sharp and a skin-crawling moment.

The squash vine borer wins the prize for the most ugly aspect of the garden. I’ve lost pumpkin, zucchini, butternut squash, and every summer squash plant plus all the watermelon, and most likely the bottle gourd plants are soon to follow. The weeds are a close second and the only way they can be managed is if I’m out there every day to keep at them. With working a full time job, freelance writing, and trying to maintain order to the home, it just wasn’t practical to think I could stay on top of the weeds. I must have a weed-maintenance plan for future gardening. I like the size and variety of the garden and plan to do it again next year.

Today’s challenge is to pull the largest weeds and turn a bucket of cherry tomatoes into sauce. I can’t bear to see them go to waste and one way or another, I’ll find a way to reach them.

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