What Devastation Hath Been Wrought

dirt on my face, family, garden, humor, photography, Uncategorized

OH HELLO THERE

Anyone ever heard of an eggplant flea beetle? A squash bug? A tomato hornworm? Or how about powdery mildew or infectious plant diseases?

Reader, I had not.

A warning: grisly plant death and mutilation images ahead.

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A picture of Sister in front of our booming tomato plants and next to the towering sunflowers. This picture is not representative of this blog post, I am just lulling you into a false sense of security.

The garden is producing lots of wonderful things: colorful zinnias, tissue-paper-thin cosmos, meaty and delicious tomatoes, endless kale…but not all is well in Alex’s Garden.

I’d like to say I purposefully went organic…and it’s true that I am resistant to the idea of spraying everything in my garden with harmful pesticides (have you noticed that those words always go together? It’s a collocation!) and I have also been resistant to using things like Miracle-Gro. I’ve mostly fertilized with fish emulsion and worm castings and have occasionally branched out into diatomaceous earth and some bug spray.

But, like I said, while I would like to say that was an intentional move, it was partly intentional and partly just lazy. I kind of figured everything would be mostly ok! And you know…so far things have been mostly ok! But there are a few things that haven’t worked out and this post is all about them!

FIRST UP: SQUASH

“You can’t kill a squash plant.” –Everyone

My squash plants looked AMAZING. They were big and leafy and taking over half of the garden; there were vibrant yellow squash blossoms and miniature little zucchinis.

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Deceptive! It looks like the bush beans and zucchini are thriving here, but UNSEEN plagues infect and squash bugs plot angrily.

But then, one day, I noticed there were horrific little alien creatures all over my plants. They mated! They laid eggs! They mated again! To be honest, there was a lot of mating and a lot of egg-laying going on.

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Motel Squash Bug visible on left.

I looked them up in my garden books and identified them as SQUASH BUGS. The advice of the book was to spray with an organic insecticide (I did that), to handpick them and drown them in soapy water (EW I DID THAT TOO UGH), to remove the parts of the leaves with eggs on them (UGHHHHHHH YES I DID IT READER, I DID IT!).

But it was to no avail. The squash bugs–carrying disease and a strong proclivity for reproduction–killed my plants.

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Death lurks.

NEXT UP: EGGPLANT (or aubergine for the elegant and European among us)

The eggplant plants were attacked early on by the eggplant flea bug. It is a very, very tiny black insect that almost looks like a speck of dirt. They crawl all over and chew the leaves. I don’t know if I had almost no fruit because of those little guys or because the blossoms weren’t pollinated or maybe some kind of disease got to them.

One way or another, the leaves looked like this:

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And the plants looked like this:

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Notably fewer eggplants than expected.

AND THEN: BUSH BEANS

Honestly, I don’t even know what happened with the bush beans. They grew some bean pods and then…they never grew. They never got bigger or smaller or more alive or more dead; they just froze.

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The equivalent to this picture is like if you had a teenage daughter and when you took your wallet out and proudly showed pictures of her to your friends, they were like, “But she looks like a newborn baby.” And then you would be kind of defensive but also embarrassed and then resentful of your own embarrassment because she’s your daughter whether she grew past baby clothing sizes or not. 

AND THEN: CUCUMBERS!

Yes! My cucumbers have perished.

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A sad, sad sight.

There were cucumber beetles buzzing around for weeks, with their little yellow and black, dotted and striped jackets. They are a good-looking insect, and you can tell that it has gone to their heads. I hope none of them are reading this right now because the last thing they need is for their ego to be more inflated than it already is and to go swarm someone else’s sweet, tender cucumber vines.

They aren’t that harmful in and of themselves, but they carry disease, and probably they carried powdery mildew right into my blossoms and the cucumbers ended up looking like sick yellow globes. No me gusta.

FINALLY: THE TOMATOES

I’ve saved the most horrifying for last. Meet the tomato hornworm.

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HELP ME

What does this even become? GODZILLA?* 

You know what is worse than the tomato hornworm? A tomato hornworm that has been inhabited by a predator wasp which has laid eggs inside its body and then those eggs burrow out through the segments while feeding on the still-living hornworm until such time as they hatch.

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You’re like, “Alex, why are you subjecting me to these pictures?” And then I’m like, “JUST LOOK AT THEM. LOOK. LOOK. LOOK AT THEM RIGHT NOW. LOOK. please look.” And then I start sobbing.

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LOATHSOME CREATURE BE GONE FROM MY PRESENCE

This is what it’s like to find one of these bad boys…you’re like, wandering through your fairy-like enchanted wonderland of a vegetable garden, flitting here, flitting there–when–LO–your head is suddenly mere inches from a FOUR INCH LONG FAT CATERPILLAR WITH WASP EGGS DANGLING FROM ITS BODY.

!!!

!!!

This is what my garden book helpfully pointed out. It is noticeably less horrifying in illustrated form than it is in person.

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See how it says “don’t destroy cocoon-covered hormworms”?

HAHAHAHAHA. GOOD JOKE GARDEN BOOK.**

And that is a catalog of the garden disasters, such as they were. The rest of the garden is going GREAT and I need to get my act together and post some pictures of the beautiful peppers and tomatoes and carrots and beets and kale SO MUCH KALE!

Until next time!

 

*UPDATE: I JUST LOOKED IT UP AND IT TURNS INTO SOMETHING CALLED A HAWK MOTH. DO NOT CLICK ON THIS IF YOU ARE AFRAID OF MOTHS. 

**I destroyed them.

 

Swiss Chard

dirt on my face, family, garden, gardening tips

I spent a few minutes trying to come up with a pun for the title. “Let’s Re-Chard Our Batteries!” or “How to be Elegant and Chard-ing” but titling things has just never been my forte. (It’s just too chard.)

(Haha?)

Well, I haven’t been very good about updating the blog in the last two weeks. They have been full and good weeks, and I’ve taken a ton of pictures with the intention of posting, but then time slips away and days are busy and I just don’t feel like opening my laptop. Then there is this dumb perfectionist streak in me which likes to do things THE RIGHT WAY, and THE RIGHT WAY means I need to write all of the posts that I’ve been intending to write, RIGHT? And that makes me reluctant to start writing at all…

Sister told me to stop being a doofus (I paraphrase…) and just to write a post about what I did and I can catch up later, or not at all, and who cares, and stop being a perfectionist already. (I’M TRYING!)

So, I bring you Swiss Chard.

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You guys, the garden is looking good. It makes me so happy! There are little baby veggies cropping up now…tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers, and the littlest, cutest, tiniest eggplant. IT’S SMALLER THAN MY THUMB! I will take pictures and post them soon, I (almost) promise!

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The greens section is looking particularly good. We told my little cousin that we were growing salad ingredients and he looked at us with a serious face and asked, “Are you guys growing croutons, too?”

He’s 17, he should know better.

JUST KIDDING, he’s 4, and it was super-cute.

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Yesterday, Sister and I decided it was time to harvest some Swiss Chard! We planted both red and yellow varieties and we bought them as tiny seedlings from the Country Caretaker. They’ve done really well and are mercifully insect-free. I read that Chard is the one thing that is better to harvest by snapping the leaves off rather than cut them, so while I got other parts of dinner ready, Claire went out to the garden and snapped a bunch off. Aren’t they GORGEOUS? C. thinks I should paint them, and maybe I will.

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I was also excited because I received Nigel Slater’s cookbook “Tender” for Christmas, which is overflowing with recipes based on whatever was in season that he picked from his backyard veggie-patch and last night I got to pick veggies from my own backyard patch and get some inspiration from Mr. Slater.

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The book is fantastic. It combines stories of gardening and poetic prose and delicious recipes. I will also point out that I think these photos look pretty nice, but just be aware that I carefully cropped out the clutter on the table, the rickety back porch, the unglamorous photos of dunking the leaves in water to get the dirt off of them, the kitchen floor that needs to be swept, etc.

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We were running low on supplies, so I didn’t have everything needed to make any specific recipe, but I cooked the stems first and a bit longer as per his suggestion, and then added the leaves to the sauté pan.

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I heated up some leftover BBQ chicken by cutting it up and adding it to the pan in the hopes of having reheated chicken that wasn’t rubbery and dry and it worked! Added some baked potatoes and slathered them with butter and ricotta cheese.

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Sister made some fresh lemonade and added mint from the garden which was amazing. Dinner was garlicky, lemony, BBQ-y, and delicious.

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There is a lot more to write. We went to Tanglewood again, and the Shaker Museum, and on a hike up a mountain. We had a birthday party for Brother T with a lot of sprinkles, and we started taking tennis lessons, the fireflies are out, the Tiger Lilies have EXPLODED and they line every country road, the cornfields are getting tall and ripply, I went on an impromptu tour of the big farmhouse where my dad grew up and almost cried at seeing the rooms and spaces that I’ve heard so many stories about. The first Cosmo bloomed, Brother T thinks I should start an online store for watercolor prints, we went to a crazy July 4th parade, and our Pilates teacher has started doing REALLY HARD PRIVATE WORKOUT SESSIONS WITH SISTER AND I and at this very moment I am kind of struggling to type because my arms are so sore. 

PLUS, I’ve battled eggplant flea beetles and the super-horrifying Squash Bug.

And yeah, I should share some photos of all of those things, but for now here is Swiss Chard, and another moment of me chipping away at that rock-hard block of perfectionism at my core.

Have a lovely day, all of you. (And take a look at that homemade blueberry-raspberry pie Claire whipped up for the 4th! Mmm.)

Alex

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The First Plants: Tomatoes and Peppers

garden, photography

We have six varieties of tomatoes which we’ve picked up from a bunch of different places based on a bunch of different recommendations. They were the first thing we planted last week, along with a few pepper plants.

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First, Sister and I measured out the garden plot. As it turns out, the posts aren’t exactly evenly spaced, so the straight line down the center looks a little off. But it’s fine. We tied twine to make four quadrants and planned out roughly where everything would go based on (wait for it, it’s going to sound so impressive) the direction of the sun and height of the plants.

I know, you guys.

I know.

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That’s me and the very first plant! Woo! It was a labor of love because Sister and I lawn-mowed and rototilled all day and were just trying to get something in the ground before the rain was coming.

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Then we drove the stakes in next to the plants. Neighbor Bill from a few posts back told us to put the stakes in at the same time because to do it later would risk damaging the root systems of the plants.

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We hurried to get a few pepper plants in the ground. Basic bell peppers: green, orange, and purple.

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For our tomato varieties we have:

  • Beefsteak
    • The classic tomato. It will be thick-skinned and dark red. They might require a cage later on to support the vines because the tomatoes get so heavy. Great for slicing.
  • Brandywine
    • Large heirloom variety. Probably will be pinkish. They have a tangy taste and will also probably need cages as the vines grow “vigorously”.
  • Grapette
    • These are hybrid little guys and grow in clusters, thus the “grape” in their name. They promise to be delightful.
  • Ruth’s Perfect
    • Here is the description for Ruth’s Perfect (purchased from Tomato Lady at the Troy Market) “Variety is almost completely problem free. Produces abundant amounts of 7oz., 2-3″, perfectly round, red fruit. Exceptionally flavorful.” Well, that sounds amazing.
  • Yellow Pear Cherry
    • Another heirloom variety. Produces little yellow pear-shaped tomatoes. Apparently will grow between 6-12 feet tall!! Oh boy. We are in for some major tomato joy in a few months.
  • Mortgage Lifter
    • We talked about this one earlier, but here is another description of this guy, “This variety has become very popular in recent years, after being developed by M.C. Byles of Logan, West Virginia. After crossing varieties for 6 years and selecting the best, he introduced this beauty that he named Mortgage Lifter in the 1940’s after he sold plants for $1 each and paid off the $6,000 mortgage on his house.”

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One thing we did was based on some last-minute words-of-wisdom from Uncle Gee. He told us that his grandfather (Pop, around these parts) (he of the greenest of green thumbs) gave him some tomato planting advice when Uncle Gee was a youngster. Evidently, if you plant the tomatoes a bit deeper than you would think to plant them, so that the fuzzy stem of the plant is about an inch or two beneath the soil, it will become part of the roots and strengthen the existing root system, thus increasing the tomato yield.

We’ll see, Pop. We’ll see!