Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Persistence Pays Off

How long has it been since I posted here? No, don't answer that. I know it has been far too long.

So what has been so consuming of my time that I have neglected you all for several months? Life. But more specifically, travel, work, and gardening have probably been what's kept me most occupied.

Work picked up a lot in June and we saw quite a few clients. This was a great blessing! Then the 1st of July David and I made the 11 hour drive down to Texas to visit my family for two weeks. This was my parents graduation gift to my husband. It was a great gift, a great visit and as always, coming back to Missouri was bittersweet. Coming home, work really dropped off due (I think) to people being busy with their own summer travel and getting ready for school again. I can't help but wonder, too, if our two weeks away played some role in the slow-down.

While we were away our garden took off -- my mother-in-law did a great job of keeping everything alive and watered during those two weeks which also happened to be the start of a considerable heat wave and drought. Not good for the garden, but her persistent watering allowed the garden to thrive in spite of the heat and lack of rain. I was really excited to come home to ripe tomatoes and flowering squash and cucumber plants! Since then things have kept on in spite of the continued lack of rain, and we have harvested dozens of tomatoes, our first summer squash (I was late planting the squash, zucchini, and cucumber!), and should soon be enjoying our first cucumbers and zucchini, of which there are many! Bugs have been a serious problem though. Two or three days before we got home my mother-in-law emailed me to tell me that "something" was eating the tomato plants. My guess was tomato horn worms from her description. We came home and it definitely looked like horn worm damage, though I couldn't find a single horn worm on any of the plants. I sprinkled the plants with diatomaceous earth and hoped that would be the end of our problems. But it seemed that with each passing day the plants were getting more and more damaged, though I still couldn't find any worms! After about a week though, I began to find these tiny worms that I didn't recognize (which eventually I discovered to be army worms). Could they really be causing this much damage, in spite of their size? But over the course of the next few days I noticed that these worms grew. And grew. And what was initially less than a quarter of an inch long began to grow until some of them reached around 2 inches. I tried more DE. I tried making up concoctions of tobacco/cayenne/soap water to spray on them. I suspect my tobacco water may have been too weak, but nothing seemed to be killing these worms. Finally I resolved that if I wanted my plants to survive, I was going to have to do something awful: hand-pick! Yes, that's right. Hand-picking worms off of my tomato plants. This may sound like no big deal to well seasoned gardeners, but for someone who hasn't done any gardening to speak of since childhood, when mommy and daddy took care of the pests, it was a big deal. And it took a lot of mustered up courage to finally start doing it. I considered wearing gloves but it is impossible almost to pick worms with gloves on without squishing them, and eventually the worm juice soaks through the gloves which is... not so nice. So I took to bare-handed picking with a pitcher of soapy water to plop them into. For a while it seemed that I would never beat them. I would spend an hour picking worms in the morning, only to go back out in the evening to find many more worms. Well-intentioned gardener friends suggested that I might have to give in and do the "unthinkable" and use a commercial pesticide if I didn't want to lose my entire tomato patch. I almost gave in one Sunday afternoon when I was feeling especially defeated. It did seem wiser to use a tiny bit of pesticide once than to lose the entire garden to a stupid worm! But I simply couldn't stand the thought of spraying my plants down with dangerous chemicals after so much work to avoid it, so I persisted with hand-picking. I kept picking every morning and some each evening. Sometimes I'd even go out in the middle of the day for a bit and these worms were still there! Extreme heat (over 100 degrees) didn't seem to bother them in the least. I eventually found a few horn worms, which I still refuse to pick bare-handed, so I bring a glove with me now in case I find one of those wretched worms. But the gratifying part? The good end to this story? I'm getting the bugs under control! Each time I go out now there are fewer and fewer. I am delighted that all the hard work is paying off, and now my only real concern in the garden is the weather that's causing my tomatoes to split! Okay, that and the squash bugs that have recently discovered my squash plants. But I've read that DE works on them as well, so I sprinkled my squash a few days ago and hopefully that will be that!

And now I will leave you with a few photos from our garden since this spring:
These are some of our radishes that were HUGE. And yummy. I wish I had known then what I know now though, and that is that sauteed radishes are FANTASTIC. Slice the radishes thin, add a little butter or coconut oil to a pan, radishes, salt, and pepper, sauteed until the slices become slightly transparent and pink. I wish I had a constant supply of radishes now. And I'm pretty sure that most radish haters would find themselves loving the veggie! 
Leaf lettuce. We actually harvested quite a lot of it, considering the difficult spring we had (very wet and cloudy). Next spring (and this fall!) we will plant even more. There is nothing like a fresh, home-grown salad! 
 Tomatoes. You can see that some of them have split, but they're still very tasty! This was what I harvested last Friday I think.

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