I am not having the last laugh in the gardening department.
I had high hopes, going in. After last year, which was so wet and cold that nothing grew until well into July, I saw our warm May and weeks of sun as harbingers of lush tomatoes and big, firm cucumbers, succulent eggplants and full, ferny fennel.
I am being thwarted by bugs and weeds, and I’m convinced they’re in it together. “Gardening” is just a hoax.
Here’s how it works. Humans are lulled into the idea that they can grow things by the fact that things are just growing, of their own accord, all around us. If trees, and grass, and flowers, and even edibles like wild grapes and beach plums manage to grow themselves, just imagine what we humans, with our free will and opposable thumbs, can grow, if we put in a little effort!
So, what do we do? The first step is to till a nice patch of soil, and amend it with compost and fertilizers to make it as plant-friendly as possible. This is the part where the weeds rub their little roots together and say, “Heh heh, we got ‘em now! Just look at that nice patch of ground – it’s way better than what we have now!” And they promptly move in.
But not before they make a deal with the bugs. “Hey, bugs,” they say. “If you leave us alone, we’ll leave just enough room in the garden for some nice young kale, and a few tender beet greens.” The bugs know a good deal when they see one. They’re extremely fond of kale.
This is why, a mere three weeks or so into the gardening season, the garden is a bed of absolutely unblemished weed seedlings interspersed with devastated cucumber sprouts, beet shoots, and fennel frondlets. I can barely tell the beets from the weeds – I have to look closely for the purple stems – but the bugs seem to be able to find them with both antennae tied behind their backs.
I can’t blame all our problems on bugs and weeds, though. Some of them stem from sheer ineptitude. Our problems with the sugar snap peas, for example, seem to be our fault.
I started them back at the very end of February, and transplanted them to the garden some time in April. They were a little weedy-looking, with long skinny stems and sparse leaves, when I transplanted them, but I figured they’d thrive once they were no longer pot-bound.
No such luck. They got longer and weedier. Too much nitrogen? Could be. We tried to amend the soil with greensand (for potassium) and phosphorus, but then the leaves started to turn yellow, from the bottom up.
I had a moment of hope when I visited our friends Al and Christl. I’ve talked about them here before; they’re the best gardeners we know. Their house is surrounded by healthy, vibrant, growing things. They have a beautiful asparagus patch, a big raised bed of strawberries, a forest of raspberries, and a well-ordered vegetable plot. Somehow, they’ve managed to outwit the bug-weed cabal. Personally, I think Christl made a deal with the devil.
My moment of hope came when Christl told me her sugar snap peas were also suffering. “They just won’t grow,” she said. “I only have one flower.” So I guess it’s just a bad year for them, I thought. If Christl’s having trouble, I certainly can’t expect to succeed. There’s hope for me yet!
And then she showed me her plants, and the hope died within me. They were full and green and thick-stemmed. Okay, so there was only one flower, but the plants themselves looked like they could produce them any time they wanted, and were just holding them in reserve. Compared to mine, her sugar snaps were a veritable jungle.
It’s not just our sugar snaps that are tall and skinny – our garlic, kale, and collards have met the same fate. They’re also, I suspect, victims of nitrogen. The kale, particularly, is downright willowy, like a Bolshoi ballerina. Good kale should be short and squat, more like an East German gymnast.
The tomatoes haven’t had time yet to get leggy, since we just put them in last week, but I’m sure they will. Unless, of course, the blight gets them first. I’ve seen a couple of spotty leaves that make me very uneasy.
The one bright spot is Kevin’s potatoes. They’re bushy and green, and seem to grow several inches a day. We have two rows of Kennebec, which we bought as seed potatoes, and one row of fingerlings, which we bought to eat but languished, forgotten, at the back of the potato bin until they sprouted.
There’s only minimal insect damage, from what we suspect are thrips, but I think it’s only becaue the potato beetles strong-armed the rest of the insects to stay off the potatoes until they’re big and tasty, so they can move in and devastate the crop at the very last minute. Once they’ve eaten their fill, I’m sure they’ll band together and lift the fence so the rabbits can come in and finish everything off.
If the devil’s still available, I’m ready to deal.