Garden woes

This year, in planning our garden, we made a mistake.

Surprising, eh?

We planted a lot of winter squash. We picked two varieties: Delicata, and a giant kind I don’t know the name of but what we call Sasquash. We chose Delicata because it is supposed to taste very good. We chose Sasquash because it is supposed to be absolutely enormous.

Our friend Christl gave us the Sasquash seeds from the ones she grew last year. Christl is not one to be seduced by the novelty of a thirty-pound squash; she thought last year’s were watery and bland, and opted not to replant this year.

We tasted her squash last year, and it was watery and bland. But a thirty-pound squash? You gotta have one. We planted four plants. Or maybe five. I left plenty of room between them, and planned to corral them toward the back of the garden, where there was lots of space, as they grew.

Words like “plenty” and “lots” are tellingly unspecific. What looked like oceans of space when the plants were three inches tall proved woefully insufficient for the real estate needs of the Sasquash. When I marveled at the sheer biomass of the plants, Kevin pointed out to me that, If you’re going to turn sunlight into thirty pounds of bland, watery squash, you need serious solar panels. Each squash plant put out tentacles as long as twenty feet, the length of which are studded with leaves that can measure two feet across. Serious, indeed.

The row of pepper plants at the front of the garden was the first casualty, as the tentacle I ran in front of them swallowed them up. Then came the collard greens next door (although one behemoth is holding its own in the large-leaf department). The eggplants are still holding their heads above water, but it’s touch and go.

A few weeks back, looking at my overgrown squash patch, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea.

Amazing, isn’t it, how every idea seems brilliant when you have it. It occurs to you, and you are blinded by the brightness that the light bulb over your head is putting out. You’re a genius! Only when you follow the idea down the garden path do you find its flaws, which, if your ideas are anything like mine, are many and varied.

Here was my idea: pole beans.

Pole beans! If I planted pole beans in the squash patch, the plants would quickly grow over the level of the squash leaves. The squash, meanwhile, would act as a mulch and prevent weeds from growing up around the beans.

No sooner said than done. Kevin set up two little teepees of eight-food poles, and I planted beans at the base. It was the beginning of August, a little late for beans, but I wanted to give it a try.

Note sprout in foreground (ignore camera data, which is wrong)

It was only a few days later that I had sprouts. Beautiful, sturdy little bean sprouts, growing right in the teepee. Everything was going according to plan.

A few days after that, I had little stumps of sprouts, with all the leaves bitten off.

I had my suspicions, but I broke out the Varmintcam to catch the culprit red-pawed.

Over the course of our procure-your-own project, we have considered raising rabbits for meat. They’re easy to raise, I’ve been told, and they’re one of the most inexpensive and least labor-intensive ways to grow your own protein. I understand all the ideas in favor, but there’s something about the idea of killing cute furry bunnies on a regular basis that doesn’t appeal to me. But it’s looking a lot better since one of those self-same cute furry bunnies got into my garden and ate my pole bean sprouts. That kind of thing has a way of hardening you to the species.

It didn’t help that the same rabbit, or one of his close relations, got into the hoophouse and ate my beet sprouts.

Cute furry bunnies, my ass. Mangy, lop-eared varmints.

It was only after my neighbor Mike mentioned that beans and squash were two of the traditional Three Sisters (corn being the third) did I realize I wasn’t the first to have the idea of pairing them. Planting the vertical with the horizontal is an idea that goes back to the dawn of agriculture. Beans and squash are a time-honored partnership.

And they both go very well with rabbit.

13 people are having a conversation about “Garden woes

  1. We’re thoroughly hard nosed about rabbits here. They are great when fried in a buttermilk batter. And good as a fall stew with veg and hard cider. Next I’m going to try one in a curry. Also, not to put too fine a point on it, but skinning them is as easy as peeling off a sock. Ideal game, in my opinion. This in spite of my love for Watership Down.

  2. I can’t fathom farming rabbits as we’re so overrun with their wild cousins that I’m guaranteed a rabbit dinner every night if I wanted one. Of course the downside is that my entire veg patch is netted off to prevent the ‘absence of sprouts in the foreground’ scenario. Rabbits are relatively easy to trap, if you’re tempted.

    And squash? I did exactly what you did, and I do it every year: too many squash in one place. I can’t help it. I do plant them under sweetcorn with reasonable success, except this year. Not a single squash yet, and only male blossoms so far. There are only so many squash blossom fritattas I can eat.

    Delicata is a nice variety.

  3. accidental Mick says:

    Hi Tamar, I retired last year and in September took on an allotment (in case that is new, its a patch of land rented out by the town for people to grow vegetables, about 30×30 yards.) I pepared some beds over the winter and it was suggested that, if I wasn’t going to plant a bed then I should plant courgetts (zuchines) for ground cover. No-one told me how many courgettes you get off one plant. Relatives have taken to hiding behind the sofa when I call.

    On the plus side I’ve been forced to develope a good recipe for courgette and onion fritters.

    Love your blog and hope you keep safe over the next few days, there will be lots of people think about you both.

  4. Isn’t it amazing how quickly our perceptions of animals change when they start eating our food? Thumper starts looking like Hasenpfeffer when he eats the plants that I plan to eat myself! And let’t not even get started on Bambi! I’ll show him Bam! if he doesn’t stop eating the roses!

  5. I planted “a lot” of winter squash this year, too – call it the influence of Carol Deppe (The Resilient Gardener). I’ve fallen into the trap of underestimating the space they need before, and was very proud of myself this year, leaving what I thought was more than ample space for each hill. Nope – still not enough room. And not much squash, either – blame that on the wonky weather we’ve had on the West coast this year.

    I so enjoy your blog, and admire your sense of adventure and resilience! Good luck with your own wonky weather in the next few days.

  6. It’s good to know I’m not the only one misunderestimating the needs of squash. It’s just so hard to believe that a little tiny seed can turn into something out of Little Shop of Horrors.

    Thanks to all for the kind words and good wishes as we head into Hurricane Irene. Or, more precisely, as she heads into us. We’ll be doing a lot of hatch-battening, but it’ll be just the luck of the draw whether our power goes (it probably will) or a tree falls on our house (it probably won’t).

    Laura, just so you know, I’ll be borrowing your joke about putting the Bam in Bambi.

    I’d love to have the lot of you over for a rabbit and squash dinner. Kate and Jen, I’m pretty sure I could get you to help with the butchering. And, Mick, we could find something to do with your courgettes.

  7. Mangy, lop-eared varmints indeed. Our neighbor two yards away cut down (what appeared to us to be a perfectly good) maple tree TWO YEARS ago and it’s still in a pile in his backyard. Our local bunny population has exploded since then and I am NOT amused. Another neighbor has been picking them off with an air gun, even though that sort of thing is not allowed within city limits. I keep trying to borrow our friend’s dog who is reported to be an excellent hunter. I think I’ll have to get myself a gun soon. My dining room window has an excellent line of sight to the bunny hotel.

    I pretty much hate rabbits now.

  8. I tried to be real hard nosed about spacing and thinning this year. Why is thinning your garden patch so ding dong hard?!?! I feel like I’m murdering perfectly good sprouts and getting things to sprout is half the battle.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who wimps out when spacing and thinning. I get all anthropomorphic on the little darlings and can’t bring myself to do what needs to be done. The price we posers pay, I suppose, for losing the more common sense approach our agrarian ancestors cultivated, like calloused hands and heirloom vegetables.

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