Friday, January 2, 2015

It's Never Perfect, No Matter What They Say

I got on someone's blog today and it really just sorta hacked me off.

Maybe it's that I'm tired of being colder than I'd like to be, and I'm concerned about a few nights coming up with temperatures in the teens and us a couple of old sitting ducks here with no heat except for the fireplace insert, or that I'm not sleeping very well these days because of said inoperative heating system.  Oh, we're warm enough in our bed.  There are plenty of blankets and there's a nice heavy comforter to go on top of everything else, that I made some years ago out of jeans legs and the grandsons' outgrown karate pants and jackets.  Downstairs, as long as we stay in the living room we're warm.  It's just that I like to be in other rooms, away from the constant drone of the TV, and it's cold enough in all those places to be uncomfortable for me.  *Sigh*.  I know it's only temporary.  But it's getting harder and harder not to be grumpy.  No call from the HVAC man, I will be calling him soon.  He told me the new coil might arrive today. 

Or maybe it is that I've seen too many times how much more frustrating it can be to try to garden when you think YOU are the only one having troubles.  The first summer after I retired, when I took up gardening seriously, I was extremely frustrated when my Jalapeno pepper plants sat there, all bushy and healthy-looking, but didn't bear much of anything while everyone on the garden forum where I hung out were complaining about how they had so many Jalapeno's that they didn't know what to do with them.  I remember thinking darkly how I could probably think of at least ONE thing for them to do with them....

But anyway, now, today, I see this blog written by a man and his wife, who have full-time jobs and they've made raised beds in their back yards "in their spare time" that produce, if you believe the pictures from what I believe is supposed to be last year, absolutely blemish-free vegetables in large quantities with hardly any work on their part except to keep the beds mulched.  They say it's easy if you just follow the steps they outline.  So easy, in fact, that anyone can  do it with hardly any outlay of money.  Oh, PUH-LEEEEEEZE.  The fact is that they've monetized their blog and almost everybody likes to read about idyllic conditions better than raw reality, so that's what they write.

I guess that couple doesn't have Bermuda grass or Bindweed, they don't have pests of the bug or animal kind, and they make blanket statements such as how a garden will not ever do well if it is not in full sun.  I looked on their "About" to try to find out where they live and it doesn't say.  But FOR SURE they don't live in Oklahoma. If you don't give your tomatoes and peppers at least some afternoon shade, that hot July sun will burn big ol' brown spots on their shoulders.

I must confess that I don't spend a large amount of time working in my garden unless I am having to water.  Most of the other time I spend in the garden is mulching, and I use shredded leaves and wood chips, because I can get these two things easily and free.

Last spring, I lost all my squash to squash bugs.  Yes, I did make an effort.  I covered them with row cover as soon as they had leaves big enough to draw the moth that apparently lays the eggs.  And then one day I discovered squash bugs ALL OVER the plants, UNDER the row cover.  I guess somehow they just found their way under.  So I was desperate.  I've tried other methods and they don't work.  All those homemade recipes that call for hot pepper powder and dish soap, burn the bejeezers out of tender, new leaves as soon as the sun hits it.  Sometimes the plant will recover, but geeze.  It's like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  In 2013 the squash bugs killed every squash plant I had and then they went on and killed my Nest Egg gourd and my cukes and melons.  I mean, I went out twice a day and found them sunning themselves on the little gourds, which were still hanging on the lifeless vine, and for some reason was their favorite place.  I would wrap a rag around each gourd and squish six to eight squash bugs at a time.  It was like slaying a Seven Headed Dragon.  So to Hell with that.  This time I went to Lowe's and bought some Sevin Dust and that killed off all the squash bugs before they got to my melons and cukes.  The melons were volunteer, apparently from seeds from the under-ripe melons that were on dead plants after the devastation of the previous summer.  So I had two big, beautiful, sweet Crimson watermelons and two or three that were smaller.  I had a bumper crop of wonderful Burpless Muncher cucumbers that I ate with Ranch dressing, or made into pickles, or gave to neighbors until they wouldn't take any more. 

I had a good crop of southern peas, this year I grew Purple Hull Pink Eye, until the Japanese beetles arrived, and they drilled holes in the pods and ate the beans inside.  I planted Lazy Housewife beans and the wind blew so hard right after the seedlings emerged that only half of what I planted survived.  And THAT was with a wind barrier!  I got enough beans to can but that was only because I just kept planting beans in every bare spot under the trellis.  Oh, and they were soooo good.  Especially since I didn't get a crop at all the year before.


I planted more squash, in an effort to have a fall crop.  They had to be planted in August and it was so hot that they didn't come up very well.  I kept an eye on the ones that did, watered them at least once every day, covered them in shade cloth to protect them from getting eaten down to the ground by the grasshoppers, which were almost as long as my pinkie finger.  But we had an early first frost and so I only got a small crop from most of the plants, none at all from some of the others.

The grasshoppers were on my Lazy Housewife beans eating holes like the Japanese beetles had done to my southern peas, all the way from mid summer through to the first fall frost.  I planted broccoli in the spring from plants I'd started in the house from seed.  The ones that lived through the extra late spring frosts were kept watered through the unusually dry spring.  They never made a damned thing and I left them in the garden through the fall.  In fact, they're still out there, with leaves hanging on them like shrouds now from several freezes.  "Hah!  Good enough for YOU!" I think every time I walk past.  What a dang waste of time and garden space.  The seeds left for that particular variety were thrown in the burn barrel.  I had a small crop of onions that I grew from Walla Walla plants I bought at Lowe's.  I was waiting for Lowe's to get in their Candy onions and they kept making promises but they never delivered.  I will not buy onions at Atwood's any more because they get them in too early and they don't get ANY in when the time is actually right for planting.  I've not been successful at holding them till I can safely plant them.  I tried last spring to start onion from seed and they all died.  Mustard and Spinach that I planted got eaten by rats, right out of the planters on the driveway, right down to the soil.  Lettuce was eaten by rabbits.  My tomatoes did pretty well, considering all, but my first batch of seedlings failed for some reason, and the second batch were really not big enough to transplant when I did it.  I always grow extras to replace those that don't make the transplant, and if I hadn't had those, I wouldn't have had much of a crop.  As it turned out, we didn't get the intense heat in the middle of summer like we usually do and that's when the tomato plants all came into their own and that is the ONLY reason they produced enough for me to can.  Peppers were another story.  I had so many Poblano peppers I couldn't use them all.  I had one neighbor who gladly took all I had to give though.  Do you see those greenish-brown spots?  That's what sunscald looks like.

My cheese peppers just weren't very prolific, but I did have enough to put in the freezer and I think what is there is enough till next year's harvest.  I did not have enough to share, though, and considering how many plants I had, there should've been.  I planted broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and spinach for a fall crop and fall was not long enough for any of it to grow to eating size.  The sweet potato harvest was the biggest disappointment of all.  Rats got into the bed and ate at least 50% of my crop.  Talk about wanting to cry........  

I spoke to other gardeners who had raccoons or squirrels in their corn, or moles and voles or gophers digging tunnels in their gardens and ruining their root crops. Then there are the deer that everybody thinks are so beautiful.  What they can do if they can get into your garden and/or your yard will cause you to look at deer in a whole new way, let me tell you.  My little new Shumate oak tree that I bought at the Garden Club Plant Sale is now completely gone.  We watered it through the whole summer.  It got nibbled on by rabbits and we built a chicken-wire barrier and set it inside the big tomato cage that makes it visible enough so no one will drive their vehicle over it.  We've lost several trees like that before.  Before I got my garden fence, I even had trouble with the neighbors' dogs pooping and digging and tromping around on their big dog feet, in my garden.  I probably didn't have rabbits or rats with them around, but it was a pretty high price to pay.  Some people have problems with armadillos or skunks.  One of my friends lost everything because a farmer neighbor chose to spray his fields with herbicide and she got the overdrift.  Another friend's garden developed nematodes, not the beneficial kind.

I'm not trying to discourage you, but I'm here to tell you that you can do everything right in your garden and still have dismal failures.  But I don't want to build up your expectations, either.  Failures are easier to tolerate when you know there will be some.  Some years, all you can grow in your garden is tired.  Then you just have to let yourself be comforted with the fact that you got some exercise out in the sun and fresh air, and maybe you learned some things that may or may not help you avoid some problems down the road.  I'm often reminded of a story I read somewhere, a long time ago, about a little old dried-up farmer who sat at his produce stand along the road.  A young woman stopped to buy.  "My goodness," she said, "Your vegetables are so beautiful and delicious-looking!"  The little old man looked at her out from under his bushy eyebrows and said quietly, "It don't come easy...."

Just so ya know.


  1. Oh, my! Sounds like me this year. The yard long beans barely gave me anything. The usually prolific seminole pumpkin gave me a whopping 2 whoole pumkins and now the broccoli has abrown spot in the center of the largest head. Sigh! Just keepm trying and growing. Maybe we should post pics of garden failures? I bet we can get some hits that way :). Right there with you Ilene!

    1. Well, Jo, sometimes we've gotta laugh to keep from cryin'......

      I didn't take pictures of most of the bad stuff but maybe we could start a trend.....

    2. I had to laugh at the Seminole pumpkin remark. They praised it so high on the Oklahoma forum I planted some in my new garden out in the orchard. Beautiful vines; zero fruit! I will be going back to my Long Island Cheese ones this year.

      I do think you have had more than your share of failures Ilene. I don't think it is anything you are doing but is the challenge of growing in your particular climate, whether it is the state or just you tiny part of it. I know my garden spot is pretty good but when the previous owner move a little east, she fought huge rocks and dry soil the entire time.. I still am trying to add organic matter to my garden because of their years of chemical fertilizers.

      Squash bugs are the bane to all gardeners. I did pretty well last year and then went out one morning and the vines were laying flat. Some years spinach does well and others it just languishes. I have never felt like tomatoes do as well here as in my previous gardens....something must be missing.

      Oh yes, Bermuda grass!!! It has taken over my strawberry bed. I may try to lift plants and restart somewhere else or the grass will creep over the entire garden. I think it is my worst enemy here and I don't know where it came from; didn't used to have it at all.

      I have quite trying all the gimmicks, tricks or whatever that I read about and just use common sense which means for me, improve the soil with natural things; keep moist, use Sevin on all bugs (had to spray the beans and corn a few years ago when the J. Beetles were so bad) I know it isn't organic but it was that or loose everything.

      I have lost entire crops of sweet corn to raccoons....I hope with the dogs loose that problem will be ended! I have had entire trees of fruit disappear overnight! Ground hogs, raccoons ????

      I just keep on, keeping on and try to keep the cost of gardening as low as possible so the output exceeds the input.

      Good luck!

    3. Glenda, I think you have hit the nail on the head. I have seen improvements in our garden, some every year. We've done a lot of digging out rock, of amending, that sort of thing. As you know. The climate, there's nothing anybody can do with that. Just have to work around it. I do think encouraging earthworm populations will help. I won't have Hubs till out there any more. It's just too destructive.


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