Another Day in the Trenches

Did I mention that I have to take two trains and a car ride to get to my garden? I didn’t? Well, I DO! The garden is about 40 miles from our apartment. Fortunately, it’s right next to James’ office (where he faithfully commutes, making the hour-long drive, 5 days a week). But, in order for me to get to the garden mid-week, I have to take a train into downtown Chicago, sprint to the train station 3 blocks down the street (I have 5 minutes to sprint), then catch a westbound train headed to the far-flung western suburbs, finally James very kindly drives the short distance from his office to the train station to retrieve me and I arrive at the garden about 2 hours from when I began (that’s if I sprinted fast enough to that second train; if not, I arrive in 3 hours).

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I’ve bothered to voice this complaint, because it helps explain the distress I felt when — once I finally made it to the garden yesterday — I found that our cucumber plants (the ones I raised from seeds, coddled closely to my bosom) were completely under attack from cucumber beetles and squash bugs. So complete was the invasion that ALL of the plants had signs of damage and some (maybe four of them) were pretty well dead. My babies!!

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As any mother bear would do, I quickly stormed the garden, armed with pyrethrin spray (an organic pest control). I found that the spray “alarmed” the pests, but it did not inflict the carnage that my vengeful soul required. So, I put on some garden gloves and reminded them why they were called “squash” bugs. I also found that — while the spray did not immediately kill the bugs, the blunt end of the spray bottle usually does the trick. Mass devastation was reported, yesterday evening, on the 10pm Garden Pest News Network. Bodies were strewn all across the landscape as a crazed lunatic tore through the food court spewing sweet-smelling poisons and mangling victims as they scrambled to escape…

I meant business, folks.

Fortunately, that was the end of the bad news. I was able to spend the rest of my time weeding. Weeds are such fascinating plants. I suppose that’s why uprooting them and obliterating them almost seems criminal. If only our food plants were as voracious and hungry for life as weeds — the humble dandelion, for instance. If my cucumbers were as full of vim as dandelions, they’d probably strangle me!

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The tomato plants are all adjusting very nicely to their new digs. I’m trying to avoid wondering how long it’ll be before they’re attacked by pests. (sleepless nights are ahead) We’ve even got a few blossoms, already!

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And speaking of blossoms, the French Marigolds are already putting on a show. I love marigolds of all sorts, but these are particularly nice, I think. I love the simpler-looking flowers as opposed to the more common variety.

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We’ve finally got some sprouts from the Giant Zinnias that I planted. I’ll have to wait another week or so to decide which seedlings get thinned out and which ones get to stay. (gardening is just full of judgment and violence, it seems)

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The herb beds are looking nice-ish. We lost a few young thyme plants early on. I say we lost them because they did not appear to have died, they quite literally vanished without a trace. We’re not really sure how this may’ve happened, though I suspect a certain nose-twitching, deceptively cute thief likely ate them to the ground. So, in a pinch, we’ve had to go out and by some herb seedlings from the store to fill in for what we lost. Not really sure how any critters got into the garden… there were no signs of digging anywhere.

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But, the sight that pleased me most was in the bean bed. Nearly all of our Kentucky Wonder pole beans have sprouted. I’ve always been fascinated with bean plants and their graceful look — probably started back in third grade when my teacher, Ms. Joy, had us plant beans in styrofoam cups. Mine was the first to sprout in the class and she declared, “Jason, you must have a green thumb!” I gazed at both of my thumbs in dismay, looking for the infection, then realized that I’d been given a compliment.

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We’ve also got a single Scarlet Emperor pole bean sprout. The difference between the two different varieties is striking. Supposedly, the Scarlet Emperor is one of the most beautiful bean plants around… we’ll have to see what the hoards of six-legged invaders have to say about them.

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In all, it was a fun afternoon out in the garden. Before leaving I checked on the cucumbers again. Ugh… found a few more cucumber beetles! Two of them were… MATING… on my FOOD! The very idea!! Like the masked madman who springs from the bushes to ambush young lovers, I overcame them, and the studio audience shrieked in terror. Bwaaaaah!

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~ by Jason on May 27, 2010.

8 Responses to “Another Day in the Trenches”

  1. why do you have to go all the way out the suburbs for your garden? are you renting someone’s back yard?

    • It’s part of a Community Garden program (i.e. plot rental) that James’ office offers. I signed up for a community garden in my hometown, but I keep getting wait-listed. So, instead of waiting to eek my way to the top of that list and get a measley 100sq ft, James and I decided it’d be worth trying to make a go of it out there.

  2. Wow, Jason, this is wonderful! I will be planting this weekend and can’t wait! How often are you taking the trek out to your plot?

    • Thanks, Carrie! I’m planning to go out to the garden on a need-to basis, primarily. But evaluating that is already proving to be a challenge… as it seems that one always NEEDS to visit their garden. Sigh… at least the train ride is relaxing if I imagine I’m going on a trip someplace exotic. For now, though, I plan to make no more than two mid-week trips per week (preferably just one)… but seeing as how there will be entire weekends when I won’t have a chance to visit, there’ll be lots more train travel in my future.

      Let me know how your planting goes!! 😀

  3. Great post! You had me laughing out loud at the bug discovery and these macro pics of the sprouts are MS Living worthy 🙂

    • Thanks, Melanie! I’m mostly terrified by bugs, honestly. The feeling of a squash bug between my fingers (even though covered with gloves) was only made tolerable by my rage. From what I’ve read, the bugs will be after my beans once they’ve filled up on my cucumbers… I hope to head them off before they get around to that, though.

  4. Oh, Jason, you make me want to laugh and cry at the same time…it’s like watching a classic Disney film. Such passion, perseverance, elation, hope, and heartbreak. And you tell the tale so eloquently! I feel every bit of your joy, sadness and rage. Every molecule of it.

    Now, buy yourself a powerful dustbuster (handheld vacuum thingy). I don’t know if you read this over on my blog in the past, but I use a dustbuster to break up the bug orgy on my vegetable babes. It’s not a perfect weapon, and it isn’t quite as gratifying as the blunt end of a spray bottle, but it is pretty efficient and it buys your plants valuable time so they can grow more leaves to make up for the tissue lost. Additionally, get a little bucket or such and fill with soapy water. Then go about knocking any offending buggy types into the water where they will be drowned (the soap keeps them from climbing out).

    Now, a cautionary tale to tell: while you fence may be sturdy and the digging non-evident, there is still a good chance a fat rodent made off with your herbs. I went to my garden the other day and saw the muddy paw prints of a groundhog or raccoon on my black weed fabric…I have a strip around the outside of my fence and one directly on the inside of my fence where this furry guy was prowling. The paw prints started on the outside and made their way to the inside without pause, and there was no digging! He squeezed through the holes of the fence! Talk about a masked madman!

    • I’d not read of your using a dustbuster to rid your plants of bugs, but that’s certainly a good idea… kinda reminds me of my days, this past February, sucking up the gnats around my seedlings with the vacuum attachment. Since I can’t very well drag the ol’ Hoover out into the garden plot with a 40-mile-long extension cord, I’ll have to look into getting a rechargeable dustbuster… I really hate smashing bugs and the thought of using any of our precious water on anything but watering plants is daunting (no spigots for miles, remember?).

      So far, the pillaging seems to be an isolated incident. After all, in the GIANT area that is our community garden, we’re so far the only folks who’ve put up a fence. I figure, why would a critter climb over or dig under our fence when they could just walk around our fence and loot the next plot over?! Maybe critters is slow on the uptake!

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