It always happened without warning. Sometimes it progressed slowly, so I was lulled for a time into thinking, maybe it’s not really happening. Maybe it’s just me. Sometimes it happened swiftly, overnight, and there was no doubt in my mind that something had gone terribly wrong. It was always something different, something new. And it kept happening, over and over and over.
If greatness is truly born of adversity and suffering, then this year should be a walloping success in The Navage Patch gardens, because Mother Nature has pulled no punches and held nothing back in her merciless quest to destroy my vegetable garden. She is the giver of life, but She can be a capricious Bitch, when She wants to, and you don’t want to be in Her line of sight when She turns Her stink eye on you. Let’s take a look at some of Her dirty work this summer.
You may remember my post earlier this spring about the state of my vegetable garden back then. It was early May, and I felt like I had the whole thing figured out. We had just had a ridiculous early heat wave (with temps topping 100 degrees), and I, in my infinite wisdom (*ahem*), decide to plant most of the garden. In April. April! Okay, Okay fine. So, maybe I’m not the Smartest Man in the World. Nor the Best Looking. Nor the Thinnest. Nor the….ah, you get the point.
Anyway, after I planted my crops and fertilized them with a heaping load of righteous smug, the temps dropped. Really dropped. One night flirted with Jack Frost. Handan and I scrambled to cover my peppers. The next morning, the blankets were stiff with ice. We dodged a bullet there.
But my plants stalled. For over a month, they did nothing. I kept searching for a remote control, so I could hit the PLAY button. I was sure Mother Nature had hit pause and was now laughing at me while she showered sunshine and warmth on the rest of the world.
My poor peppers. Each day, I watched as their leaves turned white and fell off. My most precious plants were my Carolina Reapers. They are the world’s hottest pepper, and I had grown them from seeds I had harvested from some Reapers I had ordered online last summer. They were my pride and joy. I lost two plants entirely, and I had slim hope for any but the strongest, but even she had turned deathly white. I hoped she would forgive me before she died.
Our warm weather finally returned, and I kept an anxious eye on my peppers. My tomatoes were fine, my radishes flourished and my garlic was invincible. But my peppers just sat in their little plots, afraid to grow, terrified of the cruel world.
It seemed like weeks before I came out one morning and saw the first sure signs that they would live. It had rained the night before, and there was the gorgeous vivid green of new growth bursting from the tops of my Reapers. We had won the first battle. Many more remained.
My next crisis crawled onto the scene in June. Then they crawled right up into my fruit trees and started munching away on the leaves. Gypsy moth caterpillars. The name strikes fear into the heart of anyone who was around these parts back in the early 80s. I was only 9 years old, but I remember the summer of 1981 well. New England had an infestation of Biblical proportions. I remember sitting on my parents’ patio. The trees were full of so many caterpillars that we could hear them chewing. Their tiny turds fell like rain and played a pitter-patter counterpoint to their incessant mastication. My father put rings of pine tar around every tree in the yard to try to stop them from crawling up into the leaf canopy. The concrete foundation of our house – the part showing from the ground to where the siding started – was covered in a thick carpet of caterpillars, an undulating wall of brown and black horror. As a last resort, the men in the neighborhood pooled funds to hire a crop-duster to overfly their houses and spray the trees with a noxious chemical that would kill the vile things.
Everyone remembers that summer. By August, the trees in our neighborhood were bare like it was mid-December. Peter W. Orr of the National Forest Service said of the event: “This is the greatest defoliation or infestation that has ever been recorded in the Northeastern United States.” Fully half of Connecticut’s 3 million acres of trees were defoliated, and some communities and counties recorded 100% defoliation.
So when we see more than one gypsy moth caterpillar, we freak out a little.
I didn’t just see one. I saw dozens. And I saw webbed tents full of babies. They were everywhere. I studied each of my fruit trees: all infested except for my peach tree. Small miracles. I should have acted sooner. I didn’t fully appreciate what I was up against. I thought the problem might just go away.
I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing.
Until it was almost too late.
My first offensive, when I finally realized I had to take action, was to spray the trees with Neem oil. Besides stinking up the yard, this had no effect whatsoever. I waited a few more days, hoping that something would happen…something like, you know, dead caterpillars.
They seemed to be growing stronger and in greater numbers.
They were legion.
I turned to Amazon and found this stuff.
I mixed up a batch, and started spraying.
It seemed to be working.
I went out the next day to look again.
The caterpillars were dead! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! I chortled in my joy.
But much damage was done. I hoped my fruit would survive. Only my two Fujis and my peach tree gave fruit this year. The fruit is still there, and it is still growing. I just hope that whatever leaves remain are enough to nourish my sweet apples.
Yeah, I need to prune that tree this winter, so it gets a little stronger.
Astute readers will have noticed that the chewed leaves are not the only problem going on with those trees. There is also some other infection of yellow spots all over the leaves. And here is where I turn to you, my most learned and excellent readers. Starting with those apple tree leaves and carrying on for the rest of this post, you will be presented with a series of mysterious maladies that have befallen my plants and trees. I welcome any tips in the comments section.
Okay, back to the trees. My best tree this year is the peach.
Except for a few of those spots, it managed to avoid the gypsy moths entirely and it remained free of Japanese Beetles.
The Japanese Beetle.
It strikes only slightly less fear into the hearts of New England homeowners than the gypsy moth caterpillar. Connecticut also had a few years of Japanese Beetle infestations when I was a kid. I remember one summer, it was so bad that the traps my father had set up around the lawn were totally full, yet the beetles still raged through our trees. My dad got two empty coffee cans and offered one to my sister and one to me. His instructions: go fill your cans with beetles. Upon our return, we would count the beetles, one-by-one, by transferring them to another empty can. We were paid 1¢ per beetle. Once our haul was tallied and our bounties paid, my dad took the cans to the rock ledge at the edge of the lawn, tipped a little gasoline in each can, then tossed in a match.
That was one of the best jobs I ever had as a kid.
While the peach tree managed to avoid the Japanese Beetles, the apple trees and, to a much greater extent, the cherry trees did not. In my last garden post, I showed a picture of my cherry tree, and I wrote that I thought it was dead. I was correct. I uprooted it and tossed it over the fence. Handan and I then replaced it with a Bing Cherry tree and a Black Cherry tree. Those trees wouldn’t give us fruit this year because they never blossomed, but they did give some great new growth. And that new growth was like ambrosia to the Japanese Beetles.
This is the Bing Cherry tree. I removed most of the destroyed leaves, so it doesn’t look as bad as it did a few weeks ago.
These next photos are all of the Black Cherry tree. It got hit harder. It is much taller than the Bing, so it was harder for me to police.
The only remaining bug was this guy high up in the canopy, so I had to crop the photo. Sorry for the crappy resolution.
They did more damage than the caterpillars, but since the cherry trees weren’t producing this year, I wasn’t too concerned.
Next year, I will be prepared for the beetles. I will have sprays and yard traps set up, just like my dad had back in the 70s.
Let’s move towards the garden now and check out my grapes. You may recall that last year I lost every damn grape to the Black Rot. This year, I started seeing signs of the rot almost immediately, so I kept a vigilant program of aggressive pruning. This eventually led to the removal of all new growth from an entire row (two plants) of grapes.
The rot spreads quickly, and from what I understand, the whole area is infected. Next year, I will need to bombard the area with fungicide. For now, my other row is faring okay, but it, too, is infected, and I’ve removed a lot of infected material already. At this point I’m just hoping for a cluster or two of edible grapes.
Oh, and if the Black Rot weren’t enough, my grapes were also infested with Japanese Beetles. When it rains, it pours.
And speaking of rain (and cold), I think that it may be responsible for what is currently unfolding in my pepper beds.
It’s been a weird summer. Temps have been cooler overall, and during one of the cool stretches, we had a lot of rain. When that all cleared, I noticed something was off with my peppers. I’d been growing them for a couple of years with zero problems, so I just assumed I was like the Mozart of gardening – just a natural genius at it. Until this year.
I went outside one morning to check on my peppers and saw that a few plants had droopy leaves that were yellow or brown or black around the edges. There were also piles of leaves under some of the plants. What the heck was going on? As the days passed, this infection tore through my bed of sweet peppers, and I had to pull three plants and toss them. I replaced two of them with big, healthy plants from Home Depot, and within a day, the new plants were infected. From what I gather, this is a fungus that can occur from over-watering (remember all that rain?) The result is death and there is no cure. They recommend pulling the plants and any fallen leaves and burning them or disposing of them far far away. Then they say to plant something else in that bed that isn’t susceptible to the fungus.
I love gardening.
Well, if they were going to die, I might as well make them as comfortable as they can be before they pass. But I only think that is what is wrong with them. It seems like the most logical choice from the website of possible pepper plant problems. But given that the list of potential problems numbered in the hundreds, I may be wrong.
Even so, my hospice care seems to be paying off. The fungus’s spread has slowed, the plants are growing and flowering, and the fruits are ripening. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, because I really want some Carolina Reapers!
Those are my Reapers in front, and my pride and joy in the left corner.
Isn’t she beautiful? I hope she gives me some flowers soon.
So last year, I had no tomatoes.
Not one. Single. Stinking. Tomato.
No one knows why. It is a mystery for the ages. But it’s probably because we watered them too much. Anyway, I survived without them. This year was to be my big comeback! I only planted Romas (and Roma IIs) for canning and two or three German Queens for eating (they are the best).
Everything was great, until…
Until the stupid fungus that was destroying everything else in my garden and yard seemed to also attack the tomatoes.
Have a look, and tell me what you think. A month ago, when it wasn’t as advanced, Handan thought that it was probably normal, just the lower leaves dying because they are starved of sunlight. Those plants are packed in there pretty good, so I saw how that might be a possibility. But then it started getting worse. And here is how we look today. I welcome your insights.
It seems like it starts with these leaf spots, and then it consumes the whole leaf and stem.
But my Romas are starting to ripen! 🙂
I’ve rambled on long enough, so I’ll quickly run through some of the successes.
First and foremost: my garlic! Wow, it kicked ass this year. I already harvested it, and it is all hanging around the house to cure. We are totally and completely vampire-proof!
I grew a few potatoes as an afterthought. I had some leftovers that had grown long eyes. I threw them out, but Handan saw them in the bin, pulled them out and told me to plant them. With no caring at all, they provided two great meals before I ran out. I also had a wonderful crop of radishes. They are so easy to grow, and the greens are fantastic with steak!
I planted a second bed of radishes that we use mostly for the greens.
In front of the radishes are three eggplants, all doing well.
I’m growing some rhubarb. Never grown it before. Never eaten it. Handan assures me it is good, so I figure I’ll make her a pie when it is ripe. But I don’t know when that will be. Any suggestions?
My beets are awesome. I’ve already pulled some, and they were delicious. If you want, I’ll give you a simple recipe for ribeye steak, dressed radish greens and roasted beets that will knock your socks into the next county. It may have been the best meal of my life.
Yes, that’s corn in the foreground. I started a few seeds that had been lying around for three years. I didn’t know if they would sprout, but some of them did. Once I harvested my garlic, I moved most of the corn over there, and two next to the beets.
We’ll see what happens! Two years ago, I grew some corn that I bought as small plants. I think I picked it too soon, because it was all starch and no sugar. Handan and Barish liked it though, because it was like the corn they have in Turkey (Glastonbury corn is much better – the best in the world!)
I planted some parsnips and carrots, but most of them got crowded out by some Chinese radishes that I tried to grow (I planted them in the wrong season, so they grew like The Hulk, but never gave any radish root). I pulled them out because they were choking off the light and spilling into my walkways. The others were displaced when I planted my potatoes. And still others died when my jerk dog, Penny, buried a rawhide bone in their midst.
Hopefully, I’ll harvest enough for a meal.
I started a cantaloupe for Barish back when the weather was chilly. It lay dormant for a while, but now it’s going gangbusters. While it was dormant, I threw some old watermelon seeds next to it, and a couple of those managed to sprout. I know from past experience that those tendrils will keep traveling about 20 feet or so in all directions, so I’ll have to manage them carefully!
Another easy favorite of ours are sugar snap peas. They require zero attention, always seem to thrive, and give an excellent sweet treat.
And last but not least, my blueberries. I promised you in May that I would have blueberries.
And so I shall.
Oh, one more interesting thing I want to share with you. Maybe you could help me identify it.
I was pulling some weeds from the white stones of the garden, and I saw this little guy sticking up from some dense green leaves.
I kept him, because he looked alien, and I thought he’d make a good picture. As he sat on my desk, I kept hearing the sound of something small dropping on the papers scattered on my desk.
It sounded like someone was dropping a single poppy seed from the ceiling every five minutes or so. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I looked at the thing I had brought in, and as I studied it, it moved backwards all on its own! And then I heard the sound again. That’s when I grabbed my camera and put on the macro lens to have a closer look.
Can you figure out what happened? I’ll tell you after this pic.
The leaves were drying and closing in on themselves, starting from the tip and moving down towards the center. When it would close around a seed, the pressure would build until the seed shot out like a bullet, and the recoil sent the flower scooting backwards just a fraction of an inch.
Mystery solved! But how cool is that? A bullet-shooting flower that moves on its own!
Stay tuned for my late season garden report!