July 3, 2012

Why Vegetable Gardeners Are Optimists

Vegetable gardeners are optimists.  They have to be because, otherwise, they’d never lift a hoe again after they saw their first tomato hornworm.  
We have a plot at a community vegetable garden in our town.  It’s a sunny, 1200-square-foot space that has some of the richest soil in New England.  Because we also ‘run’ the garden (we thought we were joining a committee but it turned out no one else was on it), we field all the questions and problems from our fifty-plus fellow gardeners.  As you read on, please keep in mind that this is a good year for vegetable gardening.
This is a cucumber beetle.  It can make
a plant disappear overnight.
·         Everyone is coping with an infestation of cucumber beetles.  The comments started in mid-May that cucumber vine leaves had little holes in them.  By mid-June, plants were disappearing overnight.  By now, any squash, cucumber, or soybean plant that isn’t being grown under a row cover is an endangered species.
·         Also, the first of the Mexican bean beetles have been spotted.  This charming pest chomps on green beans and anything that looks like a green bean (the bugs are apparently far-sighted), including mung beans, soybeans and alfalfa.  You know you have a Mexican bean beetle infestation because, one day, you come out to your garden and all you have are skeletons of leaves.  Again, row covers are the lone salvation unless you’re not averse to dowsing your vegetables with exceedingly non-organic bug killers.
And this is a squash borer.  One of
the nastiest pests in the garden.
·         Yesterday, someone asked Betty about the cute little orange and gray moths on her squash plants.  Betty patiently explained that they are the adult manifestations of Melitta curcurbitae, otherwise known as the squash vine borer.  When two adults get together and make whoopee, they’ll lay a mass of eggs under a summer or winter squash vine.  Two few weeks later, there go the zucchini, butternut squash, and melons.
·         Two weeks ago, it was reported that a nemesis called late blight had been found as close as Pennsylvania.  Late blight, which is endemic in the South, can kill a tomato plant in a few days.  This morning, I learned that it has been spotted in two towns less than ten miles away.  There is no 'cure' for late blight.  If the fungus spores reach our garden, our tomatoes are goners.
Because of the threat of these pests, our garden this year looks like a Red Cross aid station.  White row covers shield our green beans, zucchini, yellow squash and a couple of other things that have been cloaked so long that I’ve forgotten what’s underneath them.
Our floating row covers keep susceptible vegetables safe
from pests.  It also makes our garden look like a Red
Cross first aid station.
Yet, despite the alarming reports noted above, this is turning out to be a great year for vegetables.  Not just ‘knee-high by the Fourth of July’, our early corn already shows tassels and we’ll likely pick our first ears before the end of July.  The cooler-than-normal May and June means that our lettuce and arugula haven’t bolted and are producing prolifically.  Our peas produce pods by the gazillion and we’ve pulled beets that have reached the size of softballs without turning woody.  Our basil is dark green and already redolent of the citral that gives it that wonderful scent.  Rainfall has been well-spaced and the heat blasts have been of short duration.
Of course, all of this can change overnight.  Our ten tomato plants look perfect right now, but Late Blight – a scourge that wiped out virtually the entire Northeast tomato crop in 2010 – has been found as close as Pennsylvania.  Fungus could discover the basil and corn borers could lay waste to our crop.
The only way to keep your sanity when you grow vegetables is to assume the best.  We plant, we weed, we pick off the bad bugs, we water and we fertilize.  We cross our fingers and imagine the taste of that first tomato and fresh-picked sweet corn.  Gardeners count their wins, not their losses.

No comments:

Post a Comment