Gardening Disaster: Am I the Only One?

A few months back I decided to finally let go of my fears, set past failures aside and join the millions of Americans now tending backyard gardens. I figured everyone seems to be doing this. Surely it can’t be as impossible and mysterious as it has always seemed.

People all over America seem to be throwing seeds into the ground and before you know it, boom, they’re harvesting bushels of tomatoes, squash and cucumbers. Michelle Obama stuck a shovel in the dirt one day, next thing you know, “Iron Chef” contenders are running through what appears to be a lush tropical rain forest of vegetables. People are starting gardens on urban plots and restaurant rooftops. Friends, family, co-workers — suddenly everyone is able to grow their own food.

Then there’s me.

I started a small with a container garden; a couple of tomato plants, a couple of miniature bell pepper plants, one squash plant, some herbs. This would hopefully provide some homegrown, organic salad ingredients as well as boost my confidence after an epic tomato-growing failure a few years back.

Cherry tomatoes by Laurie Sterbens

I'm getting a few cherry tomatoes now, but I'm battling worms and fungus. And the squirrels are out there, waiting.

I purchased good organic soil and read everything I possibly could before starting. My containers were self-watering! Foolproof! I inspected my plants every day. This isn’t so hard, I began to think. Maybe I can be a gardener like everyone else.

The fungus that seemed to develop overnight on the cherry tomato plants was the first indicator that things were about to go the usual way they do between plants and me. It was at this point that I gave up on the delusions of organic perfection and blasted the plants with anti-fungal spray.

Then I noticed all of my squash blossoms had disappeared and the plant seemed to be shrinking and turning yellow. Meanwhile, a friend growing squash in a container in a similar climate reported that she’d had to transplant hers because it got so big.

Sunday morning, after a couple of days of rain kept me from checking my plants, I went out to find that little black worms had reduced much of the tomato plants to fishnet.

I blasted the plants with another dose of spray and flicked the worms, which were now hopefully poisoned, as far as I could flick them. I have to confess, the blasting and flicking were kind of fun. But still, I never hear about anybody else waging such a nonstop, all-out battle against crop failure. Can I be the only one? Or are there others like me out there who just aren’t talking? Is there a vast vegetable conspiracy? A silent majority of fruit-growing failures?

I do now have two miniature bell peppers that appear to be ripe. At about an inch and a half long each, they seem miniature even for miniatures. If that ends up being the extent of my harvest, they will have cost $30 each and aren’t even organic.

Miniature bell peppers by Laurie Sterbens

These look like chili peppers but are actually miniature bell peppers -- very miniature. If they end up being the only thing I harvest, they'll have cost $30 apiece and aren't even organic.

I also have quite a few little green cherry tomatoes popping up, but we’ll have to see who wins the war between the worms and me. And the squirrels haven’t even weighed in yet. I live in fear that someday soon I’m going to have to find out how far I can flick a squirrel.

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