Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bird House & Barn Garden Confessional

*Warning: Some of this ain't gonna be pretty.

Going back to May, when we took over the rose bed for veggies, when the cilantro was green, the onions were pert, and tomatoes were appearing, I was feeling confident, and content about gardening, about harvests to come, and roasted tomatoes. Even before we left for Wisconsin, our prospects were looking good. We have drip irrigation, mulch, sunny days. We have made earnest endeavors, and we have faithful appetites, but somewhere between garden lasagna and today, we have lost hope, lost zucchinis, lost cucumbers, lost confidence.

This was our first attempt at growing artichokes. I have two confessions to make: 1. I think I planted the four plants too close to each other, crowding them. 2. I didn't want to eat them when everyday I found them covered in black aphid-like swarms. The ants and the aphids did that communal cooperative thing they do, and no matter how how often I wiped them out, with fingers or hose, they returned with a veggie-craving vengeance. The artichokes were thirsty, too, and our drought gave me strong reservations about planting these again. A cool thing, though, they sure make wild blooms! And the bees love them.

Tomato woes are heartbreaking! Last year I could have renamed ChickenBlog TomatoBlog. We were blessed with the delicious and mysterious goat horned tomatoes, even as early as June, before true summer. We were giving them away, freezing them, roasting them. It was heavenly, and I was grateful. You can say it, go ahead: All those tomato posts were a bit much! I frequently implored tomato fate to please let those little tomato beauties return, and they did! But this year, we are already into July and they are pale, sorry, weak. The plants are beginning to fade, but are still loaded with fruit. Why?? {Please read that with a ragged, tear-stained voice, trembling, perceptibly desperate. Thank you.} Confession: I thought I had it made. Free tomatoes. No effort on my part, and plenty of fruit just ready to turn sweet, deep, dark red. I was thankful, to be sure, but could my certainty, my faintly smug assuredness of a salsa summer, have jinxed the whole outcome?

Zucchini, squash, and cucumbers are gone. Wiped out by questionable watering/fertilizing practices, and I confess, those are my failings. But one other player must be taken into account, and that is the return of my arch nemesis: The Harlequin Beetle Bug Basterd. I have no kind words for those little demons. Even before I could try to slather and lather them with a soap spray, they had done their wicked sap sucking vampire deeds.

While we are on the subject of unwelcome visitors, I am very sorry to share that the family of bobcats frequenting our yard have taken Inara Rabbit. The bobcats, at least two, possibly three, come at will, day or night. Free-ranging time for the hens has been sharply curtailed. Malcolm no longer has his freedom, either, and is living in the first chicken coop... secured and comfortable, but decidedly lonesome without his lady love.

Everyone rallied to find a new home for Malcolm. Without Inara for companionship and as an ally, Malcolm was suffering the mean-spirited attention of the chickens. In other words they were hen-pecking the heck out of him. We looked all around the garden and scrap pile for possible solutions, and decided to revive the original Ikea table turned chicken coop, for a new bunny haven. We added hardware cloth, reattached the door, and set up the new home near Alex's thriving bamboo, gourds and onions. (Yeah! We can grow something!)

I confess, it's hard to stay encouraged, to weather the setbacks, and fix the problems. Gardens look really good in May, and it's tempting to believe there will be a salsa summer, and an ever-lasting lasagna garden, but there are no guarantees, no refunds. And it's quite a trick to balance all the hats... being a blogger, and a mom, a crafter and a gardener, a trip taking traveler and a farmer, a domestic goddess and Me. Things slip, for sure. And I stumble, often. Going about my day, trying to make it all operate and succeed, I often hear myself bemoaning the failures and obstacles, and throwing my hands up with a dramatic sigh, feebly muttering something about Why can't I do it all?? How come things are a mess?? But, now, writing some of this down, and realizing how lucky I am to have this space, the time, the opportunities to dabble, to experiment, to start new projects, to pursue schemes and ideas, to visit great places, and build new things... I'm lucky. It's all just a bit much, and muddled, but I am lucky. And we have friends, and help, and choices, so it's not an actual crisis. What a ride! Children, chickens, road trips, garden beds, goats, robots, beach days, and hot dinners... this is a busy, full, wild, and blessed life.

I think I will let the garden tend itself for a couple more weeks, until we are back from our Oregon road trip. I suppose this means a lot of stuff will make its way to the compost pile. Hey, compost is good. Then the new school year will be breathing down our necks, but maybe I'll see about planting seeds, and starting again.


Anonymous said...

I am so sad to hear about Inara's painful death. I want the bunnies to live free and romp in the grass and roam the yard, but that makes them easy prey. I don't want them locked in a lonely cage either. Is there a happy medium for Malcolm?


Angie said...

I know just how that feels! There are good years and bad years for things. I shed tears over my tomatillos that died earlier this year. I had started them from seed and spent a lot of time tending them, but they withered up just before all the fruit ripened. Last year army worms and squash-vine borers attacked. Have you tried companion planting with herbs and flowers to help with the pests? It can help a little.

Natalie, the Chickenblogger said...

We knew it was possible, of course, but it still came as a surprise. She was the swifter, savvier, more 'street-wise' of the two. RIP, Inara. We think we have found the happy medium for Malcolm. His enclosure is not the least bit cramped, and it's on soft and grassy earth. We extend his home, most days, by opening his door and fencing a small yard for him... he voluntarily returns to his enclosure in the evening, and is happy to let us pet him and sit beside him. I wish he had Inara, and free-reign, but he seems content, and he is safe. Thank you for your concern, Zan~

Natalie, the Chickenblogger said...

Poor tomatillos. Poor You. It's even worse when you see them come so close to harvest. Army worms?? That sounds awful! We are definitely companion planting, and I do think that is a worthwhile practice. Besides some pests, and needing to adjust some things, I think the biggest culprit may be just not being around for a long week, during a critical time, and another week when I was under the weather. That's why I am trying to be realistic, and not beat myself up, about the next planting... I will wait until we are not out of town, when I can (hopefully) stay on top of things!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm sorry about the tomato harvest this year. What a disappointment for you after such a bumper crop last year. Amazingly, I have two volunteer tomato plants that are actually doing well. I suppose it's because I gave up on them. Maybe you can start a second planting for fall harvest.