A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Intrepid Urban Farmer: It’s bell-ringer news, the kind that keeps her moving along on garden dominence

By Ginger Dawson
Special to NKyTribune

For about the past 15 years, or so, I have had my summers visited by the phenomenon of the whole fam-damily vacation. We all pack-up, come in from all over the country, and camp together as a tribe in some pre-selected place that will have us. The attendance numbers are generally around 15, sometimes more. 
 

This was the biggest tomato waiting for me when I got back. Two pounds, five ounces. Tomato porn. Ha.

Finding a place to house all of our clan can be a challenge sometimes.

We’ve been everywhere from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to Boston to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I have not always been able to attend because of business responsibilities, but duty called and could not be ignored.

While it is always great to catch up with family, there is always a backhand to this annual sojourn. The backhand is in the timing.

The end of July. 

The end of July when tomatoes are hitting their stride; the end of July when zucchini can be the size of baseball bats or die of SVB (squash vine borer); the end of July when cucumber beetles enjoy infesting their namesakes; the end of July when five months of work and effort can go to hell in a hand-basket in seven days.

Every year I get back to chaos. I dread that first view of my little garden universe. It’s as though nature senses I am missing in action and ramps up the revolt to a degree that couldn’t possibly have occurred had I been there.  

I view my work and get down to the business of rescue. Weeding, mowing grass, pruning tomatoes, tying up Brussels sprouts, pulling out plants that aren’t going to make it, and trying to halt insect damage that got a little too much of a toe-hold.

I scarcely believe this sight in August.

Everywhere I turn there is something that needs SOMETHING.  

This year was a little different. To be certain, the mess was there. But something else happened.  Actually, TWO somethings happened. Good somethings.

First off, the tomatoes. Of course, there were plenty to harvest. I got on that immediately, and as you know (if you have been following me), I weigh and count my tomatoes.

I harvested 70 pounds! Of course, I was pleased with this, but I seemed to have had it in my mind that I still had a way to go to match my all-time seasonal yield of 687 pounds, 5 ounces. This was in 2015. 

Then I had another thought. Memory is not an accurate measure of most things, so what I really needed to do was compare my season-to-date numbers to see where I TRULY was with this yield. This was quite an eye-opener.

August 7th — Another landmark for the garden behind the Italianate on Russell St.

Here are the figures compiled for Aug. 5 for the past four years:

2015 — 114 pounds, 6 ounces—(This was the BIG year from which all comparisons are made.)

2016 — 32 pounds, 13 ounces—(What a dud.  Glad I didn’t do this comparison then.)

2017 – 74 pounds, 11 ounces—(Better, but not great.)

And here is the real bell ringer — Ding! Ding! Ding!

2018 — 183 pounds, 2 ounces — (I was so shocked by this that I rechecked my math several times.)

Taking the calculations a little further, I discovered that I was 68 pounds, 12 ounces ahead of 2015, to date. I cannot account for this, but I am elated by it. It’s just the type of news that I needed to keep me moving.

It’s the little things that count. Ha. Just realized I made a pun there.

Now, the thing is, there is still no guarantee that the season will continue on in such a robust manner, but I don’t care. Let the cards fall where they may. I have learned to let go and let nature have her way (but not without one hell of a fight, naturally).  

The other truly exciting thing that happened is this — I still have live zucchini plants!  It is currently August 7th and I am still harvesting. This is epic.

My plan with the neem oil soil drench, covers and careful monitoring and spot treatment with pyrethrin seem to have done the trick.  Check here for a description on this method. 

But hold on now!
 

Tromboncino Squash. 25 inches long.

In reviewing this plan, I remember that I did one more thing that I didn’t attribute specifically to my battle plan for zucchini. Considering my success this year, I will have to take this into account. 

For the first time, I applied beneficial nematodes to the soil. It was just something that I did on a whim, early in the season. I’ve tried similar things in the past, like Milky Spore, which is supposed to control Japanese beetles. It didn’t work. I actually had a worse problem with those damn beetles the next year after I applied the stuff.

It was this experience that caused me to poo-poo any real benefit from the nematodes. But, in the quest for garden domination, any experiment is worth the time.

Beneficial nematodes are microscopic little critters that attack soil born insects and larvae.  They don’t take long to apply, you just have to decide to take the time to do it.  I still have zucchini and this is the only thing completely new that I did.  

Now, because of this, I’m not certain that it was my previous plan, the nematodes themselves, or the combination of the two!  Now I’m going to have to decide how to address this business for next year.  My laboratory only has one run per season, so the stakes are high and the decision will be an important one.  Well, it’s important if you’re obsessed with raising zucchini.  

One other squash note: The Tromboncino squash, which I planted in an effort to have a full season of squash, any squash(!), is doing nicely, and if all continues to go well I should have enough squash to rival my tomato yields. That might be a little optimistic.

It will be very interesting to see how the season ends up, but most importantly, it is good to have my garden and myself survive the whole fam-damily vacation for another year.

Ginger Dawson has resided in Covington, Kentucky since 1988. Raised on a farm in South Central Ohio, she has enjoyed a very eclectic and enriching life. She loves her Italianate Victorian Townhouse and particularly the garden behind it. See her new website at intrepidurbanfarmer.com

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