Garden As Lost Cause

Last Year's Mortgage Lifters ripen on the kitchen counter

It will not go down as a fondly-remembered gardening year.

It started with my left  hand in a cast until mid-May, by which time the weeds had quite taken over, and for a month there, I didn’t have the pinch strength to pull even the least of them from wet ground or to use any garden tool very two-handedly.

By mid-June, though, it was beginning to look rather nice, with three cattle panels on T-posts to hold Goose Beans, another couple for the Romas and bell peppers, and a half-dozen 5-foot-tall tomato cages, with the empty spot coming up in buckwheat for the pollinators to enjoy.

Then the rains stopped and the insect pests started. Digital control (pinching squishy yellow bean beetle larvae) got harder, then broke down entirely the week we were in Saint Louis. We have a garden of laced leaves on the beans and dead ones on the blighted tomatoes. It’s a sad sight.

In a normally watered summer, we’d have had a lot more tomatoes to ripen. The Mortgage Lifters only started showing good health and fruiting in late July. Same for the Amish Paste, a variety we will plant again, and try to get an earlier start. They are hanging heavy with cluster of firm oval green fruits. Many green tomatoes now will stay green since the leaves have blighted.

But I remember our old trick: bring the green ones in, wrap each in newspaper, leave in a dark cool place. And many will ripen over the coming weeks and months–not as tasty as sun-ripened, but better than tossing them into the compost bin.

We will have put away maybe four canners full of tomatoes, only one of green beans, and that is pathetic compared to a good year of 30-40 quarts of beans canned. It’s a mighty small return for the countless hours of work that goes into a garden. And yet, those hour’s pay was from more than produce. One could spend their time doing less rewarding things, even if the canning shelves are sadly bare in September.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. ‘Bout the same here, Fred. Conditions have been so bad, I can’t get my Balance Due at Farmers Supply to grow. I stand at the front door and look at the few remaining spots of green grass like a man watching a house burn down.

  2. Living in concrete and caliche as I do, that looks like quite an abundance to me. I am nearly forty, and it was only a couple of years ago that I realized that you people in other places than this desert could have gardens because actual water falls somewhat regularly from your skies. Never could reconcile how people would bother watering gardens so much until I realized they weren’t.

  3. I admire and envy your attitude about your garden Fred.
    It’s such a lovely spot and so well thought out in most respects.
    I only have a small tomato patch and several ornamentals scattered here and there about the yard, so I can afford to water it all during the drought which comes EVERY year now.
    Few of us can appreciate what challenges living in such a rural, natural zone can present. Using ones digits to control bean bugs is not the way I would do it. I say that and yet, this year I did not spray my wonderful treasures with Seven. Maybe next year. It is already filling with HOPE.

  4. Not our best or worst. We didn’t get much corn and we had bear and deer get into it without our dog jazzy (who died this year) to deter them. Deer ate my second planting of beans, but I canned two batches earlier. Our tomatoes crop was descent but now the garden looks ready for Halloween, kinda full of creatures, tall weeds and ugly. The deer also ate the flowers off my pumpkins, only have one that hid from them!