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“Every man may be observed to have …some peculiar theme of complaint on which he dwells in his moments of dejection.”

Samuel Johnson

I was having a delightful phone conversation with my old boss last week.  He always makes me laugh and gives the best advice of anybody.  We always gossip about the people we know in common, ask polite questions about each other’s families, say a few outrageous things about the state of the world, and then move on to gardening.  A big pumpkin grower, he said, “I’m trying nematodes this year to get rid of the squash vine borer.”

I don’t have squash vine borers, but I did have cucumber wilt last year, caused by another insect.  That was it–cheery mood entirely deflated. “Why’d ja hafta remind me?”  I whined.

Yesterday, I visited my lovely friend Martha in her country garden. Martha is a former chef and has a large and daringly planted garden to supply her extremely active kitchen.  After about ten years of operating a maximum security facility surround by cage wire and railroad ties, she showed me the spots where woodchucks are now pushing in under the cage wire.

“I don’t expect to get any Brussels sprouts this year.”

“Brassicas!” I bitched sympathetically.  “They clearly just taste too good.”  I went on to complain about my lacinato kale–how the seedlings couldn’t get any traction, they were so frequently nibbled by something.

“I’ve rousted two rabbits out of here in the last few weeks,” Martha added.

That, of course, reminded me of the squirrels I have observed not just yanking plants out of my vegetable garden, but also delicately chewing on bean seeds.  “I thought my soil was to blame for the poor germination in my garden!”

“No, it’s the vermin,” Martha said sagely.

The gardener’s list of complaints is long indeed.  Weather perpetually. Let’s add to my list tree roots that drain the soil like a kid sucking a soda through a straw.  Cut-worms, too. Yesterday, I noticed some brown edges on my potato plants, before mentally pushing aside the horrifying possibility of late blight.  In Martha’s case, there was the well-meaning husband who burned her eggplants as if with a blow torch by placing uncomposted chicken manure around them just as they were getting going.

It’s frustrating to scatter seed or tuck a seedling into the ground in high hopes, only to get nothing.  The very variety of vegetables most gardeners plant guarantees some failures every year.

“And yet,” Martha said, our bitchfest coming to a sensible close, “there is always more food out here than we can eat.”

In vegetable gardening, the glass is almost always half full, even if it takes until harvest season for the gardener to see it.

Posted by

Michele Owens
on July 20, 2012 at 12:39 pm, in the category Eat This, Real Gardens, Uncategorized.


  1. So I am not going to magically figure this out one day? argh!
    I have found that the squash vine borer can be defeated with a knife–and compost to bury the mangled stem. But if you figure out a way to conquer the cucumber beetles, please let us know!

  2. Yeah, we are in a drought, the brocolli went to flower when the heads were the size of a golf ball, the peas dried up, the red raspberries are few and feeble. But! I have seen ONE Japanese beetle. ONE. No complaints here. It is a great gardeneing season.

  3. As my 3rd planting of tomato seeds are flowering at 6″ high. My 2nd planting of beans are getting tall enough to start climbing and a few flowers have pop. My 4th planting of cucumber, basil, and radishes are germinating in the last couple of days. Yesterday while I was putting string up for the beans I turned around and saw a groundhog LEAVING my garden through the electric fence crying all the way 😉 Have a great weekend all !!!

  4. Being from the UK my struggle is always our dreadful British Weather. Don’t get me wrong, rain is often a good thing for the gardener but not constant rain without sunlight. I am investing in a green house for next summer for sure!

  5. I’m so frustrated by these vine borers. This year we invested in several new raised beds, made a mix of what I thought was decent soil and most everything was growing like crazy. I saw lots of the yellow and black bugs on my cukes and I wasn’t quick enough to react. I just didn’t know what they were. I had to pull the pnats. I did get a lot of veggies before they died though.
    I was cleaning them out and moved a zucchini plant and it just broke off right at the base of the stem. I took a closer look and saw the ugly white larvae staring back on me. When I looked a little closer at the rest of my squash and pumpkins, they too were all in some state of vine borer tragedy.
    I’ve done quite a bit of reading to try and save what I have left for this summer but is there something I should do in the fall to “clean out” the soil? Are there eggs that can survive the winter?

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