May 30, 2012

Wordy Wednesday: The Life of a Farmer

Fallen zukes. Rest in peace, sweet plants.
It happened. 

Last week was a very busy week; we had fun social engagements every night and that left me very little time in the garden. So by Friday morning, when I noticed a little frass—the sawdust-like tell tale sign of squash vine borers—at the base of one, two, three... all SIX of our zucchini plants, I had a little melt-down. 

Here's the thing: there's little to no chance I could have totally prevented this. The fact that we've had two full months of unbelievable zucchini harvest thus far is remarkable in my book. Now happens to be the laying time for the vine borer moth and that means that the susceptible plants—those cucurbits with hollow stems—were especially vulnerable. 

I shed a couple of tears (because, in my own words, "I let my little plants down"), suffered through my husband's extreme eye-rolling at aforementioned tears, and then got to work performing surgery on the plants. 

Damage has been done.

"Surgery" meant taking a very sharp knife and slicing into the base of each of the stems. Any plants that show signs of wilting are probably goners.* But three of ours still looked strong, so I sliced into the stems and carefully pulled out the white inch-long grubs that were eating the plants from the inside out.

Then I stuck that sharp knife right through each of them, without any feelings of remorse for killing a living being, because those little bastards were eating my plants. A farmer has to put her foot down. Right on the bug that's doing the damage.

At that point, I poured BT worm killer, which is approved for organic gardening, into each of the stems and covered them with compost. Then I watered the bed and waited with bated breath.

Rescued, for now.
We lost a total of six plants, and the remaining squash plants don't look too great. But three of the zucchini plants are still alive. In fact, I picked two zucchini from the largest plant this week, and there are blooms and small fruits on the others as well.

This is what the garden looks like today—Wednesday, six days after the surgery.

The less-full bed with a couple of thriving living plants. I'll take it!
Hope, in the form of baby zucchini on the vine!
It's an important lesson in gardening. My mom says, reassuringly, "That's the life of a farmer." But the thing is, my livelihood doesn't depend on these plants; we simply grow them to enjoy and share them. I can't imagine the heartbreak caused by drought or natural disaster or unstoppable infestation for a farmer who supports her family with her crops. So I am grateful that we have this backyard garden to pick and choose from; it truly is a luxury, albeit one that involves a lot of work!

Meanwhile, we're eating from the garden every day and sharing as much as we're able (which is to say, when we remember to take it to friends and colleagues).

And the fact that our more susceptible cucurbits were attacked makes me hopeful for the rest of them; the butternut, cucumbers, watermelon, and cantaloupe are doing fine. The bugs can't get them all.

Today's garden harvest.

*I should also note that the squash vine borer can live in the soil; so it's best not to plant squash in the same bed for three years. It works out well, though, since we have enough raised beds to rotate. We'll also have to rotate our tomatoes, but more on that next time on the Gardenerd Chronicles.