It’s true. Every spring I succumb to the urge to plant seeds and watch them grow. And by July I’m questioning my sanity.
It starts in March when, feeling a bit like a kid with the Sears toy catalog at Christmas, I order my seed potato from Wood Prairie Farm in Maine. I dream of what else I will plant and where. The possibilities seem endless. The snow melts to reveal the garden beds and I salivate at the thought of this year’s crops.
In April and May, starting seeds indoors brings daily doses of joy as the tiny sprouts push up from the soil and transform into healthy green seedlings. Venturing to the local Herb Farmacy for a few organically grown tomato plants beats a trip to the candy store any day! The exciting prospect of a fantastic gardening season dances in my head.
The weather warms up as June approaches and the time to plant outdoors arrives. The smell of the sun-bathed earth and the popping colors of early-blooming bulbs are heavenly. Newly transplanted seedlings look small but hopeful. The perennial strawberry bed begins to flower. Soon, the seedlings gain strength; little green strawberries swell from their flowers; spring is in the air. All is right with the world.
Until it isn’t!
Nature abhors a garden.
There’s nothing like the disappointment of finding a precious green seedling chopped off at its base. Unless, of course, it’s the satisfaction of digging up a fat brown guilty cutworm and ending it between two rocks kept nearby for just such an occasion. While I firmly believe in organic gardening practices, there are days I’d like to poison the hell out of cabbage loopers, vine borers, spider mites, and Asiatic garden beetles– not to mention larger critters like chipmunks, groundhogs, and the local rabbit population! In mid-May this year, my poor apple trees never had a chance against a mob of voracious worms. And for every decent strawberry I picked this June, I probably threw another one or two half-eaten into the woods behind me. A few years ago, I met a tomato hornworm for the first time. Ugly creature!
In July, the temperature in New England soars to ninety degrees and the humidity descends. One day, the garden looks fairly well kept and the next, it’s overcome with weeds. They creep in, take over, and the battle begins. Some I can name — like crab grass and dandelions. The rest I know by sight because they don’t look like anything I’ve purposely planted! Whatever their names, they always seem to gain the upper hand, while I try desperately to cover every bare spot with mulch. August becomes a month of recovery, reclaiming my garden space, inch by inch. It’s back-breaking (well, back-aching, anyway) work.
If critters and weeds are not enough to deter any sane person from undertaking this hobby, the myriad of possible plant diseases and fungi might! My father gave me a copy of Rodale’s Garden Answers which contains sections meant to help identify what disease might be attacking and what to do about it. So many of the symptoms are frustratingly similar that by the time you take an educated guess, the plant could be beyond help. Sigh! I’ve seen plenty of powdery mildew taking out stands of Black-Eyed Susans. And two years ago, I watched my potato plants wither away, one by one, from blight. There’s also the challenge of trying to determine whether it’s an insect or a disease that’s causing a plant to wilt, turn funny colors, curl up, and die.
It’s truly a wonder that any gardens produce beautiful blooms or edible fruits. Yet, they do. I have a few gallons of strawberries and raspberries stored in my freezer as proof. Pea pods, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, and cucumbers await my attention outside my door.
As I wander around the grounds, I find myself already mapping out next year’s potential garden beds. Maybe next year I’ll be more prepared, more pro-active. Maybe I’ll beat nature at her own game.