Patience With the Experiment

Patience With the Experiment

Future perfect

Though gardeners are supposed to put down roots, I’ve made an awful lot of vegetable gardens in the last decade. When I first bought a weekend place in the country, I made a garden right behind the house. It worked well in high summer, but my fall crops did nothing. When the sun got lower in the sky in late summer, shade from some giant white pines, even though they were at a considerable distance, became a problem.

So I made another garden, in a fertile boggy sunny spot which I loved and which was perfect in every way, as soon as I figured out I needed to spend one muddy April on my belly in a trench, nailing cage wire to a fence to keep out the groundhogs.

Then I helped make a first garden at my daughter’s elementary school. We were given a spot on the east side of the school, and once again, shade turned out to be a problem, in this case, a sheet of afternoon shade cast by the building. So we moved the garden to a better corner of the schoolyard, to a spot that had the worst soil I’d ever seen in my life–lifeless sand compacted by 80 years of traffic by small feet into cement. Yet in year three, after two years of intense application of city-provided compost and this year, a more casual sprinkling of second-cut hay, that garden is beautiful.

Last year, I decided my weekend garden in the country was no longer working for me, since my kids’ various interests no longer allowed us any freedom on Saturdays. So I made a new garden in the city, just by wheelbarrowing city compost over my sod. New garden, new troubles. I’d never seen  seedlings eaten off by cutworms before. Seedlings I’d babysat for months in the basement. The only proper reaction is operatic–hair tearing, arm waving, anguished shrieking.

I seem to have solved that puzzle by mulching heavily last fall.  Apparently, cutworm moths like to lay their  eggs in grass and weeds, not on a blanket of maple leaves.

But my garden has other irritations. I sat on my screened porch this year and watched a squirrel just casually lift out a lemongrass plant I’d  rooted and pampered for months in a sunny window.  The squirrel carried it up a tree–and then five minutes later came back for the other lemongrass plant.  (What is it about lemongrass?  It’s also the only plant in my garden that my dog likes to eat.)

Now that I’ve seen that performance, I think I understand a few other crime scenes, including a young gooseberry plant found half-dead beside its empty hole.

I’ve also noticed a lack of germination in the garden that puzzled me. It wasn’t until I planted my pole beans and saw that the ones on the lawn side of the arches were fine, while the ones in the garden were nowhere to be seen, that I realized squirrels were responsible here, too: They were eating my seeds.

I don’t know what the answer to this question is. My husband and my kids like to set up targets in the country and shoot at them for fun. But they have yet to do anything violent or useful with their weapons. And this is a city. I think if we tried to shoot squirrels here, we’d be arrested.

Also, I’ve been shocked to realize how pernicious the influence of the Norway spruces on the north side of the garden are. Thanks to the greed of their roots, the second half of the garden barely limps along. Potatoes seem fine. Other crops just don’t quite work.

In other words, I’ve been a vegetable gardener for 20 years, but nonetheless, I currently have some very serious problems.

But I also have faith: by improving my timing and tinkering with simple tools such as mulch, water, compost, fencing–and our fantastic local tree removal guy–I’ll get it right eventually.

I’d like to give that information to beginners. Vegetable gardens take a few years to figure out.  Have patience. They tend to be halting at first, and then they are ridiculously beautiful and productive.

Posted by

Michele Owens
on June 22, 2012 at 2:37 pm, in the category Eat This, Feed Me, Real Gardens, Shut Up and Dig.


    • Timeless Environments
    • 16th September 2016

    I was once frustated this one year when I kept losing my Sweet Corn in the furrows. There was this little tiny hole where the seeds had been but no seed. I had alwats presoaked all my seed also to give it that headstart, so I knew they should have quickly appeared. Those holes though and what was doing it was a mystery. Was it happening at night when I was in bed ? But why no tracks or digging around the tiny hole ?

    • admin
    • 16th November 2016

    What Kevin said, about how it’s never the same year after year! I’ve been gardening for decades, and farming for 20 of those, and I have a mantra (actually, it holds for most life situations too): “Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect”.

    • skr
    • 24th November 2016

    Chickenwire everything! I battle birds, squirrels, and f&#@%*%# gophers. I make chickenwire baskets to keep the gophers out of roots. I also use hoop tunnels made out of 6″ welded wire concrete reinforcing mesh which I then cover wire chickenwire. Big ones for garden rows, small ones for the nursery flats in which I start seed. I once left the hoop off of a nursery flat overnight by accident, and in the morning all the seedlings had been mowed down by the birds. I keep the plants protected until they are big enough to handle the abuse.

    • Anon
    • 3rd December 2016

    Ok, maybe it’s not pc, but squirrels are rodents, as are chipmunks, and they can be caught in rat traps, basically just bigger mouse traps. Cruel, maybe. But after watching them destroy a veggie garden and do serious damage to new perennial beds for 3 years running, my heart hardened to their cuteness.

    • Debra
    • 16th December 2016

    Yeah, we have all kinds of fun with urban wildlife in Ballard – coons, possums and, of course gray squirrels. A family has decided that the attic makes a good home and has gnawed their way into it. We have to figure out how to evict that crowd. Our cats have a joint operating agreement with the coons and possums with their cat food, freely sharing its distribution center in the laundry room. We plant veg in raised beds which have worked out well. The worst problem we have thus far, besides the endless overhead watering (fungal diseases) is the cabbage moths. Don’t bother with corn; it’s coon candy.

    • Ann
    • 17th December 2016

    Very nicely said! I came to the same conclusion after recovering from a temper tantrum over recent squirrel-inflicted carnage to my eggplants. Sometimes gardening makes me want to tear my hair out, but it’s still what I’d rather be doing pretty much any time of the day.

    • Michele Owens
    • 17th December 2016

    Sounds like it’s time to move, Laura!

    • MiSchelle
    • 18th December 2016

    I feel your pain! This same thing is happening to me, and I fear I may have to rearrange my entire landscape to accommodate a vegetable garden at this point. I often fantasize about neighboring trees contracting diseases necessitating their removal.

    • skr
    • 18th December 2016

    I use marbles and a slingshot and all I have done is train the squirrels to travel under the cover of my retaining walls where I don’t have line of sight from my sliding glass door and scatter when they hear the sliding glass door.

    • Michelle
    • 18th December 2016

    A bit of bird netting draped around will keep the crows and other birds off the newly planted seed, and while not squirrel-proof, will make them work harder for it. Also, bird netting is easy to pick up and pack away once the seedlings are big enough to be less appealing to birds and squirrels.

    • Sarah
    • 18th December 2016

    It’s not the little critters that get me — it’s the deer. We finally decided to make PVC/bird netting cages for the peas and the beans. It’s the only way we get any.

    • jemma
    • 18th December 2016

    2 words: community garden!

    • Gail
    • 19th December 2016

    This year has been the worst for my vegetable garden so far. Temps have been much higher than average. I’ve replanted the beans twice, the corn, cucumber, some of the peppers, broccoli and all the seedlings of leeks & onions fried to a crisp. I’ve since replanted all of these. Some of the potatoes haven’t yet germinated and some have rotted in the ground. Well water doesn’t seem to be the answer to germination only rain which has been in very short supply this gardening season. Its ironic as the field of corn across the road from me planted the first of may is almost chest high.

    • Sandra
    • 19th December 2016

    A neighbor of mine likes to treat the squirrels as pets (bubonic plague and rabies carrying pets I would point out) and they bury their peanut treats anywhere they can–usually in my freshly planted beds, often destroying what I’ve planted. Of course they don’t eat the peanuts they “hide” and I find them later.

    • Gene
    • 20th December 2016

    i love this thread! i finally learned the 10% rule – just count on losing 10% every season to something, it greatly lessens the rage and heartbreak.

    • Chris Maciel
    • 20th December 2016

    I came here for consolation to my continual problems in the garden and I’ve found it!
    Thanks, all, for sharing your frustrations and continued comitment to keep gardening.
    It is a challenge we all seem to accept for living the way we want to live.
    I just came in from spreading powder chili pepper on two of my planters that have been eaten to stubs by a groundhog….yes, I plan to shoot him if I get the chance (We’re in the country) but I’m trying lesser remedies in the meantime, including netting the bottom four feet of my morning glory vine which was looking grand before he found it.

    • Dino
    • 20th December 2016
    • Kate
    • 20th December 2016

    My dog eats lemongrass too! I have to cage it so she doesn’t nibble it down to the soil.

    • barbara broerman
    • 21st December 2016

    love reading everyone’s experiences but would add a request. It would be helpful to know where you re gardening. could everyone add not necessarily zone but state or province and area therein. I think it would help in utilizing others experiences. Btw
    Barbara I’m southeastern Ontario.

    • jeff
    • 21st December 2016

    Squirrels require a strategic solution in the city. We live in Boston, and my backyard garden is surrounded by nosy neighbors, and kids cut through the yard daily. So shooting and kill traps are out of the question. I live trap, using a Havahart, and tell my neighbors I’m relocating the cute little guys (illegal in Massachusetts, $5000 fine and up to 2 years jail). Then I take the trap into my basement and pop them in the chest with a .22 pellet gun. So far my tally is 58.

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