A Theme of Complaint


“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.


  1. This reminds of the days when I had a job that invovled a lot of travel in the states of the Great Plains. A popular joke was (is?):
    Q: What do you call a basement full of farmers?
    A: A whine cellar.
    Farmers or gardeners, anyone at the mercy of the natural world is going to have stuff to complain about.

  2. 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!

  3. And they looked up to the heavens and complained, why are these buffalo so damn hard to catch? What ate those melons I was going to pick?

    You call this Eden? Someone is responsible for this. And God was born.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 !!!

  6. I’m glad you all can laugh.

    I’m just so frustrated that this year I’m apparently keeping the wildlife alive and well fed and receiving nothing for myself. Hopefully there will be a few tomatoes at the end of the season. But then again, I”m a glass half empty kind a gal.

  7. I’ve had two – TWO ! – homegrown tomatoes. Neither was bigger than a golf ball & they were supposed to be beefsteaks. The artichoke went straight from bud to blossom – no chance for eating them. Some critter has eaten all of my peppers, most of my tomatilloes … maybe it’s eating green tomatoes, too ? The drip keeps developing new, unwanted “emitters” in random places, flooding one area & causing another to shrivel. The weather – ? We have spent the summer swinging from 100+ to barely-70 and back in 24-hour blocks. The peaches are wormy. The dreaded spotted-wing drosophilia took out a large portion of the cherry crop.

    Bright spots, I should look for bright spots. I’ve successfully turned the extremely alkaline native soil into soil (even the patch out in the front yard) that is sufficiently acidic to support blueberries like crazy. I made my very own blueberry jam this year – first time ever ! And we’ve been eating them by the handful, & in buttermilk cake, over cereal, in pancakes … The plum tree produced a bumper crop which we ate fresh ’til we could hold no more, then turned all else into jelly, as evidenced by my kitchen counters overflowing with jars of nearly-neon purply-red deliciousness.

    Too often I do look at my garden & see the glass half-empty. But it really is brimming over. Even if it’s not brimming with tomatoes.

  8. Yep, gardening is a struggle to remember to focus on the positive. This year in Colorado: drought, fire, and heat, but the mosquito population is virtually nil.

  9. 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!

  10. 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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