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A fine mess

I’ve been away on vacation for most of the last few weeks, and as is typically true in August, have returned to ridiculous explosions of food, weeds, and crabgrass.

You’ll notice that one of the explosions, at least, is positive: food.  So many tomatoes that sauce-making is the only option. Endless eggplants and pattypan squashes. Tomatillos littering the walkway. Pole beans hanging by the hundreds from their vines like prisms off a big tacky chandelier.

I love the basic self-sufficiency of my summer vegetable garden.  Unlike the lawn and the perennial beds, which currently look like hell, the vegetable garden is an attractive riot.  Because I mulched heavily with leaves last fall, there aren’t a lot of weeds.  Thanks to that mulch, which conserves soil moisture, I can trust the skies to do the watering for me when I’m away.  Admittedly, however, I live in the Northeast, where a week with no rain is unusual.

My personal vegetable garden is not the only one I’ve neglected, either.  Also receiving no care from me since late July at least are the Lake Avenue Elementary school garden and a community garden plot I took so I could grow more potatoes. But all is nonetheless well.

Vegetable gardens are really a great deal: Work hard to assemble the pieces in May–paths, mulch, crops–and then bestir oneself for the rest of the summer only to harvest  a windfall and scatter seed for the fall.  Why doesn’t everybody do this?


  1. The vegetable garden is the one place where chaos is not allowed in the wild cultivated gardens. Admittedly with a thick layer of wood chip mulch the need for weeding is close to non-existent. Damn vetch got in my strawberry patch though and that is a pain.

    The wild flower surround can drape into the roadside vegetable garden by this time of year but I just mush it aside and move on.

  2. And it’s not all overripe? Wow. My experience has never been that mixing vacation with harvest season could work!

  3. I have to agree with Alan. Here in Michigan, it is not usually necessary to water frequently. However, this summer, I have pretty much watered my vegetable garden every 3 days. I also have it heavily mulched. We had almost zero rain for all of July. Most of my vegetables are doing pretty well, however.

  4. Alas, most of my small garden went to feed the woodchuck, the bunnies, the chipmunks, the slugs… The tomatoes have survived, thanks to me winning the war with the horrid green hornworms. The herbs are holding their own, too. Wait’ll next year, I guess. For now, there is a lot of insalata caprese at my house (tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad.) Not complaining.

  5. If I didn’t attend to the garden on a daily basis, I would have lost even more produce to hornworms, bean beetles, squash borer, voles, blights, molds and assorted other maladies, not to mention needing to water during the dry spells and pick quickly ripening tomatoes, squash, and okra. I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t leave town in the summer for very long

  6. Banes this year: White flies (tomato plants,) bunnies (parsley and pepper plants.) Watering was necessary every three days. But there are tomatoes, peppers, parsley, and other herbs. The petunias love it (if watered) but I have a rather strange phenomenon of a large batch of pole beans, Romano. Normally I would be absolutely swamped in gallons of beans. And yet the bean plants are enormous and Not One Bean. I have some flowers now, so maybe soon, but it’s a curious summer….

    • karenj – Mom always told me that beans won’t flower or set if the temps are over about 95. Experience has shown it to be true. Which really stinks since we spend most of the summer at or above that threshold.

  7. We’ve had a horribly dry and record hot summer in Colorado. Usually we get moisture in July–not this year. Without life support (water from the hose) there would be no gardens at all. That said, with life support and mulch it’s doing nicely; the tomatoes are ripening; I am happy. All the dahlia starts (20- 19 survived) I planted as my “50 Mile Bouquet” experiment (local, organically grown cut flowers) are going into a blossom boom! I planted a bed of zinnias in the community vegetable garden (Scarlet and Canary) as well and it’s a Yellow Swallowtail and honeybee paradise. I’m also in love with Chinese Red Noodle Beans.

  8. There’s no way I could have left my gardens on their own for more than a day or two this summer. Normally we would get enough rain to survive, but not this year. Too much heat and no rain made things really difficult this summer…even with plenty of mulch. Now that it has “cooled down” to normal temps things are starting to come around again. I just hope it’s not too late for some of them.

  9. It’s funny, I was just thinking the exact opposite: I prefer ornamental gardening because it is much less work, or at least the way I do it it has a lot fewer problems to deal with.

    • Jason a wise vegetable gardeners knows you don’t deal with problems. You sigh and move on. There are good years and bad years for individual crops. Diversity ensures you will get good crops of many things and have more than plenty.

  10. I couldn’t even start planting my garden this year until July. We just got too much rain during the wet season and it was too muddy. Since then, it has only gotten above 70 maybe five days altogether, definitely not in a row. Temperature-wise, we don’t get major frosts until late October, but the rains frequently become non-stop by mid-September. I’ll be thankful for any harvest at all this year.

    At least my garlic has been happy.

  11. In the development I moved into ten years ago, in the high northern desert, we have cheap irrigation water from the river, with automatic timing. We still lost leaves, flowers, and branches from some of the ornamentals when the high temps went from the low nineties to the low hundreds (Fahrenheit!). We water at night, each area for 20 minutes – twice. Well, this week, three times.

    Of course, now the weeds are doing great. On the bright side, the weeds are almost entirely ornamentals from other parts of the garden – or the neighbor’s. We have high class weeds.

    karenj – I’m speculating here… I know that corn doesn’t pollinate above a certain temperature. That’s probably true for quite a few food crops. Has it been hotter than normal out your way? Even without a drought, high enough temps mean many earless corn plants for farmers.

  12. Why doesn’t everyone do this ? Simply because everyone can’t, even those who are willing. Between the kids, the job, the commute, the rental property, the husband, the in-laws, & the house there’s no time. And with the neighbors planting ‘privacy trees’ all around the borders of our postage-stamp lots, there’s next to no sun. And living where I do, there’s also no free water between mid-May & mid-October. What few tomatoes have approached ripeness have been claimed by some sort of critter – rat or possum ? – that eats them in stages. All else is a miserable failure. I plant a veggie garden every year with great hope. And every year it’s the same result – vast disappointment. Maybe it’s time to throw in the towel on this particular project & plant perennials.

  13. Your blog reminds me of my father’s garden. He and mom spent hours cultivating, watering and weeding their garden and then countless more hours preserving the bounty by canning and freezing. One day my son , age 6, was visiting grandma and granpa and got into the garden. This boy loved radishes and ate the whole row. Mom sent dad out to pull some radishes for her salad and he couldn’t figure out what happened. Well, not until my son confessed. After that grandpa planted an extra row reserved for my son.
    Happy Gardening,

  14. Oh, I LOVE my bean arches. They are iron and super-sturdy. They were from the late, great Smith & Hawken before it became just another Target sub-brand.

    But I have to say, I found a wonderful iron worker near me who does great stuff for a reasonable price. If I wanted something similar again, I’d get him to make them.

  15. Montana is also in the irrigation belt — we’ve had less than an inch of rain since May. Red Flag warning for fires has been in place for a couple of weeks — less than 10% humidity, plus winds. With daily watering, I’m getting tomatoes and peppers (well they’re still green), cucumbers and zucchini. I had to replant all the beans in early July — something ate them — so just getting tiny beans. And the drought saw an infestation of rapacious flea beetles in every garden I know — I nursed the greens back with a lot of diatomaceous earth but it’s been a chore. And yes, I’m heavily mulched. Also, my grass is pretty much brown. Oh, and losing some older apple trees this year.

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