In retrospect, our apple trees should have been an omen of what our gardening success was to be this summer. All ten along our lane flowered towards the end of an extended hot spell. A day later the temperatures plummeted and the winds picked up, ripping petals off the blossoms and turning our lane white. Not one apple this year!
The new greenhouse was progressing well when both men came down with COVID the beginning of May. Although they tried to complete it, the fever/chills, headache, coughing and fatigue slowed them to a crawl. They worked wearing toques, gloves and winter jackets, shivering in the hot sun. The seedlings meant to go in it grew lanky in the house.
When completed the cucumber and tomato seedlings were moved in and tied to stakes. Yellow bean seeds kept from last year, were sown, as well as lettuce and radish.
We started the outdoor beds, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower from a nursery, beans, carrots, onions, beets, cucumbers, zucchini and pumpkins from seed; the latter two from saved seeds. It all grew.
We noticed the greenhouse beans weren’t bush beans, but runners. How, when they were from last year? The tomatoes and cukes in the greenhouse grew like wildfire, quickly passing their inverted cages. We quickly wired new cages on top to give them more support (note for next year: need hooks welded to the frame of the greenhouse as these plants got top heavy and leaned!).
They produced, succulent tomatoes and delicious cucumbers, the best we have ever grown. The high cost of greenhouse seeds was worth it. The radishes went to seed.
We noticed discoloured leaves on one cucumber plant, then the other, next the beans – a mosaic virus. Nothing to do except enjoy the produce before the plants died. The tomatoes seemed unaffected but the top started to die, bent over the wire cages by the weight of their fruit. Damn!!
The outside plants were doing well, except for the dill which I need lots of. It had seeded itself in the lawn, none in the bed. Double damn! I had plans to make 50 jars of dill pickles this year. Two jars a month each for our son and son in law. We planted two more packages and got six plants!
The pumpkins looked strange, the leaves a pale green and the pumpkins were odd shaped, more like elongated pears. These were seeds from last year’s jack-o-lanterns. Then the fruit started turning orange. Aha!! Cross pollinated with zucchini!! Next the leaves showed signs of mosaic virus. We ripped them out and fed the pumpkins to the hens.
Next the zucchinis showed signs of virus. They got ripped out. Next, two beds down, the centre patch of cucumbers from a package paled and shrivelled so out they came. Next was the north end of the bed, supposed English cucumbers also from a packet which grew too fat and soft to be English ones. When their leaves grew pale and waned, out they came. The hens were doing well!
The cucumbers on the south end are still growing well. Leaves dark green, lots of crisp pickling cucumbers. Leave them a couple days more and they make excellent eating. These are New Brunswick picklers, brought to me last year by a friend visiting her sister. She found a basket in the local library containing packets of seeds for free so brought me some. We are impressed! A multi-purpose cucumber that, so far, is unaffected by the virus. I need more.
Next, something was eating the, tomatoes, decimating an entire Roma plant of leaves, flowers and fruit overnight. My husband found two fat, green, gross, hairless caterpillars – tomato hornworms, the larval stage of Hawk moths. We tried searching for these green monsters with no luck. An article said they glow fluorescent green under a black light so we bought one. No luck. Now they had moved into the yellow tomatoes. A local nursery provided an organic solution, saying she had not heard of hornworms in twenty years. This was echoed by an egg customer. Just our luck!
By then the disappearing tomatoes had stopped. Either we only had two or they have gone underground to pupate. Time will tell.
For the first time in over 40 years, nature has thwarted our attempts at being self sufficient. Hopefully next year will be a different story. Fingers crossed.
Angela Dorie is an agricultural writer and a Jersey farmer near Cornwall.