Pandemic gardening: Squirreling away the green tomatoes

I harvested more green tomatoes than red in my pandemic garden this year.

This has been a bad year for garden vegetables. Like we humanoids, they have been operating under pandemic parameters for the past two growing seasons.

That was my trite observation as I wrapped two buckets of green tomatoes in newsprint this morning and carefully tucked them in a box to take to the basement. They will ripen down there in the dark and taste pretty sweet in the middle of a Kansas blizzard.

Another tired and trite reflection: Anyone who tries to grow their own fruits, vegetables, or flowers when they have other primary passions and compelling work is either…


B–Has extra money to throw away

C–Loves being tortured and challenged with only minimal rewards

D–All of the above

Of course, the answer, at least for this pretend gardener, is D.

Please help me! I’ve fallen in the garden and can’t get up!

I wish someone had been taking a video of me early this fall as I tripped over a wad of rubber garden hose and then a landscape timber while trying to rescue a potted Mandeville plant that was looking sickly. As my foot caught–first on the hose–then on the timber, I felt my body tilt at 45 degrees and travel for a full 20 feet. I never let go of that potted flower until finally hitting the ground and sprawling on my right side… on the wrist already plagued by carpal tunnel from my real daily occupation of putting my own or client’s stories on a computer screen.

It was one of those scenarios we may have played out as a child. You look around to see if anyone witnessed it so you can send out a tearful SOS. Seeing no one, you realize there’s grass soaked with dew and chiggers underneath you. You see a flash of the television commercial where a feeble, white-haired elder cries weakly, “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

 Determined to not be that commercial, and to avoid wearing a call button around your neck for the rest of your life, you just pick yourself up. Still, there’s a nagging sense that this might require an X-ray, or at least an ice pack.

As the soreness sets in, I wonder why in the world I’ve continued to garden this year?

Was it only for the aesthetics…the sheer enjoyment…the fleeting appreciation of the beauty of the flowers and the way they enhance curb appeal?

Did I grow vegetables just so I could boast of the flavor of a pot of homegrown green beans cooked with new potatoes and flavored with bacon and onion?

Is this just a genetic compulsion that began when my mother sent her slave children (me, mostly) to the garden at age 13 to weed so that she could feed us homegrown green beans and sliced tomatoes?

The year 2021 has not been kind to this gardener. I’m thinking it might be time to give it up and let the weeds have everything and the containers go bare next season. I don’t have time to put gardening on my “passionate about this” list and be more professional and intentional about it.

Yes, I know. I should practice perseverance. But the pandemic and all my other to-dos have made me realize that it just might be time to begin using discretion…it being the better part of valor and all.

Plagued with pandemic pests

In case you ever wanted to see a closeup of a Japanese beetle. You’re welcome.

The gardening obstacles we faced this year have not made this hobby fun:

•The pandemic has fueled a return to digging in the dirt for a lot of folks the last two seasons. That led to a renewed interest in canning all the bounty, which led to a shortage of canning supplies.

• Prices for bedding plants were a lot higher this year, fueled no doubt by continued pandemic labor shortages and trucking issues. The cart loaded with tomato plants and flowers that we shoved through the checkout at Home Depot caused us a bit of sticker shock.

• Plagues and pests showed up at our garden this year–big time. They included

–Japanese beetles. I never knew about these nasty things, so had to learn to set out tree traps with pheromones for the romantically inclined bugs.

A bunch of squirming, trapped Japanese beetles…the pandemic version of Beetlemania.

–Rose rust and mildew—the roses never bloomed this year

–Something strange in the garden soil I bought

–Tomato cutworms

–Squash bugs

–Lima beans that just kept blooming but never put on pods

–Grasshoppers that ate all the foliage on my hibiscus flowers

–The intense heat

–Constant watering…if you didn’t, everything wilted.

–Beets and lettuce that never, ever get planted in time and then blast in the searing Kansas sun.

–No true spring–just winter followed by summer.

At least the grapes were good this year.

I admit there were a few successes…

The moonflowers bloomed, even though they were planted late and I never expected them to.

The irises and lilies and peonies were lovely, as usual.

The store-bought petunias looked great…when I remembered to water them every day.

Despite my complaints, there must be something that compels gardeners to dig in the dirt every year. Next spring, I’m sure I’ll be off to a greenhouse for bedding plants, forgetting I took a nasty fall and battled so many pests, along with the challenges of pandemic gardening.

And if this aging body should not allow me to garden, I’ll take a spring trip to a greenhouse, just to smell the dirt.

The moonflowers and hibiscus flourished…when they weren’t being attacked by beetles and grasshoppers.

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