Saturday, June 23:
Still no rain. We have had one or two light showers which refreshed us but had little or no effect on the gardens and pastures and barely registered in the rain gauge. The temperature has been in the nineties, which to our Texas-bred minds is moderate, but our Ohio-acclimated bodies find the weather almost oppressive. The windows are wide open to catch any breeze, and we sweat standing still.
Still, there is a great deal to be done at this time of the year. Garden maintenance is constant. It is like housework; no matter how often you cook, or wash dishes, or fold laundry, the next day it will have to be done again. The hot dry weather, stunting to some garden plants, is like a tonic to the tomatoes, squash and corn, and the weeds – especially the weeds. We have lost track of how many times we have tied up the tomatoes, pinching out the suckers at the same time, and pulling weeds as we go. The six-foot stakes we tie them to are beginning to look too short.
Every day or so we paw through the squash plants searching for the grey, diamond-shaped bodies of squash bugs, which we drop into a jar of soapy water or just smash. They must be related to stink bugs because they look so like, and when you smash them they smell like those aggressive anise-scented air-fresheners that overwhelm you when you step into a gas station restroom. The smell, in addition to discouraging any predator less determined than a gardener, must serve as a warning signal to other squash bugs: during our last summer’s war on squash bugs when we torched every foot of the pumpkin patch in a final effort to make some dent in the bug population, the air was so syrupy with their smell you didn’t want to open your mouth to breathe, and the ground was grey with tens of thousands of bugs flowing out of the garden like a tide, trying to make it to the safety of the high grass. There was trouble in the air and they knew it, even before the demented woman started shoveling them into the fire.
At first hand-picking squash bugs makes you think life is too short to spend any of it this way, but diligent attention from the time the plants leaf out does diminish the numbers. We are placing all our hope for a squash crop on Mr. Eliot Coleman, whose assertion that really healthy plants aren’t bothered very much by bugs reassures us despite our own experience. We’ll coddle these plants all we can, and what is perhaps better, we are making successive plantings of the short-season summer squashes and if the bugs get ahead of us in one place, we’ll tear those plants out and hope that by the time the next planting is maturing the bugs will have gone dormant or something. Stay tuned.
Potato bugs are another scourge, fat, shiny orange grubs that eat the leaves of the potato plants down to bare ribs, and although one doesn’t eat potato leaves and is therefore not in direct competition with the bugs, the plants need leaves in order to grow potatoes. Twice-a-week visits to the potato patch, or even more often, give us a chance to skim down the rows looking for bugs. When we find an area that is infested we – that is, they, not I – smash the little boogers in their bare fingers by the dozen. The more squeamish collect them in a can of soapy water, or brush them onto the dry, cracked ground and step on them. It is our own experience that this method of control is very successful, and not really time-consuming if you don’t have to do the whole potato patch by yourself.
Japanese beetles make good targets for young people with badminton rackets, and if hit hard enough they disintegrate on impact.
News flash: hallelujah and glory be. Sixteen years we’ve been in this house, is it? Sixteen years gardening in the same places, and this year, only this year, we discover that, despite what our eyes assure us, the big garden (as opposed to the really big garden) is downhill from the culvert on North creek. This is earth-shaking news, because it means that when we drop a half-barrel under the culvert with a fitting plumbed into the side to take a garden hose, we have running water in the garden seventy-five yards away. Not just some water, as we have had – and grateful for it! – from the rainwater reservoir next to the barn, which catches almost three hundred gallons when it rains enough and has watered many young fruit trees and tender seedlings which might otherwise have died, but which has to be husbanded carefully in dry weather – but unlimited water, a full hose running constantly which can be dropped into a trench and allowed to soak whole areas of thirsty garden. This is an especially grateful discovery this dry, dry summer, and was made because the stock spring has run dry – or as near as makes no difference – and we had to fill the tank from the creek. Heretofore we have done this with the aid of a small electric submersible pump and a bucket set in the creek bed; slow, somewhat troublesome, and requiring electrical power. Now we drop a hose from the culvert into the three-hundred gallon tank and it is full in two hours. It takes four or five hoses to carry the water as far as the barn, but as our hoses are all salvaged from the trash pickup the system is effectively free.