A rainy spring and summer didn’t mean a great harvest

Despite a good rainy spring and summer, our backyard garden didn’t produce as well as we would have liked.

The rain didn’t seem to help our tomatoes and cucumbers – the two crops we can always seem to count on. Hornworms invaded the tomatoes.

Last year, we built a tomato cage out of PVC pipe and mesh, but this year, the squirrels kept finding weak spots and we probably lost 50 tomatoes. I hate those squirrels – especially because they take one or two bites out of a perfectly good tomato and then toss it on the ground.

We are going to reinforce the cage next year, maybe with chicken wire.

My neighbor Fred woke up one morning and all the tomatoes on his plants were gone. He bought a live animal trap and subsequently caught a possum, a raccoon and an alley cat. My guess is that the possum and raccoon were the culprits.

He had the possum and raccoon released in the wild after he gave them a good talking to. He let the cat go.

Nothing tastes better than a fresh homegrown tomato. We like to slice them and eat them atop fresh mozzarella cheese.

We had a ton of cucumbers last year and Susan canned a lot of pickles. We had some cucumbers but not nearly as many. We are still eating those canned pickles. My motto is, “Get all you can and can all you get.”

I tried growing sugar pumpkins on a trellis this year and they started out good. Pumpkin plants like to spread out and my hope was they would take to the trellis (also made of PVC pipe).

I got some good blossoms and had about six or seven pumpkins growing. But when they were almost fully orange and ready to pick, some worms got in to most of them and we wound up with only two or three goods.

These are great pumpkins – not big but very sweet and perfect for pies and pumpkin bread. I did manage to save a bunch of pumpkin seeds, which I may try again next year.

Here’s a tip – if you like to make pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread from pumpkins, most produce stands will dramatically drop their price the first week of November after Halloween. I bought some in Muskogee at a roadside stand last year for $1 each and they were delicious.

Also, pumpkins stay good for months if kept from extreme temperatures and if they are not damaged and cured properly.

We planted carrots again this year and the crop was disappointing. They never got very big, although when we pulled them up a few weeks ago, we did get a big bowlful.

We also tried growing lettuce and the plants came up well but the lettuce wasn’t that appetizing for some reason.

I planted cabbage early in the spring and most of the plants were destroyed by too much rain. I was sure the four plants that survived would burn up in the summer heat but they didn’t. We might get some nice cabbages this fall.

I put out some broccoli plants and they were robust but didn’t produce much broccoli. I harvested the broccoli early in the summer and you are supposed to get more than one harvest but it wasn’t very good. Some kind of bug chewed on the leaves on both the broccoli and cabbage plants.

Once again, it looks like we will have a bumper crop of sweat potatoes. They are delicious and are more nutritious that regular potatoes. They store very well, too. We ate sweet potatoes from last year’s harvest for almost a year.

Some critter kept trying to eat our sweet potato plants before they got big. It might have been Fred’s possum or raccoon.

Once again, Susan did well with her herbs and she even grew some jalapeno peppers (which I threatened to feed to the dog to make her behave).

We keep learning lessons about growing and storing food.

Our cultivator broke just after we got most things planted. We will have to get it fixed or buy another one  – the garden is too hard to till by hand.

I have written this before but my parents’ generation knew how to grow a garden – they had to during World War II. They kept chickens in the backyard and they knew how to can pickles, okra, jams and jellies and all sorts of good food.

None of my kids share our passion for gardening – yet. They don’t have space for a real garden at this time. They do share our growing interest in eating less processed food and more and more fruits and vegetables. I am going nowhere near a Little Debbie snack cake (I’d like to have a nickel for every Little Debbie oatmeal cookie I have eaten over the past 60 years – I would be a wealthy man).

I would like to put in a couple of fruit trees but I need to do more research. That is one nice aspect of modern gardening – everything you need to know about seeds, plants, fertilizer, pests, harvesting, etc. – is right there on the Internet.

Now I am going to go eat a sweet potato.