A Tough Year For The Garden

Some sage English gardener said, “It takes 50 years to create a beautiful garden.”

An allium from my garden, before the hail, heat, and smoke.

It comforts me.

Last year, you may remember, we started the Great Suburban Back Yard Overhaul. Tore out the decrepit wooden deck, rototilled half the lawn, put in new fences, and built a new garden bed with seven areas and pathways. I was half drunk with the glory of planting last year—lilacs and a peach tree, vegetables and perennial flowers, roses and herbs. I had a few disappointments: the onions kept being eaten by some tiny worm (which happened again this year—help!). The only rose that made it was in the mini-greenhouse I erected. The peach tree nearly died of a fungus until I figured it out.

But an inaugural year is always sweet, isn’t it?

This has been a very unkind year for gardens in my world. There was the late spring, then an early and endless and destructive hailstorm just as I managed to get all the seedlings planted. Then came the extreme heat (102 degrees in Colorado Springs is weird indeed), which coupled with the altitude of 7000 feet scorched and exhausted the June plants.

Before the heat broke, fire began to rage in the mountains. The Waldo Canyon Fire pumped tons of ash and particulates into the air, thus further smothering my poor babies. It was too hot and smoky to do any weeding, though I still did my best to keep up in the evenings. Weeds don’t care about smoke or heat or hail. There is a particular little succulent weed that thrives on all of that and they have made themselves very much at home.

Finally, the fire is out (or at least contained). Even better, the monsoon season has arrived. It has rained a lot the past week, and there is more rain to come, nearly every afternoon over the upcoming week. The plants are THRILLED. The corn has gone from a pathetic ankle high to thigh high in six days. The potatoes have started flowering. The peas have croaked, but that’s normal this time of year. I’ll plant some more in a month or so.

The only things that just are not going to thrive this year are the tomatoes. They’re puny and overwhelmed. The watermelon plants were demolished in the hail storm and have not recovered, but they were a looooonnnnnnggggg shot from the start. I’ve left them, anyway. You never know.

Clearly, I am behind on my weeding and mulching, but it all burst into glory in about three days flat.

This morning I sat in my swing beneath the Ponderosa pine in my garden and admired the returned vigor of the lupines and the beans, the rose that has begun to bloom again and the snapdragons that add a corner of zest. I don’t know if I’ll get peaches, in the end. They were battered badly by the hail, and the tree still looks bedraggled. But there are a lot of them. They haven’t dropped off. They might be unbeautiful, but maybe I’ll get some jam.

Gardens, books, and children, I suppose. You don’t know how it will all turn out for a long time. In the meantime, you show up and do the work—writing pages or pulling weeds or driving them to violin lessons—and try to be present for what is, and trust that things work out.

How is your garden faring this summer? How are your other long term projects—books, children, remodeling? Does anyone know how to organically rid the soil of those annoying little worms eating my onions? 

12 thoughts on “A Tough Year For The Garden

  1. Barbara Samuel

    Also, please note that all paths but the final half of the long one have been weeded. I’m not THAT lazy.

  2. Entertainment

    Bookmarked your blog!

  3. TaraL

    My poor garden… this summer has been one problem or distraction after another. Either the weather wasn’t suitable for weeding, or I was laid up and couldn’t weed, or I had to leave and let the weeds rum amok. It’s been a constant barrage and I’m seriously considering giving up and mowing the whole thing down. It’s very depressing.

    I’ve never had anything eat my onions. (Knock wood) I mix them in with my cabbage and broccoli to help keep bugs off of them. It’s a good companion planting. Are your worms underground or on the leaves/stems? On the leaves, soft-bodied pests can usually be knocked back with insecticidal soap. Or a pyrethrin spray might work, but it’s kind of spendy if you have a lot to spray. If they are chewing underground, you might check into other companion plants for alliums. I’ve had good luck keeping worms out of my turnips by planting them in with catnip, but if they’re eating onions, I can’t imagine what would be stinky/strong-tasting enough to drive them away. And, in a pinch, cayenne pepper is always worth trying. It scares away all kinds of pests. I strip all my unused hot peppers off at the end of the season, grind them in the blender with some water, and freeze it. Then the next summer, I can get it out, strain it and put it in a spray bottle. Works wonders. I’ve even poured it down gopher holes to drive them away. If something is eating at the onion bulbs, it might be worth trying watering them with a pepper solution? Maybe>

    As for your peach tree, perhaps you shouldn’t try for fruit this year? Conventional wisdom says don’t let them set fruit until the 3rd year. It allows them to put all their energy into strong roots and branches and will help them hold the weight of the fruit and ripen it later.

    Just a thought… My garden problems are out of control this year so it’s nice to try and solve someone else’s. :o)

  4. Suzanne

    Hi Barbara,
    Try Cayenne Pepper (8oz)sprayed on plants and soil OR 1 qt. water mixed with 2tsp dish soap and 1/4 tsp. peppermint oil in spray bottle OR Diatomaceous earth as a dusting agent. Might be onion maggots-what do they look like? I have had success companion planting with beets, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, planting many marigolds throughout garden. Plant garlic and parsley at the base around roses. Plant carrots around your tomatoes. Hope this helps! Suzanne

  5. Barbara Samuel

    I think they are onion maggots, Suzanne. I have a ton of marigolds, too, but now that you mention that, I don’t have any in the area where I planted onions last year or this year. One onion volunteer is surrounded by lettuce, so that is also a good sign.

    Thank you for those suggestions!

  6. Barbara Samuel

    Tara, I just read that about the peaches. Maybe I shouldn’t have let them set fruit, but there they are!

  7. stephanie

    Kudos to you for even trying to keep up with the garden this year. I’d have let it go wild by this point or gotten a goat to come in and do the work.

    I have very little in the way of garden – it’s maybe 8 x 10, supposed to be mulched, with loripe and day lilies. Apparently my weed barrier is shot and no help at all and the runner grass has taken over. This year’s harsh thunderstorms have dropped tons of rain but haven’t soaked the ground so our hard Virginia clay is holding onto these weeds for dear life. It’s practically impossible to want to go out and weed when I get home from work and the temps are still above 100. If it doesn’t improve I’m thinking of hiring a goat.

  8. TaraL

    I understand about the peaches. Once they get to a certain size, they are hard to pull off and toss. I tend to start yanking them off once the blossoms start dropping so I don’t get tempted. I planted 2 new apple trees last year and had to strip them this spring. Next year they get to show me what they can do! Last year was the 3rd year for my peach tree. We had a late frost and it killed off all the tiny fruit except one. The whole tree put it’s all into that one peach and it was the biggest peach I’ve ever seen and SO sweet.

  9. Kelly W.

    Last year I planted a vegetable garden. I think I could have fed the whole county! I really wanted to see how I would do with watermelon, and it was the first year I had planted tomatoes. (Don’t laugh, but I didn’t start eatiing tomatoes until late last year.) Well, every time a tiny watermelon started to grow a deer would eat it. Then they demolished each and every tomato I had growing. So I gave it up this year! I planted some blueberry and blackberry bushes. In between them I put various flowering shrubs, scattered perennials, and snuck in some pepper plants. So far so good. Although I lost the battle to the birds with the blueberries.

    I have also done some remodeling in the house. It all has gone well, and I have only one more project before the for sale sign appears!

    Good luck with the onion situation. I wish I could help you with it, but I’m not sure what it is. Your garden is beautiful!

  10. Barbara Samuel

    Deer are really a big headache in a lot of places–some areas of Colorado Springs get a lot of deer, but they’re not an issue here. I’d hate to have to fight deer for roses, too.

    The berries are a great idea. Mine are still puny. I need to move them, I think. Plant a clematis there instead.

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