Saturday, July 6, 2013

Get Into Your Garden For An Hour Everyday

I have heard it said that if you have a garden, it should be visited once each day for and hour. Although I try, I don't always spend the hour a day in my garden. Woe to those who don't.

I cut the lawn this morning starting at 10am. The temperature was 80ºF/27ºC and the relative humidity was 92%. My property is just under 1/2 acre/2023 sq meters and can be cut in approximately one hour with a self-propelled mower. Although I wanted to stop between cutting the front lawn and the back I persevered and finished cutting without stopping. With the mower back in the garage I entered the air conditioned house. My shirt and pants clinging to my skin. I changed into dry pants and shirt, flopped onto the sofa and turned on the TV. While watching reruns of the BBC version of the Antiques Roadshow, I fell asleep. Not to say the show had anything to do with it. That is what happens when you get old and out of shape. 

During the time I was indoors, the temperature rose to 88ºF/31ºC however the relative humidity dropped to 63%. As long as I didn't exert myself I could bear being outdoors. Awake and recovered I strolled outdoors to check the progress of the raised square foot vegetable garden beds. Here is what I found.

Bed# 2
The Mortgage Lifter tomato plant is almost as tall as the trellis. Which I believe measures 8'/2.4m.

The Mortgage Lifters are large and almost completely pink. I might have my first large tomato by Saturday, July 6. There are a fair number of them, too.

The grape tomato, Tami G, is full of flowers and green fruit. I harvested a couple of handfuls of them this last week. Their skins aren't as thin as I like but they have good taste.

The lettuce is bolting (growing tall and going to flower). I will harvest them in the next few days. The carrots aren't ready to harvest. I know because I pushed my finger down into the soil and felt the carrot wasn't very thick. The radishes are putting out their second set of leaves, their true leaves. They were planted Sunday, June 23. I expect to harvest them in two weeks or so.

Those two yellow tomatoes are on the Mr. Stripey vine from which I removed the leader stem. The number of leaves on that vine are negligible. I still wonder where the tomatoes are getting their energy. Once those tomatoes are ripe I will seed that square with cabbage or cauliflower.

Bed# 1

The other bed doesn't have tomatoes as tall as Mortgage Lifter, but the Sweet 100 is getting there. Six pepper plants are all doing well down in the front of the bed.

The Sangria ornamental is very prolific. Even though sold as an ornamental, they are eatable. I tasted one of the first to ripen. It wasn't very spicy. I will give them a second taste soon.

On the right in this photograph are Anaheim peppers. The other pepper varieties are Carmen, Mucho Nacho, Red and Orange Bell peppers which are going strong. No peppers have ripened to red or orange.

As I made my way around the raised bed I arrived at the Sweet 100 grape tomato plant in square #9. This is my favorite small tomato. It is sweet and I pop them into my mouth like candy. I started looking over the tomato with the display of flowers and fruit at the base of the vine. I was eager to find a ripe tomato to eat right off the vine. There weren't any. Then I found something that made me shiver. Something lovely, colorful and destructive as hell.

A tomato hornworm - Manduca quinquemaculata, and it was going to town on the tender young leaves and stems of my beloved Sweet 100. It was the size of my pinky finger. Remember I have big fat hands. We're talking 3"/76mm long and near 1/2"/13mm thick. I was horrified. I was repulsed. I was not going to let it get away with eating my beloved.

Let me explain something before I continue. This insect is a plant eater. Not a meat eater. There is no danger of being eaten by this soft bodied, beautifully nature designed despised devouring demon. Nonetheless, I didn't want to touch the thing. It had to be removed from the vine and I was the only one there. I had to remove it.

I reluctantly outstretched my right hand with my index finger and thumb forming a pincer. I didn't want to put an excessive amount of my body in harms way. Two fingers was enough. Even though there was very little chance I would be harmed. Claw-like, my digits hovered over it, having second thoughts. Fight or flight went through my mind.
Adult Manduca quinquemaculata


I grabbed the thing and pulled. It had a strong grip. The feeling was like splitting the loop section of velcro from the hooks. I exerted more effort. It was fighting back by holding on. I broke its grip from the plant. Immediately, it began to wiggle and twist. Except for the absence of squealing, I acted like a little girl. I tossed it onto the concrete patio towards the shallow cast iron bird bath. I strode to it. Picked it up again in my pincer. Again, wiggle, twist and I tossed it towards the bird bath.

Being friendly to birds, I was wondering if one of my feathered friends might like to eat this juicy bugger. Thinking there was a strong possibility of that, I placed the worm on the concrete patio heated by the noonday sun, equidistant from anything or anywhere I thought the devouring demon might find cover. However, because the concrete hot or despite the hot concrete, that hornworm was like a speed demon as it scurried towards the day lilies. Again I grabbed the gooey green gobbler, this time I plunked it into the bird bath. I thought, maybe it would drown and then the birds would find it and make a meal of it. Feeling confident it wasn't going anywhere, I returned to bed #1 to continue my observations and look for more of its kin.

I looked thoroughly. I saw no more. What I did see was the damage one worm did in one morning. Several leaves and stems were gone. More, lots more, would have been gone had I not spent some time checking over the garden. 

Tomato hornworm doing its business. The term pretty ugly comes to mind when I see it at work.
I returned to the bird bath to see if the worm drowned. It was gone. I did it again. Another bad judgement. I searched all around the bird bath looking for a fried worm. No sight of it. Either it was camouflaged amongst the day lilies or possibly eaten by a bird. I wasn't sure. I hoped for the latter.

I stepped back into the house for an hour or so. When I returned outdoors the tomato hormworm was doing breast strokes in the bird bath. I had a second chance. I definitely didn't want it to return to my tomato plants. I pulled a utility knife out of my back pocket, extended the razor blade. Using the knife blade I flipped the hormworm out of the water onto the hot patio concrete. I held the knife firmly and slit the green beauty in two. Masses of dark green oozed from the wound. Bitter ooze from the eaten stems and leaves. A bitter end to the lovely colorful camouflaged critter.

Although I don't visit my garden an hour everyday, if I hadn't caught this bugger when I did I might have lost another tomato plant. I already damaged two tomato plants, this juicy guy would have devoured another because of my lack of diligence.

A word of advise, if I may. Get out into your garden for an hour everyday.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

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