This morning, as I was picking powdery mildew affected leaves from my giant New Guinea Bean plant, it occurred to me that maybe it was time to come clean. I take a lot of pictures of our beloved patch, but in the manner of our social media world these days, they are always angled to show it in the absolute best light possible - when it's just been watered and the yucky bits are hidden from view! We get lots of lovely feedback on how pretty our patch is and you could be forgiven for thinking that it's all sunshine and rainbows, fairies and unicorns here in our little glade but in the interests of keeping it real, it ain't that perfect that often...if ever.
Here's our current state of affairs. Granted the sunflowers are pretty, the second crop of corn is okay and my black kale rocks but other than these and the prayer flags, it's looking mighty bare.
My tomatoes have gotten away from me (actually this happens every year now). In my pre-children years, my tomatoes were lovingly selected from a seed catalogue, sown into pots, then transferred to well prepared soil and I tethered them as they grew. Each plant could be tended daily so they had no excuse but to grow disease and insect free, producing boughs of heavily laden fruit.
Not so these days. More like an impulse buy of seedlings that get whipped into a bed with only ten minutes here or there to tie back straggly branches (use recycled pantyhose for this - they're awesome for this task). Now the plants are montrous shaggy bushes with lots of dead branches and fruit ripens quicker than I can pick it. In deference to my hardworking other half though, he still prepares the beds well with compost, molasses, seaweed tonic and blood and bone... good soil preparation is a 'get out of jail' for other less than perfect garden decisions).
So lacking time for TLC in the tomato patch I experience the following problems - rats and fruit fly (yuk) and fungal diseases. My solution is to pick the tomatoes green and let them ripen on the kitchen windowsill and I'm (more or less) turning a blind eye to the fungal issue until I have collected my fill of fruit at which point I'll rip the whole plant out, destroy it and treat the bed with molasses.
My partner, let's just say, he's a bloke... and as blokes do, he likes to grow vegetables that are really big. He spends the cooler months watching Youtube videos about how to grow the world's biggest pumpkin, melons or gourds. Then Summer is the season to try his hand at this endeavour. The summer patch is largely overcome with curcubits and the ginormous New Guinea Bean. This looks like a pumpkin with big lush leaves but grows over trellises like a bean. The fruit tastes like zucchini when it's small and bean sized but if left to grow becomes enormous - well over a metre long - it's an impressive specimen (see pic below - I'm not kidding).
The New Guinea Bean grows alongside the 'World's Largest Pumpkin' which so far he's only managed to get to about 50kgs - an impressive feat but still a few hundred kilos off the world record so each year, the challenge is on…again.
The giant pumpkin and New Guinea Bean are real pretty at the outset, with winding tendrils creating lush green avenues and archways amongst the beds. We worry if we'll have enough water through summer to keep them lush and yet...when it rains… they're struck down with powdery mildew (dammit). So the cycle begins of plucking badly affected leaves off and spraying with milk, in a vain attempt to keep the mildew from nailing the prized pumpkin before it has the chance to reach it's full potential.
You can see from our patch pics that we have arches over each bed made from bent poly pipes. They were put in place to halt the besiege of the brassica crops by cabbage moth butterflies, to keep out the birds and feral bunnies and to stop the random peacock that tried to move into the patch deciding it was his 'hood' from wrecking havoc.
We use the pipes every season, for attaching climbing frames for beans, peas, tomatoes, pumpkins and gourds and for saving the patch from those nasty hot days. It's normally a mild Mediterranean summer here but guaranteed there will be at least one really stinking hot day of 45 degrees plus with blazing hot northerly winds capable of complete decimation. So now, when we know that day is upon us, I empty out the linen cupboard and fill my pockets with safety pins to do this....
So despite all the pretty pics you might have seen on Instagram, we battle drought and flood, ridonculous hot days, vegetables that just don't perform, crappy tomatoes with fungal diseases and fruit fly, powdery mildew, snails, slater, cabbage moth butterflies, parrots, peacocks, bunnies and toddlers, just like everyone else. I usually don't take pictures of that stuff however here's a little gallery of some of our current ugliness in the patch #nofilter
When you wander through your vegie patch and all you can see is bugs, disease and WORK to do, it's easy to lose heart and think 'why bother'. In all honesty, I reckon we get to that point towards the end of every summer, exhausted from the heat and the harvest glut. No matter how much I cook, we often become overladen with gluts of certain vegetables (seriously, I don't even like yellow button squash but he always insists on planting one…). Although, I will always stand by the statement that there is NO SUCH THING as too many tomatoes.
So what keeps me in the game? I look at a few before pics of our patch, from waaaaaay back in the beginning, when there was only sandy soil, no beds and weeds and grass were the main inhabitants and then I look at some of the prettier pics from last spring and am overwhelmed by a sense of pride and achievement - a little for myself but also a whole lot for my other half who has sweated buckets to bring this amazing little oasis to life.
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