I almost quit gardening this summer!
Why, you ask? Well, let me share. And in case you feel the same way, I’ll tell you what I decided to do instead.
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Why I Almost Quit Gardening
It was the year of the bugs. At least it was in my garden. Bugs seemed to be eating everything.
The Mexican bean beetles did my green beans in, leaving nothing but skeletons of the leaves.
Some type of unidentified black worm kept eating my tomatoes. Every ripe tomato I went to pick had worm holes in it, despite me hand picking the pests off several times a day.
Japanese beetles tried to eat everything.
White woolly worms ate my lettuce and Swiss chard.
And as always, the squash vine borers managed to ruin my crop of squash and zucchini. Something was even eating the leaves of my okra. And for some reason, all my peppers were rotting before they even got ripe.
Then, just as I was finishing up this post, storms rolled through. The wind knocked over three of my tomato plants. ?
It was NOT a good year to garden. In fact, it was so bad that I almost decided to quit gardening.
Why I Choose to Grow a Garden in the First Place
The reason I garden is not so much to save money, but to know where my food comes from. Sure, I could have taken care of all of these pests with some chemical spray, but I garden so I can afford organic produce on our meager budget.
I had tried all of my pest control methods, yet the bugs seemed to multiply overnight. I was losing the battle.
Many summers, I canned, froze, and dehydrated mountains of produce for the winter. But this year, all my hard work was yielding nothing but bugs. So what’s a girl to do?
Do I Quit Gardening? Just for the Season? For the Year? Forever?
After considering my options, I decided to continue gardening. But I learned some valuable lessons in the process. I wanted to share this with you so you know you aren’t alone in your frustrations. Here’s what I did.
First, I decided to do some serious garden clean up.
It had been a rainy spring. That tends to make the Mexican bean beetles worse. There was no way I could pick off all the eggs, nymphs and beetles.
They had done so much damage to the plants that I knew the beans wouldn’t produce much anyway. So I pulled the beans and fed them to the chickens. The girls spent the better part of the day picking through the leaves and stems to get the bugs (and the beans). I’m confident very few beetles survived that massacre!
For the worms, I purchased some BT (bacillus thuricide-an organic spray) to spray my tomatoes plants. For some reason, the worms were worse on the Romas so those were the only ones I sprayed. I have so many cherry tomatoes I could afford to lose a few and my beefsteak tomatoes seemed OK.
I searched my lettuce and Swiss chard and was able to find the woolly worms and dispose of them. Finding where the vine borers entered my squash and zucchini plants wasn’t too difficult. I was able to remove the vine borers and kill them, as well as a few squash bugs hanging around.
The Japanese beetles weren’t too hard to spot on the okra, so I hand picked them and plopped them in some soapy water. The die rather quickly that way.
I thought the pepper plants were rotting from lack of calcium (similar to blossom end rot on tomatoes). So I added some calcium to the soil.
It will take a while to help the plants, but hopefully, all is not lost and they will recover before the growing season ends. This spray would probably be a faster acting solution. I also decided to supplement with a little extra compost as well.
I Took Care of the Bug Problem, Now What?
Once the bugs were (mostly) taken care of, I decided to monitor my garden for a few days and see what happened. When I didn’t see many of the pests returning, I decided to replant a few things. Since I garden in zone 7 there is still plenty of time to re-plant some of my crops for a fall harvest.
I stuck a few more squash and zucchini seeds in the ground. Once they start to sprout, I will cover them with tulle netting (which works similarly to this garden netting). This should keep the vine borers out. I’ll have to remove it when the plants start blooming (pollination has to happen) but hopefully I’ll get some more vegetables before the borers find them again.
I also decided to plant one more row of green beans. Actually its just a half row, but this should give us enough beans to eat fresh for a while. I should be able to keep ahead of the bugs on one small row.
Lessons Learned When I Wanted to Quit Gardening
The main lesson learned is that when you garden, you have to be able to roll with the punches. Just like farming, gardening isn’t for the faint of heart. Some years some crops will do well. Other years they won’t. Be prepared for anything. And try to find the beauty in what does grow. (See my beautiful sunflower below.)
The second thing I learned is to be prepared with a couple (preferably organic) pest control methods. I detail a few of those here.
Thirdly, don’t grow more than you can manage. (There is a reason I suggest starting small.)
At one point, I seriously thought about expanding my garden to grow even more of our own food. And while that’s a nice idea, I have decided that I don’t want to spend my whole summer canning and preserving when there are fun things I could be doing with my boys. They won’t all be at home much longer.
Remembering What’s Important
I’ll still can and freeze and dehydrate some produce, but I’m definitely not going to spend days upon days in the kitchen each summer. My time is worth something too. And I’m honestly not saving much money if gardening takes all my spare time.
So while I didn’t quit gardening, I will be cutting back. As I start to plan my garden next year, I’ll be growing less of each crop. And when it comes to preserving the food, I’ll take the easy route and give most of it away!
If You Are Feeling Overwhelmed by Your Garden
I shared all that to help you understand that even experienced gardeners feel the overwhelm at times. If you are feeling the same way, I recommend taking a step back.
Examine why you are growing a garden. Is it to provide food for your family? Is it a creative outlet? Is it to teach your children where there food comes from?
After examining your reasons for gardening, decide if there are any crops you can remove. If they are too far gone to save or have too many pests, it may be better to pull them up and get rid of them. Depending on the time of year, you may be able to replant some things.
If you are removing bug infested or diseased plants, don’t throw them in the compost pile. But them in trash bags to be destroyed. Otherwise the diseases and bugs may persist until next year. And they could come back even worse.
If you have too much produce to pick, ask around and see if your friends will help. Many times friends that don’t grow a garden will be happy to come and pick the bounty if you let them have what they pick. Not only will they be helping you, you will be helping them as well.
If you can pick all the produce but don’t want to process it all, many food banks would love to have fresh produce to give away. A quick internet search should yield places that will take homegrown produce.
Finally, take a day off. Usually taking one day away from your garden will not cause disastrous results. We all need a breather sometimes.
So remember, it is natural to feel overwhelmed and frustrated with your garden at times. But with these tips and tricks, I hope you will realize the benefits to growing a garden far outweigh the struggles.