Misadventures in gardening
By Beth Connors-Manke
Three years ago, this Misadventures column began with my hapless gardening at the London Ferrell Community Garden on Third Street. Since I’m better at walking than growing vegetables, it slowly mutated into a column about city pedestrianism. However, because my neighborhood seems to be the community gardening version of Silicon Valley (it’s a veritable who’s who of dirt-dusted urban farmers), it was only matter of time before I’d have to return to my misadventures in gardening.
Our house, when we bought it, had a ready-made garden area: great sun, tucked behind the garage, already fenced in. The previous owners seemed to have been growing food there (I hear it was a dog pen before that). After living in house for three growing seasons, though, it seems that my husband and I are especially skilled at letting land lie fallow—meaning we’re really good at letting weeds (and nothing else) grow there. That little parcel of land has sported lanky weeds that resisted removal by any means other than hacking.
Nonetheless, this spring neighbors kept giving me vegetable plants: first cabbage and broccoli, then some varieties of tomatoes. The cabbage and broccoli refused to die of neglect, so when the tomatoes came, I gave in and planted them all in pots. I had to tuck them next to our back door in order to keep them away from the bunnies that had settled on our back forty. As nature would have it, the bunnies were put off, but the white moths were not; they ate their way through the foliage on the cabbage and broccoli. I kept watering to see if the plants could outlast the moth munchies, because now I was, well, attached to the plants and their fascinating growth.
I became convinced that they could beat the moths, and every day was also buoyed by the fact that the tomatoes were progressing, showing their little green spheres that hung heavier each day. Surely the tomatoes would encourage the cabbage and broccoli, both of which had the tenacity to survive their earlier month of dark exile in my garage.
And then more wildlife took my back door to be its habitat. Wasps began building twin nests on the underside of our 1950s era aluminum awning. Generous (i.e. lazy) as we are, my husband and I let the nests widen their geometry until one night, after dinner, I pushed Brian out the door with the wasp spray. Beth inside the kitchen window, Brian outside, we talked through our strategy (trajectory, distance, etc.) and then Brian did the deed as I went back to washing the dishes. Our approach was successful: by dusk the next day I could brush away the nests without fear of wasp reprisal. And then this conversation happened:
BCM1: “So, seems like the spray strategy worked. Were the vegetables clear?”
BCM2: “Where are the vegetables?”
BCM1: (thinking: my bad, I should have moved those.) “Next to the door, where they’ve been for a month.”
BCM2: (sheepishly) “You told me to spray the wasps, and I sprayed the wasps.”
Long story short, the vegetables may or may not have been coated by poisonous wasp spray. Knowing that I should have thought to move the vegetables myself, and knowing that I wasn’t going to risk eating vegetables poisoned by our own hand, I stopped watering them. I watched all the plants slowly wilt and wilt. Those little green tomato globes hung on until the very end, when I finally dumped all the pots into the Lenny. I was sad. It’s hard to bury your plants.
As I see it, there’s one main moral to this story: neighbors should not force the gardeningly dysfunctional to grow their own vegetables, as it could result in either poisoning or grief. Thanks a lot, Jonathan and Patrick.