by Charlene Burgi
The summer gardens are putting on their last flush of fruit as the days grow shorter. Many of you are dashing about distributing vast bounties reaped from your labor. The realization that my garden failed hits hard as I observe canning jars disappear from grocery shelves and generous friends sharing bags and baskets of homemade preserves, fresh fruits and vegetables. I graciously accept these offerings and ponder the outcome of a failed attempt with vegetable gardening this year. What went wrong?
Historically my vegetable garden was in the backyard, but nearby trees diminished sunlight hours, and I recognized a new location would be needed to grow a healthy vegetable garden. After scoping out the property for areas not being used by the donkeys, I found the perfect sunny area. I spent months improving the soil by sheet mulching and amending and walked this Promised Land every day waiting for the time to plant. I also noted Sydney, my golden retriever, scurrying after squirrels, rabbits and other cute critters living in the area. All this activity should have sent up a red flag.
The exposure, location and setting were so perfect that I put any concerns aside. And then it began. The mysterious thief-in-the-night started with last winter’s cauliflower. The full-grown plant looked like a mini Paul Bunyan had felled it with a multitude of blows to the thick stem. The undeveloped plant lay on its side untouched, yet disconnected from the life-giving root system. There wasn’t a trace of hoof print, scat or telltale underground furrow to be found. Soon after, the heirloom tomato plants, cherry tomatoes, eggplant and brussel sprouts met the same fate. If that wasn’t harsh enough, full-size, ready-to-harvest basil and parsley disappeared from raised planter boxes overnight without a trace of root, leaf or stem. Zucchini, swiss chard, beets and string beans soon followed suit. I managed to harvest two zucchini before the plants disappeared. And though the silent marauder felled my tomatoes, there was enough energy left in the remains of the amputated plant to turn five green tomatoes to shades of an edible red. The thief has yet to find the new potatoes still growing in the large earthen pot, but all else is but a fading and sad memory.
Today I had a spark of hope as I read about techniques for protecting raised planter beds. I can line them with fine mesh wire to keep out burrowing bandits. I can attach 1½ inch pipe to the wood sides every three feet, slip flex pipe into those sleeves, and hoop the pipe over the top into the attached pipe sleeves on the opposite side to create the frame for a miniature greenhouse. I can cover the bed with shade cloth in warm weather or clear polyethylene film to protect my crops. I can backfill the planters with well-rotted compost material that is teeming with nutritious living material ready to feed the fruit-bearing plants. Yes, next year, I will have a bumper crop!