I have been gardening more or less ever since I was six- helping my mother in her her huge vegetable gardens in the summer. I can’t really remember a time when I haven’t been growing something.
Some years I haven’t had a full-fledged garden, but always had flowers, or tomato plants, or something growing. I would never claim to be a gardening expert (I’m not), but I enjoy it and can tell the difference between a plant and a weed on most days. A few years ago, I even participated in a community garden plot with some of my friends, and to my surprise, I was able to pass down a few gardening hints here and there.
So when my good friend, Amy at Crunchy Domestic Goddess, asked me to garden sit her garden for two weeks while she was on vacation, at the end of July/beginning of August, I jumped at the chance. Amy’s garden was just the perfect size-not too big, not too small. Amy had tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, squash, strawberries, some herbs, a cucumber plant, some beans, and some sunflowers in her garden.
Due to a few reasons, I didn’t plant a garden myself this summer, so I was really excited to have a few weeks where I could garden!
Amy left town on a Saturday, so I went over on Monday evening for my first time. The garden was beautiful. Tall tomato plants, with tons of green-just-turning-to red-tomatoes, and strawberries. There were a few nice yellow pear tomatoes just getting ready to turn. Everything was green, with no signs of weeds, pests, or any other problems.
Despite it being record heat, I felt confident on my way over for my next visit on Thursday. I had watered deeply and didn’t want to over water, so I felt my timing would be right on.
Imagine my shock as I slid open the patio door, overlooking the garden, and discovered all the tomato plants top leaves had been eaten! I could see the bug bites through the door, and saw the sunflower leaves had huge chunks of them gone! Upon further inspection, Amy’s garden was being attacked by insects. The only thing that didn’t have major bug bites on its leaves were the strawberries, cucumber, and the beans.
I immediatly thought tomato worms for the tomatoes, but the bites weren’t very large, but there were hundreds of them in the leaves. I didn’t see any tomato worms on the plants, and didn’t see their droppings. I searched high and low for signs of what was eating the garden. I saw an earwig and an ant, but I knew they couldn’t do that kind of damage in just two days.
Amy’s garden is organic, so I was not about to put anything on it without her permission, but I was stumped. At the rate this was going, Amy would not have a garden when she came home. I wish I had taken pictures, but I was really shocked. I had never seen anything like this before.
After consulting with Amy and our other friend, Julie (who is a master and an organic gardener), Julie said it had been a bad year for pests and recommended some diatomaceous earth, to kill the insects. She was a lot calmer than I, and seemed to think everything would be OK, and balance out.
I headed out the nursery for some diatomaceous earth, and applied a layer of it over the entire garden Friday evening. The insects had continued eating, and had started in on the beans, and basil. I really hoped the earth was going to help, because I was not feeling optimistic about the garden.
We still had record heat the next few days- until Wednesday- so I went over almost every night to water, and monitor the insect situation. Happily, Julie was right. The earth seemed to be working, and it didn’t appear like the plants had sustained any further damage.
The tomatoes were staring to grow new leaves, and I was confident that Amy would still have a pretty nice garden to come home to. The only thing that concered me was the diatomaceous earth washed away every time it got wet, and we were getting some rain showers at night. Julie said it eventually washes away, so I figured every other day re-applying the earth would be OK.
On the Wednesday evening (3 days before Amy was due back), I was at my in-laws house after work having dinner. The heat seemed to have broke, clouds were moving in, as well as a breeze and it felt great. I was looking forward to going over to the garden that evening and working in the cool air, giving it some exra TLC.
At the time, I could not have imagined what was in store for me a few hours later, and sadly for the garden.
Stay tuned for Part II