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Intrepid Urban Farmer: Right at the beginning of the payoff, elated by the look of things (and anticipating)

By Ginger Dawson
Special to NKyTribune

Here we are. Right at the beginning of the payoff. The garden has been in the ground for about six weeks. For the first time, in quite a few years, I am elated by the look of things in the back yard of the Italianate on Russell St.

The plants are all doing well (except the Swiss Chard *sigh*). Even the bug population seems to be a little less enthusiastic this year. I can’t figure out why, but I’ll take it.

A tomato plant before pruning. Note the blighted leaves. (Pictures by Ginger Dawson)

The tomatoes are really going crazy. I just spent a couple of hours pruning the vines. All you have to do is sit down on the ground next to each plant and take a good hard look at it, up close and personal. Which of the vines is, or is not a player at this point. Does it have fruit on it? Does it have a few blossoms? Leave these vines alone. If it looks like a wanna-be compared to the others vines, take it out! Don’t be shy. Take this opportunity to resolve a few stress issues (maybe you’re having trouble with a co-worker, for example). Go at that plant and be fearless! Wield those pruners like a machete in the Congo (well, maybe not that fearless). Tomatoes are remarkably resilient from this kind of treatment. I think they might even actually like it.

There should be two or three major vines remaining. Prune off any leaves that look yellowed or blighted, and also any that are laying on the ground. This is an important thing to do, as it forces the plant to shoot more energy into producing flowers and fruit. In addition, the plant needs room for air to circulate, as this helps prevent blights. Morning dew and heavy rain burn off a lot faster and you’ll have less trouble.

Another thought along this line of preventing excess moisture is that it is a better plan to water your tomatoes with a garden hose or soaker hose. I think a sprinkler on tomatoes is generally a bad idea. I know, I know–when it rains it’s ok. Well, we can’t help that now, can we?! The first rule of gardening is the fact that we (humans), are totally under Mother Nature’s thumb. We can’t control anything, but we can do little things that make us feel important and effectual.

Same tomato plant, cleaned up and thinned out

Now, not to put too fine a point on it, I don’t think we should get too mired down in an existential view on watering tomatoes. Gardening is enough of a challenge without acknowledging our role as minions.

Another thing we can do to make us feel good about our role as gardeners is to perform that time honored act called “pinching suckers” (if this isn’t an existential act, I don’t know what is). After you have done your major pruning, try to keep up with taking out the little shoots that develop on the stems at the crotch of each leaf. Pinch those suckers! It is a Sisypheon task. You will never finish. More to feel good about!

My zucchini is just wonderful….today. I have been waging what seems like a hundred years war with the hated Squash Vine Borer. This disgusting, hideous thing will bore up the stem of a plant and kill it outright. It is not a lingering, slow death, it is a slashing murder. Each year, I try a new tactic to stop this malevolent creature from emerging from eggs layed in the dirt and on the stems of my plants.
This year, I built on some techniques I’ve tried in the past. This is an approach that uses a tent of a sort, and pesticides.

The zucchini pop-up zippered thingees right after planting

Now before any of you out there faint at the word “pesticide”, let me immediately put your mind at ease and know that I am referring to Neem Oil and Pyrethrin–two products that are approved for organic gardening.

Browsing catalogues, I came upon these pop-up zippered-top tent thingies in Gardener’s Supply catalogue. They are specifically for zucchini. I had tried something similar to this concept a few years ago; mine were Rube Goldbergish, but they worked fairly well. My squash lasted as long as it ever had before the borers took it out.

Looking good! Zucchini with collapsed tent around it.

Here’s what I did this time: I planted my zucchini seed. I then prepared a soil drench of Neem Oil (Neem, water and a half teaspoon of dish soap to emulsify the oil) and soaked the soil around the seed. I did this with a sprinkling rose on my watering can so as to not disturb the seed. I then put the zippered pop-ups over the seed area and secured them with ground staples. They were zipped shut.

The zucchini grew inside these tents. After a while, they were too big to be contained, even after unzipping the tops. I finally removed two of them completely, and left the third one on, collapsing it around the base of the plant.

From the point that I unzipped the tops, and continuing on, I have treated the stems with Pyrethrin after every rain. I am hoping to prevent the little brown eggs that the Squash Vine Borer adult lays from becoming viable, or even appearing at all. So far, so good.

Of course, this means absolutely nothing. I could wake up tomorrow and have four dead zucchini plants. Oh, the angst.

The cucumbers look great and have not been visited by cucumber beetles yet. Maybe I’ll be lucky all the way around this year.

It is probably a foolish thing to express that. Even though I have put in all of this work, and know that I ultimately have no control over the outcome, I don’t want to jinx the whole thing with loose talk. Are superstition and existentialism compatible?


Ginger Dawson has resided in Covington, Kentucky since 1988. Raised on a farm in South Central Ohio, she has enjoyed a very eclectic and enriching life. She loves her Italianate Victorian Townhouse and particularly the garden behind it.

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