A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Intrepid Urban Farmer: Weird weather begone; Big Top is prepared, ringmaster ready with the plants

By Ginger Dawson
Special to NKyTribune

Here we are in that interim season in gardening when everything is just almost. The peas, after a delayed germination, are almost getting where I want them.  The radishes and lettuce are almost ready to harvest.  The plants that I have started from seed have been repotted and are almost ready to plant in the garden  All of these “almosts” have me sitting on the edge of my seat with the anticipation of the three-ring circus that is about to happen in my backyard. All of my staging is in place. I am wound up like a six-year-old who has just chugged a liter of Mountain Dew. I cannot wait to get this show on the road. Mother Nature, crack your whip!  Get this weather in the Big Top trained! 

The side shows are already set up. In the north tent, there are exhibits of Brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage ready to go. They are in place and ready to perform. Unfortunately, there is already evidence of insects (like rotten little boys squeezing under the tent) to take–for free– what I have been working on. Little Jerks!

Finally! After all of this weird weather I am going to have peas!!

Also in the north, a permanent exhibit of asparagus is coming along at the end of year two in its three-year maturation. Twenty nineteen is the BIG year. I cannot wait.

In the south tents, we have an exhibit of maturing garlic and the proposed future location of the cucumber display.  They will be joined by an exotic showing of Swiss chard already in place and preening for its public.  

The cucumbers are being featured in a new trick this year. In visiting my uncle in Cleveland (he has the family gardening gene, too) he showed me his cucumber set-up. He had a very elaborate structure of poles and tomato cages that was doing the trick of supporting the vines. He and my aunt extolled the virtues of “Sweet Success”, a variety of cucumber that they had been growing for many years. Upon observing these plants, I noticed how healthy and prolific they were–absolutely no evidence of bugs! 

I asked how he prevented the bug situation that I always battle every year. He said, “Bugs? I never have any trouble with that.” How can this be?  

With no better explanation, I am going to call it the “Cleveland effect.”  

Even though this mystified me, their recommendation of “Sweet Success” piqued my interest.  This would be the variety I would attempt, yet again, to grow.  Never say die.

The North tent display of kale and Brussels sprouts.

Upon further research on “Sweet Success” (it’s the name that seduced me — it has to be), I discovered that this variety is parthenocarpic, which means it does not need to be pollinated by insects and is practically seedless!

This got my gears turning. I had a good eureka moment–at least I hope so.

A few years back, I made a nylon screen cover for one of my raised beds. I decided to resurrect that past effort, pull it out of the mothballs and plant my cucumbers in it. The Swiss chard has its bug and beetle fan club, too, so they are sharing this tent.

Wish me luck. In the past, when I used this screen tent, instead of keeping the bugs out, I managed to trap them inside—Grrr!  This was such an aggravating development, that I just abandoned the whole mess. My first attempt at Brussels sprouts was an utter failure. I’m just glad I didn’t get disgusted enough to just pitch the whole thing, tent and all.

Depending on the success of this cucumber experiment, that may yet happen.

In the Big Top, the three rings will be rotated as best they can be. My Big Top is not nearly big enough to do an ideal job, but like the occupants of a clown car, I cram it all in.

The south tent. Swiss chard coming on and cucumbers in ground to germinate.

Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, zucchini, pole beans, carrots, beets, and parsnips will all spill out in some order that tries to respect the concept of rotation, full-well knowing that it is a somewhat futile gesture. My Calvinist streak will not let me discard the effort. I have to believe that it is having a positive effect, even if I could calibrate it at a 15% improvement. There HAS to be some little benefit.

And, as I’ve said before, the only plant in the garden that I can count on to be happy in all of this effort at rotation is the okra.  It doesn’t give a damn where it goes. We must appreciate this amiability. Overall, this is a rare commodity whether it be garden or society. Just think how much more civil life could be if we were all more like okra? 

And then, there is this idea of companion gardening. As if it weren’t difficult enough to rotate plantings on a postage stamp, we have to make sure that everyone likes each other. Plants have enemies and allies just like people!  There is a book called “Carrots Love Tomatoes” by Louise Riotte, that explains this dynamic.

Well, I don’t care if carrots like tomatoes or not. They are going to go where I have room for them! If somebody is unhappy about their spot in the dirt, they are going to have to suck it up and deal. I AM the ringmaster in this show. 

And this only proves that I am actually just one of the clowns.  


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. See her new website at intrepidurbanfarmer.com

Related Posts

Leave a Comment