Tamsen’s Review: This post appeals to my deep and irrational dislike of moths and my love of garden-fresh veggies.
Welcome to the Asheville Tomato Jungle and Moth Sanctuary! We look at the kale and basil and as my husband fumes, I chalk it all up to the learning curve. This is our first garden in North Carolina. The growing season here is a good length, but that does not guarantee success. Moths seem to be thriving on our precious green stuff, rendering it inedible. We use organic methods of gardening, which means we just watch as the local insect population and other mysterious invaders decimate our would-be food supply. We do not have a clue how to stop them. They are, at this point, cramping our enthusiasm.
It all started with a trip to the seed store, Sow True Seeds, back when winter was waning and spring was teasing our gardening appetites. We nearly salivated over the variety of heirloom seeds we could grow in our area. Striped tomatoes! Two-tone radishes! Beets, carrots, kale!! The store was on a narrow side-street as we entered the downtown area. Its sunny windows, barn-wood floors and resident dogs lured us into a sense of homespun goodness. We lingered in that quaint atmosphere, reading the qualities of each variety of produce and wondering if onion sets were the way to go. Not really, it turned out.
Our optimism was somewhere around the foolishly naïve level. Visions of propagating seeds ran through our heads. These would be a one-time purchase. The idea is to keep some plants until late in the harvest in order to collect seeds from the last of the fruit, then replant those new seeds the following spring. This was real circle-of-life stuff.
The garden went in at the end of March with the assistance of the universal free labor force that is our son. He is a good-hearted guy who determinedly, if not gleefully, pounded posts and set up lumber and metal to contain our proverbial back forty then shoveled dirt into it.
We sought advice from our neighbor Bob, who possessed the most magnificent garden on the block. We purchased a planting/harvesting planner, per Bob’s suggestion, to help guide us. So great was our enthusiasm that we bought frost covers and planted earlier than suggested—before the threat of frost was past. Back in Houston, we planted our meager garden in February, so we were a little over eager and were not intimidated by this frost thing we kept hearing about.
Greens were the first to be planted and harvested. And harvested. And harvested. We got tired of them, so we just let them grow bigger. Tougher. Laden with caterpillar larvae. When the kale became unruly, we decided to pick a mess of greens and, consulting my book on preserving our garden’s bounty, boiled them and bagged them for the freezer. I rejected any that had bug eggs, bug mold or big, bug-munched holes. My husband felt not so picky. There was disagreement. The compost was the winner.
With greens, the leaf is the fruit of its labor and where, how, what’s the seed? Sure, it’s easy to find tomato seeds. But what about beets? We take the seeds out of the jalapeños anyway, so that one is also clear-cut. Your guess is as good as mine as to the kale and chard. Does it bolt like parsley, basil and thyme? Our hopeful attitude started to slowly erode as the season progressed. Our Google research pretty much discouraged the saving of seeds from leafy greens. We salvaged what we could and now we have a lovely moth garden. No self-respecting butterfly would come near it.
Moths were not our only predators. Some…thing, bigger than a breadbox had nightly smooshed down our carrot patch and probably ate our carrots—we couldn’t tell, having made no initial inventory of our plantings. At times when it was quiet and the dogs next door were busy with other things, a sweet bunny hopped around the yard. Was he the culprit? We never actually saw that rabbit inside the garden. Someone was also using our garage as a bathroom. Yuck. The scat was not something we recognized, which left us with a lot of suspects. It wasn’t a deer. We wondered if it could be our sometime-visitor, the very large groundhog. Possum, squirrel, cat? It did not even occur to us it could be a bear.
Squirrels and birds, of course, are notorious for absconding with tomatoes. Our striped beauties had some bites taken out of them. During one of our morning walks, we encountered a small tomato patch in a neighbor’s yard. The fruit of those vines was being blatantly devoured by two chickens! Were they wild chickens? Where did they come from? Were chickens having a go at our tomatoes? We ruled them out as suspects. Our thieves were nocturnal and quite sneaky.
Literally growing everywhere!
Let’s talk tomatoes. When we first landed on this patch of Asheville we call our own, we discovered the “wild” tomatoes. They grow everywhere. This year was no different except we had more and they were literally growing out of the gutters, the sidewalk, the driveway, the flower pots and in just about any spot that had dirt. The container garden sat on top of the spot where a slew of them came up last year, so I figured sooner or later they would show up in the garden. Yes, they are that hardy and prolific. Roasting a pan of them every other day was the only way to keep up. We did not need to save the seeds! I was diligent in making sure my husband came back into the kitchen after each harvest and I would not need to send out a search party to hack a path through the tomato jungle only to find him happily trapped by the vines, feasting on those sweet little tomatoes.
In order to save the life of our green beans, tomatoes and peppers, we purchased some netting to keep birds, squirrels and rabbits (and any wayward chickens) from dining at our locally-sourced, vegan restaurant. The moths love it. Less competition! Except for the Mexican bean beetles, a thriving species with a hardy appetite for our green bean plants. Those little buggers left a few beans for us but stripped the leaves faster than a swarm of car thieves in a chop shop, leaving us with that plague-of-locusts feeling.
Our neighbor Bob gifted us five pounds of tomatillos from his productive plants, which were still popping out those little green globes with their scratchy wrapping paper coverings well into the end of summer. Soup-ed, salsa-ed or roasted, they survived bugs and other predators only to meet their fate in my kitchen. In our possibly naïve expectations, we kept a few for the seeds, to plant next spring in our grand scheme to propagate life from life. Like Dr. Frankenstein, we hope to have better control over our carefully crafted lifeforms next time around.
As the growing season creeps toward its end, we are still scratching our heads over the non-growth of our eggplant, serrano peppers and onions. Our successes included gifts from the compost pile. Garlic, mutant potatoes, peppers, celery and pineapple plants have all sprouted from that rotting pile of vegetation. Some were relocated into the actual garden and bore fruit. My husband is obsessed with the pineapple plant. They grow in Houston but I fear for its future in our mountain climate. You never know though. The circle of life is in our hands and we (if not our plants) have survived the learning curve through the trials of this growing season. Hopefully we don’t lose any humans in the tomato jungle.
Pickin’ and grinnin’,
I almost gave Guest Editor Tamsen tomatoes for her birthday, but I decided that donuts were the better choice since they were vegan and from Vortex! She helped me pick the weedy thats from my word garden.