2017 feels like one of the longest years I’ve experienced in a while. Though each year holds the same number of hours, days, and weeks, the combination of joy and sorrow in this particular year has made the days and the year long. In this bit of space I write in weekly, I don’t usually share many personal stories or happenings. This could be partly due to the fact that I assume most of you want to hear about gardening, not my personal life. But at the same time, our lives are all made up of a collection of experiences, each weaving their way into the fabric of our personality and being. So while I will reflect on my gardening year, I’ll also share some about personal experiences 2017 brought my way.
Lessons from the 2017 Garden
This was a very productive garden year, and we added two new raised beds, so that may have had something to do with it. But here are my take aways from our 2017 garden:
- Fewer eggplants (ha!). I mentioned this in a previous post, but I had four eggplant plants and they all did reasonably well, even with an ant infestation at one point. (I had no idea ants could/would eat into eggplants.) They produced fruit well into October, but considering my family doesn’t love to eat it, I gave quite a bit away. So next year, I’ll save some of the space and plant something else.
- More Okra. Okra is a very low maintenance plant that grows tall and slim, so it’s perfect to have beside lower, bushier plants. My kids have turned into okra lovers, and I enjoy eating it raw, sprinkled with salt. So instead of the 8 plants I had this year, I’ll probably double what I plant next year. And because okra is so easy to freeze for later, having an abundance isn’t a problem. (Check out Oven Roasted Okra for a lighter way to prepare this delicious veggie.)
- Corn First, then peas. This year I planted my corn and white acre peas in tandem. Ideally the low laying peas grow below the corn, and the corn helps to shade the peas. Unfortunately, I planted them at the same time and my peas overtook the fledgling corn stalks. So, I had a fabulous pea harvest, but zero corn. Next year, I’ll give the corn a few weeks head start on the peas. (My peas came from Southern Exposure Seed and were fantastic!)
- Massive Marigolds– For the past two growing seasons, I’ve had marigolds that grew from three inch tall plants into monstrous beasts. Since we use a square foot garden model, these marigolds end up taking over other squares and choking out neighbor plants. I think for the coming year I’ll look into dwarf varieties, if there is such a thing. Marigolds are fantastic for keeping some bugs at bay, so I’d like to keep using them in the garden.
- Jellybean Tomatoes Rock– Also for the past two seasons, I’ve planted jellybean tomatoes. My plants came from our local cooperative extension plant sale, and they have produced phenomenally! I had plenty of these small gems well into October and have saved some seeds to keep them going next year. Since they’re so easy to toss into a salad, or snack on in the garden, they’re a family favorite.
- Ants Don’t Die– My biggest garden pest by far was the ant. And while I know there are lots of reasons to have ants around, when they keep me from gardening, then they have to go. Their hills would blend into the garden beds, and I wouldn’t always see them until it was too late. I tried several methods to get rid of them: diatomaceous earth, flooding with a hose, sugar/boric acid/water bait, and finally I broke down and bought a tougher insecticide. I hated to do it, as I like to keep my garden as natural as possible, but the ants were eating my eggplants and okra. That sealed their fate. And if you’ve ever tried to rid your garden or yard of ants, then you know that they seem to pack up and make a hill elsewhere instead of actually going away. I’m convinced they have an enormous underground tunnel system, like the one in the video below… or maybe I’m just being dramatic.
While my ant troubles are probably not this big, they’re still pretty annoying when they make a feast of my garden goodies.
A Tough Year for Animals
We started 2017 with two dogs and two hens. Our pups Samson, a 12-year-old alpha male maltese, and Noel an 11-year-old shepherd mix kept the squirrels at bay in the garden. We’d had them both from the time they were tiny puppies, and they were our children before the little gardeners arrived.
Our veterinarian had expressed some concern over Samson’s health in the winter of 2016, but x-rays and blood tests all showed that he was healthy… for an older dog. Our girly gardener has a March birthday, and low and behold, on her birthday, Samson had a massive seizure. Though I rushed him to the vet, he just couldn’t recover. He was my first dog to own as an adult (a college graduation gift from my aunt), and the suddenness of his passing shocked me. I kept his bed in place next to my side of the bed for several months afterwards. I’m not usually a sentimental person, but I just didn’t have the heart to throw it away.
Our shepherd mix, Noel, always spry and lively, slowly began to decline after this. She was noticeably depressed for several weeks afterwards, and since she and Samson had been together for so many years, we expected this. Though not connected to her sadness, she lost her hearing in the early summer and developed cataracts that severely limited her eyesight. As you can imagine, her deafness and blindness were a hinderance to her quality of life, and on top of all of this, she showed signs of canine cognitive dysfunction (ccd). If you’ve never seen this in action, some of the symptoms include walking into corners and being unable to “get out.” Getting stuck behind pieces of furniture or other items that were never a problem before.
While all of this was going on with Noel, we had purchased four chicks from our local hardware store. We already had two hens (Copper and Cocoa), and there was plenty of room in the coop for more gals, so why not?! The kids were super excited, and though I was nervous about eventually introducing our hens to these newer chicks, I wanted a larger backyard flock. You can probably see where this story is going… One afternoon I stood up from my desk and noticed a dog in the hen’s coop enclosure. Not our dog. I won’t go into details, but neither of our hens survived the encounter.
Thankfully, the chicks were in a separate coop. We’d bought a small pre-fab coop from a local store, and it was the perfect size for the now 12-week old chicks. Four days after the dog incident, we lost all of our chicks. No joke; I couldn’t make this stuff up. Our smallest gardener had woke us up at 3am that morning, which was unusual. While I was putting him back to bed, I clearly heard a fox calling. (Cue song “What Does the Fox Say?”) Well, a fox call is pretty distinct, but I didn’t think anything of it, because our chicks were fully enclosed and locked up.
Early the next morning I was pouring a cup of coffee and looked out the window to the backyard. The side of the chicks’ coop was completely torn off and laying in the middle of the yard. Pine shavings, which had lined the nesting box, were strewn everywhere, and the chicks were gone. Not a trace was left. I know about the circle of life and animal instincts, but I just wished it wouldn’t happen in our yard. Sheesh!
In the late summer, we adopted a younger dog from a local shelter, hoping this would help our aging Noel, but she continued a downward progression. She passed away in late August, and I told my husband that this clearly was not our year… at least where animals were concerned.
In the grand scheme, I know our dogs had lived long and pretty pampered lives. For that, I am thankful. And after watching a few Youtube videos of foxes caught on wildlife cameras, I have a new appreciation for how aggressive and determined they can be when they’re hungry. So, I certainly have some ideas for how to reinforce our coop for the coming spring. (If you want to see foxes in action, search for fox videos on Youtube, wow!)
Our newly adopted pup, Olive, has adjusted well to life with us. Our smallest gardener greets (i.e. hugs and loves on) her most mornings before any of the rest of us. She’s quite the digger, much to my dismay; I even found one of her bones in a raised bed I was direct composting last week. I’m sure that we’ll soon adopt another one, because I like for dogs to have a pack mate. Hopefully this will keep her entertained so there are less potholes in the yard.
So while reflecting on this year was certainly bittersweet, it was actually a bit therapeutic to write it all down. Perhaps you will find the same relief in considering your 2017 year, the joyous and the painful.
I am excited for what 2018 will hold; it will be here before you know it!
And if anyone has any suggestions about keeping ants at bay, I’d love to hear them! Happy Gardening!