Every once in a while, I learn something that puts my problems into perspective.
This is not to say that I’ve bought into my mother’s pocket wisdom, based largely on her impoverished childhood. Whenever one of us kids was inclined to complain about some minor irritant—somebody picking on you at school, a smashed bike we couldn’t afford to replace, a parental prohibition on having any fun with friends on Good Friday—her invariable response, unless actual blood was spurting, was: “no matter how bad off you are, there’s always someone worse.” (I know that’s not grammatical, but that’s what she said.)
Don’t get me wrong; I am well aware that there are degrees of bad. There’s too much rain in one week, for example, and there’s the Greenland ice cap melting. There’s a very dry July, and there’s the Dixie fire and then the Caldor fire.
I’d been planning on treating you to a blog post about all the little things that were actually going right in my garden. Maybe I’ll slip in a few of those a bit further along here. But I have to admit I have been getting the tiniest bit grumpy because not everything has gone right.
My chickenwire crop coops (try saying that ten times in a row, fast!) have kept out the bunnies, but not the cabbage white butterflies. Twice now, within a week, I’ve found one of those fluttering inside one of the coops, trying to get out. Either they’re smart enough to figure out how to get in but too dumb to find an exit, or they’re hatching inside. In any case, I released them and now watch anxiously for signs of caterpillar devastation on my Pink Beauty radishes. None appeared, but something attacked the roots of the arugula in the same coop. Sayonara, last night’s salad.
And I delayed just a little too long before harvesting my beauteous basil. Five flourishing bushes of the stuff. When I finally went out with my knife, I found them all full of downy mildew. So, down the oubliette with those.
There can even be too much of a good thing, like the bush beans that weren’t. Bush, that is. I thought maybe I misread the package, but I just dug it out again. There’s the name on the label: Maxibel Haricot Vert Bush Bean. Two weeks ago, I had to sacrifice a half dozen of my 5-foot plant stakes to improvise a support system for bushies that seem to think they’re pole beans.
But at least they have started to form the skinny little haricots.
That, however, is not the perspective I got.
For that, I take you halfway round the globe and invoke the experience of my friend R.
R has lived in Bali for many years now. I’ve visited that amazing island a couple of times, and let me tell you, when people talk about tropical paradises, they are not exaggerating. Things grow fast, in profusion, with wild abandon. Everywhere. Rain is regular, and so is sunshine. Okay, maybe it’s kind of hot and humid, but hey, tomatoes and eggplants and peppers love that.
So do all sorts of plants that we here in the “temperate” (speaking of averages) northeastern US consider houseplants. But oh my, outdoors in Bali, they grow so big they’d never fit in your house. Unless you are blessed with cathedral ceilings and seven thousand square feet of unencumbered floor space.
R recently consulted me about what plants might be suitable for sprucing up his indoor open-air patio (aka living room and dining room). He thought Monstera deliciosa would be easy (and Monstera can sure live up to its name in Bali!). But he leaned towards some kind of Heliconia. We went back and forth a bit, and I suggested that he might want a combination that would fill out more lushly than the more narrowly vertical Heliconia.
Paradise, but for…
He replied that it’s not a good idea to “let things get too jungly,” citing experience.
There used to be two or three big vines of [a] climbing plant…. [I]t had morphed into huge, tree-like vines that climbed to the ceiling in two locations, some very big leaves, actually somewhat attractive.
Sounded pretty cool to me, all right, but he continued:
The problems is that when things get too jungly here, one can find that one has created a wonderful habitat for snakes.
His next sentence mentioned cobras and kraits.
He was not just dramatizing the issue. I did some research.
Bali is home to six species of poisonous land snakes: the spitting cobra, the king cobra, the blue krait, the banded krait, the Asian coral snake, and the island pit viper (which hangs out in trees and shrubs during the day). For a couple of these, no anti-venom is available. You might survive a bite from one of those, if they get you onto a ventilator fast enough, and keep you on it for a week.
Not that R had seen any of these interlopers in his living space yet, but he sure got me thinking. Especially after I ran across the photo of the seventh and highly venomous reptile, the banded sea krait. Normally they stay in the water, but they do come on land to lay their eggs. This particular specimen had its portrait taken after being found in a villa in the lovely little seaside town of Sanur.
Near where R happens to live.
Why invite trouble? Plant the Heliconia!
Next time I’m out shaking my head over the cabbage whites’ damage or muttering unprintables as I struggle to establish yet another tier of support for those boisterous beans, I’ll hear my mother’s voice saying, “no matter how bad off you are…”
So, the good news is, I can reach in to harvest those haricots without worrying that my hand will come out with a krait attached to my wrist. This, believe me, is a great comfort. So much so that I barely notice the large spiders staring warily at me from atop the bean leaves.
Other things are going fairly well too. My main attention in recent weeks has been on the veggie garden. I was late putting much into it this summer, so most of the raised beds stayed pretty bare until late July. But I’m here to tell you: there’s a lot you can put into the ground in late July or early August, and still get a respectable crop.
The aforementioned beans look likely to overwhelm me with their output. The arugula (the ones the mysterious root marauder hasn’t gotten to) and the lettuce are chugging along nicely, and bid fair to overwhelm me alongside the beans. The peas (peas!!! in September!!!) have started flowering and I cherish hopes of getting a few. Not too many, because: the beans. The radishes have yielded numerous pink globes and a few French breakfast pink-and-whites. (Never mind that half of them look more like a dog’s dinner; they taste just fine.)
Shiso has been spicing up my salads, and the cilantro is looking close to ready. The chard is rampant. And I just put some kale starts in a couple weeks ago; I’ll report back about those. Not sure yet whether I’ll get much out of the carrots, but the green tops sure look pretty. Thinking I should plant a lot of them as borders for the flowerbeds next spring.
Speaking of which, my sister was here for about 10 days and heroically weeded those beds, thus leaving me with more time for fussing over the veggies. Meanwhile her dog, by snuffling eagerly around the burrow apparently taken over by a wascally wabbit from Tamerlane-the-woodchuck, struck such terror into its resident that I have seen nary a rodent since. He is aptly named: Boo.
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- Did you do any late-season planting this year, and/or do you usually do so? If veggies, which ones do best for you? If flowers, please let us all know what manages to flower before the frosts hit!
- Or, if you’re already packing your garden in for the year, what are you looking forward to, to replace your work out in the garden?
- What’s the worst garden disaster you’ve experienced this year, and on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being meh, and 10 being a banded sea krait), how bad would you say it was?
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Thanks for reading! (And P.S.: that’s a monarch butterfly’s caterpillar pictured at the top of the page, taking a rest from chomping its way through my one surviving Asclepias tuberosa.)