A Robin Helps Me To Remember

19/07/2012 14:38

17/07/2011 03:37

13 dead now.

As I write this I have now lost 13 tomato plants to that dreaded verticillium wilt that continues to persist in my soil.

It's a fungus that enters the roots and clogs up the stems making it difficult and within a short period of time,impossible for the plant to take up water and nutrients.

I lose a few every year but never this many.The unlucky 13 were in a row and they went down like dominoes.

What made it even harder to bare was that 4 of the deceased were the oh so flavourful heirloom Brandywine tomatoes.


This was just the latest in a series of misfortunes.

It began in early spring with the weather.The long range forecast indicated that winter was over and done with.I guess Old Man Winter doesn't listen to forecasts because he came roaring back after my onions,radishes and peas were up and growing.He brought with him,snow,ice pellets and below freezing temperatures at night.It was hard on my gardeners soul looking out the window at a large sheet of ice where a day before I had nice cultivated soil and plants sprouting everywhere.

I lost quite a few seedlings but the worst was to come.Insects.


I have been fortunate over the years in that my garden rarely receives severe insect damage.Oh sure,I get the run of the mill stuff;some slug damage,a bit of leaf miner,cabbage worm now and than and always some Japanese beetle damage but nothing serious.

I believe in much of the lore of companion planting and an example of that is the way I plant onions and other Alliums around the perimeter of my garden.I'm convinced that they repel many harmful insects but perhaps I have just been lucky.If so,my luck ran out this season.

Slugs the size of pythons turned my lettuce rows into their own personal salad bar.Leaf miners,that normally don't inflict heavy damage,tunneled through my beet leaves like they were digging for gold.And what's up with those miniature armadilloes,pillbugs.They normally just eat decomposing organic matter and I don't mind them but this season they had a go at my tender seedlings, severing them at ground level.Next it was scorpions.That is to say,earwigs.They turned my Swiss chard into Swiss cheese!Now,being July,the month they emerge,the Japanese beetles are descending in squadrons like Kamikaze pilots.Kamikaze means 'divine wind' in Japanese but there's nothing divine about these rapacious beetles.I've never seen so many.It's as if they got together and said hey guys,look at that nice garden down there.We haven't hit that one yet.Lets get it!


Well,I lost a lot of plants and continue to lose a few to insect predation but I figured the worst was over.It had been a bad start to the season but surely nothing else could go wrong.Than my tomatoes started dying.


For the first time in a long time,I found myself wondering why I was putting myself through this.All the work I put into my garden only to have Old Man Winter slap me upside the head,insects pigging out and my beautiful tomatoes wilting and dying before my eyes.Perhaps I should give it up I thought.Turn the garden over to the bugs and take up stamp collecting.


Yes,I was having a pity party.I was wallowing in pity.


That was the state of mind I was in a few days ago when I went out to pull some of my finished bush bean plants from the ground.I'm growing the heirloom,Tendergreen,this season.It's a very nice bean that was introduced in 1925.Like most bush beans,they only produce for two to three weeks and than they are done.That's why I sow the seeds in succession so I can harvest throughout the summer.I'll have more ready soon if the Japanese beetles don't get them first.


Well,as I say,I was pulling the finished plants from the ground to put them in the compost.They are a good source of nitrogen which fuels the microbes in our compost piles.As I was yanking them out,various bugs and worms were coming up with the roots.


Suddenly a robin appeared from nowhere and landed about five feet from where I was kneeling beside the remaining bean plants.She tilted her head and peered at me from one eye the way birds do as they can't see straight ahead.Than she hopped over and snatched up one of the worms my bean plant pulling had exposed.She swallowed it whole and eyed me again.At this point we were no more than a foot apart.I reached down for another worm that was trying his hardest to burrow his way back into the soil.I guess he knew he was in a bad fix with that robin standing there.Sorry worm.You're good for the garden but I'm more fond of birds.I grabbed him and slowly held him out to the robin.Without hesitating,she hopped over,plucked the worm from my fingers and down the hatch he went.I've been able to hand feed robins before but it usually takes a few tries before they trust you.This was one brave robin.She had no fear of me at all.


Hello,I said.She made that muscical chirp,chirp that robins make and than flew over to one of my tomatoes that had not yet succumbed to that darn fungus.Something had caught her eye and she started pecking at the soil.


It was now hotter than blazes so I moved over to sit in the shade of my towering Kentucky Wonder pole beans.I like the tenderness of bush beans and the flavour of pole beans so I grow both.I leaned back and watched my new friend.


The tomato plant she was under was looking quite good.No sign of the fungus or any other problem.It should produce well.In fact,I could see ten tomatoes on it developing nicely.I usually do get a lot of tomatoes.Some years I can barely lift the basket after harvesting.If my remaining twelve plants remain healthy,I should still do well.


Oh,oh.My robin had spotted a grasshopper over by my Scarlet nantes carrots.A few hops over and gulp,bye bye grasshopper.I rarely have problems with grasshoppers.Hardly ever see them anymore.Perhaps the birds are keeping them under control.I looked at the beautiful green,fern like leaves on my carrots and thought how well they were doing.I've already had a few and they were nice.Crisp and sweet.Yup,I should get a bumper crop of carrots this year.


I guess the worms and grasshopper didn't satisfy my robins appetite as she now had her eye on something scurrying around under my Swiss chard.Over she flew and gulp.Whatever it was was no more.I have to say that I'm quite pleased with the way my Swiss chard has rebounded from the slug and earwig attack.I lost quite a few but the others produced new leaves and they are going strong even in this sweltering heat.Swiss chard,especially the Fordhook Giant variety I'm growing, holds up better in the heat than other greens like lettuce and spinach but it has been very hot indeed.I have had several meals from it.Rather than harvest it all at once I use the cut and come again method.I cut a couple of outside leaves from each plant while leaving enough leaves so they can continue photosynthesis and produce new leaves.


My red breasted friend was sure hungry.Now she was eyeing a beetle by my cucumber vine.Some beetles are helpful in the garden while others like the Japanese beetle are bad.Very bad.I didn't know if the one in question was good or bad and it was a moot point now.My robin ate it.Perhaps it was a cucumber beetle.I hope so.


My cukes are doing very nicely.Eleven baby cucumbers and counting.I've seen few bees but they were pollinated.Perhaps I wont have to hand pollinate my squash after all.And look at my squash.Huge.Leaves bigger than dinner plates and covered in blossoms.All male blossoms at this point but the females will be along soon.Squash is prone to powdery mildew but so far it doesn't have the slightest trace.I'm very careful to only water the base of the plant rather than wetting the leaves.Wet leaves are more likely to get the fungus.


Now lady robin was over by my beloved onions.Onions are my favourite vegetable.I grow many and what a great crop I've had and will have.Hundreds of green/spring onions and the rest now going full term.The heirlooms,Walla Walla are looking fantastic.That's a wonderful mild/sweet onion that gives Vidalia a run for its money and in the opinion of many,surpasses it.


My robin flew back over to me and landed near my knee.Chirp chirp,she said.I smiled.By flying from one vegetable to another it's almost as if she had been showing me how much I had in the garden that was still doing fine.Lots of tomatoes yet,chard,carrots,cukes,squash,onions,peppers,herbs and plenty more.I felt my foul mood lifting.Heck,how many times have I told folks that gardening requires patience.Losing some plants is part of gardening.We have to accept that and we gain experience from it.We will have our ups and downs.Successes and failures.Good seasons and not so good.We will use our experience to do the best we can against disease and insect predation but we will indeed have loses.I have known several people give up gardening because they couldn't take the frustrations.Well,gardening is like being on a journey where you suddenly find a mountain in your path.You can take the easy way and go around but you will never see the fantastic view from the top.Much like life.I had forgotten to practise what I preach and a robin had helped me to remember.


My new friend gave another chirp,chirp and off she flew.


Bye robin.Thanks.Come back anytime.I'll have a nice juicy worm for you.