Field of Science

The irony of gardening

As all gardeners, and farmers, know, you have your good years and you have your bad years. Last year the garden started well, but then settled into a green lethargy of mediocrity. This year didn't start well for the summer garden, but now just as it's finally kicking into high gear, something to admire and harvest, the gardener is off gallivanting around the globe. Last year eggplant were a bust, and this year they are robust. And who knows about the zucchini. Over the years the Phactors have discovered many diverse ways of eating zucchini, but today the zucchini's arch nemesis was observed. A rather handsome, 1.5 cm long, red and black day-flying moth uses the thick, fleshy stems of your squashes as a brooding place for its larvae. They fly to the plant, land, follow a leaf stalk or stem down to ground level, do an about face, and then lays one to several eggs on the stem. Unless these are dutifully removed, or sprayed with something nasty like Sevin (but you need only spray the leaf stalks and stems, not the entire plant), the eggs hatch, the larvae eat their way into the center of the squash stem. Eventually they eat enough to destroy the stem's ability to conduct enough water to the crown of the plant, and the plant abruptly wilts. Thick stemmed squashes are the most susceptible, things like pumpkins and bush variety zucchini; the thin wiry stems of some standard squashes are less susceptible. But without our watchful eye, the zucchini are sort of on their own, and its possible we won't get any if the stem-borers get theirs. It's a similar story with cucumbers. You can keep them covered with a net until they start to flower, and then you have to let in pollinators, and you also let in cucumber beetles. Now they generally do not eat enough to make any difference, but they transmit a bacterial wilt that will infect your vines, clog their vascular tissue, and kill them. Our cucumbers are poised to produce a lot of fruit, just a couple of days too late for us to sample, and we can only hope they survive until we return. That's just how it goes, and the only thing to do is remain resolute, enjoy our travels, and enjoy what's around when we return.

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