Every year, I learn something new and attack the spring planting season armed with knowledge and excitement. Most of the new plans work out, but something new always comes up to curb my enthusiasm and remind me that I'm still and will probably always be a novice gardener.
This is after decades of gardening. I grew up gardening, and I've had my own gardens for over 10 years.
This year was shoring up to be my best gardening year EVER. You see, I am an organic gardener, and I was so proud of how well my garden had grown by completely organic methods. I used fish emulsion as fertilizer, composted all my scraps, used marigolds for pest control, watered with rainwater I had collected, and mulched with cocoa bean shells to control weeds.
I was following all the organic rules and my garden looked amazing.
My blueberries were loaded with flowers. My raspberries had never been so big or full of fruit. I had figured out how to successfully grow 18 tomato plants in a space where I had previously only planted 6. I finally had asparagus!
Neighbors and strangers stopped to compliment me daily. Yes, I was the Martha Steward of my area. It was awesome.
But it was all a lie.
Soon after flowering, two of my blueberry plants hit the skids. They dropped all their flowers and refused to grow leaves. It turns out, this is a symptom of "overbearing." A sacrilegious word if I've ever heard one!
I hadn't pruned them hard enough over their 8 year life span, and the plants had decided to die. The two bushes that were mutilated during last year's transfer were back and stronger than ever. So I decided to copy nature (read: mutilate the blueberry bushes) and I cut the plants back to just 2 canes. I almost cried while I did it. According to online gardening sources, this will cause the plants to regenerate and come back stronger than ever. It worked with the others...by accident.
I waited and waited and they still haven't created any new canes. Meanwhile, the two plants that almost died last year continue to create new canes. So I was left in a quandary - do I leave them alone until spring and hope they bounce back? Do I prune the two that are growing wild? OMG!
That was my early summer disappointment, but I got over it and reveled in my better than expected strawberry haul. There were almost no flowers this spring, so I thought we would get very little strawberry production this year. I was wrong and it was our best year ever. Even though I was wrong - I took this as a success and I was happy with gardening again.
The worst was yet to come and it involved worms. Lots and lots of worms. Not the good, pink earthworms. Yucky, slimy green and white and black worms.
First they infested my lettuce and swiss chard. Then they attacked the beets. They were everywhere. I cursed the organic-ness of my garden, though I knew that pesticides wouldn't have really helped. I squashed tons of caterpillars between my fingers.
Eventually, I ripped out all the lettuce. I don't like lettuce enough to deal with the wormy grossness. I picked all the beets early and ate them in one meal.
And I policed the swiss chard heavily. Eventually, some little green frogs moved in and the "problem" seemed to be solved. Yes, it's unnerving to pick a leaf with a green frog attached, but it's way less gross than worms.
I started to stress out that my tomatoes would become worm infested. I doubled up on the marigold plantings and I scoured the leaves looking for bugs to kill. I killed anyone that resembled a worm, aphid, or beetle. I left all spider or wasp-like insects. It was a bloodbath. Or really, a green ooze bath.
But even still....this wasn't the worst of it. I had started to lose my gardening zest at this point, but I pressed on.
I had never had a more bountiful summer raspberry crop and I was excited. I could pick bowls and bowls of berries every day. This was why I garden and it was worth it.
Except that it wasn't. More than half of the berries I picked contained at least one white little worm. WORMS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have grown raspberries my entire life - that's 3 plus decades, and I have never seen a worm inside a raspberry. Now they were in most of mine.
As time went on and more berries ripened, the percentage of worms grew. I smashed every single one in rage. A quick internet search told me that I was dealing with the raspberry fruitworm. I hunted for them in the garden and never found a single one. According to google - a raspberry fruitworm is 1/8 of an inch long, brown and furry. They look like a brown version of a stink bug. Still, I never found one.
There really isn't anything you can do once the fruit has already formed, so I made a drastic decision. I grabbed my pruners and headed out to the garden. I cut out every single summer bearing cane. Every one!
And I burned them in our fire pit - right then and there. I didn't want a single bug to escape. (I did rescue a few daddy long legs but everyone else got burnt.)
They still had berries forming - lots of them. But after reading about the life cycle of the fruit worm, I had to get them out of there.
To make sure they don't come back, I have decided to chop out my fall canes this October. I normally let them grow and create a summer crop, but with the fruit worm around, I can't risk it.
They may still attack my summer forest berries, but I'll be on the lookout and will cut them away if I end up with a problem and forgo a summer or two of berries if necessary.
In addition to removing the summer crop, I'll also stop adding a leaf cover to my beds for the winter. I am going to scrape up the dirt and leave it exposed to birds and the freezing weather to kill any overwintering beetles.
I get shivers just thinking about it. I had done all that I could organically do, and yet I still worried.
My fall canes are loaded with berries - even more than the summer canes and way more than normal. What if they were all infected as well! They were mostly closed when I eradicated the summer canes, but I saw images online of the fruitworm "depositing" it's eggs in closed buds. It was nightmarish.
So I went back online and searched out anything I could. That's when I found a forum where a guy did exactly what I did and his fall berries were even more infected than his summer berries. I started to freak out. Other people in the forum suggested his garden might be infected with spotted wing drosophila.
I checked all the images and worm looked just like the fruitworm worm. The bad news was that a drosophila has a super short lifespan and is born ready to lay eggs. Lots and lots of eggs. They are not responsive to pesticides and since they have a short life span with no real incubation necessary, they just keep coming back. In other words, there is no stopping them.
I feverishly searched every leaf and bud. No fruitworm beetles. No drosophila. Just a lot of bees and one rhinoceros looking beetle that I killed for good measure.
So I set up some fruit fly traps. Drosphila are fruit flies but the spotted wing version doesn't attack over ripe fruit - it attacks all soft fruits - particularly berries and peaches.
I hope that means I don't have them. They are taking the west coast berry farms by storm and the jar trap is the recommended method of finding out if you have them.
I hope it was the fruit worm beetle and I killed them all! Or will at least starve out any remaining worms since they will have no where to lay their eggs next summer.
My fall berries are now ripening. About a small bowl a day so far. So far, they have been worm-free, but I am anxious every time I pick them and I stare them down looking for any sign of life.
Around this time, my neighbor finally called me back to discuss creating an orchard on her property. She even wanted to discuss bees. Of course, I had just had the battle with the ground digger wasps.
How could I create a whole orchard and tend to bees when I can't even keep worms out of my own little garden. I was feeling like a failure. Gardening is rare in my suburban area, and I'm well known for my garden. How can people rely on my advice if I am constantly "losing" in my own garden.
Alas, my worries about creating an orchard are deferred. My neighbor wants me to manage her garden and no longer wants to offer me the adjacent land as my own. She mostly wants me to weed her garden and facilitate getting bees on her property. There will be more discussion, but that's not exactly what I had in mind....