Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Container garden update

I mentioned in early spring, that this year Carter and I were going to plant a couple of vegetables. Each of us chose one to call our own - he chose a Roma tomato plant, and I chose red Bell peppers. I thought I'd update proudly and brag a little bit about how green our thumbs have been this year. Even my niece ate the first Roma from the bush a couple of weeks ago and loved every succulent bite. I should have thought to document her tasting, and perhaps have a ceremony to celebrate the fact that we didn't manage to kill the plants before harvest time. But we were so giddy about getting to pick the first (semi-ripe) Roma from a branch, that we were too busy to grab the camera.

I'll start out by saying how much I have babied these plants, checking in on them several times a day. Making sure they had a good soaking each night after dinner because they were grown in hot clay pots on my full-sun exposure deck. They were thirsty every day. I pruned the gnarly leaves if they appeared, took care to look for bugs and other pests or fungus that might ruin our crop. I think we looked like peacocks strutting our stuff on the deck after each end-of-day inspection. If Carter was of age, we probably would have raised a glass for a nightly toast for a job well done and a hip-hip-hooray that they were STILL alive another day. You may have figured out by now, that I am not a gardener or have a very green thumb, and therefore you can understand my ridiculous carrying on about these two $4.99 plants. Look how lush! Look how beautiful! Please, click each picture to get a larger view for the full effect!

So I notice one day while caressing my, er Carter's Romas, that there is something funky going on with the bottoms of some fruits. I quickly pull them off the plant and put my Google degree to good use. I came to the conclusion that I had what's called End Rot.

So instead of going straight to the nursery for some fancy 'stuff' to help my plant, I thought I would attempt to be a little more organic and use what I could from home. Egg shells! My soil needed calcium. So to contribute to this experiment we indulged on many an egg for a few days so that I could collect the shells and carefully mix them into the soil. Voila! End rot gone! :) Again, the peacock strut was becoming a common dance move here in this household. Seriously, I was feeling like I could actually be growing a hint of a green thumb!

Fast forward to this week now, when we return from vacation. We were gone 9 days, perfect amount of time to see our crop ready for picking when we returned. Imagine the smiles on our faces when we threw open the curtains and peered out onto the deck and saw handfuls of glowing orangey-red goodness calling our names! I start telling Carter that we'll make some pizza this week and I'll slice some of his tomatoes on top before we bake it and I have the perfect recipe! So we finish puttering inside and alas, I'm able to go outside to inspect my babies up close. I notice that the plant looks, oh, strange maybe? I don't know, I couldn't quite put my finger on it. It looked sparse or something, but I thought maybe it just needed a drink - it was pretty hot out. But first, I need to pick some of our long-awaited Romas, the water will have to wait.

And that's when it happened. That sinking feeling one would get when you didn't do so well on an exam. That pit in your stomach when you accidentally break something you treasure. Oh no! The tomatoes! I see what is wrong - the leaves have been eaten! There is dried scat or something all over the deck near the pots - I suspect some damn rodents have gotten to my beloved Roma plant. Rodents? Where the heck would they come from? Hmmm... too small to be rabbit poo. Too small for squirrel poo too. Birds? No. Field mice? Maybe. Oh. My. Gosh. I grabbed a tomato and it was nasty! Eaten, devoured, enjoyed by one (or many) of Mother Nature's creatures! How could this happen?

Here's the evidence #1 on the deck:

Enter into evidence #2, the scraggly Roma plant now:

And the final evidence #3, the wasted crop. Every. Single. Last. Tomato. A couple of my Bell peppers were chewed a bit, but they didn't seem to care for those.
Needless to say, after picking every fruit from the bush and looking it over like I had become a medical examiner, I rushed into the house to put to use again my Google degree. I looked up all sorts of things that could be eating my tomato plant. Scat, poo, dung - whatever nice word you want to call it all over my deck was the only real clue I could use. So there I was, yes, my eyes glued to the monitor as I looked at picture after picture of feces. All kinds of creatures I could think of that might have been the culprit enjoying my precious plant. Nothing was adding up. I proceeded to go back outside scratching my head to further look at the plant, and that's when it happened. I spotted it. That THIEF! That RASCAL! That down-right, good for nothin' parasitic piece of mother nature...

The Tobacco Hornworm! (apparently tomato hornworms look the same but have a black horn - whatever. This pest liked my tomatoes too!) There it is, right on a stem getting ready to devour it right in front of my eyes!

This freak of nature was so well camouflaged, that I jumped back when I finally noticed it because he was HUGE! Plump, full, content. Of course it was, because it ate EVERY SINGLE TOMATO FROM MY PLANT!

Well, there will be no Roma crop this year. There is hardly any life left in the plant. All the leaves have been chewed, most completely down to the main stems. No flowers showing signs of life after death. Gone. Kaput. Start the trumpets because Taps needs to play. I am still sick over this. I nearly drop a tear when I look out onto the deck and see my dilapidated Roma plant. Naked. Eaten. Surrendered.

My little neighbor came over to see the "caterpillar" that Carter bragged about. He didn't really care about the tomatoes, the worm thing was way cooler. The little girl wanted to keep it in her caterpillar container, so I snipped the branch it was on and lowered the whole thing into the contraption. Trying hard to resist the urge to stomp on him. She skipped toward her yard with a sing-song voice saying, "I'm going to go put it on MY tomato plant!"..... I quickly had to tell her, "nooooooooo! That is not a friendly caterpillar! He will ruin your plant!" She had a solution though, she said she would just give the worm one of her rotten tomatoes.

Hmm, I wonder if Mr. Hornworm had already been next door...


Anonymous said...

You are a terrisfic writer...I can see reading your column about every day life in the newspaper every day :) I'm sorry about your little green thief, what a letdown after all that hard work!

John said...

Little Green Bastard!

Anonymous said...

Andrea - the_exact_same_thing happened to me last year when I grew tomatoes in a pot. First I got the end rot, took take of that, then the gross worms. I can almost picture you jumping back when you realized it was a worm, because that's exactly what I did! UGh - those things are huge and nasty. I was going to try again this year, but never got around to it.

Anne said...

OMG girl, I had to laugh because that happened to me last year. Except we have 5 tomato plants in our garden, planted in the ground, so we didn't have just one of those nasty hornworms, we probably had at least 30. I had noticed the leaves were getting eaten, and one day as I was picking tomatoes I saw one on a leaf. I shrieked and showed it to Derrek. And then we looked closer and saw another, and another, and... OMG we were finding them for days. It is so hard to find those nasty things! Our bushes were so huge that we had to dig in there. Needless to say I inspect my plants EVERY DAY this year to try to avoid them. I think you should try again next year! Gardening is so fun! We have so many tomatoes and zucchini that we don't know what to do with it all. We're all getting a bit tired of zucchini bread... LOL

Wendy said...

OMG - Andrea that was so funny! You truly have a gift of writing and I enjoy your blog when I come to it! I've been busy but I like catching up and getting a good belly laugh! PS - sorry about your plants....damn caterpillar!