Daphne Gooding-Grow Appalachia Big Ugly
In the Little House book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I read to my children when they were little, there is a story about a terrible storm. The wheat in the fields was standing almost ready to the harvested. A thunder-storm came up and it had hail in it. The hail was fairly large and destroyed the crop. Almanzo, Laura’s young husband, shoveled up the hail and asked Laura if they could make ice cream using the hail as the ice. How bittersweet! I realize that some of these Lessons Learned from 2014 sound like doom and destruction—but the lessons are the things we can improve on next year. A real, die-hard gardener never gives up. We just try again each season.
We had several duzie storms here on Big Ugly this summer. Not as bad as three years ago—the De Recho storm which crippled the entire southern part of the state, but hard on the crops. A good bit of Marcelle’s and my corn got knocked down and ruined. We don’t usually grow too much corn because we just don’t have the space, but this year I planted two sections and Marcelle planted one section. We waited anxiously for that corn. It is so good either raw right from the garden or cooked immediately and eaten with or without butter. Corn that is that fresh is like the fine wine of the garden: so special. But after the storms most of my corn was lying on the ground. I was able to get some of the sugar-sweet ears harvested, but the corn patch looked like a giant had tried to tap dance through it.
Several of the storms had periods of extremely heavy rain. I had staked tomatoes and the heavy buckets of water beat the tomato plants right into the ground. Either the ties stretched out or the plants broke off and there went what was left of the tomatoes: on the ground starting to rot.
Worse than the storms were the diseases. We had another wet summer and just as everything was coming into full production the fungal diseases took over in the worst way. The tomatoes began dying from the ground up. I originally thought that it was blight, but soon other crops were also infected. I looked at the butternut squash. My thought one day was “Gosh, I wish all the plants were as vigorous and resistant as the squash and pumpkins!” Two days later pumpkins, squash and my incredibly strong watermelons were turning dark and dying. I got the Neem oil extract and started using it on everything. Some of the plants were able to recover, some could not. I was able to harvest over 100 lbs of butternut squash.
When the watermelons, squash and pumpkins began to succumb, I realized that blight was not the problem, since blight is really specific to members of the tomato family. I hit the books again and identified downy mildew as the most likely culprit. Neem oil is a wonderful natural fungicide so I continued to use it on the plants. Neem was able to halt the progression of the disease on many of the plants, but a week of dry weather helped more than anything.