Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Alright, Already!

My garden is suffering.
I have tried so hard to learn to garden here in the unforgiving Florida climate. I know it seems like Florida is a lush land of green vegetation and abundant produce. And it is, to a certain extent.
Maybe it's that way if you're a farmer and you use chemicals and stuff. I don't know. But for the backyard gardener, it isn't easy, and that seems to be the concensus on every gardening-in-Florida web forum I've visited in my desperation.
Orange trees? No problem. Guava trees and loquats? They thrive (unless you get a freeze). But tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and lettuce? Ha!
You have to plant them at juuust the right time or else. And sometimes, you can plant them at juuust the right time and it doesn't matter because you will have unseasonably warm and humid weather that will kill them anyway.
Last year, it was pretty much a flop for me. I mean, I grew some sweet potatoes with a moderate amount of success, but I got a handful of tomatoes and one tiny bell pepper and that's pretty much it.
This year, my tomatoes have done better. The plants are bigger and for a while, it looked like I had it figured out. But the weather has been so warm. About a month ago, we started finding tomato fruitworms. Now, they were easy to find and control because they were all on leaves that had been nibbled out. The kids and I picked them off by hand and, ahem, disposed of them.
Once those started to seem under control, we started to find flea beetles - or some other tiny, unidentifiable bug. I also attempted to control those by picking them off by hand. They were too small and too numerous and they jumped. In addition to those tiny guys, we were hit with leaf-footed bugs. So, I did what I didn't think I ever wanted to do - I bought pesticide.
I have wanted to garden frugally and chemical-free if I can. It seems like lots of people do it - why can't I? But alas. I was failing. So I bought an organic pest and disease control option - neem oil. I was also hoping this would bring the early blight that was attacking my tomatoes under control.
We did our first spray last week and I had high hopes. Couple that with some plant food and the fact that my non-upside-down tomatoes are planted deeply in almost pure compost, and I thought we'd be sitting pretty soon. There has been new, green growth and a new crop of blossoms.
But yesterday. Ohhhh, yesterday.
I found a new, ginormous hatching of fruitworms. They are tiny and they are everywhere. And, I found this guy:

My focus was a little off, so you may not be able to tell, but he's a tomato hornworm. That is very bad news. And I found a few more friends of his. We went ahead and applied another round of neem oil, but this is the last straw.
I want tomatoes, dadgummit!
Several people have laughed at me for trying to grow tomatoes without chemicals here in central Florida and I think, after all, they may be right.
I need to do a little more research on just what I want to use. Everybody recommends Sevin dust, but I know it kills bees and I like my neighbor's bees a lot. So. We'll see what I can find.
My squash are in hanging baskets and are thriving. So far, they haven't been infested with vine borers or squash bugs like they were last year, but I found this beetle on one yesterday.

But the good news is that I'm getting a couple of cucumbers.

I guess I put them out early enough to avoid pests on this particular plant and they're hanging in baskets too.

I put my sweet potato slips out this past weekend and they are thriving. That seems to be the one thing I can grow with relative ease. Then again, sweet potatoes are pretty hard to mess up.
All that said, my garden is growing much better than it was last year and I have high hopes (still!) that this fall's garden will be even better.

One day, I will grow tomatoes. Tons of them. They will be delicious.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some worms to squish.


Meryl said...

Hi Christy,

I live in the Orlando area and have an organic vegetable garden and lawn. My lawn has been organic for a year and it is lush and beautiful - a conversation topic with my neighbors. This, my first vegetable garden, is also doing well and I have eaten a tomato and cooked with my herbs.
At the risk of sounding like a sales person - which I now am due to my overwhelming success - I will tell you that I have been using Happy Naturals products from The Happy Gardener and I am thrilled with the results. They carry foliar sprays, fertilizers, soil amendments all made with certified organic ingredients. I could say so much more but I encourage you to research for yourself as there are tons of products out there ( By the way, I am the only one of my surrounding neighbors who did not have to resod after last winter. I am here to say that organic gardening does work in Florida.

Christy said...

Hi Meryl! I'm always happy to hear about what other people are doing that is working in our area! So much gardening information is directed toward people in midwestern climates, it's hard for someone like me - just a beginner without much time - to find good information that works here.
I don't really care about my grass too much - I hope to be lawn-free eventually :), but growing some food in my backyard is a huge goal for me.
Thanks for the comment!

Mary said...

That's a pretty cucumber. I do hope you are surprised by your success and I think it's quite a task you are undertaking. Don't let the worms and beetles take all the fun out of it for you.

claibornes corner said...

You'll just have to come to Georgia for my tomatoes!

Susan said...

Celebrate your victories, and use Dipel or B.T. powder on those pesky little worms. These powders are the closest to natural you can buy. It's all a learning experience...each year you'll learn more...and have more successes. Don't give up!

Christy said...

Mary - I promise to keep it fun :)
Nana - maybe I will have to look into that!
Susan - thank you so much. I will definitely look into *both* of those things! I definitely learned a lot last year, and even more this year. And I like to learn :) So...I promise not to give up.

Anonymous said...

Christy, its horrible when we are trying so hard and no results. Like me with my roses, it seems like it doesn't matter how early I get out there to start fighting them off, they have started before I believed it would be warm enough for insect life. They're tougher than me, I tell ya.

We'll fight and we'll win.


Amy Button said...

I'm so sorry it's such a struggle. But I can't say I'm doing any better. Gardening is just tougher than it seems it should be. Herbs, lavender and tomatoes for me and that's it. I think it's impossible to mess up herbs.