This morning we woke to find two flats of beefsteak tomatoes sampled by mice. Mrs. Mouse or her kin took a nibble out of nearly every tomato, then settled in for a feast on the few that were the fattest, the ripest, and the juiciest. She has good taste, I will give her that. But her days are numbered. Tossing those tomatoes to the chickens almost felt like crumpling up dollar bills and setting them on fire, except that at least the tomatoes will enrich the hens’ eggs.
If only Kitty hadn’t died, we might have better control over the varmints around here. Kitty (aka Sparkle, according to Roy, who attempted to befriend the stray with hot dogs and saucers of milk) showed up a few weeks back and poked her little orange baby face (so cute) out from under the wood pile or from under the front porch a couple times a day. She also visited our neighbors up and down the street but hadn’t settled in anywhere. We laid a blanket down in the barn (next to the hot dogs) and could tell she had slept there a night or two. But we hadn’t yet gotten her to come close to us.
This week she got hit by a car out on State Road and her short little kitty life was over. This is the way it goes sometimes on the farm.
We spent maybe ten minutes patting ourselves on the back for all the ribbons we won at the Fair—and then turned around and started pulling our hair out over all the weird plagues that have befallen our tomato plants. The leaves are black, the pests are thriving, the giant beefsteaks break off and fall down before ripening, the red cherry tomatoes have green shoulders, and on and on. We’ve always done a good job with our tomatoes, and our plants did set a lot of fruit this year, but they look hideous now and we have to learn from our mistakes. (Though there’s absolutely nothing we can do about weird weather patterns. One expert gardener friend said that the very dry soil from the drought followed by the rain and humidity caused some of the tomato problems. Also, our tomato plants are in a low spot in the garden this year, and the morning fog and dew hangs around extra long down there.)
It goes on like this all the time—up and down. Just when I think our farm stand traffic has come to a standstill, four cars come down the driveway at once. Just when I’m kicking myself that I don’t have more fall crops planted, we look around and see that one ridiculously huge butternut squash plant (a volunteer) and four others I planted have literally dozens and dozens of fat, ripening fruits on them. Since they are planted amongst the beans, we think they are feeding off the nitrogen that beans fix in the soil. And they are on irrigation this year, too, so they’ve had plenty of water. I also planted late cucumbers which are rioting with flowers and tiny fruits, and my cranberry beans germinated 100 percent and practically came up overnight. The two rows of green beans that lost all their blossoms to a mysterious pest have all recovered and are yielding like crazy. The squash-vine borers have pretty much brought the zucchini down to its knees, but I somehow managed to get rid of the Colorado potato bugs that were destroying the eggplants and we’re harvesting plenty of those fruits.
Roy and a skunk had a disagreement over some garbage last night in the dark. (Roy had a stick, so he won, but not before the skunk left his parting statement.) During the day, Farmer and I have been rounding up fugitive chickens who manage to find ways to escape their new enclosure. “Not again!” I always think when I see them wandering around the yard. But on a good note, I’ve learned that Farmer seems to like cornering them, but not eating them. (They crouch, he sniffs, and I scoop them up.) Farmer of course is on a leash or a lede—I think we are a long ways away from designating him as chief chicken babysitter.
Seems like there’s a silver lining to just about every minor tragedy on the farm. Take all those damaged veggies coming out of the garden right now—the blemished ones that we can’t sell on the farm stand but that aren’t necessarily chicken food yet either. A lot of those are making their way into the kitchen (see salad above) or onto the grill. So we’re eating pretty well. Mostly. Except for the nights when we’re too busy harvesting or weeding to do much more than throw hot dogs on the grill. But please, don’t tell anyone the author of vegetable cookbooks eats hot dogs. Okay?