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They had been there at least since I saw the first blossom, actually. Only I thought they were part of the bird droppings on the plant, and didn’t think much of them. But  then I noticed there were ants on the plants. (Always with the ants. Have I mentioned they’re in my kitchen, too? Each segment the size of a ripe blackberry druplet? The kind you pick from the wild lot down the street when you were growing up, I mean, not the kind you buy in the store for $2.50 a half-pint.) And if the ants were on the plants then clearly there were shenanigans afoot. I looked closer.

Those, as far as I can tell, are black bean aphids, Aphis fabae, which suggests to me that they’re specific to fava beans (Vicia faba, as opposed to Phaseolus vulgaris, the common green/dry bean. Cross “Learn more Latin names” off my 2008 goals list. See? It did turn out to be useful), and the Internet bears me out on this. Apparently they are also a major sugar beet pest, and they overwinter in euonymous and viburnum plants and may migrate to corn, pigweed, and lambs’s-quarters in the summer. You have now received your entomology lesson for the day.

I knocked them off the plants with the hose, holding on to a leaf at the top and trying not to harm the plants themselves. I’m in hopes that they won’t be such a big deal that I won’t get a crop, and that if I just leave them alone a natural predator will show up. I don’t think I can do much else; the sites I looked at advise (a) not getting them in the first place and (b) spraying, neither of which are really helpful.

I think I’m going to put a book on garden pests on my Christmas wish list for this year. Then again, at this rate I’ll be able to put my own book together by then.

It was windy and gray and humid and threatening major rain when I came home. But it was clearly meant to be a gardening day. See what came in the mail?

I took advantage of what I gather is a recurring offer of Spring Hill Nursery’s for $20 off an order, no minimum. I paid $8 shipping and handling to get a pomegranate kit. It took longer than I thought it would to come, but that’s okay; it came, it’s in great shape, it’s beautiful, and I even got a potential bonus: there appeared to be two trees growing together. One was definitely smaller and spindlier than the other. I separated them gently and planted the bigger one in the pot that came with the kit, and the other in a smaller pot, and if they both live I’ll have gotten a two-for-one free plant, which is just about as good as you can get.

The other mail item is also just about as good as you can get: free seeds. These are Johnny Jump-Ups in my alma mater’s school colors (University of Washington, purple and gold), and while they’re not my favorite flower and the plant care instructions have schmaltzy lines about planting wherever you want to grow your school spirit, free seeds are still pretty cool.

I went on the porch to pot the pomegranates. Eric arrived home and told me to get inside, it was going to rain, but I decided to do what I could before then. So I planted Scarlet Nantes carrots around the few onions in the onion patch, and planted rye where the quinoa and amaranth didn’t come up (is there something to that line about sunflower seeds suppressing all other growth? At this rate I’m going to empty my entire pantry into that patch), and planted three kinds of squash, thereby deciding that I will either hand-pollinate the potimarron squash or not worry about saving seeds. I noted something distressing about the broad beans–more on that tomorrow–and planted some Large Leaf Italian basil where I pulled out the flowering cabbages. And I moved one of the newly-sprouted Mammoth sunflowers to the sunflower bed to see if the rabbits will get them. (I know the vegetable garden is okay because a new zucchini came up and is still there.)

Then the wind picked up suddenly and I ran inside to beat the rain, making sure the pomegranate pots were out from under the porch roof as I did. It’s been twenty minutes and there’s no rain. If it doesn’t start soon I may resume where I left off and think about putting out peppers and fertilizing tomatoes, not to mention water.

I am feeling better about the loss of the cauliflower. After all, chances were I wouldn’t have gotten anything out of them anyway, it being spring. And other things are going well. The potatoes are springing up; the cucumbers are doing well; the tomatoes are at least not dying; the bachelor’s buttons are thriving in their chosen spot; we cleaned up the front yard this evening; and I spotted this while doing some drive-by weeding.

The Italian Farmhouse beans are flowering. And they’re lovely.

The last cauliflower has been discovered by the ants. I sacrificed it, and the other three spots, to a pot of boiling water. I did this at dusk, as we were out to dinner for our anniversary (I have an anniversary now! So weird!), and noticed that the dirt was different where the ants had dug up under the cauliflower…and that I could see that same quality of dirt in the path. I think I’d better administer the boiling water again, when I can see what I’m doing.

I missed Green Thumb Sunday (I was at the park where we got married, and then in Theramore), so here’s my current favorite flowering plant in the garden:

It’s a turnip, and it looks awfully top-heavy. There was a tremendous thunderstorm last night and I feared for it, but it seems to be standing still; I can see a yellow blossom from around the corner of the garage. Good plant. The other turnip didn’t come up, so I’m thinking this turnip will be blooming for some time.

In the other garden, the two other ant-struck cauliflower are dead. One remains, but I’m not giving much for its chances. A broccoli sprout has come up in the ones I planted for fall in the greenhouse, and I choose to hope that fall brassicas will do better than spring ones. If not, maybe next year I’ll give in and buy some starts from the nursery.

My bright, shiny, brand-new, 100% amateur rabbit fence is up. The zucchini are gone, too. But the corn is up–apparently rabbits don’t like corn. I replanted the zucchini and sunflowers, and a Parade cucumber that fell to a cutworm (no, I haven’t been doing the collars even though I think it’s a really good idea. I didn’t have any issues with them last year so I don’t think about them. Did I graduate to Garden 2.0 this year?), and the vegetable garden is, I hope, secure once more.

Meanwhile, Eric was digging a fence pole out of the driveway bed. He gave a savage cry of triumph when he finally got it to release its hold on the earth. Then he started ripping down the plywood and carpet on the back porch. I’ve wanted to do this for two years so I cheered him on.

I went around to the herb garden to poke around and check for cabbage worms (which was not unwarranted; I found some and killed them). I saw this:

and was immediately concerned about that second, limp cauliflower. I investigated. It was limp, but nothing seemed obviously wrong until I looked at its base and saw this:

Three of them had it. I had no idea what to do about it. I chased them away, but obviously that’s only a temporary solution.

I pulled out the limp cauliflower and its roots were all dry and gone; the ants were tunneling there. I looked around and found them amassed on the path nearest the house, holes here and there. What do I do about this? I’ve got to figure out something. Boiling water? Just give up the cauliflower for lost? Give up the entire garden for lost and spray?

Also–and I hesitate to say this–the only brassicas that are currently behaving for me are the kale. (Well, and the Green Goliath broccoli, other than being eaten by cabbage worms.) I’m feeling I had better enjoy them quickly.

I have killed my first cabbage worms of the season. They didn’t completely destroy the cauliflower, which is good since those are the healthiest looking brassicas I have going except the kale (which is just gorgeous) and I’d hate to have to admit defeat so early. I also scraped some more scale off the lemon tree, which is showing hints of wanting to grow more leaves, a pursuit of which I wholly approve.

I didn’t do the outdoor work I intended, other than the aforementioned killing of caterpillars and some incidental weeding, because Eric convinced me that Saturday would be beautiful and he would do yardwork too, and today would be much better spent in a long walk. I wholeheartedly agree.

But I did start the fall brassicas–cauliflower, cabbage, three types of broccoli–and the sunflowers: Claret (hybrid), Pastiche, Autumn Beauty, and four Mammoth seeds I turned out to have in the bottom of the seed box after all. All but the latter are from trades. Also, the ones I bought for bean trellising are Evening Sun, not Autumn Beauty.

I have vague thoughts of trying to save seed from the sunflowers, but honestly I don’t want to, because (again according to Seed to Seed) I’d have to bag the heads to do it properly, and the whole point of growing these is to enjoy their beauty. I can’t think of a flower I enjoy more wholeheartedly than sunflowers.

So it turns out the sunflowers are coming up just fine. It’s just that the rabbits are still getting in. (I would have taken a picture…but you can imagine a chewed-off stem. Now multiply.) That board that covered the rabbit warren also covered a couple of holes in the fence (“fence” is a euphemism, really…it’s honestly a bit of trellis that the previous owners must have tacked on at the end, and the holes are huge) and apparently my mostly-barren garden is worth the trouble. The beans in the other garden, with semi-raised beds, are unmolested. I think I need to build up the ground-level beds in the vegetable garden for next year.

Those were my last Mammoth sunflower seeds, so I bought chickenwire and more sunflower seeds today. These are Autumn Beauty, and they grow six feet instead of ten, which seemed good to me since at ten feet I can’t reach the beans when they climb up that far. The fence goes up, and the sunflowers in, tomorrow.

I planted most of my winter-sown flowers yesterday. The Merveille des Quatre Saisons lettuce, which is doing excellently, has been partly in a planter and partly in the herb garden (where I planted red flax, because it hadn’t come up yet and I’d forgotten) for a while now, but the rest were sitting quietly on my porch, blocking most of the steps.

Status: the cleome (my first sprout was actually a bachelor’s button) and the pot marigolds didn’t come up at all. The bachelor’s buttons did the best, towering over everything else. The anise hyssop was a decent second, and smells wonderful. The Husker’s Red penstemon and Indian paintbrush germinated thickly but remained small (probably because I forgot to thin them a second time). The “Garden Treasures mix” and hollyhocks came up nicely and were easy to separate. The butterfly bush, shasta daisy, and purple coneflower were small but had nice leaves and weren’t too crowded. The tomato mix container has a tall plant that clearly isn’t a tomato and nothing else, and there are two unlabeled containers that must be the nicotaina and the blanket flower, but I’m not sure which is which. (They were labeled when I started. Note to self: Sharpie does not last an entire winter outdoors on plastic.)

So the bachelor’s buttons and a shasta daisy went into the front porch bed; I put the butterfly bush and coneflower here and there in the yard and the gardens; the penstemon and hollyhocks went into the newly-filled-in driveway bed; the Indian paintbrush went in the herb garden near the garden stone my sister-in-law gave me for Christmas; the anise hyssop went in the herb garden and a corner of the vegetable garden near a lone borage; the “Garden Treasures mix” went into the pot on my front porch, left by the old owners, which I put mint in last year. I hauled a surprising amount of dead roots out of the pot before I transplanted them. I have two flowerbeds, the newly-dug one by the garage and a not-yet-dug one by the back fence, where I’ll put the unlabeled plants and some more penstemon, since I had a lot.

I still haven’t started my sunflowers yet (or the fall brassicas), and the ones in the garden aren’t coming up but the beans are so I need to get on that. I may well make a trip out to Home Depot this week to get more dirt and mulch, whatever I can load into the car, and make an end run for getting this stuff all settled. I’m enjoying the yard gardening but I’m thinking I’ll enjoy having it all in place so that I can just watch it grow (and weed), too.

Also, the alyssum and red flax in the herb garden are up–I was afraid I wouldn’t recognize them and would pull them as weeds, but when the same plant that I haven’t seen elsewhere springs up en masse overnight, I think I can assume they’re what I planted. I have a single parsley root plant up, but no parsley beyond the one I raised indoors. And I’m definitely not getting more than about three onions in the onion bed, so carrots will go in there soon. Sigh.

I feel like I’m stuffing so much data into my posts these days. Well, it’s spring; that shouldn’t surprise me. Things are happening every day, and by being outside so much–much more than I have since I was little–I’m seeing it all. And I have no other garden journal, so it all comes here.

Today I planted various and diverse things in various and diverse locations, and weeded a bit, and beamed over the safflower and red flax coming up. And I harvested my first produce for 2008: mixed greens for salad, including five kinds of lettuce, spinach, kale, rocket, and a couple of turnip leaves for good measure. I only took one leaf from any given plant, and ended up with a little over an ounce–not because I’d run out of plants but because last year I routinely picked too much for a given meal and was trying to correct that tendency. Naturally, I overcompensated. So I added some Bibb lettuce from the farmer’s market. Starting now, I won’t need to purchase greens from the farmer’s market for a while. Ha!

Flowers and even fruit are only the beginning. In the seed lies the life and the future.

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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