Garden and Life Updates: Early July

Firstly, let me say that this post was delayed by about a week, so I thank you all for your patience and understanding. When I last left you, we had just gotten back from our pop-up camper test drive in Shawnee National Forest after a week of plumbing disasters leading up to Father’s Day. That was a week and a half ago.

And our plumbing woes continued. *cue dramatic music*

I actually uploaded a vlog yesterday that shows some of what I described in my previous post and contains much dramatic music, so if you’re just dying to see as well as read all about it, you can find it on the Channel. πŸ™‚

For now, suffice to say that it is just not easy to be productive on much of anything when you have to fiddle with your plumbing every.single.day just to make your shower and toilets work. Most of our days didn’t “start” until noon, and by then we were both tired and cranky, hopefully understandably so.

After five consecutive days of this routine, Brian believes he has satisfactorily tracked down every issue and knows how to resolve it. In the meantime, while we wait, he just has to pump-out the septic every other day or so to keep things flowing smoothly.

This has made the last four days or so infinitely better and more productive. We spent a good deal of time re-organizing the precious storage space inside and outside of the house, inventing new systems to accommodate changes in our lifestyle and habits since the pandemic. For example, we buy most everything in bulk now to reduce trips to a store, and those items need to be stored properly.

I had also, years ago when I started grad school and stopped selling at local farmer’s markets, given up my dedicated canning cupboard to towels and linens, leaving myself one measly shelf in the games/craft closet. This worked fine when I was only canning what I knew we’d use, and divvied items between that shelf and our regular food pantry. I’ve been canning so much so far this summer (in hopes that many of you will purchase some goodies in the Shop), but they had just been sitting in a pile in my dining room, waiting on me to figure out where in the world they would live for long-term storage. Moving games and crafts to a new shelf in the garage freed-up that entire closet, so look-out world, I’m about to be a canning wizard. πŸ™‚

Removing clutter felt amazing. I feel so much more stressed-out when my environment is in disarray. The house got deep-cleaned, and then I felt free again to go outside and dig-in to the gardens. We’d been perfunctorily weeding, of course, and, as much as we were able, doing our morning garden walk. But many garden chores sat undone because the weight of the plumbing was just too great.

The garden is an ecosystem, not unlike a septic tank, however, and when one thing gets left untended or even fails, it impacts other items more and more. While we fought the battle for the plumbing, a few key areas of the garden began to show signs of distress and potential failure: the cabbage, the cucumbers, and the tomatoes.

As soon as we returned from our brief camping trip, I walked-out to the Main Garden and did a quick inspection, and that’s when I noticed three things: 1) something was eating our cabbage, 2) our tomatoes appeared to have grown two feet and were not only overgrown but in dire need of better support and 3) one of our cucumbers was wilted in a crumpled pile on the ground.

I bent down to the cabbage first and saw live cabbage worms and, more alarming, a veritable colony of laid eggs.

No amount of hand picking-off worms or eggs, or trying any neem oil or other method the internet told me might work, would work in time. This is why we garden-walk every morning: you have to spot these things early to get ahead of them. We were simply too late, and so I basically treated the two cabbage in question like toxic waste and hurled them far into the forest. We harvested one cabbage for immediate consumption (delicious) and then the next day I discovered a few more eggs on another, and so pulled that one, as well. We are left now with two.

After hurling the two cabbages into the forest that evening, I made a beeline for the obviously sick cucumber. Earlier in the season we had experienced some similar issues with our peppers when their leaves began to yellow, mottle, brown, then drop-off. We surmised it was a virus of some kind, likely brought-in from a store-bought pair of banana pepper plants we purchased, and then all the heavy rains had spread it to nearby plants. We started by hand-picking the infected leaves and clearing any sign of the leaves from the ground and disposing of them (not in the compost). This helped beat it back for a few days, but ultimately we had to pull the banana pepper plants, one anaheim pepper, and five bell pepper plants. I re-dug the ground well, worked in more compost, and replaced each plant with the back-ups we had in the greenhouse (I love our greenhouse!), and everyone has been happy and producing ever since.

Unlike the peppers, though, we had not caught the cucumber early, and it was now beyond saving. I immediately removed it and disposed of it (also not in the compost) and then turned to inspecting the nearby cucumber plants for signs whatever had infected and killed the first cucumber had passed-on to them. As I expected, the adjacent cucumber exhibited signs of leaf wilt and mottling.

I pruned him hard, removing any leaves with any trace and then left him for the night. When I circled back the following morning, he looked a little perkier, but by that afternoon was beyond saving. We wound-up having to pull him and one other. All three of these cucumbers had been victims of an early frost and, after some major TLC, had been brought-back, but I do think they were weaker plants as a result. I had one cucumber in the greenhouse back-up pile, and replanted him after some ground prep, so now we’re down to four cucumber plants.

And finally that evening, I spun on my heel from the cucumbers and surveyed the veritable tomato jungle that lay before me. On our garden walk the morning we left for camping, I commented that these needed pruning and more support, but that they’d be alright until we got back. It was only a few days, after all, and we’d simply been too busy handling plumbing all week to have time to get it done before we left. They looked as if they had grown two feet in our absence, though. Ah yes, somehow every summer I seem to forget how quickly things can grow in a high-summer garden. You can walk it in the morning and that zucchini will not be ready, but if you come back in the evening, it will have swelled and extended beyond the size you thought you might pick it.

It was so overgrown it was hard to discern one plant from another, and getting my hands in to check for burgeoning fruit was difficult. There wasn’t anything I could do yet that evening, but more than cabbage or cucumbers, these tomatoes became my top priority for the next day.

That morning was cool–a perfect morning to weed heavily and then get to pruning once the leaves were dry. I focused my efforts mainly on the base of the tomatoes, creating airflow and height to ensure foliage stayed off the ground (and away from pests and soil-born diseases) and then give them a rest before tending to the dense upper foliage.

I waited a few days and then went back in with my pruning shears, lopping off suckers left and right, it seemed, and yet somehow after I created three large piles for the compost, the plants still had quite a lot of foliage left on them. I opted to vlog this entire process (including cabbage and cucumber) and include my thoughts on pruning and a little “how-to”, as well, so I won’t include that here. The video does a better job of explaining by showing what it would take me paragraphs to write, and this post is already quite long. πŸ™‚


The tomatoes are doing well and are beginning to fruit now. I do hope they decide to wait a little longer to really get going, though, because we are leaving for a long camping trip in a week! With the pandemic, and all signs pointing to a spike in cases (not a second wave because the first never stopped), we felt it best to try places that were less densely populated and traveled, and that had a lot of space, hopefully even on trails, that would enable safe social distancing on hikes. We also felt it important to not travel to places where we might be tempted into restaurants or indoor attractions: we need to stay outside for our leisure and, as much as possible, well away from other like-minded people. So, what better time, I thought, than to take the kids on a trip I took in high school and that profoundly shaped my future–South Dakota.

Of course, we decided this before we realized the President would be speaking at Mt. Rushmore a week and a half prior to our visit. That may make it busier than normal, but I’m still hopeful things will have abated by the time we make it to the Black Hills. And, as an educator, I’m not one to skip-out on an opportunity to use his speech and recent events to discuss the rights of the Sioux people and the history of this land with my children. Visiting Pine Ridge Reservation as a sophomore in high school exposed me to so much I hadn’t previously had access to, and altered the way I approached my education and my relationship to it.

I realized a few years later, as I spent a year engaged in an inquiry about the Sioux people (primarily the Oglala and Lakota) and Pine Ridge for my senior AP English class, that it would be so easy to keep my distance–my supposed objectivity–and fall into the same privileged and powered traps of the people I hoped to prove wrong, or at the very least, critique, in my project. Objectivity, as the word implies, objectifies people, making them an object of study rather than living embodied realities. This is especially troublesome when entire groups of people have historically not been able to write their own stories, especially for audiences in places of power (such as historic academia and what, for a long time, counted as “an academic text”).

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the first cultural rhetorics project I ever engaged in. I realized that I am a part of the story and that I needed to attend in my project to my own engagement with this topic as a white person, as an outsider, as a high-schooler from a predominantly white, upper-class background. So, next to academic papers I wrote about land rights and treaties, I wrote poems about my feelings, included photographs of my time there, and made art collages of bits of texts I’d read. I wrote myself alongside and within the story. I also realized that all of the “academic” texts I had access to at that time were by and large not written by Indigenous Americans/American Indians/Native Americans (pausing here to note that none of these terms are value-neutral), so to juxtapose against the “academic texts” I was required to read, I included fiction, memoirs, essays, and anything else I could get my hands on (in 1999 when there was no Google) that were authored by Native people. In short, the doing and the making of that project altered the way I encounter and engage with others and the world around me and upended the way I thought about rhetoric and writing. I owe South Dakota, and the Sioux people, so much.

So, I’m excited to see it again; to take the kids, though they’re much younger than I was and I’m realistic to the fact that they may not have a life-altering shift in their thinking. It’s a magical place filled with history, wonder, and beauty, and I feel grateful beyond measure that we have a pop-up now and can take this trip. I’ll try to get a blog post up during our trip, as long as there’s wifi. We’ll also be vlogging it extensively, which is a process I find I really enjoy. As far as I’m concerned, editing a vlog is no different than editing any other kind of writing. I get to tell a story, and even to a certain extent, the genre allows me more freedom to insert other modes easier than traditional academic writing (although I have been prone to stretching the limits of “academic writing” before, having composed papers with soundtracks or on the web where I can insert links and videos). πŸ™‚

Right. Enough nerding-out about rhetoric and writing! In the next week before we leave I’ve got some recipes to share, more garden chores to accomplish, and a bunch of prep to do before we can leave. As Captain Picard would say, “Engage!”





Published by kelinmchull

Wife, mother, student, dreamer/doer, adventurer, wannabe farmer, writer, and all around curious gal.

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