Just Fuzzy: Survival Gardening? Start Now

I have a draft post on politics, but the thing that is really taking up my time and energy these days (apart from life, work, family, etc.) is my disastrous attempts at a veggie garden.  I use the term “garden” loosely, however, because it’s really just a bunch of stuff–mostly tomatoes–mostly in pots— on my porch.  But some of the bigger stuff, I did try in the yard.  Ugh.  What a total disaster.

Okay, so you think that stocking up on those “survival garden” seeds is all you need to do?  That having a nice stash of heirloom seeds will be sufficient to feed you and your family when the um, stuff hits the . . . well, you know?  Please please please think again.  And start your seeds now; the learning curve is huge on growing veggies.  Huge, I say.

So. Last year, I tossed some seeds in a seed-starter thingy, repotted the happy seedlings into good-sized pots onto the porch, and pretty much ignored them.  They’re seeds, they grow, that’s what they do, thought silly silly Fuzzy.  End result: 10 pole beans.  Everything else (cukes, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce . . . lots of stuff) died either mysteriously over night or under the daily deluge of rain we were treated to for days and days on end.  Ten pole beans a year will not keep a mouse alive (more on those little horrors later), let alone a full-grown woman and her family, friends, neighbors, and random whomevers who are hungry.

Last year was a sad, sad year for Fuzzy’s garden.  This year, I was better prepared.  I’d read countless books on gardening, visited tons of websites on same, and stocked up on stuff I needed last year (besides a clue).  I got fungicides, pesticides, and all-purpose-icides; I got fertilizers and who knows what else (all organic, why not?), and most importantly, I had a plan.  This year, I was going to keep records of what I planted (last year, I seriously stuck seedlings in pots with no record of what it was supposed to be when it grew up–I guess I thought I’d figure that out when it produced a bounty of veg.  Ha!), when I planted it, when I transplanted it, when I noticed what little bug or fungi or whatever was attacking my veggies.  I had a chart.  Okay, I had about three charts (I’m anal that way).  I was not going to be casual and disinterested like last year.  Nope, this year, I was going to be on top of it all, paying close attention to every chewed leaf, every weird-looking whatever, and I was going to conquer this thing called vegetable gardening.

Um.  Well.  That was the plan.

Plans get thwarted, though, and my first challenge was freaking raccoons.  You have no idea how much I hate raccoons.  They are not cute, they are not adorable, they are not charming little “bandits.”  They are rabies-ridden, flea-bitten, mean-spirited over-grown sewer rats with attitude, and they delight in digging up the most gorgeous watermelon plants–and tomatoes, squash, cantaloupes, and cukes–before they’ve even had a chance.  They dig and they chew and they toss things around.  I found my happy little watermelon plant uprooted.  That’s it, just uprooted.  Not eaten, not chewed, not even nibbled.  Just killed for no reason.  Grrr.

Okay, so the whole raccoon thing was probably my own fault.  But again, and this goes to my urging you to start now planting your seeds and not waiting until your life depends on success, I have no idea what I am doing.  I read that making your own compost was a good idea, and I thought, yay! I can do that!  I didn’t, however, make (hahaha!) or purchase an actual compost bin (can you see where this is going?), so I just dumped kitchen scraps (aka yummy yummy raccoon treats) into a shallow hole in the yard that I then covered with dirt.  Can a person be any dumber?

I panic.  And am a little grossed out–what if they pooped on the veggies they didn’t manage to eat or kill for no apparent reason (um, yeah, except that whole “compost” thing I was trying and that they thought was a full-on raccoon buffet)?  Ew. And ew.  So I scramble, I reach out to Adrienne (who grows the most amazing veggies), and between us, I finally decide to get an electric fence to put up around my yard garden patch.  I’ll deal with that next year. Sigh.

So all I have left are some veggies (I refer to tomatoes as veg throughout, not as fruit) in pots.  Okay, fine, I say to myself, I’ll foil the disgusting raccoons by keeping my “garden” in pots. On the porch. Far, far away from my now-abandoned composting piles.

Good plan.

I got one of those motion-detector thingies that make a noise, flash lights, etc. that I am sure will keep raccoons off my porch.  And actually, it seems to have done so.  What it doesn’t keep off my porch are mice.  Or maybe rats.  Disgusting disgustingness any way you slice it.  There are piles of chewed up acorns and chewed up tomatoes in all my pots.  And I mean here even green tomatoes! They aren’t just waiting until they are ripe and ready for the picking (as websites assure me is the norm).  Oh no, Fuzzy’s mice-rats-rodents are noshing on green freaking tomatoes.  Cherry and beafsteak; they actually pooped on the beefsteaks that I sprinkled (humanely) with cayenne pepper.   I’m thinking, at this point, that humane is highly over-rated.

Yes, I read online that fighting rodents is as simple as sprinkling cayenne pepper around the base of the plant or sprinkling peppermint essential oil on cotton balls, etc. Neither works, so I sprinkled the pepper on the actual fruit (still green!), so what do the rats-mice-wretched rodents do?  They chew around the cayenne pepper.  What a nightmare.

I’m not really sure if the culprits are rats or mice.  I saw one when I dramatically yanked open the front door at 11 p.m. one night, and it looked rodenty.  It’s definitely one or the other.  Unfortunately, my motion sensor thing seems to have simply provided them with a predator-free zone to chomp down on and poop on my veggies.  The noise, lights flashing, doesn’t phase the rodents in the least, but it does seem to deter owls, foxes, and raccoons who might actually relieve me of problem rats/mice/whatevers.

Okay, so let me back up a bit.  I’m not only growing veg, I’m a sucker for lavender and have two kinds (English and French) and some mint (yum!); the rodents haven’t chewed these, as they have my tomatoes and seedlings (after the watermelon and cantaloupe disaster in the yard, I got some seeds for types that are good in pots–yum, yum, rats/mice/whatever LOVE those seedlings. Sigh).  Rodents positively love jasmine, btw, but they seem to just like the flowers.  Not to eat . . . just to drag to their perch in a veg pot to scent up the place.  Then they merrily chow down on random acorns they drag up and on green tomatoes dusted with cayenne pepper.

The cayenne pepper and peppermint didn’t work, so I tried egg shells.  I read somewhere that slugs and cutworms don’t like to crawl across egg shells, so I think, woot!  pointy, sharp eggshells can’t be comfy for rodents to sit on, either, so I crumbled up some (thoroughly washed) eggshells and spread them over the soil on the attacked pots.  That seemed to work.  At least so far.

Not only can you expect disgusting beasts like raccoons and rats-mice-whatevers to attack your plants, but there are other horrors to deal with, too.  My cucumber was producing like crazy: big, gorgeous, delicious cukes.  Early in the season, I had some horror attacking the base of the plant, so I sprayed it with one of my organic pesticides, then with some soap and water, and then buried the affected stem in soil.  That solved that problem.  But later on, around mid-July, I find these horrible, clear tapioca-like (only clear not white) bubbles of gunk in my pots (not just cukes) and on the leaves of my cuke.  I had no idea that these were actually pickle worm eggs, but I did know they were icky, so I got rid of them.  But I guess I didn’t get them all because the next thing I know, my gorgeous cukes were showing holes where these revolting little green worms were digging into and eating (and pooping on!) my cucumbers.  I was so devastated.  Where did these little horrors come from?

I do an internet search, figure out what it is, and then I dig in to fight.  Pickle worms are some kind of moth stage, and will one day, after devouring and ruining my cucumber plants and fruit, become that moth.  Who will then cover my delicious cukes with their gooey, disgusting eggs.  And unless you see a clump of the clear goo, you can’t really see the tiny little individual eggs or whatever the heck they are between being goo-eggs and little green worms, so they just devour your cucumber (or squash or melon) plant’s flowers and leaves and fruits.  Wretched beasts.

As you can imagine, I’m not a happy camper.  I descend on my cuke, vowing to save him, with pesticide (only in the early evening, after the bees are gone–I need bees to pollinate my cuke . . . if he survives), and I attack him with pruning shears.  Clip go the chewed leaves.  Clip go the fishy-looking fruit.  Clip go flowers that seem “wobbly” or weird.  Clip. Clip. Clip.  I accidentally even clipped off a bit of vine that I didn’t mean to.  Sigh.  Anyway, between the ruthless clipping and the applications of pesticide, I somehow manage to save my cuke plant.  Yay me!   It was a bit against what I read online, but I did plant another cuke seed to grow in case the drastic measures failed.  This, of course, was chewed off by the freaking mystery rodents.

Moral of the story?  Don’t wait.  Start planting now. Learn about growing veggies because they don’t just magically grow vast bounties of food.  I didn’t even tell you about the horrible fungi some of my tomato plants had for a while or the wretched little aphids who needed to be doused with a dish soap and water mix.  There’s a learning curve to this vegetable growing thing, best to learn now.


32 thoughts on “Just Fuzzy: Survival Gardening? Start Now

  1. I’m trying to figure out whether to be glad that we’re not the only ones having problems with our garden. Our main foe seems to be cute, fluffy little bunnies that I want rip the heads off of and throw in a stock pot. I think we are the only people in the history of forever that has only grown one stinking zucchini only to have a little rabbit b@$t@rd pull it off the vine and eat 1/4 of it and then the plant never produced any more and the roots rotted, or something.

    • Oh, and my advice is to plant more than you think you’ll need. Don’t futz around with “companion planting”, just do a whole bed of something to make sure you at least get some of it if weather or pests don’t cooperate.

      • Heh, stewed rabbit is supposed to be yummy. I feel your pain on the zucchini, too, that was one of the raccoon-destroyed plants I had out in the yard. 😦 And yes, I agree, it’s definitely best to plant lots of everything. I am still experimenting and learning, so I didn’t plant much on any one thing. Next year, I’ll do more, and once I get the electric fence thing figured out will be able to get the pots off my porch (I’m so horrified that rats or mice are that close to me. Ew!).

        • In this economy and with my prolonged unemployment, rabbit may not be the only critter from around the garden we might end up “hunting”…!

  2. I can barely type I am laughing so hard, Fuzzy Slippers. Your account is priceless! Thanx so much for this side-splitting account. Me? I don’t do dirt, creeply crawly, critter things. I buy spam and other equally yummy canned meat and vegetables for the future.

    My absolute favorite line in your account? ” I saw one when I dramatically yanked open the front door at 11 p.m. one night, and it looked rodenty.” I have to admit I have never heard the word rodent before but I am going to try and find a place to use it. It’s hysterical.

    • Yay! I’m so glad you laughed, Mrs. AL. It’s been a heck of an experience, that’s for sure, but I really must say that I love growing things. I used to grow herbs and African violets, but then I moved up north and didn’t have enough sun coming into my windows where I lived, so I just stopped growing anything until I moved back to Florida. It’s definitely something I enjoy–apart from the wretched critters that won’t leave my plants alone.

      • I’m with Mrs. Al – too, too funny! My biggest problem is pheasants who love to eat my tomatoes. I also have trees that get leaf rollers and others who need a disease spray every two weeks to keep “God knows what” at bay.

        As to the rodenty things – I’m thinking voles or moles. We have pocket gophers but I have a neat little tool now to reign down death and destruction. It’s called Yard Butler Gopher and Mole Bait Applicator. Much easier than finding the tunnel (I use a long metal cooking skewer), carefully digging a hole, sticking in the poison, and then carefully putting the soil back.

        The last little bastard I went after with the Yard Butler I got the first time. Yahoo…


        • Pheasants? Yum! 😉 Voles or moles, huh? Are they nocturnal? We had moles in England, and I haven’t seen any tell-tale mounds, so I’m doubting moles. But maybe voles? Will have to look into this. Somehow these don’t seem quite as horrible as mice . . . or rats! Yikes. Love your yard butler! Remember that scarecrow water sprayer thing you showed me? I’ve decided to get one to squirt the rodents on the porch. I can’t deal with rodents–can’t go near them to release them from live traps (the thought of picking one up and putting it in my car–even in an enclosed trap–makes me slightly nauseous) and definitely can’t get near a dead one in a trap. Ugh. So spurting water at them might be good. Once I can get all the stuff planted in the yard, surrounded by electric fence, the owls will take care of the mice/rats/voles/whatevers. Then I’ll just keep pungent herbs that mice hate on the porch. That’s the new plan, anyway. We’ll see how that works out. Sigh.

  3. Coming from a line of farmers (though that ended with my grandparents), I get very amused when city folk (like myself) try to grow their own food. I mean, the idea that you just throw seeds and they grow is pretty much the most popular idea that unaware people have.

    I get a kick out of the local organic “farmers” who mostly are people who grow stuff in their backyard. I mean these sickly looking carrots (and no they are not just organic, they are sickly) that they try to pawn off for outrageous prices to cover for all the ones that just died… It’s laughable.

    Anyway, your advice to start now and learn is definitely the best advice anyone can offer. Growing food is a skill learned by doing (like sailing) and not by books. Books can help, but you gotta practice and experiment.

    • It’s amazing how much work gardening, even on a super small scale, is, Yukio. There’s so much that can and does go wrong. Sometimes daily. But it’s a good problem to have, I guess.

      As to organic farming and sickly-looking carrots, yes, I know what you mean. Not that any of my carrots even sprouted, but it is sad to see organic veg sometimes. The problem, in part, is that commercial veg is so pumped full of crap and has been genetically altered to be bigger (and less-yummy) that we forget what real vegetables are supposed to look (and taste) like. That’s not to say that the sickly carrots you mention are what carrots are supposed to look like, I know you know the difference. But I’m not a fan of genetically-modified “super” foods that are being pawned off on us.

      I love gardening, so it’s not really a survival thing for me, but for anyone relying on survival seeds, it’s very important to get started now and not expect bountiful harvests in the first year (or two). I definitely agree that it’s important to learn by doing; reading helps with trouble-shooting and identifying problems, but there really is no substitute for experience and trial and error.

  4. OMG this is your best masterpiece EVER. One of my old favorite blog posts is Vegetable Gardening in Southern California. Completely BORING compared to your thrilling adventure. Although I have to admit the cucumber seedlings pictured did NOT make it. No clue as to why.

    I produced nice cucumbers a couple of years before not twenty feet away from the, er, scene of the, er, demise.

    Lettuce works nicely in pots high enough to allow the juicy leaves to escape notice of neighborhood bunnies.

    My favorite part of your post was the description of the raccoons. As they say in sports, there’s always next year. Love ya Fuzzy! All my best to you and your garden. 🙂

    • Hee, thanks, Opus, love ya, too, Girl 🙂

      What a great idea! I should include photos in my posts. Woot! Cucumbers . . . I failed with those badly last year, but they did start out and vine and one even flowered (I planted two last year as I was experimenting with my front porch and back patio to see which was better). But one day, I came out and both vines were completely dead. I hadn’t seen any reason for this or any hint it was going to happen, so I just chalked it up to the rains (they were freaking daily, torrential showers for a week and ten days in a row). But I think, now, that it was a squash vine borer or cutworm. This year, when I transplanted my cuke outside, I put a toilet paper roll “collar” around it and sprinkled crushed (washed) eggshells around. I still got something in the stem, but I managed to kill it (somehow, not sure which of the things I did worked). The pickleworm would definitely have destroyed the plant, but I jumped on that fast this year. The new cuke I planted was chewed off by the rats/mice/hopefully voles. Grrr. Anyway, long story, short, anything could have happened to your cukes 😦

      I haven’t had much luck with lettuce or any other greens I’ve tried. I think I’ve just been trying at the wrong time of year–it’s so freaking, unmercifully hot here that I’m waiting to try again in October. Hopefully, I can get something to grow then. I love lettuce!

  5. “I’m thinking, at this point, that humane is highly over-rated.” Hahaha! rodents unphased by cayenne would make me think so to. gardening is not my thing, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. gotta love your determination. sounds like your tenacity will triumph in your gardens. good luck! I’ve said it before, fuzzy. you are a really good writer! fun post! 🙂

    • omg, Namaste, thank you for this great comment! I’m still a bit squeamish about killing animals, even horrible, diseased ones who eat my veg, but I can see a point where they will cross that line . . . . And you’re spot-on, I will not give up. The more I learn and the more I do manage to grow/harvest, the more I fall in love with gardening. The problems are challenges and opportunities to learn, so while I might whine about them, I do enjoy the puzzle. 🙂

  6. Gardened with Dad as a kid, got back into it about 10 years ago and STILL face challenges every season with bringing in a crop. I have the added difficulty of taking an old washed-out farm and slowly turning it back into an organic farm but even without that, the annual challenges of weather, pests, deer and just plain trying to do exactly the right thing at the right time make it anything but easy. I love gardening. As in football, the “always next year” promise is good enough to get through the winter while anticipating spring planting. Good luck with your efforts, Fuzzi, and thanks for the post. Good luck to all the rest of you gardeners, too.

    • Hey Mike. My dad had a great vegetable garden when I was a kid, and I would help him with weeding and harvesting, but I didn’t really get that involved in the planning, planting, pest-problems because I was so young, so this is all pretty new to me. I’m so envious of your whole farm! Even a “washed-out” one must a thrilling adventure! Lucky you! I don’t have much room, so I’m planning to do some square-foot gardening once I get some experience (maybe even next year, I’ll try it). I am lucky to live in a temperate zone, so I am already planning my fall/winter veg “garden” in pots (broccoli, brussels sprouts–I LOVE those, cabbage, potatoes, radish, etc.). Thanks for the good luck wishes, and right back atcha! 😉

  7. I’ve been a lazy gardener over the last four years, but have really been making more of an effort this year only to be thwarted by deer, squirrels, chipmunks and possibly raccoons, rabbits and skunks.

    I see blossoms on my zucchini and when the are gone, look for tiny veggies only to find nothing because something ate the blossom. I see baby tomatoes and watch their progress only to find the suddenly gone.

    The cilantro, beans and jalapeños are the only things they seem to leave alone (after attempting one jalapeño). So, I feel your pain and I am not yet attempting to create a stock of heirloom seeds…yet. The local hardware store has fox and coyote urine granules. I am giving that some serious thought.

    Mike and I have done some minor prepping and I have learned how to use firearms. We plan to do a bit more each year. I am thinking rain barrel next year as well as creating plans for heirloom seeds. Hopefully, we will have enough time. 😦

    • I feel your pain, Lorie! I never really expected so many challenges, but I’m glad I got started now before I have to depend on my own gardening ability. We have deer around here, but so far, they haven’t ventured into my garden. Of course, my “garden” was quickly decimated by raccoons, so who knows what might have happened. I’m getting an electric fence for next year, but not a deer-strong one. I hope that they don’t bother my veg.

      I have a bunch of heirloom seeds, but have only started growing some of them. I wanted to learn using store ones first (since they are cheaper). I figure that once I have some idea how to grow things, I can switch to heirlooms and start learning how to save seeds, etc. Like you, I hope we have enough time for all this learning curve stuff. And I was thinking about a rain barrel or two, too. We get a lot of rain in the summer, and having that on hand to water my plants when it doesn’t rain will help save on my electricity bills (and be good should our electricity go out as it tends to do when tropical storms and hurricanes blast through).

  8. Monsanto is watching you – and it sounds like they have nothing to worry about.
    I sprinkled flour on my tomato plants (I’d read that was a natural bug turnoff) – don’t ever try that. It dried up my leaves!
    I have been very lucky in the garden this year. So much so, that I think I’ve made every cucumber salad there possibly is. Tomatoes finally turning red (after surviving me plucking off almost ALL the dead floured leaves!).
    Good luck next year!

    • Monsanto is watching me? How bizarre that would be. *Shrug* I hadn’t heard about flour, but I would have tried it (or anything!), so I’m glad you told me not to! I had some great cucumbers earlier this summer (I think the plant’s just given up after the hacking away I gave it, though, so next year) and made a delicious sour cream, vinegar, and onion salad. It was soooo good. Of course, I like cukes with just some salt sprinkled on or with a splash of vinegar. Share your cucumber salad recipes, though, please. I”m always looking for something to do with them (lettuce is hopeless during the summer in Florida).

  9. I’ve had satisfying results with small gardens in the past few years. But this year has been a disaster. Too much rain, not enough sun. Squash and cucumber plants rotted after producing only one or two edible offerings (in the past we’ve been overproduced squash). Tomatoes are hanging in there, but we’ve had a handful of ripe fruit compared to the baskets of previous years. Watermelon? Only one this year, we had more than half dozen from the same bed as last year. And the whole garden area is overrun by crabgrass at this point.

    I let a stand of blackberries grow along a fence line. Looked to me like a thousand berries or more were coming along just prior to leaving for a week at the beach in late June. We came back, not a berry on the vines. Such a mystery. Birds got ’em? Neighbor says he saw a deer in our backyard. Based on the layout of our subdivision, and our fenced yard – it sounded crazy at first. But it’s been that kind of year.

    We also had some broccoli coming along nicely. But I let it go for a few days between checks. An infestation of worms got hold of it. Egads. I’ve never seen so many worms, each about a half to three-quarters inch long. I’ve dusted those suckers. Not sure the broccoli can rebound. Will give it a shot.

    Plan now is to try to rehab the tomato plants for a late summer resurgence. Going to till and tarp over the rest early. Allow lack of sun to kill of as many weeds and as much crabgrass as possible between now and next spring.

    On the bright side, these are the times to acquire skills, deal with setbacks, learn what grows best in our individual settings. Grocery stores are still open.

    • Way too much rain here, too, Doug. Literally days and days on end with no stop; a part of my yard was actually submerged at one point! Luckily it was not the part that I intend to put a raised bed on next year, but it was that bad. So I feel you on the too much rain, too little sun thing. Everything was just overwhelmed with water, even in good draining soil/pots, there’s only so much they can take.

      Deer, apparently, won’t jump a fence if they can’t see a place to land, so you may want to look into that (this is not from experience, just from reading about what to do . . . just in case).

      I haven’t started any broccoli yet, and am almost afraid to now that I have wretched rodents scurrying around eating my seedlings. 😦 I’ll probably start cool weather stuff inside and then when it gets too big to be easy mouse food put it outside. What a pain in the bottom, though!

      Yes, now is definitely the time to be learning about all these problems . . . when we can still use the internet to trouble-shoot and get food from the grocery stores. One thing that is worth finding out, too, is where your nearest farmers market is. They’re likely to still be open even if grocery stores are not (unless there’s some kind of local thing like a hurricane or whatever).

  10. Pingback: Just Fuzzy: Survival Gardening? Start Now | Fuzzy Logic | The Garden Seeds

  11. Heh. This is great. I love to try to garden. Love reading about it, planning it, putting things out, going to look at them. Like Magnum’s saxaphone playing, I’m pretty terrible at it. But there are things I grow well, specific varieties of specific veggies – while others are better at the things that wilt under my admiring gaze. As I pulled up and threw away all the failed cardboard box mulch this year, my husband finally asked me to promise him not to try any more “clever” methods, and to plant the same way successful farmers have planted for thousands of years: in tilled ground, fertilized with compost, in rows that allow for cultivation (ie hoeing up the weeds). Your article may be one of the most timely (for all of us) that we have seen in a while. Thanks for reminding that growing plants is something that takes practice! 🙂

  12. Sister in law has a big healthy snake of some sort in her back yard that keeps the mice in check. Failing that, a gallon milk jug with about a quart of water in it, set into the ground at 45 degrees so the opening is near ground level with a bit of peanut butter smeared into the handle. This will gather mass quantities of mice. Simply put the cap back on and put it out with the trash.

    Haven’t had to deal with rats and rabbits yet but it’s something to think about. Had a late freeze here so no tree fruits, but I’ve got a squirrel trap that works like Shiva, Destroyer of Squirrels. Search my site for “squirrel trap”.

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