Shiny Beetles, Square Tomatoes and Crafty Coons

Garden late summerJill Henderson ~ Show Me Oz

As we near the end of August I am so very thankful for a long and productive season in the garden.  February is when we begin to dream about this day – planting seeds, rooting cuttings, planning rows.  As always, a lot of work has gone into our small patch of organic Eden. Some days were happy, some were frustrating, others were just downright back-breaking.  But in the end, lessons are learned, food is abundant, feeling thankful is prevalent and many, many a dawn has been spent simply inhaling the beauty of a garden in full swing.  And so, as the gardening season here in Oz begins to wind down, I look back on the good, the bad, and the down right weird…

If you follow my blog, you will remember that this summer was the first time in 15 years of living in Oz, that we managed to thwart The Ever Annoying Squash Bugs, which I wrote about in a recent article called Controlling Squash Bugs Organically–A Simple Solution.  I can’t tell you how happy it made me to finally win one over on those little creeps! However, one victory in the garden does not a pest-free summer make! For in the void came more than one serious challenger.

It began with a raccoon. We saw it move it’s kits into a hollow tree near the house, but thought little of it, since we often have raccoons living in the woods.  But when she began to raid our very humble patch of corn long before the ears ever began to silk – we knew we had a fight on our hands.  Apparently, this raccoon not only knew that corn was tasty, but she apparently also had a certain amount of experience with live traps (no surprise there) and more eerily, which days we chose to go into town to shop. But once the corn was destroyed, she took off.  Or perhaps it had something to do with Dean barraging her hollow den tree with large insulting rocks all of one afternoon… I’m just not sure on that one.

Then there were the Kentucky Wonder pole beans… Oh, how we love fresh, sweet green beans. The first few harvests had been picked when the bean beetles started in.  I quickly got them under control, but to my utter dismay, a whole horde of Japanese beetles suddenly took over where they left off and within days had nearly defoliated the entire row of beans.

Japanese Beetles (1) damage

In 30 years of gardening, I have never knowingly had a Japanese beetle in my garden. If there was one, it was just passing through. But this? This was a full-on invasion and mass destruction.  I just couldn’t believe the damage that these beautiful shimmering beetles were capable of. Of course, I’d heard of them – but you just can’t believe it until you see it.  They never stopped eating or carousing. My goodness – the gluttony!

Japanese Beetles (2) damage

I would go out in the morning and again at dusk and pick them off by the handful, or tap them into a bowl of soapy water to drown, or just toss them on the ground and step on them as fodder for the ants.  I tried all kinds of things to get them to go away, but patience (ha ha), perseverance (what else have I got to do around here?), and a cold front finally gave me the upper hand.  Today, the beans are growing new leaves and we are, for the first time all season, harvesting delicious green beans every single day.

The Garden Seed Saving Guide by Jill HendersonThe Garden Seed Saving Guide

Save money, become more self-sufficient and avoid GMO’s by saving seeds!  This excellent resource for beginning and hobby seed savers takes you step-by-step through every aspect of saving your own seed in plain English.   Look inside!

We had a fantastic tomato year and most of the crop has been canned already. A few plants linger in the hopes of more green tomatoes before the first frost.  We grew mostly beefsteaks this year, but among those that were not was one that was supposed to be a meaty Roma type.  But when the fruits began to set, the Roma turned into a Rubic’s Cube.  When the first “square” fruit came on I thought it was an anomaly, but then they all came out that way.  The fruits were large, elongated, and strangely square with a pointy end. Inside, the fruit was nearly hollow with very few seeds. I have no idea what to call them, but I saved the seed just to satisfy my curiosity. I’ll plant one next year to see if it’s still square.


Alas, the summer is nearly over and we finally decided to take down the cucumber trellis the other day.  Upon our trellis grew about 6 or 7 Straight Eight cucumber plants that produced bushels of beautiful white-spined fruits. We sliced, diced, and pickled our way through the dog days of summer and when it got to be just too much for the two of us, we begged and cajoled friends and neighbors into taking bags of them home.

Cucumber (5) on trellis

The homemade trellis we have grown our cukes on for the last 3 or 4 years (which you can still see part of in this early spring photo), was fashioned out of sticks and wild grapevines that I gathered from around the woods and fastened together using galvanized wire.

When I started building it, I thought I’d really gotten in over my head and that it would be a wonder if it didn’t just fall apart as soon as I stood it up. But it’s been hanging in there for years now and it’s looking like it’ll go at least one or two more seasons with the addition of a few fresh strands of grapevine.  I’m always a little sad when we take it down, because not only does the vine-covered trellis make the back porch feel like a little grotto, but I will also miss watching the hummingbirds that always stop and check out the cucumber’s prolific yellow flowers.

We’ve still got a good month of growing left in our garden and enough time left to make an run at a fall crop or two.  There’s beans to pick and plenty of seed saving left to do. But for the most part, we are starting to say our goodbyes and spending more time down at the river’s edge before the icy days of winter beckon us closer and closer to the warmth of the wood stove.

But until then, happy gardening.

© 2016 Jill Henderson  Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.

The Garden Seed Saving Guide by Jill HendersonThe Garden Seed Saving Guide
Seed Saving for Everyone!

Save money, become more self-sufficient and avoid GMO’s by saving seeds!  This excellent resource for beginning and hobby seed savers takes you step-by-step through every aspect of saving your own seed in plain English.

Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Look inside!

Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.

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7 responses to “Shiny Beetles, Square Tomatoes and Crafty Coons

  1. I’ve had Roma tomatoes do that too. Two years ago mine went angular and boxy like that and even the pointy tip was the same. I didn’t grow Tomatoes last year and didn’t think to save any seeds from the ones that did that but I recall they too were quite hollow inside and had few seedss too. By the way we’re in the Southern Hemisphere, the big Oz. Just getting the first planting done for Spring here. Unfortunately the rental place we’re in at the moment is full of formal planters and numerous fruit trees are the only bonus among the ornamentals so my practical gardening relies on every trick in the permaculture book to eke out some fresh garden produce between the gaps and pots. Glad you had many successes this season and the best to you both. I and the rabbits are certainly looking forward to summer now.

    • Ah, yes, the Big Oz! I have been fortunate enough to have visited there once. What a wonderfully strange and beautiful place!

      I am very glad to know that I am not alone in the square roma phenomenon! What a strange anomaly. Perhaps it is throwback to a genetic progenitor? Or perhaps someone will enlighten me with a variety name. Either way, my interest is peaked!

      I’m anxious to hear more about your potted garden project! I’m sure you will prevail. We gardener’s love a good challenge, don’t we?!

      • Well not sure I am looking for challenges so much as I do enjoy overcoming them when I meet them. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the place we’re in and will settle for mainly lots of chillies which we consume in large amounts anyway as my wife is Pakistani and the sort of vegies which she uses in cooking like capsicum, onions, garlic and herbs like coriander besides some of my favorites like basil, taragon, chives, mint, parsley and a few more. I might get some tomatoes going just to recycle some of my heritage seeds since they’re getting old but I haven’t got much room left for any number and whilst I can find space for beans and shall this year and pumpkins, butternuts and a few melon varieties that will be as good as it can get. I’m somewhat overwhelmed by the fruit trees which besides a dozen oranges and tangerines and a big lemon tree includes another dozen stone and pomes fruit trees along with an olive, mango, bananas and grapes. If I can manage to overcome the hordes of pests and diseases I’ve inherited along with it all and get anything except the citrus fruit this season I’ll see that as a major victory anyway. It is temporary, maybe only another year or two and I think we’ll move, maybe find our own place and one thing I must have is garden space when the time comes. It doesn’t help the wife is more of an indoors girl and only comes out to show me working in the garden to her sisters on IMO but my rabbits are keen gardeners so I’m not alone at it.

      • I can certainly appreciate your feelings about having to maintain so many fruit trees. In our Oz, fruit trees grow well, but the late frosts and hard-to-control diseases can really take a toll. I think gardening gets in one’s blood and no matter what others think or say, we aren’t complete until we get our hands dirty! And it sounds like your rabbits keep you in good spirits while your doing it! Hopefully, you’ll have an abundance of herbs and peppers…and perhaps a few cucumber plants to climb into the branches of one of those dastardly fruit trees just to spite them! 🙂

  2. Oh and cucumbers, you reminded me with yours and I must get seeds as I have none but cukes there shall be.

  3. Many thanks for the squash bug tips. Persistance is the key. Several years ago a japanese beetle was discovered in a nearby town famous for its peaches. Almost called in the national guard on that one. Quarantined several blocks and did a intensive search for others. Ended well and I now understand why the extream measures. Thanks for the lessons Jill.

    • Thank you, Bob. I’m so glad you found those tips helpful. I can’t believe how healthy and productive our squash have been this year simply by reducing early SB populations. And I now completely understand the peach town’s extreme reaction to Japanese beetles. I will not only do my best to reduce any and all of their possible hiding and hibernating places this fall, but next summer, I will be on full alert and act quickly should they return!

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