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Harvest Schmarvest


Some gardeners are able to make graceful transitions from season to season. In my case, I find that the word “lurch” is more appropriate. Actually, applying that word to almost anything I do probably paints a more accurate picture of my life:

Lurching into autumn.

Lurching into a radio interview.

Lurching into breakfast. Often literally.

So here we are, in the harvest season. Time to celebrate the fruits of our labors. I’m pretty sure that somebody coined that phrase just to taunt me, not that I’m paranoid. Hold on, let me lock the door and then explain.

Not all of you reading this live near Chicago but most of you do. Remember all of those news stories earlier this year about the shooting of the latest installment of the “Transformer” films? Do you also remember how the filmmakers changed Michigan Avenue into an apocalyptic vision of the future?

Welcome to my garden in September.

Of course, there aren’t overturned, burned-out cars (well, not many), but you are taking your life into your hands by stepping into my yard, just as you would in a movie about robots that can transform from a daisy into a thistle in the time it took you to say “Where’s my blowtorch?”

First, there’s the wreck of my tomato plants. Now, not all of them took a hit this year. I’ve discovered the “Law of Inverse Tomato Size Success.” Sir Isaac Newton was the first person to figure this out, but he was working with different fruit altogether. And don’t get me started on whether a tomato is a vegetable or a fruit. If you can put it in your cereal it’s a fruit. End of story. Not that I would recommend that with a grapefruit. Or a pomegranate. But I digress. Stated simply, the LITSS law dictates that the tomato in your yard that is the smallest will have the greatest chance of ripening and not turning into a black, mushy mess or simply remaining green and hard, like the Wicked Witch of the West. Which means that all of my pea-sized tomatoes are fabulous! The others…um, not so much.

Let’s move on to the cucurbits–you know, cucumbers, squashes, melons–pretty much anything that can turn into mush at a moment’s notice or refuse to ripen at all (see above). Did you know that they have a tendency to wrap their tendrils around anything that they think will support them? I was nearly strangled on four or five occasions in my own garden until I began arming myself with anything sharp that I could find. Considering that I haven’t sharpened my pruners or even my kitchen knives in about a decade, it’s a wonder that I’m still alive. A couple of squirrels paid the ultimate price, I’m sorry to say, but they would have made off with my bulbs in the fall anyway, so no crocodile tears here.

Speaking of twining, I saw a gardening tip once that explained how you could train pole beans to grow along twine attached to your garage or porch or your very tall neighbor. I thought, “Cool. I’ll just walk under the vine and pick the beans as I go.” What the “tip” failed to mention is that the average pole bean plant produces a vine that, if stretched taut, could replace our nation’s outdated power grid. At last measure, the plant had grown tired of wrapping around my second story gutters and was eyeing the microwave tower down the block. If your cell service suddenly seems a little spotty, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I could also tell you about the vegetables with leaves that could easily be used to sandpaper, spackle or to remove a couple of layers of skin, or vegetable fungi and blights that spread faster than the speed of light, or insect infestations that turn your leaves into soccer goal netting…but that will have to be another day. My beans and cucumbers seem to have combined forces to pull down my chimney. Anybody know the number for 911?

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questions

I have a nicely sheltered, rounded 7-foot tall Japanese red maple on the southeast corner of my backyard. Half of the tree has lost its leaves, the formerly red bark is turning gray, and a good-sized square of bark has been stripped off on the side that faces the yard. I sprayed the exposed bark with black pruning spray to close any entry for insects. I have not cut off any of the branches.

Does the winter have any effect on the tree? Should I look for some insect infestation? What should I do now?

What does it take to make a climbing hydrangea flower? Ours was planted 3 years ago and is growing energetically. It’s in a protected nook near the patio and gets very little direct sunlight, but doesn’t act sun starved. We gave it a shot of slow release fertilizer on planting, and once since. Somewhat inadvertently it gets plenty of water, since the hose spigot is nearby and leaks, but drainage does not seem to be the problem. It now fully occupies an 8-foot trellis but shows no interest in flowering. Is it youth, lack of sun, too much or too little fertilizer, bugs, lack of pruning or what? When do these plants bloom and what conditions do they like?

I am going to be planting five dwarf fruit trees; two ‘Bartlett’ pears, one ‘Cresthaven’ peach, and two ‘Honeycrisp’ apples. Could you give me some feedback on them?

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