June 19, 2016. It is very nearly the longest day of the year, but this morning I planted three rows of replacement corn, one of Italian cucumbers, two rows of Italian corn in the Jefferson garden, and melons. I would have done more (and need to do more) but it is father’s day and I want to spend as much of it with my beloved daughter as possible.
Friday morning at 4:20 a.m. Bismarck, ND, was pummeled by a magnificent storm. Although it only rained about half an inch, we received golf ball sized hail in my neighborhood (worse elsewhere in the city). No windows were broken at my house, but my plastic [sic] siding was broken in at least a dozen places and some of the shingles on my roof look like teeth loosened in a bar fight. Before I went to work Friday morning, I ventured out into the garden to inspect the damage. Here’s my report. My onions and garlic took the worst beating, I’m not sure why, since they present a fairly narrow profile to the storm. My potatoes leaves are shredded but I expect that they will more or less recover. About half of my tomatoes were killed outright, or very seriously damaged, and the rest lost a significant percentage of their leaves and stems. The lettuce is fine. Since the corn never bothered to germinate, nothing lost there.
But to replant sweet corn two weeks shy of the Fourth of July is a gamble almost anywhere, and particularly in North Dakota, where it can freeze in any month of the year, and does freeze sometime between mid-September and mid-October. My creamed corn was so delicious last year, however, that I have replanted in spite of the probabilities.
This morning after replanting I weeded all the Jefferson garden, which is 24 feet by 12. It took about two hours. Here’s what I find unfathomable. 1) 94% of the garden was covered with weeds. About 15% also had living garden crops. Why is it that weeds grow voluntarily, with great lust and competitiveness of spirit, and the peas and radishes I lovingly place in neat furrows, one seed at a time, on my hands and knees, praying to the earth, often fail to come up at all. What’s up with that? I repeat: I planted the beans and cucumbers and corn, but the weeds planted themselves. Nature seems to prefer them. I refuse to use RoundUP or any other plant killer, but I do till thoroughly every fall and every spring, but the weeds return with ruthless indifference to my hostility. 2) Almost everything that I planted was seriously or fatally damaged by the hail storm the other night, but the weeds all look as if it had been nothing more than a gentle sprinkle. How is it that they are so much better adapted to the fierce climate of the Great Plains than garde
n seeds lovingly nurtured? The weeds were actually helped by the hail storm, because it generously decimated their competition. 3) If I so much as look cross-eyed at my row crops, they wither and die, but I’m out there pulling up weeds by their roots, and then disking the spaces between rows to make sure the root structures are severed, but by this time next week, more than half of all those weeds will be growing cheerfully, and my row crops barely hanging on while their souls rewire everything to take advantage of what is left of their leaf and stem structure.Let us now praise weeds for their fabulous tenacity.
Good news. I planted the tomatoes sufficiently far apart that I should be able to control the weeds this year. I’m on top of that part of the garden. I’ll plant more cucumber seeds tonight, and begin to weed the one section (radishes, beets, lettuce) that I did not get to in the last two days. My rhubarb was seriously damaged, but my child harvested enough this morning to make a rhubarb pie; and what could be a better Father’s Day gift than that? One of the two Three Sisters (beans, corn, squash) is thriving, thanks to Mandan Indian agrarian genius. The raised garden is much easier to weed than the largerground-level garden. Last year, thanks to a rancher friend, I was able to fill it with four year old Angus cattle manure (mixed with soil). It’s still a little “hot” but it is loose enough that it is very easy to weed. The lettuce grows better in that “soil” than beans or peas.
My garden may be a bust this year. But last year, after a pea-sized hail storm that was much more devastating, many of my crops found a way to regenerate. I’m betting on a graceful recovery.