Most years, our family can count on harvesting a good crop of fruits and vegetables even if weather conditions aren’t ideal, thanks to the plot's location on the south side of the farm, four-sided protection from the wind and good soil.
More often than not, we share bumper crops of vegetables, including beans, cucumbers and lettuce. Last year, our garden also yielded more cantaloupe and watermelon than we could give away, so we loaded it up in our pick-up truck and hauled it to Larimore (N.D.) Farmers Market.
Not so this year. Cold, heat, more cold and then more heat, then more cold has plagued the growing season -- not to mention deer, gusty winds and too little moisture.
In a word, an apt description of this year’s garden at the Gregoire-Bailey farm would be “pitiful.”
Initially, I had high hopes for our 2021 garden because despite the lack of rain last fall and a dry winter, soil conditions were perfect, the result of successive years of excessive rains.
As Brian dug the moist rows with the hoe, Ellen and I placed the seeds in them on Memorial Day, May 31, and covered them with damp dirt. I felt good, even a little smug that we had the good sense to wait until the danger of frost had passed. I congratulated myself that we weren’t like those other gardeners who had jumped the gun and planted in early to mid-May and had their plants set back or killed by the sub-freezing temperatures that hit a few days before Memorial Day.
I was confident our garden would flourish in the heat that was forecast for the first week of June and also that by the time we returned from our weeklong vacation in North Carolina, the vegetables and fruits we had seeded would be out of the ground and the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant we transplanted would have grown several inches.
My first inkling that the reality would not jibe with my expectations was when my brother, Terry, called me on Day 3 of our trip and asked me where the tomatoes and peppers we had planted were located. It seemed that there was nothing visible, except for a stalk of something still sticking up.
The not-so-dear doe that lives in our tree grove apparently decided that she would take advantage of our absence (and our dogs' absence) to get a free lunch of tomatoes and peppers. Eggplants are less palatable, so she left a couple of them.
When we returned a few days later, the tomato stalk and the droopy, scarred-leaf eggplants were still there, but there was nothing else; not even a little bean sprout showing up in the rows. Ever optimistic, we planted more tomatoes and peppers and for the next several days gave the garden a good soaking.
Still, nothing appeared in the rows, so we gave up our plan to eat fresh spinach and lettuce salads and Brian tilled up the row where they should have been. He also tilled up the row that was supposed to be beets and zucchini.
Last week, we planted more beans and beets and watered the rows. In the meantime, a few beans in the first row we planted started to appear. There's a crack in the ground in the new row, signaling the beans in it are pushing their way up. On the bright side, we could harvest twice as many beans as we usually do. However, judging by the way our gardening is going this year, more likely we will have a double failure.
The “hill” crops, which are made up of cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkins and squash, still have a chance because they are later-season products and have the potential to get growing if rain falls more frequently the rest of the summer. We water the garden, but the plants don’t respond to water that’s drawn from our well the way it does to the moisture that falls from the sky.
I’m not ready to throw in the trowel, but I have been considering the possibility that we may need to go to the farmers market again this year, but with an empty pickup truck box and money in hand.
Ann Bailey is a Grand Forks Herald reporter who writes a personal column twice per month.