Belly Aching comes home

It’s been a tough year at Belly Acre Farm. Weather was a challenge early, with a warm winter interrupted by a late freeze in the spring. That was followed by cool weather for awhile, so it was easy to postpone replanting the freeze-damaged crops in anticipation of yet another cold snap.
Then there was the hail storm that blew over half the corn and, as Uncle Ray put it, made chow-chow of my bumper tomato, pepper, and cucumber crop. The cucumbers and peppers recovered, as did some of the tomatoes, but I didn’t harvest a single Brandywine tomato this year.
Part of the problems after that were my own doing. Just as the green beans started putting on beans, I went off to Edisto Island for a week. By the time I got back to the garden, the bean beetles had destroyed the plants, so we got just one small picking of white half-runners. We got a few bush beans later on, but the only beans that did well were the Kentucky Wonder pole beans, which turned out tough and stringy. (So much so that even Mom—who always insists she loves KW and insists that I plant them even though I’ve never done well with them– agreed I should take them off my planting list for next year.)
Some strange affliction struck the watermelons. The vines turned brown and died before any melons grew large enough to eat. Even the few personal-sized ice box melons I did salvage tasted nothing like the ones we enjoyed so much last year.
In addition to all the challenges, we entered a sort of sophomore slump as consumers. I’ve often joked that I would be a hero in my family if I ever figured out how to grow pizza and Chinese take-out. This year I began to feel that those were the only crops that would be worth growing.
Even with reduced yields, I found myself carrying home the harvest only to return it to the compost pile weeks later after it had languished unused at home. I started whining that I was raising labor-intensive compost rather than food.
In short, Belly Acre Farm was living up to its name. I spent more time belly aching than enjoying the fruits of my labors. I wondered whether it was worthwhile to plant anything else.
And then it came time to harvest the sweet potatoes and peanuts. The sweet potatoes—the first I’ve tried to grow– were far superior to what we have had before from any source. They varied in size, but a couple were almost as big as footballs, though still tender and sweet.
Out of two 100 square foot beds, I harvested about 1 ½ bushels of raw peanuts. Again, this was my first peanut crop, but the peanuts are large and flavorful. We’re still drying them so we can roast some in the shells—if the green peanut aficionados don’t eat the whole crop first.
A few weeks ago I set out some fall greens: collards, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, etc., and planted some radishes and garlic. It looks as if the late corn may yield one more harvest of sweet corn, and the pepper plants are hanging full of sweet and hot peppers. I’m getting excited again about the garden and have been looking through the seed catalogs to plan next spring’s planting.
In other words, I’ve been reminded what every gardener has to learn: No garden is ever perfect, but with persistence and patience, complete failures are rare.

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