Learning from the mistakes of a Northwoods gardener

By Jed Buelow

Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor, Sports, Nature Editor

If the goal was to grow broccoli flowers to feed the pollinators and greens to get the deer ready for the cold months that lie ahead, then I would consider my gardening season a pretty huge success out at our house west of Tomahawk.

Heck, it might have even been a little worse than that. The only overabundance of produce we pulled from the garden this summer was, you guessed it, those lovely zucchini that came early and often and kept flowering right up until the last frost. If only I had been able to track down Mark Gaedtke’s vehicle this fall I could have put all those green bombers to real good use.

On the flip side of the bountiful harvest was the broccoli, tomatoes and other vegetables that make gardening worthwhile. The broccoli was looking pretty good until it quickly went to flower. The past month or so it has been serving as a flourishing field of yellow flowers feeding bees and butterflies and anything else wanting to grab a bite to eat from the garden. And the mice have had a field day with the tomatoes.

The reason for pulling rocks and weeds, watering and caring for a plot of land all summer long, I honestly could do without just about all the other vegetables that get planted to make the homegrown tomatoes even that much more appreciated when they come ready to harvest. This year was a real kick in the pants as a whole number of events unfolded to make it an epic failure.

First, I forgot to get a couple of those already flowering tomato plants from the greenhouse when I planted in the spring. By mid July a friend mentioned he was picking his first ripe tomatoes of the year. At that same time my tomatoes were still green and months away from being ready to be picked. If that lesson wasn’t enough, then the real education came when it came time to pick my first ripe tomatoes a couple weeks ago.

For the past several years I have had pretty good success growing tomatoes in straw bales. This summer I attempted to grow them on tarps on the ground. The thing about when mice eat tomatoes is they have to be sneaky, meaning they don’t eat the part you see as they nibble from underneath.

So a lot of the early ripening tomatoes were pitched into the woods as I wasn’t about to eat mouse leftovers. It wasn’t until the entire batch turned red that I finally was able to enjoy my first BLT of the summer. And then we were swimming in tomatoes that were consumed in everything before they turned into fruit fly attractant on the picnic table.

Here’s a summary of how the rest of this summer’s garden went. The dog enjoyed the stringy peas. Got some beans before the deer busted through the fence and finished them off. The zucchini just kept getting bigger and bigger until they resembled submarines. The corn never got thinned out so the cobs looked like what you might find in a stir fry.

Got a new rain barrel. Didn’t need it. The red potatoes look real nice. Probably from all that mouse manure, as we figured out where they were living when we went to dig our first mound.

The good news is the mulch pile will be fed really well this fall. The deer and mice and a bunch of bees and butterflies will also all head into winter with full bellies thanks to my gardening efforts.

Despite some setbacks this Northwoods gardener is already looking forward to next summer’s growing season. Back to the straw bales, buying big tomato plants early in the spring and putting up a fence tall and strong enough to keep the deer out. If only in my mind, a bountiful harvest will never taste so sweet.

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