COLUMN: Poor vegetable crop an eye opener

NANAIMO – Soggy spring means tough times for the summer garden.

Every year at Christmas I typically share the fruits of my summer labour.

My husband and I have a big veggie garden and at the end of each summer we are in the kitchen chopping, boiling and canning vegetables extra to our immediate needs so that we can enjoy it over the winter months.

I usually make chutneys, jellies and salsas – popular gifts with relatives – but this year I didn’t make any.

The reason: a particularly bad year in the garden.

A large buck jumped our fence and munched on every single tomato plant in our greenhouse.

In the spring and early summer – prime growing months – it rained and rained, waterlogging all the vegetable beds and withholding the heat needed to get many of our plants started. And no jalapenos this year, despite starting about six plants indoors.

While the rainy weather was good for our lettuce plants, it took a long time for anything to grow and as soon as the ground warmed up a bit, most of the lettuce plants immediately bolted (prematurely producing a flowering stem before we could harvest the crop).

Our squash plants produced on average one or two squashes each. The potatoes all had ugly scabs on the skins.

Our peas did well, but the plants all ripened at the same time despite a staggered planting schedule.

The cucumber plants didn’t produce well and some of the product was round and yellow instead of cylindrical and green like a cucumber should be (no, we didn’t plant lemon cucumbers).

We also had a large crop of carrots, but found out they were being eaten by larvae of the carrot rust fly.

So the end result has been almost no canning this fall.

Instead, we have bought salsa, pasta sauce, potatoes and pickles from the store. Not spending all those hours canning really freed up our time for other pursuits, but it was also kind of sad to have to go to the store to get what used to be available in our pantry.

Our dismal garden situation this year also got me thinking about what it must have been like before supermarkets that carry all types of produce year-round.

In our not-so-distant past, a disastrous crop year would mean starvation because there was no grocery store to fall back on.

But this kind of convenience may not be available should a major earthquake or other large-scale natural disaster strike the Island – if supplies cannot be shipped to Islanders, we will run out quickly and will have to somehow learn to fend for ourselves.

If we were suddenly left on our own for a long period of time, how many people know how to hunt, kill and prepare an animal? How many people can grow their own food, or even have the space and the resources to do so?

With that in mind, it’s definitely not the end of the world that I’m simply a little low on homemade Christmas gifts, although hopefully next year will be a better one in the garden.

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On another note, I would like to thank everyone who helped out with the Nanaimo News Bulletin’s Pennies for Presents campaign. It was my first year co-ordinating the campaign, and nice to see how many people stepped up to help make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children and their families in the city.

Together we raised thousands of dollars for the Great Nanaimo Toy Drive, the Nanaimo Boys and Girls Club and the Salvation Army.

Because of the efforts of all, some underprivileged children in Nanaimo have toys underneath the Christmas tree to unwrap tomorrow who otherwise would have had nothing.

It is easy to participate in this kind of campaign – everyone can donate some coins to the cause – and this type of fundraiser shows that when we all band together, great things result.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all.

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