One for the Mouse, One for the Crow…

Peruse a how-to book on gardening or visit some online discussions and a garden can sound more like a war zone. Words like enemies, combat, traps, chemical warfare and more can seem aimed at creating some sort of sterile Eden. I get it. I mean, who wants to go to all that work just to have your plants ravaged by insects, deer, disease or what have you?

On the other hand there is something very alluring (not to mention stress reducing) about just trying to get along. The birds and the bugs have to eat too.

There is an old farmer’s saying that goes “One for the mouse, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow.”

The take away message is that Nature can take back three out of four of the seeds you plant, leaving you with a quarter of your crop to keep. It’s not much different than wages and taxes when you think about it.

If you count on that formula, you will certainly never be disappointed. It could even change your whole outlook. No one likes to pay taxes, but we learn to accept it, however grudgingly. The same acceptance can go a long way in a garden. Maybe you might even start to feel like a philanthropist, out there doing your part and helping to feed Nature.

Personally I count on at least a fifty percent return on my crop and I aim for a complete reversal of the Farmer’s Formula by allowing one plant out of four to return to Nature, while hoping to have three for me. Which put like that, makes me sound rather greedy. I prefer to call it optimistic.

I try to keep on top of things, but my efforts are fairly benign. I am not capable of pouring hot water on ant hills or shooting rabbits. Have your nibble, build your hill. Nor do I see the point in putting in all that effort to grow your own food, only to resort to pesticides.

I inspect the leaves of brassicas frequently and if I find some cabbage worms, I pick them off and carry them far away from the garden. I plant nasturtiums to attract aphids and sacrifice them so the aphids can feast to their tiny hearts content…but if it gets out of hand and they spread to the vegetables I do take action.

In the past this has pretty much just meant removing any yellowing leaves covered with aphids. I also find planting onions, leeks or garlic among the vegetables helps confuse the insects bent on devouring crops. This year an aphid outbreak occurred on my Chinese Cabbage. I had planted way too many, way too close together in one of my stock troughs.

I took the time to carefully wipe down every single leaf with a damp cloth. Since I only had 24 plants (a dozen in the trough and another dozen in an alley bed) it didn’t take that long and it worked. It’s been two weeks and the aphid population is still next to nil. Never have I ever spent that kind of time doing something like that, but when you have a small garden, you have the time to spend.

This year I painted some rocks red and put them in the strawberry patch just as the plants have come into blossom. The theory is birds will notice the red rocks, peck them, discover they are inedible and then later they will ignore the red strawberries thinking they are rocks. Or something like that.

I also keep the bird feeders full, hoping they will choose the seed they are used to over the garden. But if not, I will simply have to share. I haven’t seen a single bird checking out the rocks, so I am starting to have my doubts as to whether or not the ruse will work. They are likely a lot smarter than we think.

I have tried netting on berries to keep out the birds and fabric covers over brassicas to keep the cabbage moths at bay. However, I find keeping the nets and cloth in place while getting at the plants to weed, water or harvest, exasperating and not worth the bother. Plus I get as much enjoyment out of watching my garden grow as I do eating it, so I can’t bear to cover it up. I’d rather share if I have to.

So mostly I simply grow and let go. I figure nature knows what she’s doing and if I plant enough, surely there will be something left for me at the end of the season.

I have, however, pulled out all the stops in a determined attempt to grow rutabaga. I have never managed to do so successfully. Some people set goals to run a marathon, climb a mountain or start a successful business. I just want to grow a rutabaga to harvest. Is that so much to ask?

I have tried direct sowing them at different times. I have even tried transplanting them from starts. It always ends the same. The transplants never quite recover from the shock, and fail to develop any sort of meaningful root. The direct sown seeds barely germinate before flea beetles pepper their leaves with tiny holes. The few that valiantly carry on are wiped out by cutworms or simply fail to thrive.

This year I have tried so many things that even if it works, I won’t know which method to repeat. I’ll have to repeat them all! I seeded some of the rutabagas in toilet paper tubes cut into thirds and then when they were still at the infant stage, I set them into their rows with the gentle precision of a surgeon. I wiped off their under leaves every couple days. I sprinkled crushed eggshells around each stem. Later, I tucked small squares of tinfoil around them and when the flea beetles still showed up, I quickly resorted to a mix of one quart water, one teaspoon olive oil and two drops of dish soap which I sprinkled lightly on the leaves. I also dripped some onto the tinfoil after making tiny depressions to hold the mix in place. I also snipped some fresh peppermint and got some dried lemon verbena and sprinkled both over the plants. Then I snipped some garlic tops and tucked them between the leaves as well, for good measure.

At that point I wasn’t even sure what I had read and what I was simply making up on the spot. So far (whisper) so good. Today I am going out to insert toothpicks on either side of each stem. According to research this will prevent cutworms from wrapping themselves around the base.

One of my rows of rutabagas planted in the beet bed. So far so good. Fingers crossed. And toes.

All of this extra care is feasible when you only have a couple dozen plants. On the farm I devoted entire 60 foot rows to rutabagas, often not even getting the “one to grow” that the Farmer’s Formula promised in return. Instead, more often than not, I would have a hundred percent loss. One for the mouse, one for the crow, one to rot and one God only knows.

What really rankles me is that I grew up listening to my parents and grandparents talk about living on “saskatoons, potatoes, turnips and moose meat”. The turnips they referred to were rutabagas. It all implied these were safe crops guaranteed a harvest in The Peace. I am sure they didn’t go to any of the lengths I am going to. Maybe the soil wasn’t infested with flea beetles or cutworms back then. Or maybe there is just something about the way I tend a garden that rutabagas hate. But not this year baby!

I hope.

If you have any tips to offer on growing rutabagas I would appreciate hearing them. Hope your garden is growing well.

10 thoughts on “One for the Mouse, One for the Crow…

  1. I am sure all this TLC will certainly yield some rutabagas this year for sure, 💕, I have absolutely no tips, but what a day it will be when you eat your rutabagas from your garden.

  2. I grew rutabagas for the first time last year, and while many were lost to cabbage worms (why didn’t I think that since they are related to broccoli & collards?) I did harvest a few, although they weren’t softball sized and had a stringy core. Maybe rutabagas have that, how would I know? I hope to do better this year, although I doubt I’ll go to all your efforts. Best of luck!

    • Hi Carolee, The few I have harvested in the past were smaller than a softball and had a stringy core as well (and several brown worm holes). Maybe that is a rutabaga thing! Or the variety type??? Still, I am holding out for the kind you get at the grocery store. Big golden orbs of tastiness 😀 We will see what happens I guess. If I don’t have better success soon, I will be buying them at the store and using the garden space for something else. But I’m not giving up…yet!

  3. Hi Shannon. I feel your pain – I too haven’t been able to grow an edible one and to tell the truth, gave up a few years ago and buy them from the supermarket! I can’t figure out how the market gardens grow them. I guess one should check with them. Let me know if you discover the secret (or secrets)!
    Linda

    • Hi Linda, Well I have to admit that makes me feel much better knowing you haven’t been able to grow rutabagas neither. DID your parents ever grow them? I was so sure I heard Dad and Grandma always talking about living on “turnips and moose meat” and I always assumed by turnips, they meant rutabagas. Maybe they didn’t or maybe they just meant regular turnips, though those have never stored very well for me. Wouldn’t that be something if all this time I was just confused! Ha.

  4. Hi Shannon:
    I love your wisdom and writing. Your essays make me smile. Thank-you!
    I am rooting for you and your rutabagas!

    • Thank you! I appreciate you rooting for my rutabagas 😀 They need all the support they can get!

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