Pepper Plagues, Post Nuclear Disaster Cucumbers and A Peasant Tomato Uprising

July 28th, 2010

There have been a lot of ups and downs with my garden this year. I have been battling bugs for months attempting to stay organic by handpicking the eggs and the bugs and spraying homemade garlic oil, neem and dish-soap on my plants, but after several weeks of this laborious regimen, I went out to my garden to find a new crop of squash bugs crawling all over my patty pan squash and pumpkin vines and in a fit of rage I went out, bought some Sevin and blasted the pestilence out of my garden. It seems to have worked. The squash plants perked right back up and are currently flourishing, but I did spy an adult squash bug yesterday and so will have to  spray another round of Sevin on the plants.


I harvested my onions. They are sweet and delicious.   I probably could have let them grow bigger, but their patch was being taken over by a rogue band of volunteer tomatoes.

Just for the fun of it I decided to braid them.  I am always looking for ways to connect to my inner pioneer.

I dug my potatoes.

You ain’t never tasted a potato until you have tasted a freshly dug Yukon Gold.  They are sweet, tender and melt in your mouth.  We have had chicken fried steak twice since the harvest, just so we could eat these potatoes with a proper side of gravy.  I also made two batches of potato soup ‘starter’ by mashing these potatoes with bacon, a bit of chicken broth and seasoning and freezing them.  I will add the milk products when I am ready to make the soup as I read that frozen milk products have a tendency to curdle when they are re-heated.

I have had a weird cucumber year.

Cucumber beetles have killed about half my plants the and the other half are deeply scarred from the experience.

I bought a type of cucumber seeds this year that were purported to be ‘pickling cucumbers’, even though last year’s pickling attempt was a disaster, I wanted to try to make them again.

But these cucumbers are so small and so misshapen that I have just thrown my hands up in frustration and walked away from any type of pickle proposals.  And I don’t think they should be called ‘pickling cucumbers’ either!

I think they should be called ‘the first generation born after the nuclear holocaust cucumbers’.

Every once in a while I get a cuke that actually looks like a pickle.

But the rest look like pickle mutants.

Or pickle grubs.

I have more green bell peppers than I can possibly use and I don’t even like green bell peppers.  It’s probably my least favorite vegetable, but I adore red bell peppers and any variety of spicy pepper (in reasonable amounts).  Last year, all of my pepper plants failed, so this year I planted twice as many plants thinking maybe one or two would survive and guess what?  They all survived!  And they are thriving.  I can pick three or four green bell peppers a day.  I take bags to work and to my neighbors and to every cookout I attend.  So far I have managed to stay one step ahead of my green pepper plague, but there is also an accompanying psychosis that is just as debilitating as the green bell pepper plague.

Because I really just want to grow red bell peppers and I certainly  understand that the green bell peppers will eventually turn red if I just wait long enough, but here is my dilemma.  Once a pepper plant has red peppers on it, it shuts off – meaning it stops bearing fruit.  Unfortunately I find that I am completely unable to shut off my pepper plants in July.  It’s as if I were shutting down the town swimming pool during a heat wave!  I can’t do it.  It’s the practical Western Kansan in me – the inner homesteader who lives in a dug out and survives on tumbleweed and raccoon in the winter months.  I can’t allow myself to shut down my pepper plants just so I can have my precious red bell peppers!  What am I?  Some kind of self absorbed monster?  This gardening project is not just about me – it’s about… it’s about… uh… food… and uh… making yourself eat food that you don’t even like!

And so I suffer through bags and bags of green bell peppers.  Burying them in salsa and stir fry and getting rid of as many of them as I can.

Surely there is a name for this condition.

High Plains Pioneer Green Bell Pepper Syndrome?

And then we arrive at the tragic conclusion of this chapter in my garden update when the most beloved character hurls herself off the side of a cliff for the love of a tomato peasant over a tomato king.


Never fear – it will all make sense at some point.


In short -

My tomatoes are a disaster.

Last year my tomatoes were a triumph. An absolute victory over the stubborn patch of prairie that I call my garden.  I had more tomatoes than the tomato king who lives in tomato land and rides throughout his tomato kingdom surveying his tomato people atop his tomato horse named Sir Tomato.

But this year my tomatoes are full of worm holes and the leaves have all turned yellow and spotty and have dropped off the plants.

The tomato king is not pleased.

But I have sprayed them and am at least getting some fruit that is not covered in black worm holes.


A secret tomato rebellion building.  A sturdy crop of volunteer soldiers have poked up through my onion patch and they are healthy, thriving and loaded with tiny green fruit.

Will they tyrannical tomato king finally be overthrown?

Will this uprising lead to reform and democracy for tomatoes everywhere?

Tune in to the next garden update for the startling conclusion as a lackluster gardener learns that of all the varieties of tomatoes she planted this year, the ones that plant themselves are her favorite.


  • Kay in KCMO:

    I know diddly about gardening, but the one thing I do know is that you’re not supposed to plant tomatoes in the same place year after year. You have to rotate. And they can’t be planted where the potatoes were the year before, either. Thus endeth all my gardening knowledge. Amen.

  • Anna:

    I feel your tomato pain. And your cucumber pain. And your zucchini pain, though my compost pile does sprout the best tomatoes every year, if only the deer would forget where I live, I’d be happy…

  • Fran P.:

    I’ve been getting some tomatoes with bottom rot, so I went out this past weekend and planted Tums (generic rainbow colored ones) around my plants. Will I need to do this again later? Is 4 per plant enough? Thanks for the suggestion in a previous posting. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will help!

    • Rechelle:

      Fran P – I think 4 per plant is plenty. I don’t think you will have to do it again unless the rain just keeps pouring down. Hope it works!

  • Martha in Kansas:

    Your onion tomatoes look promising! I have volunteers from last year too, but they’re still tiny things. My “main” tomatoes look rather like yours — yellowed leaves. And the romas have finally got some fruit on them, but there is something wrong — they look kind of like your cukes. Should we blame it on the rain?

  • Jennifer:

    I didn’t know that about peppers (I knew the “green turn red” info, but not the “the plant stops producing” info). Thanks.

    How do you know when peppers are ready? The garden on my office roof has some pepper plants, and two of the pepper plant owners have asked me that.

    I have tomatoes in that container garden–wee little ones that have been doing well. I also added tums to my soil thanks to your previous post. I can report that I only suffered one end-rot tomato. Who knows if it worked, but I’m pleased as punch. Again, thanks.

  • What a SHAME when things are so difficult in the garden! My oldest son has transformed one of our 5 acres of greenhouse into a cucumber facility and………you should SEE how good it has gone so far. I am astonished. I guess indoor growing is easier to control than outdoors…….and of course, we have staff babying the cukes all day long :)

    Check it out here:

  • I feel your garden pain – mine is usually a wonderful sight to behold full of onions, zukes, pumpkins, peppers and tomatoes galore. Sigh…not this year – weird weather and late rain. So far I’ve harvested only early artichokes and I’m up to my eyeballs in blackberries :) where I would normally have tomatoes growing up my wire fence 5 feet tall and 8 feet across – um, my plants are still only 18 inches high!
    I’m not sure what your issue is with the bell peppers? I usually plant several color varieties and just leave ‘em be to change from green to yellow, red, orange and purple all summer. They always end up with more – and more than we can eat – so why do your plants “shut down”?
    I’m personally very peeved as I live in the middle of the Central Valley here in California – Agriculture Central – and there are semis full of tomatoes and everything else you can think of – driving all over the place. However my garden decided not this year.
    I guess I’ll pull up everything in the fall and rototill and get yards of new dirt and see what happens next spring :)

    p.s. I HATE squash bugs – they always go after my pumpkins! I’ve tried to be organic but I always end up dusting the pumpkins and squash to get rid of those icky icky things. Only thing worse is tomato worms….shudder…..

    • Rechelle:

      MelissaD – Cassie C told me today that leaving my peppers to turn red will not stop the production and then she showed me her pepper plant which has produced several red peppers and is full of new fruit. So I guess the source I read about peppers from was not correct. Yay! I am going to let my peppers turn.

  • LucyJoy:

    Maybe Cassie C. will share some of her bounty with you. :o)

  • Mary:

    Oh, dear, it looks like your tomatoes might be suffering from the same bacterial speck that has assaulted my tomato plants for the past two years. I even created a brand new bed for my plants, but alas! I am just hoping the stalks stay strong enough to hold the bountiful fruit until it ripens!

    I’m with you on the occasional use of Sevin. There comes a time when enough is enough with the bugs!! Sigh.

    LOVE the mutant cukes…how do they taste?

    And I have pepper and onion envy, now.

    It’s been a weird garden year here in Ohio, too. No rain, then rain, then cold and now relentless heat and no rain. But our cukes are going gangbusters!

    Good luck!

  • Nancy:

    We have the tomato blight too, it’s caused by a fungus, that we can control, if the male gardener, who wanted all the tomato plants, was actually home to spray the fungicide on them.

    My zucchinis were a bust this year. I picked TWO out of 6 plants. Squash vine borer destroyed all the rest.

    I blame too much rain…but then again, if I was diligient, I may of actually tended to the garden, but throw a new puppy into the household mix, and well…you can see where my time has gone.

  • Yay – good news about your peppers!. If you end up with too many you can seed them and cut them into strips and they freeze pretty well – great for fajitas any time of year :)

  • Jo:

    Hey there Rechelle.

    I saw this recipe and thought of you. Maybe you should give it a shot with your mutant cukes!

    ….and there’s the added bonus of snooping (virtually of course) through her awesome country house.