I’ve been gardening now for 45 years. I’m not counting the years I spent growing up on the farm. I was more of a hired hand then. I’m talking about my gardens, the ones I’ve planted on my property each year since the summer of 1975. I’ve learned a lot over the years and each year I learn more. What I’ve learned so far this year is that I still have much to learn!

When to plant, how deep to plant, how to weed, when to harvest – these are all things I’ve pretty much mastered. They’re basic. However, I’m baffled over why certain vegetables often don’t grow well in my garden. Are they just being stubborn? Is it the weather? The seed?  My soil? Am I not watering enough? Beets and carrots shouldn’t be that tough to grow, should they? Do I quit planting them?

I have two garden spots. They are about 120 feet apart and not much different in size. One spot seems better suited for tomatoes and peppers, so that’s mostly what I plant there. But can the soil be that different over so short a distance? Instincts tell me no, but observation and experience say something else.

For three years now, I’ve had problems with cucumbers, a problem some of my friends have also had. The cukes sprout and grow nicely, but, after I’ve picked just a few, the plant shrivels and dies. This year, they’re looking good, but then I haven’t picked the first one yet! It won’t be too long, and I’m anxious to see what happens after that.

I’ve battled diseases on my tomatoes and mold on the zucchini plants. I think I have both situations figured out now, as I’ve learned different pruning techniques. I’ve picked a few zukes already, and things seem fine. But things can change quickly. Perhaps by the time you read this, I’ll have thrown up my hands again.

As much of a struggle as it is to battle heat and often drought, I do enjoy gardening. I like tending to my plants, and I occasionally encourage them with words similar to those a coach would tell the team. Once, I think my neighbor heard me greet the back garden with “Hi, planties!” I scurried back to the house and didn’t look back.

This year has been different in one big aspect – deer. My two-foot high chicken wire keeps the rabbits out, but it’s ineffective against deer! Early in the summer, they ate the tops, flowers and leaves off my green bean plants. I was left with two rows of naked stems, about 8-10” tall. However, they didn’t trample or eat anything else in the vegetable garden. Fussy eaters? Considerate pests? It appears to be both.

The deer, of course, raid at night, so I’m not there to yell “Shoo!” or “Get out!” when they execute their assaults. I can only yell “Scat!” the next morning as I carefully tip-toe around the perimeter with my eyes directed downward!

I’ve now strung 12-pound test monofilament fishing line on poles that stand 3-4 feet higher than the chicken wire. The deer must consider the strands to be a barrier that is somehow unsafe for them to cross, because it’s working. Certainly, they could barge their way through fishing line! The stems are growing new leaves, and, I hope I’ll still have a crop this season. Soon, I’ll know.

Successful or not though, it’s comforting to know that the farmer’s market is just a short distance away!

LOREN BRABEC is a contributing sports writer for the Isanti-Chisago County Star and author of several Braham sports books.

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