When Bees Don’t ‘Do It’ – Summer Gardening

My client’s big event wrapped up a couple of weeks ago, which means…..

Summertime GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Summer, summer, summertime.

I actually have two big, yearly client events that I provide content support for, one of which is usually at the end of May or June. And after it wraps up, things slow waaaayyyy down.

I mean, I have a few recurring assignments/projects, but nothing like the crush of deadlines I have during the first half of the year (or the last quarter of the year).

In the early days of my freelancing, I used to freak out about this summer slowdown. Now, I take it in stride and use it as an opportunity to meet up with friends and colleagues over lunch or drinks, attend networking events or conferences, update my portfolios and do all of the many, many other non-glamorous, administrative stuff that comes with running your own business.

This year’s other big thing: forcing plants to have sex.

I like big melons and I cannot lie.

We planted our contained bed garden in our backyard in mid-April. We planted green beans, carrots, jalapenos, cubanelles, a variety of herbs, and one squash plant and one mini watermelon plant.

So far, the carrots and green beans have been coming in like gangbusters, as have the herbs, but the squash and the watermelon need….a little help.

Apparently, gourds and the like only grow if they are pollinated, and well, we don’t have a whole lot of bees in our urban, concrete backyard landscape. Or any pollinating insects, really. (In fact, bee colonies in Virginia are dying at a faster rate than in the rest of the country.)

We’d actually run into this problem a few years back when we planted a zucchini. We got just one giant zucchini out of it the whole summer. During a late-summer trip to Austin, I was complaining about my lack of a green thumb to a nice older lady who clued me in to the problem: we needed to hand pollinate our gourds.

I was stumped: Is this true and if so, how do I even “do it?” Do I need to play some Barry White to get my vegetables in the mood for sexy time (Answer: Nope). Do I just stick my finger in every flower and swirl it around? (Answer: Nope). I had no idea on how this pollen transfer business was supposed to be accomplished.

So, when we went to plant our garden this year, I was a bit hesitant about trying squash again. And, to be completely honest, I didn’t even realize that the same pollinating problem could plague the mini watermelon. I didn’t really think of watermelon as a gourd. It’s a melon, right?

I may not know anything about gardening, but I do know where to go to learn everything about just about anything in this day and age: YouTube.

One short video tutorial from Scrappy Patch has made me an expert on hand pollinating. So now, during my summer slowdown from work, I’m adding plant sex facilitator to my skills set. Every morning, I rush out to our backyard to see if the squash or watermelon have any open blooms that I can cross pollinate.  

To be honest, it’s been pretty frustrating. Most mornings, there will be just one squash blossom open. Or, more often, there will be more than one blossom open but they’re all males, which, for these purposes, won’t work. I truly wish we could grow the first big rainbow-gay squash or melon, but alas, it appears we need a female bloom as well.

Damn. Mexico beat me to it.

The other tricky thing is that, at least in the case of the squash, the blossoms only bloom like, one or two days, so I’ve got to jump on that short window of opportunity. So far, I’ve only had one day where there was both a male bloom and a female bloom, so fingers crossed, we’ll be the proud parents of a squash in a couple of weeks.

And, we’ll keep trying. I see a couple of potential female blossoms just starting to bud. Plus, I’ve got the whole summer to obsess over plant sex.


Hey Poe, How Does Your Garden Grow?

Like crazy, that’s how. Like a bullfrog’s throat during mating season.

It’s actually kind of crazy and very intimidating.  Here’s what things currently look like.

today 2

That’s our tomato tree. It’s not really a plant anymore. It’s a tree. I think I saw a bird building a nest in it and some woodpeckers chipping away at it’s bark. It was actually on it’s side when my fellow farmer-for-life XFE got home today. The weight of the thing is far to heavy and wild for the meager metal tomato cage we bought to contain it. It was actually leaning over onto the zucchini plant on it’s left. But don’t feel too bad for the zucchini plant.


That’s the other side of the zucchini plant. If you squint and look very, very closely, you’ll see a poor basil plant straining to escape the zucchini’s suffocating leaves.

For a little perspective, let’s look back to late April when we finished our backyard and planted stuff.

little plants

Look at that tiny little tomato tree! And that tiny green speck in the middle? That would be the zucchini. It was, literally, two tiny leaves. I was afraid it was going to die. I thought it might drown. I went out and talked to it every evening, urging my little zucchini underdog to grow big and strong. Oh how naive I was. Just look at how small it was compared to the basil just to the left! Today:

poor basil

Shit is taking over and us couple of city folk are in no way prepared.  Seriously. We’re afraid of our zucchini plant. It’s kinda aggressive.


And there are blossoms.

zuke blossoms

Don’t even get me started on the two peppers we planted.

pepper race

In the Great Pepper Olympics of 2013, the Cubans (cubanos on the left) are smoking the Mexicans (jalapenos on the right).

memorial day

Here’s how things looked over Memorial Day, which, let’s remember, was about 2 weeks ago.

memorial day 2

Another view. I mean, it’s not like we’ve never grown anything….we’ve grown tomatoes before, along with assorted herbs and a few peppers, but this year’s early crop results are not like any we’ve ever seen. It’s doubly frustrating because we don’t have any veggies big enough to eat…..yet. But if size is any indication, we’re going to be smothered in zucchini, buried in tomatoes, and strangled by mint.

Let’s get back to the tomatoes though.

tomato tree

Crazy fertile backyard. If XFE and I disappear, someone check under the zucchini plant.

Excuse Me, Does This Look Like a Toilet to You?

So a weird thing happened to us a couple of weeks ago and I’m just now over the trauma of it enough to blog about it.

Someone shat in our backyard.

Specifically, someone took a poo in the teeny tiny space between our neighbor’s fence and our storage shed. Just feet, or maybe yards, I don’t know, I’m not good with spatial measuring, but alarmingly close to our house.

Don’t worry. I did not take pictures of the excrement.

It was, ostensibly, a lovely weekend morning. My head gardener XFE and I were doing a little sprucing of the back patio area. He wanted to get rid of some evergreen, bush thingys, and transplant a nice but overgrown sage from our front “yard.” (It’s really not a yard but an oversized vegetable box, I guess you’d call it).

Because we didn’t want to carry the two evergreen bushy things through the house, we had to use the very narrow space by the shed to carry the items out to the back alley and around to the front of the house and the street curb for eventual pick up. I was given that honor.


It wasn’t until I was coming back from my first bush trip around the house that XFE spotted it. Actually, first he asked, “where are all these flies coming from.” Then he saw the source. A dark and substantial streak of dried fecal matter running down the side of our lovely light blue shed, and pooling down around a drain overflow pipe. There were also used restaurant napkins, if you catch my drift. We could only speculate on how long it had been there.

After much gagging (XFE) and incredulous eye bulging (me), XFE, ever the gallant gentlemen, used a plastic bag to pick up and dispose of the restaurant napkins. Our high power water nozzle was deployed and XFE set to work removing all signs of the stain. It took forever (he was quite thorough), but his work was flawless and very much appreciated. I stood by with an outdoor broom and guided the water towards the patio drain.

View towards alley
How does one even fit in here?

It was quite the bonding morning. No one was in the mood for breakfast after that.

But even more disturbing than the physical aspect is the fact that someone came onto our property to take a crap. We spent a lot of time (actually, mostly me. XFE really didn’t want to talk about it) discussing how and who and why such a thing could happen. My immediate thought was that it was some inconsiderate drunken club kid late at night while we were sleeping mere inches (ok, yards or even feet. I really struggle with this measuring thing) away. XFE’s way-more-logical theory is that it was a construction worker of some sort working on a project nearby.

Or, maybe it was magical poo like Hanky.

Whichever, whatever, it felt so incredibly invasive. I’d almost rather they had broken into the place. (That is not a suggestion to any would be pooper-burglars. It was just a vulnerable moment for me).

By the way, the transplanted sage which had been the picture of health over the last two summers died within hours of being transplanted. Which is odd because I would have thought poo would be like, nature’s fertilizer or something.