The fight for spinach

Allie Hinga

Allie Hinga

Allie Hinga

Allie Hinga

Allie Hinga

I had such high hopes for my garden this summer.

At the end of April, I planted six little spinach plants in pots on my second-floor apartment porch, marking the beginning of my third summer of container gardening.

After a mostly successful growing season last year, I was feeling good about this year’s crops. I was going to grow lettuce, spinach and broccoli and tend to my garden and think deep thoughts about life as my harvest sprouted in abundance.

At first, all seemed well. And then the spinach started to wilt.

I posted some photos on Facebook and was pretty much universally told that I was probably over-watering them. So I cut back, and the leaves started to perk up. But then it got hot, and my leaves started to wilt again.

I tried everything I could think of to save them. I watered them less. I watered them more. I put them in the shade. I probably would have sung to them if I thought it would have helped.

But eventually I could tell I was fighting a losing battle. I was almost relieved when the last spinach plant finally died.

I spent most of my summer blaming the weather, because there was unequivocally no way that the death of my spinach was my fault.

Eventually, though, I swallowed my pride and asked the folks at for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach for Dubuque County what happened.

Brittany Demezier, food systems program coordinator, said it’s possible that the heat was what got to my spinach, a cool weather crop, though there could have been other contributing issues.

See? I was right. The weather. Never mind that I probably planted the spinach too late in the season.

The rest of the summer has gone about as well for me as the spinach.

For a while, my lettuce was doing great, and I harvested bags upon bags of fresh leaves. Then we had a particularly hot week in mid-July — while I was away on vacation — and the lettuce stems shot up and started to flower. The plants haven’t produced leaves of any notable size since.

Unfortunately, Demezier said, once it gets hot like it did that week, there was nothing I could have done for my lettuce, other than perhaps move it inside.

“Lettuce just isn’t a fan of heat,” she told me.

Again, I maintain: It was the weather.

My broccoli also came down with an infestation of little green caterpillars that munched plenty of holes in the leaves of my plants.

I spent the summer picking the insects off of the leaves and then hurling them from my porch into the grass below. In my mind, I was sparing their lives and being humane. Except for the part where I was throwing them off the second floor.

Demezier told me picking the caterpillars off is actually the best way to deal with infestations like the one I had, especially if you don’t want to spray your plants with insecticide. It also would have been a good idea to cover them with a thin net when they were younger.

I told her I had read online that I could kill them with cornmeal and had at one point tried showering my plants with that.

“I don’t how effective that one is,” she told me. “There’s definitely not any university research on that.”

Oh well. It was worth a try.

As I wind down my summer, the insides of half of my broccoli stems are starting to rot. Demezier thought that could have been from over-watering, or just that a mix of warmth and moisture make an ideal spot for bacteria to grow and wreak havoc on my plants.

So it sounds like this summer’s … interesting planting season was probably a mix of rotten luck and user error. I think I can deal with that.

I asked Demezier what I should do next year so my gardening season isn’t so stressful. She recommend I just reach out to her office once I have an issue, and they can help me out.

I think next summer, I’ll take her advice.

That’s probably better than standing on my porch throwing cornmeal everywhere.

Allie Hinga is a reporter for the Telegraph Herald.

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