I have a well-deserved reputation in our family: I am the killer of all plants. Seriously, I can under-water, over-water, neglect, and do whatever else it takes to kill any plant - it's kind of amazing, really.
So, taking on the work of growing vegetables is a huge undertaking for me. Last year, we planned to start a garden. At the time we started, we mistakenly thought we would be moving onto our property around June or July. So, we started some plants from seeds, and when they outgrew their first little pots, we transplanted them into 5 gallon buckets. Our move kept getting delayed and delayed.
Some of the plants did okay in the buckets, and we still had some living plants (pepper and tomato plants) in December, when we left for our sudden immigration trip. Immediately after that trip, we were engulfed in the attempt to finally, actually get moved into our new house before the end of the year. So, the plants experienced an even greater level of neglect than normal, followed by the trauma of a move (in an open trailer) out to the property. This was followed by weather that was, by our standards, severely cold - down into the low 40's. Tough times for plants.
As life settled back into some sort of a schedule, and I finally had time to take care of these plants, I still had about three barely-living tomato plants, and about a dozen pepper plants (several different varieties, but all sweet peppers, no spicy ones).
Since that time, the tomato plants haven't fared well. But the peppers - oh, the peppers! - it would appear that even I can't kill the pepper plants!
Back a few months ago, when the plants were looking good, and starting to bear peppers, my little garden was attacked by leafcutter ants! The first night, two plants were stripped of every leaf. The second night four more plants were attacked. This was a serious situation. I tried several non-chemical solutions which were supposed to deter the ants, but without success - the devastation continued. I went out in the dark, caught the ants in the act, and Allen and Gus attacked them directly, killing the ants they saw, and following them to their nest, which they destroyed. The following day, a helpful neighbor who is also a farmer came by and sprayed the plants. I don't know exactly which of these acts did the trick, but we didn't suffer any more ant attacks.
The damage was significant - I believe eight of my plants lost all of their leaves. I've lived in Honduras long enough, however, to know that a dead-looking plant isn't necessarily really dead. So, I kept watering the plants, and sure enough, within a day or so they started the process of growing beautiful new leaves. Within a couple of weeks, the plants which had been stripped looked healthier than the ones that escaped the attack!
Then, the harvest! In early April, we were starting to really produce peppers. Fortunately we all like to snack on sweet peppers, and I was able to give some away. Things were going great!
In late April, I got really sick. Basically, everything in my life fell through the cracks! The pepper plants held on valiantly, and happily the rainy season made it unnecessary for me to water regularly. The pepper plants continued to bear peppers, although they started to look a bit weary, as they were badly in need of fertilizer.
Then, this week, I finally felt well enough to get serious about the plants again. I weeded, fertilized, harvested . . . and noticed something. Several of the plants were looking as though they were being attacked by leafcutter ants again - but the devastation was not complete enough to be likely to be the work of those ants. Then, as I harvested, I found several peppers which had been nibbled upon.
Looking very closely, I found this fiend:
Do you see it? That caterpillar is obviously feeding well - it's about 6 inches long, and fat! Bethany helped me search all of the plants, and we found another caterpillar just like this one. These have been removed, hopefully in time for the plants to revive.
So, that's the story of my gardening travails so far. It has been a learning experience for me, that's for sure!
Oh, and one more thing. Neighbors tell us that the invasion of the giant grasshoppers (see this post) happens every two years. If this is correct, then we should be expecting them to arrive shortly. I'm thinking I'd better prepare my garden for this event in advance - perhaps with some netting?