Extension News

If Your Vegetable Garden Could Talk

Note to media editors: This is the Garden Column for the week of Sept. 21, 2007.


By Mark Gleason
Plant Pathologist
Iowa State University Extension

Have you ever wondered what the plants in your vegetable garden are saying? Well, OK, maybe not.  But have you ever listened closely? 

This fall, as the garden heads for a well-deserved winter rest, why not eavesdrop on your tomato, pepper, watermelon and cabbage plants? You might be surprised at what you hear. But you could also pick up some hints that could make you a more successful gardener in 2008.  A typical conversation might go like this:

Tomato:  Is it cold this morning?  Or is it just me?  Am I having cold flashes?
Pepper:  Nope, it’s cold all right.  One of these mornings, we’re going to wake up frosted.
Tomato:  That’s so depressing.  Why can’t you be more positive?
Pepper:  Hey, frost happens.
Watermelon:  Well, it’s not like you guys had a great year anyway.  Your leaves looked terrible and most of your fruit are rotted or sunburned.
Tomato:  Look who’s talking, Mr. Wilted Vines!  Take a good look at yourself!  If your inbred parents could see you now…
Cabbage: You guys are always whining.  Think positive.  Maybe things will be better in the garden next year!
Tomato:  Maybe cabbages will fly, too.
Cabbage:  Sounds good.  I’d love to try it.
Pepper: OK cabbage, cheer us up.  What would make the garden a happier place next year?
Tomato: I’d like to see fewer cabbages.
Pepper: Shut up and let the cabbage talk.
Cabbage:  Sorry to remind you, but I do have a head, unlike the rest of you.
Watermelon: Big whoop.  Anybody would rather eat a watermelon than a smelly cabbage head.
Cabbage:  I’d be happy if the human would just plant each crop in a different part of the garden each year.  Don’t they realize that rotating cuts down on disease risk from leftover crop debris?  Maybe they think rotating is just something for car tires.
Tomato:  Well, I don’t think we can underestimate their intelligence.
Pepper: You got that right.  I wish they would take all the plants out of the garden, just as soon as the season ends. Then they could burn, bury or dispose of all our sad, withered remains. 
Cabbage: Yeah, so the disease organisms would leave too.  Then the garden could start next year with a clean slate. 
Tomato:  When I think about how crowded we were this year, I feel so used, so violated.
Pepper: Amen, brother. I dream about more air and more light.  My leaves would dry faster, and I wouldn’t have these ugly disease blemishes on my fruit.  They are so gross.
Watermelon:  Yeah, they are disgusting.
Pepper:  Who asked you, you seedy cucurbit!
Cabbage:  How about disease-resistant varieties?  Wouldn’t that be great?
Tomato:  Yeah, that would really boost our confidence.  We could really show those fungi some attitude!  And resistance is a lot cheaper and more environmentally friendly than fungicides.
Watermelon:  Maybe they could even plow the garden this fall.
Cabbage:  Yeah, and work in some compost, too.
Tomato:  Oh wow, that sounds fantastic.  It’s not that hard, and we’d be so much happier. 
Pepper:  Well, you guys definitely have an active fantasy life.  I hope all your dreams come true in 2008. 
Cabbage:  Speak of the devil, here comes our human, Mr. Clueless.
Pepper:  Why does he have that big knife in his hand?
Cabbage: Uh-oh.  He’s looking right at me.  I have a bad feeling about this!
Tomato:  Looks like coleslaw’s on the menu tonight.
Cabbage:  No!  NOOO!
Pepper:  Looks like he’s headed for the kitchen.  Headed; get it?
Watermelon: Well, it’s quieter out here now, anyway. 
Tomato:  He may have lost his head, but Cabbage was right about making changes for next year’s garden.  Maybe this is the year that Mr. Clueless will show us vegetables some respect. 
Pepper: Yeah.  If he wants us to perform, he needs to show us some love!  Vegetable power!


Contacts :

Mark Gleason, Plant Pathology, (515) 294-0579, mgleason@iastate.edu

Jean McGuire, Extension Communications and Marketing, (515) 294-7033, jmcguire@iastate.edu