Read all posts from The First Feast Project serieshere.
When I set out to replicate the First Feast of the Pilgrims and Indians, my aim was to grow the vegetables and hunt the meats. Fulfilling the project appeared straightforward enough. Add the vegetables they ate to my garden, and go out and focus on catching the animals — easy-peasy. It was not my intent to experience even a sliver of the frustration the colonists felt that first year after they arrived on these shores. Yet, frustration is exactly what I was feeling as the growing season in Florida began.
One of the primary obstacles I knew needed to be overcome was the long growing cycle for some of the vegetables. Winter squash and corn each require 75 days-plus to harvest. Collard greens and peas require 60 days-plus to harvest.
I needed to get my veggies into the ground, but summer heat was dragging itself into the fall season. August and September were recording average temperatures in the nineties. The only plant the heat was good for was my sweet potatoes — which I had planted late, because they were a last-minute addition to the menu. I knew the temperatures were too high, but I needed to get things into the ground. I started some plants off in my house, like my corn and collards, and planted the cuttings for them. I also planted the squash, tomatoes, and yard-long beans.
The yard-long beans started off wonderfully. Natives of Asia, the heat does not bother them that much. In short order, I had beans ready to harvest. Despite the heat, my corn, greens and squash started great, too. By the end of September, my gardens looked lush and green. My corn was reaching for the sky beyond all expectations of the other members of the community garden. Each day and week, I began patting myself on the back.
Then disaster began to strike. Yard-long beans are delicious. You should try to grow them. You ought to isolate them from everything else, too, because they are aphid magnets. I expected this problem. I grew them last year, and so was aware that aphids would be an issue. I did not expect, however, that the number of aphids would double. By the middle of October, my beans were long, covered with aphids and an ant highway system.
I used insecticide soap, sprayed them off, and yes, even an organic insect killer. All it did was contain them, but not enough. I got enough beans to eat and set aside for Thanksgiving but not before the aphids began traveling to the other plants.
I planted winter squash last year, and so was also familiar with the issues I would have with it. Pollination would be an issue. Ants, which meant aphids, would also be a problem. I tried to solve the former with planting African basil and borage near the squash. Unfortunately, the borage did not sprout and the basil did not take off. There were no bees or butterflies coming to visit my plot.
So I resigned myself to hand-pollinating the squash. A great idea before I got a new job that kept me busy during the afternoon hours. I found myself missing when the female blossoms would open. I was able to finally get two pollinated, and two squash began to develop. The excitement my gardening partner and I felt was bursting. Yet, the aphids were beginning to multiple, and I saw leafs with holes in them.
I started spraying aggressively. It did not work. A week after the two squash appeared, the leaves on 80 percent of the plant were devoured by caterpillars. The squash, which I had covered in a pantyhose stocking, also had boreholes in them. The caterpillars had eaten through the stocking and into the fruit. The squash was ruined. The plant beyond saving. I would not have any squash from the garden.
Finally I see squash.
My corn, which had started off so well, reached a ceiling of development. They also had not gotten enough pollination. I just did not have enough of them in the garden to produce cobs that would fully develop. Other gardeners did warn me, but I thought there was a way. I was almost correct, but almost only counts in horseshoes and grenades. After taking one cob off to examine, I could see the corn was there, but soft and flat. It looked like skin left in the sun for seventy years.
My other plants — kale, greens, peppers, tomatoes — were doing well. The lettuce in my plot and indeed in all the plots at the community garden, bolted. The plot next to my own had seven beautiful romaine lettuces one week. The following week they went soaring toward the sky.
The first year the Pilgrims settled in America was a hard one. Their crops did not grow. They made it with the help of the Indians. I cannot imagine the fear of needing crops to produce but watching them fail. After all, needing your food to grow in order to eat and feed your family is a stress I have never felt. Nonetheless, I think I can understand the frustration level the Pilgrims had trying to grow their crops.
I cannot remember the last time I felt so stifled and frustrated as when I was looking at my squash. I felt powerless to do anything to salvage the situation. As I took down the squash at both my garden locations, “ticked off” is the best word I can use publicly to describe how I felt.
Thanksgiving dinner for little green caterpillars.
I also wanted to end the existence of all caterpillars…and aphids.
As Thanksgiving crept on us, I was able to successfully grow my carrots, beans, greens, peas and sweet potatoes, though not many of the latter, in time to use for Thanksgiving.
I would have to buy the squash, corn, onions, and garlic. As promised and directed by my parameters, I bought the produce from local farm sources. Lake Meadow Naturals farm in Ocoee provided some of the vegetables, while some of the others were procured from a local market named the Wild Hare. Lake Meadows is a farm the grows most of the produce they sell. Wild hHare is a market that sources its produce from local farmers in the central Florida area.
If I had to grade myself on the vegetable portion of the project, I’d give myself a C for the result. And a solid A+ for frustration and disappointment regarding the items that did not pan out.
Kiara Ashanti is originally from the cold state of New Jersey. He attended college in sunny Florida and graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Speech Communication. He loves taking on new projects and is the author of over 200 articles ranging from trading securities, politics, social policy, and celebrity interviews. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.
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