JoAnne Skelly: The never-ending story

JoAnne Skelly

JoAnne Skelly

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If you have been following my gardening saga for the last few weeks, you will know that critters, both mammalian and insectile have been giving me grief.

For those who may not know the story, I tried growing vegetables again this season in metal and ceramic containers after having given up my battle a few years back due to pest pressures. Initially this year, I had hoped to outwit the ground squirrels with cages, but the first-round design was inadequate. The squirrels outmaneuvered me. Now, with new metal screening around the cucumbers and zucchini and 5-foot screened panels on wooden frames around the tomatoes, I’m hoping the squirrels have been deterred. However, knowing squirrels as I unfortunately do, it could be an illusion.

The second battle with me against the pest world was dealing with hungry armyworms on the basil and tomatoes. Since I choose not to use chemicals on my edibles, I diligently inspected every leaf of the plants for almost a week straight, squishing the wormy caterpillars whenever I found one. Early in the squish game, I was picking off a dozen or so armyworms twice a day. Over the last few days, I didn’t find any and I was thrilled! I keep checking every day, just in case, but the basil is actually growing back, and the tomatoes look good, not losing any more leaves.

You will laugh though at what else I tried. I’m sure everyone is aware it is a banner year for Western toads. There are dozens in our yard. Every time we are out in the yard, we tread carefully trying not to step on any. So, thinking I had a brilliant idea, I was wrangling toads, chasing them around the yard until I caught one. Finally, I trapped one and carefully carried it to the tomato planter. This little critter was going to be the perfect solution to the armyworm dilemma. I’m sure you readers immediately spot the problem with this seemingly clever solution. I thought of it in the middle of the night. Toads can jump. By morning when I opened up the tomato cage, I searched for that toad, but it was gone.

We as gardeners have to be curious, ingenious, patient, persistent, strong, tireless, flexible, and perhaps a little foolish, to deal with all the daily, monthly and yearly issues in our pursuit of horticultural success. There are insects, weeds, critters, drought and wind. We must fertilize, water, fix irrigation, mow, prune, dig and harvest. Those who aren’t gardeners probably think we are crazy, but I can’t stop now, can you?

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator Emerita University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Reach her at


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