When Gardening Gets Wormy…

It happens. Pests or disease hit the garden, the weather doesn’t co-operate, you over or under-calculated, forgot to thin or water…. Relying on the land is good, but its also a difficult lifestyle. The farmers and homesteaders of long ago battled with it. And we still do today!

While most of us aren’t truly reliant on the land, it does help both the pocketbook and health! Our garden is a bonus, the canning is a bonus, the freezing, fermenting and root cellaring are all bonuses that we get to enjoy.

So I garden, forage, harvest and preserve. But sometimes, I’m disappointed. Sometimes, the issue is my fault, sometimes it isn’t.

To date, I’m disappointed because I discovered root maggots in my Barassica root vegetables: the turnip, rutabaga and white winter radishes that were intended for winter storage.


I knew some people in this valley had issues growing ’em without worms, but I didn’t realize how wide-spread the issue was. I didn’t even know what caused the worm problem! Originally I thought they came from the cabbage butterfly. With this in mind, I bought material for cover rows, but thought I’d try it without.

For the longest time, I didn’t see any butterflied hovering and I congratulated myself for avoiding lots of extra work! As my heirloom turnips approached maturity, I pulled a few for kitchen use and was sickened to find little white maggots throughout the roots! Quick research revealed that the butterflies were innocent enough. The real culprit was a tiny fly that laid its eggs at the base of the plant in the spring!

So now, my rows of turnips and rutabagas aren’t suitable for overwintering. They won’t be suitable for seed saving. My wonderful visions for the cold room just blew up in my face. What was I going to do with all of those vegetables?! A row each, 20 ft long and 3 ft wide, turnips and rutabagas intended for cold room storage, the making of ferments once the weather was cool enough!What was I going to do with them?!


I can’t ferment ’em all now; we couldn’t possibly eat so much before it turns bad. And I can’t freeze the vegetables for later fermentation. I can’t keep them for root cellar storage. So what can I do?

This is living off the land. Its quirky. It can be disappointing. Sometimes its downright nasty. But this is where the interesting part comes in! Am I adaptable? Am I able to take hold of my reality and make something good from it? What other options do I have?

Replant turnips and winter radishes (ok, those needed a second planting anyway) with my reserved seed. It isn’t too late. This time, they’ll have a good row cover. Rutabagas? Too late! They takes 3 months to mature.

I can keep a continuous turnip-dill ferment going. Freezing ferments doesn’t kill off the good bacteria as canning would. And I get to experiment. I never would have before. I may attempt to can pickled turnip or rutabaga.


I have to confess: in spite of my creativity, both turnips and rutabagas ended up going to our landlord’s chickens due to the high number of vegetables. While I’m grateful they were not a complete waste, I do still feel a wee bit foolish. It’s part of living on the land…particularly when you try to do it yourself!

The important thing is I have learned! I ought to have talked to a gardener next door. But I didn’t. I skipped over the heart of homesteading and tried to do it all by myself.

So y’see, though I preach it, I don’t always live it!

I believe this is at the heart of any farmer or homesteader’s life: humility and learning. Homesteading=meeting your reality head on, acknowledging when you’ve made mistakes. Take notes for improvement. Do it different next year!


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