The (Not So Great) Outdoors II
Of course, following up on Wednesday’s column, there’s more to the Great Outdoors than fishing, camping and hiking. There’s also gardening.
This is my third year gardening after a very long hiatus dating back to the early 1990s. The first garden I ever planted was behind my parents’ house. My father raised fishing worms, real fishing worms, not those gargantuan, nasty Canadian worms you get nowadays. Dad raised the genuine article, native earthworms and redworms. He first started to keep himself in bait, but later expanded and sold the wriggling wonders in stores around Charenton.
The worm farm had been long abandoned by the time I started that first garden, so I planted it right on top where it had been. You can imagine what happened: It was like a scene from Little House of Horrors, or so I feared. Everything went mutant, tomatoes, peppers, beans. The cantaloupe I planted spread until it reached New Iberia. The fruit sometimes cast so much shade the lawn wouldn’t grow. I kid you not. All right, maybe a bit.
I planted a few times after that, then gave it up until two years ago. Raised bed gardening, organic. Now, organic gardening is similar to fly fishing: It requires a certain quantity of prestidigitation, fringe science and a few loose marbles in the old cranium. To make matters worse, I grow almost exclusively heirloom vegetables, those varieties that existed a century or more ago before they were genetically modified into a dandy product that is perfectly round, unblemished, in shape, and tastes remarkably like cardboard. This is a feat of modern science that amazes primitive cultures when they are given seeds and war breaks out over which tribe has to eat the darn things.
Finally, I grow everything from seed. There also you find insanity, but I love growing from seed. Heirloom plants are hard to find around here, somewhat more scarce than hen’s teeth.
Two years ago it was extraordinary. My Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and other tomatoes were so good! Heirlooms do not produce heavily like modern mutant zombie tomatoes, but the taste is far superior. I enjoyed a suitable harvest of ‘maters, peppers, yellow crookneck squash and eggplant. Then the bugs came.
People misunderstand the term “organic.” Many seem to believe it means absolutely no pesticides. That’s not true. It means no pesticides that are made from petroleum-based products or otherwise made in a lab by a scientist who resembles Victor Frankenstein. The plus side of organic insect control is that you do not eat petroleum with your veggies and you don’t kill many beneficial insects. The down-side is that it only lasts about 24-48 hours.
However, here in the South we face a whole different breed of bugs than in the more northern states. Our stinkbugs and tomato hornworms and squash borers laugh at everything from Seven Dust to pure unfiltered DDT. I was once spraying my garden with pyrethrum, a natural insecticide made from chrysanthemum, and encounter a very large and mean-looking stinkbug that had obviously been lifting weights. He/she/it was munching on my prized Brandywines, and I doused him with a spray of pyrethrum. As Mel Bartholomew is my witness, that stinkbug soaped up, washed under it’s six armpits (legpits?) and then sat there waiting for the rinse. A second dose of pyrethrum, and the little bugger starting singing Randy Newman’s “The Time of Your Life (A Bug’s Life).” At that point I think it was waiting for me to deliver a towel to dry off with.
I read that hornworms are best addressed by snipping them with a pair of scissors. I thought that was about the most organic pest control I had ever heard of and headed out with my trusty scissors to rid my garden of the things. The first one I snipped in half…well, I don’t want to gross anybody out, so let’s just say I took a dose of Pepto-Bismol and a nap.
The birds are the worst. They are wasteful creatures. They’ll peck one home in a pound-and-a-half Cherokee Purple tomato, a hole about the size of a pencil, then move on to the next. I don’t have the heart to eliminate our fined feathered friends, so I spread netting over the entire patch. This accomplished naught, for the birds learned they could land on the trellis frame and peck anyway. My trigger finger was itchy, I admit, but I committed no crime.
My garden is a source of relaxation, you understand. Much the same as the dystopian society in “The Hunger Games.”