May 15, 2014

After the Tilth, the Deluge

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I stretched happily at the back door on the morning I was to plant my takings from the Tilth Sale.  I had waited almost a week for a nice hunk of time to get out there and wallow in the earth.  I planted the chard in back, the nigella in front, and the herbs in pots.  I took a flat of ground cover to the bed at the fence that is choking with poppies about to bloom.  I’ve got green and sweet peas all along the fence as well as a few sprouts of corn and sunflower.  There’s a new grape finding its way along one part of the fence. At the other end is a yosta berry, a goose-currant bush, that has made itself at home over the years since I planted a few starts for no better reason than someone gave them to me.

The yosta berries are sour and up until last year I ignored them.  They formed, they fell off, and I hardly noticed.  But last year I tried putting them with the raspberries I infuse in vodka for three months.  The result after adding a sugar syrup surprised every taste bud in the mouth.  I stopped ignoring the yosta berry.

Watching its beautiful dark green leaves dress its independent espaliering, I wondered how many berries I’d get this year.  I thought I had been monitoring the yosta, but I must have looked away for about two minutes.  On this particular morning I was parceling out the ground cover in front of it when I happened to look up and notice some of the leaves had been eaten away.  I looked further– up and up and up—and saw that all the leaves had been stripped right off the bush almost up to the top. 

Up at the very top the leaves were drooping somewhat.  I turned one over to see 12 or 15 bloated greenish-black worms with tiny white spots lounging on the leaf like so many drunks at a frat party. Every leaf was another fraternity house.  Leaf after leaf was full of these, these.  .  . louts, burping and leering at me.  They had gorged themselves on the entire bush!

I started squishing them, whole handfuls of them and they squelched as though I had my hands in human intestines.  The more I squished, the more I found and the more frantically I turned over the leaves.  I think I might have been screaming. 

I checked all the plants close to the yosta.  There was an infestation of two kinds of aphids in a couple of the poppies.  It looked as though someone had emptied an entire pepper shaker over them. I know I screamed then. I yanked out the poppies.

I got my spray bottle of neem oil/Dr Bronner’s peppermint soap/cayenne. This was the day the spray bottle got temperamental and wouldn’t spray.  I shook it, I turned it upside down, I shook it again.  I cursed it.  Finally I took off the sprayer and pretty much emptied the entire bottle all over the yosta and every plant near it. Then I dusted the area with diatomaceous earth. 

I couldn’t stop re-living my showdown with those hideous, squelching worms.  I saw them everywhere.  A damp piece of banana peel on the kitchen floor was a bloated worm on my yosta berry.  A flutter of my hair meant one had dropped on my head while I was rampaging in the garden.  “Oh, god,” I thought. “Now the dreams are going to start!”

I was out there the next morning looking for the hangovers.  And again that evening.  Every day since then, I’ve been out at least once, checking what is clearly a stressed plant what with the denuding, the dousing and dusting, and the shrieks of a crazed gardener.  I squish a few more miscreants each visit.   I talk to the stems and berries and what few leaves are left, trying to reassure them.  Yesterday I gave them a big drink of fertilizer.

I’ve since learned that the little green worms are actually a particular kind of sawfly that love currant leaves.  There’s another sawfly that love rose leaves.  The day after I squished my last currant sawfly, I found tiny green ones feasting away on my roses. They had only gotten as far as the appetizer when I immediately bussed their table.

And so it goes in the garden. The game’s a-foot.  Next opponent: wasps.









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