Tuesday, June 28, 2011

a day in the life. . . .

On garden walkabout with my coffee this morning, I noticed that someone - some thing? - had been digging around in the corner where I keep garden stuff and had drug out the deer netting. It ended up in the caladium patch - which immediately caught my eye. I grabbed it to put it back and screamed, dropping it. See him? How about now?
Surely now you see him.

He's in quite a tangle. Is he alive?! He certainly was playing dead, if not dead. Yuck! Poor guy. I got closer and moved the netting a bit and he moved, too. OK. Alive, then. Now what? I assembled my gear. Snake boots - check. Gloves - check. As good as it gets, anyway. I have got to get rose gauntlets if I'm going to be dealing with snakes! I had thought first to cut him out with the hedge clippers, but decided to call the queen-father. He'd know what to do. Maybe he'd even come over and take care of it!
No such luck. But he did give me some good pointers. Like use scissors, instead of garden clippers.

"It's a black snake, sounds like, and they are harmless. Well, harmless to you. They're hell on small rodents!"

The recent mouse sighting came to mind and I renewed my decision to free the snake. Not to mention the bumper vole crop this year! There are vole holes everywhere. . . .

The instructions continued:

"OK. Put your gloves on and throw a towel over his head so you can grab him just behind the head. He'll probably act like he's trying to bite you, but it sounds like he's going to be pretty tired. And he won't hurt you, don't worry! Just be careful.

"Then, once you have him by the head, cut him loose and let him go."

Right. What could be easier?!

Grab the snake by the head and cut him loose. Then let him go. Deep breath. I can't believe I'm even THINKING of doing this.

Grab the snake by the head. Check.
He wasn't real happy about it, but didn't try to bite me, and only wriggled a little bit. I set about cutting him out.

I talked to the snake, meanwhile. "All right Buddy, this is for your own good. . . . I know, it must hurt. . . . I'm sorry, this must be scarey! Poor little guy. . . ." And talked to God. "Please Father, please help me cut this little guy out of the mess he's wriggled into. And please calm him and please don't let him bite me!"

Minutes passed.

This was harder to do than I'd thought. The snake struggled more energetically from time to time, but then went limp again. I tried to be aware of how much pressure I had on his head. What a travesty to "save" the snake only to discover I've throttled him when the rescue operation was over! I loosened the grip, tightening only when I felt his muscles start to tense again.

It was hard to get the scissors underneath the fine netting which had worked its way into his scales. It helped when the snake went limp. I wish I'd gotten my close-up-work glasses. By now I was sitting on the grass with the snake almost in my lap. Did you know that snakes have a very distinctive odor? This one did, anyway.

"C'mon Buddy, hang in there with me! I'm sorry this hurts. . . . Almost done." He was a good deal longer than I first thought - but it was not possible exactly to pose him with something in the background for reference! My garden clog helps, I hope. I can't get all of him in the same frame, close up as I was. You can see where the netting bunched up and dug into him. . . .

I got him loose, finally, all except for the head. What will I do about that?! I decided to let him go, and see if he couldn't wriggle out of it on his own. Right. "There you go, Buddy! Let's see you slither out of that last little bit on your own, shall we?"

Buddy slithered, and the netting worked its way down from over his head to the first snag spot. It stopped, and he stopped. Great! Now I've got a snake mostly free that I have to catch again. sigh. I put the snake boot up towards his face to see what he would do. He didn't strike, but he did coil up. I put my boot over his head, best I could, and managed to grab him again.

"All right. Just a little more work to do here, Buddy. You know how this goes!"

A couple more snips and he was free.

He didn't stick around for his photo op. But slithered away into my bean garden. There's something about snake boots ands skirts, don't you think? Time for the rest of my coffee.

If I don't faint first.

postscript: The king came home and nearly fainted when he saw the photos of the snake rescue. It seems you're supposed to grab him from behind. . . . not over the top of the head like I did. Note to self. . . .

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

the ethics of war on bugs

I have often said that if we had to kill our own food, there would be a lot more vegetarians. I don't like the idea of killing animals. I even balk at killing bugs. I chalk it up to my feminine sensitivity and innate nurturing quality. Yes, I know. It's sexist to think that women have innate nurturing sensitivities (and men don't). Get over it. Still, "live and let live" is wonderful motto. It doesn't seem fair to leave the killing to others and yet to partake of the food. . . .

Are things different when you are killing to protect your food?

Last summer I threatened violence against the deer. It was not because I intended to dine on the deer, but because the deer were dining on my day lilies and tomatoes! Worse, they were not even dining on the tomatoes, they were taking a bite, chewing it a bit, and then spitting it out.

Over and over again.

Apparently they didn't much care for tomatoes, but they kept tasting another one to see if perhaps they wouldn't change their minds. . . . You can read about it here.

I was ready to kill them. The depths of my rage surprised me. Luckily, I found that an application of cayenne pepper on the tomatoes, day lily buds and bean leaves discouraged the deer. All I had to do is to remember to reapply the powder after every rain. I forgot a few times, but the deer reminded me. All was well; violence was averted; peace and harmony reigned supreme at the greenwood. The deer may have been cussing me out, but they undoubtedly forgot soon enough. These are the same creatures that forgot from one tomato to the next that they don't care for tomatoes, after all!

This morning, I resumed my lessons. The cabbage, which has been so lush in the garden this year (the above picture was taken a week or two ago) is now peppered with little holes. Bother. I hate putting insecticides on something we want to be able to eat, later on! But I also don't want to be eating only leftovers, once the bugs have dined.

Last year, I ignored the holes until they got really bad, then sprinkled some insecticide powder on the cabbage (trusting that the chemicals would indeed have worn off by the time the cabbage was ready to be eaten) and tried to ignore them again while hoping for the best. A week or so later, I noticed that much of the powder had been washed off. Looking closer, the developing heads were simply infested with striped caterpillars of some sort.


I reapplied the powder and continued hoping for the best. The 'best' was not very good. The caterpillars did not leave us much, and the cabbage was pretty ratty looking.

Then, once the second crop of tomatoes started coming in last year, I was shocked by the onslaught of horned tomato worms. One worm could decimate a tomato plant overnight. I spotted one enormous worm and pointed him out to my husband. Remember?

"Please kill him." I said.

"I don't garden." he reminded me.

Fair enough, but surely killing garden pests and invaders is manly work? He was not to be moved. I felt hugely sorry for myself. I'm a woman, not a bug dispatcher! I can't face that kind of violence. To be fair, it really is the gardening aspect that the king has drawn the line on. He dispatches every other kind of bug, no matter its size or scary description, in or on the house. Or close to the house. Just so long as it's not in the garden. . . . (which is close to the house! but that argument has not worked. Not yet.)

Meanwhile, the horned tomato worm continued munching on my tomato plant, which was just beginning to recover from the deer assault. I could practically watch the plant disappearing before my very eyes, from the top, down! I put on my garden gloves, clenched my jaw, squinted, and grabbed the miscreant. He held on! Little devil. I pulled him off and watched him try to stab me with his horn. When I bisected him with my trowel (1st covering him with leaves so I didn't have to see the 'gore') the trowel came away with green tomato gunk on it, which apparently was what the tomato worm had filled himself full with. I got mad. How dare this bug eat my tomato plant?! By the end of the week, the battle had been joined, and I was calmly dispatching anywhere from 1 to 5 horned tomato worms a day. I still won't step on the really big ones (yuck!) but I no longer require a leaf covering to cover the murderous deed.

Which leads me to today. Last year, I ignored the small holes in the cabbage until they got really big and then I dumped chemicals on them. I didn't learn how to kill caterpillars until the next batch turned on my tomato plants. The cabbage crop was pretty much a wash.

This year, I dispensed with the chemicals on the cabbage and started off by picking off the teensy caterpillars and squashing them. After the first 20 or so, I got out my surgical gloves and a cup of soapy water to drop them in. I put on my glasses so I could see. I'll resume again this evening after the worst of the sun's heat. I'm taking the battle to the enemy where they live. This is my garden, and I planted the plants. I get to eat them (the plants, that is), not the bugs! (Meaning that the bugs don't get to eat the plants, either - and I'm not eating bugs! Those pesky indefinite references.) It's a clear case of my sovereignty over the garden, enforced by superior power in the matter of chemical and traditional warfare. I feel bad about it, though. I am endlessly tempted to try relocation programs or even to sacrifice one of the cabbages to the worms in the interests of fair play.

They are not interested in one sacrificial cabbage, however. With them, it's all or nothing.

I live and learn. When it comes to the garden, I do not "live and let live." Garden pests are to be ruthlessly exterminated. It makes me sad, though, to learn that the cheerful little white moth/butterfly I've been enjoying watching flutter around the garden - you know, the cabbage moth - has actually been busy laying thousands of eggs which, when hatched, will start munching their way through my produce. I regret thinking that I have yet another enemy to seek out and destroy. And actually there are two kinds, the cabbage moth, which produces green gray striped worms, and the white cabbage butterfly which produces light green worms. Last year apparently we had only the cabbage moth. This year, we've diversified and have both. Great.

I wish we could all just get along. Some wars must be fought, though, if you want to eat. It's hard and violent work, trying to be a vegetarian! I don't think I'm ready to give up the supermarket meat counter just yet. . . .

Depending on the outcome of my war on bugs, I might not be giving up on the supermarket produce counter, either.