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.


Kay Beeeeeeeeeeeee said...

Susan, I LOVE this. You are an excellent writer. AND although I am a vegan, I detest bugs and I am for all-out-war on them. Destroyers, they are! Havoc-creators, Evil. Biters, stingers, munchers, nightmare-creators, fear-in-the-daytime-too creators, etc. HAVE-AT-IT!!! The pesticides can always be washed off when you go to dine. But meanwhile, you will have some decent produce!

queenie said...

Thanks KB! Picturing you, the warrior vegan - go Kay Beeeeee!!!! [grin]

I am sad to report that today I resorted to indiscriminate chemical warfare. Ortho's Bug-B-Gone: "Ready-to-Use Insect Killer Dust." Or was that "Killer Insect Dust?" Something like that.

It turns out that the newly hatched worms come with little umbilical cords to hold them onto the cabbage at first (and then onto your finger, when you pull them off)! It makes for a very tedious process. Someone else put it very well: "The worms have more free time than I. . . ." and so I reached for the killer dust.


joyful said...

A little "Killer Dust" never hurt anyone, but do get used to carrying a little pail of soapy water to the garden; pop the little buggers into it, and when they succumb, pour it on the compost pile.....killing 2 worms with one stone, or something like that. As for the "non-gardener"........my response would be "you don't 'garden' you don't eat". See how that works when we're all enjoying his favorite tomatoes, b. sprouts, courgettes and aubergines!