You know how they say a Republican is a Democrat who’s been mugged? You don’t? Well, I guess they don’t say that so much anymore. But they used to. Honest. And, in that same vein, but perhaps without that same pithy concision, a killer is a pacifist who’s had her tomatoes eaten by a chipmunk.
I guess it’s pretty obvious that I’m not the aphorist in the family, but I need you to look past style and consider substance. Gardening brings out the killer in all of us.
This has been a tough year for our garden. Which should come as no surprise, since every year that you try and eke vegetables out of the Carver coarse sand that passes for topsoil around here is a tough year.
It’s been worse than usual, though, this time. It started with some kind of mysterious insect infestation that nibbled every single collard and pepper plant I put in all the way down to the stem. Half of the eggplants went, too, before we resorted to chemical warfare. By “we,” I mean Kevin, who waits until I am away and then pulls out the weapons of mass destruction. I know better than to ask questions.
Then we got a relentless heat wave in July, and our potato plants just turned brown and keeled over. They’re enjoying a bit of a resurgence now that the weather’s cooler, but the other day I found that some of their leaves had been eaten, and there was mysterious poop the color, size, and shape of unripe raspberries in the raised bed. Can anyone help ID the varmint?
Our one bright spot was the hoophouse. And ‘bright’ probably overstates the case – it is merely slightly less dark. A stinkbug army wreaked havoc in the cucumbers (until I went away again), but the peppers and eggplants are big and lush. The fruit-to-foliage ratio is distinctly sub-optimal, but it’s such a relief to see a plant thrive that I don’t even care much.
And then there are Kevin’s Roma tomatoes. We get our seedlings from our friend Christl, and so our plants start their lives with every advantage. She delivers them in May, hardy and full, and we generally manage to get ourselves a decent tomato crop. This year’s Romas, though, are the biggest, fullest plants we’ve ever grown. And by “we,” I mean Kevin.”
He planted three of them in the hoophouse, and used a system of clips and ropes suspended from the hoophouse ribs, to trellis them. They are a good eight feet tall now. Although, as always, we’d like to see more fruit and less foliage, there are enough tomatoes on the vines that we look on them with satisfaction.
About a week ago, we saw the first blush. Every day, a little less green, a little more red. It took about five days to go from a tinge of pink to an all-over red. It was a day away from ripe, and you know where any gardening story that contains the phrase, “it was a day away from ripe,” is going.
It’s going to bring out the killer in all of us.
In this case, it was chipmunks we were going to kill. Because some chipmunk had figured out that he could live the life of Reilly in our hoophouse, safe from hawks and owls, sheltered from the rain, and with plenty to eat. We caught him on the Varmintcam, snacking on our almost-ripe tomato. Because the plants were suspended from the ceiling, the stripey little bastard could just climb right up.
Kevin set a rat trap and baited it with peanut butter, and thus did Reilly meet his end.
In general, I don’t like having to kill things that eat my food, or my food’s food, but I make a special exception for hornworms. I take a very particular satisfaction in tossing a big succulent hornworm on to the driveway and watching the chickens tear it to pieces. (It’s only the cute furry things I prefer that Kevin kill.)
Hornworms are definitive proof that there is no god. No omnipotent being with a shred of decency would allow the existence of a giant worm that eats tomato plants and looks exactly like the leaf of the plant it is eating, unless it served some higher purpose like being delicious in its own right or being able to solve the cold fusion problem. Although I haven’t eaten one, I’m willing to wager that hornworms are not delicious, and I know for a fact that cold fusion is well beyond their capabilities. Hornworms are destructive and diabolical and disgusting.
And so it is that gardening, far from being the peace-loving pastime of Birkenstock wearers everywhere, is an activity guaranteed to engender burning hatred of one’s fellow creatures. Today, you’re trapping chipmunks and destroying hornworms. Next thing you know, you’re annexing Kuwait.