February 29, 2012

A Sinister Theory About the Source of Bugs in the Garden

Some catalogs feature cute-as-
a-button kids with ringlets
who smile as they eat their
veggies.  This one is from
Territorial Seed Co.
The coffee table in our family room groans under the weight of seed catalogs just now.  We get them by the dozens each year; not just the familiar Burpee’s and Johnny’s of Maine, but special ones chock full of heirloom varieties.  Every catalog is a promise of a wonderful summer rife with perfect, lush vegetables.  Some catalogs even feature photos of adorable children, some with ringlets in their hair, happily eating their veggies.  Life is good.

Betty goes through these catalogs, marking likely candidates for our own garden and other gardens for which she is ordering seeds.  She then compares characteristics of ‘like’ plants, looking for the tell-tale trade-offs among taste, yield, and days to maturity.  In the end, she makes reasoned choices that ensure our garden will be planted with just the right seeds for our needs.

Somewhere out there, I suspect, is an
'alternate' catalog with entries like this...
Why, then, do things go so terribly wrong in our garden every year?  In 2011, it was an infestation of corn borers on top of an army of Mexican bean beetles.  Voles ran amok and nematodes munched voraciously on the roots of our carrots.

And, it isn’t that we stood idly by, watching this destruction.  We keep deer out of our gardens with a vile-smelling spray that, based on its cost, includes gold dust as one of its ingredients.  My fingers turned yellow mushing the egg sacs of various beetles on the bottoms of leaves.  I gamely plucked tomato horn worms from vines; an act of selfless valor that should come with a medal for bravery.

I have a theory about why things go wrong in our gardens.  I cannot prove it, but I suspect that there is a catalog company out there, marketing sheer, unadulterated pestilence.  Its proprietors have a fleet of black trucks (with Jolly Roger flags on the side) that follow the mail man, watching mailboxes, looking for fat packages containing dozens of seed packets awaited by eager gardeners.  These evil businessmen then slit open the packages from the ‘good’ seed companies and substitute their own product (making certain to bill your credit for absurdly high shipping and handling in the process).

... or this.
Come May, you plant the seeds for bush beans, believing that you’ll be harvesting plump, tasty pods into July.  Instead, by some mysterious happenstance, bugs appear almost as soon as the cotyledons have given way to true leaves.  As there are no jumbo jets being chartered from Colorado or Mexico, the eponymous beetles have made their way here via some other means of transport: packets from that sinister seed company.

I can only imagine what their own catalog looks like.  Aphids and whitefly described with the same hyperbolic language used by the ‘good’ guys.  “Brand New! Apocalyptic™ Aphids!” an entry would shout in boldface type.  “Suck the life out of a row of celery in two days, guaranteed!” or “Calamitous® Cabbage Worm turns nearly-mature produce to slime before your eyes!!”

Of course, we hope for the best.  We use ‘best practices” to keep our gardens pest-free yet, somehow, the red spider mites find us.  As for me, this year I’m going to keep an eye on the mailbox, just in case there’s a black truck following it with a skull and crossbones on the side.

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