Apologies for the radio silence the last few weeks. I got set back by yet another round of illness. The older boy and I both caught a bad flu and were knocked flat for a good two plus weeks of fever, aches, and lingering cough and exhaustion. But we’re all well again at the moment and I am experimenting with a new probiotic (S. salivarius) that may help keep upper respiratory infections at bay. So I got that going for me, as Bill Murray said.
Now that I've got my health back, I’ve been spending a lot of time killing things -- which is the most likely culprit of those violent dreams. Our glorious second year asparagus patch has ferned out nicely but just the other day, my son pointed out that there were grayish black caterpillars on the fronds of all the six foot tall plants. A quick inspection confirmed that there were indeed thousands of ravenous larvae on the plants, along with a smaller number of their parents, the common asparagus beetle.
I’ve now spent numerous hours smushing them, at first wearing gloves which were clumsy and limiting and, more recently, with my bare hands which allows me to be a lot more nimble but is simply foul.
Everything about the experience is gross from the way these little larvae look to the fact that they smell disturbingly like human semen when crushed. Shudder... It’s yucky enough that I’ve switched from crushing them barehanded to the slightly more civilized method of dropping them into The Jar of Death - a canning jar of soapy water which is equally effective and provides a little much-needed remove from the act of killing.
Unfortunately, asparagus beetles and their young are not the only pests we’re battling of late. As the weather has warmed, our rat problem seems to have abated (hurray!) only to be replaced by a similarly intense chipmunk problem (hiss!!! boo!!!) Despite being undeniably adorable creatures, they are truly a plague for those of us who garden and I’ve come to hate them with a murderous passion.
I’ve written about this here in the past but to recap quickly: chipmunks dig and nibble heartlessly, killing plants with reckless abandon. They are particularly destructive to strawberries, beans of all kind, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and this year for the first time, beets. In short, most of what we’re trying to grow...
We’ve pretty much given up on growing edamame this year after they mowed down two separate plantings - all that is left is one, lonely plant. They gave the string beans a similar hazing although I had enough of those seeds to keep on trying and some of the third planting has survived long enough to potentially turn into true bean plants --if they can survive the slugs that have come to call with the recent rain.
Of the many beets I started from seed inside this spring, only three brave plants have survived the chipmunks’ rage-inducing nibbling. Our beautiful strawberries are scattered haphazardly around the garden, each with a bite or two taken out of it. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.
Fortunately, I happened to have a handy twelve pack of rat traps lying around and have been killing them with decent success, though not nearly enough to ensure any kind of strawberry, edamame, bean or beet harvest, it seems.
It’s an unpleasant business. It takes a decent amount of time to bait and set the traps every day, then there’s the task of what I’ve come to think of as “walking my trap lines” once or twice a day to dispose of anything that’s been caught, re-bait and reset the traps. But the much larger problem is that I do not actually like killing things. And while I am not squeamish (which is why I am the one who deals with the traps, not my husband) there have been several heartbreaking incidents in which the trap failed to kill the poor rodent, catching its leg or tail or something equally non-fatal. Despite my frustration and anger about their impact on the garden, I am not actually immune to their innate worth as living things and to be the author of their pain and misfortune is disturbing.
For these reasons, I am looking into adopting a feral cat from our local SPCA to outsource the killing to – a mercenary, if you will. My hope is to provide this feline with a safe (outdoor) home, de-worming it on occasion and providing water and supplemental food, as needed, and let nature take its course. In my more optimistic moments, I like to think that just the scent of the cat will deter the chipmunks from visiting. It will probably turn out to be way more complicated than that but one can always hope.
I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, if you want to like chipmunks, my advice is to stick to growing flowers (though not sunflowers).
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