Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/23/07)

Gardening requires many hats. Perhaps, the most important is the mystic’s cowl because gardening is ultimately a spiritual experience. William Blake said it best, “To see a world in a grain of sand / And heaven in a wild flower / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand / And eternity in an hour.” Gardeners begin with awe.

The nurse’s cap fits the gardener who patiently brings sickly plants back to health, nursing, caring, and tending. Of course, gardeners always wear a Crime Scene Investigator’s hat as they prowl through their gardens, poking here and there, peeking into the underside of things, on the look-out for the latest infestation of bugs, noxious weeds, or sociopathic mychorrizae.

A soldier’s helmet best fits the gardener facing a grasshopper infestation. Negotiating with grasshoppers is a fool’s errand; however, a war on grasshoppers cannot be pre-emptive, striking at the enemy before it attacks because grasshoppers may fly in from a neighbor’s yard. Attacking a third of the world is risky at best and foolhardy at worst. The only war possible is a defensive war in which no mercy is shown the invading host. The French say it best, “ne pas faire de quartier.”

Strategically, a two-fold defense is best, ground and airborne. The ground strategy is to lure the grasshoppers with attractions more toothsome than their usual fare and then zap them, closing in on them in a pincers movement. Unlike the French fixed Maginot Line, which failed to stop the Germans in World War II, the ground strategy has to be mobile, placing the traps where the grasshoppers are the most likely to see the deadly meal as in barren spots where foliage does not hide the trap.

Tactically, two attractive traps are easily available. The pesticide, carbaryl, comes with a warning, not to ingest it, inhale it, or let it contact the skin. While not lethal, it can cause great discomfort, but it is deadly for grasshoppers and bees which means to avoid laying carbaryl traps near plants attractive to bees. As with all soldiers, gardeners must always respect their weapons and treat them carefully.

When mixed with a host material, usually wheat bran which attracts the grasshoppers, it can be spread on the ground, but not the plants. Gardening soldiers don’t poison themselves, just the grasshoppers. As with all good mobile defenses, the traps are laid out before the grasshoppers arrive, early in the spring. After they arrive, it may be too late because carbaryl works best when the grasshoppers are young in their nymph stage.

Unlike carbaryl which looses its punch after a time and after rain, the biological protozoan Nosema locustae, while a slow starter, lasts longer even after it has knocked off the nymph grasshoppers. Grasshoppers are cannibals so that when a live grasshopper eats a grasshopper killed with Nosema locustae, it is eating the poison that killed the grasshopper on which it is feasting. As in the principle of martial arts, it uses the adversary’s energy. Nosema locustae are gifts that keep on giving.

These tactics used throughout the spring, summer, and fall will significantly reduce the invading host which means the airborne forces are used to finish off the remaining grasshoppers. Birds are one half of the air forces, especially the black ravens and purple Stellar’s jays which means a good soldier in the gardening army will feed these birds all during the winter to keep them around for the rest of the year. A well-protected garden is bird friendly.

After securing an adequate air force of birds, the next armament is the praying mantis or, correctly, the praying mantid. Resembling a skinny skyhook helicopter, the praying mantid is a veritable grasshopper gunship. Praying mantid eggs are readily available. As soon as the praying mantid emerges, it starts eating with a voracious appetite.

Ultimately, it’s boots on the ground that win wars. A gardening soldier, such as Lally McGhie, the attractive, well-coiffured and clad local Realtor, is a model soldier as she mops up the remaining stragglers. As Lally walks through a garden, her left arm reaches out like a Bofors anti-aircraft gun, pow-pow-pow, grabbing grasshoppers in her hand and crushing them.

We need soldiers so that we can wander our gardens in wonder, else we’ll live in a wasteland, so, gardeners, like Elijah of old, gird up your loins and join the battle.

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