Sunday, March 22, 2009

GARDENING 101: Gardening Counter-intelligence

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/22/09)

As young soldiers, really adolescents, trained in counter-intelligence and covert operations, we were tutored in surveillance, a watch and ward vigilance for espionage and sabotage. Such training has been invaluable in gardening, surveilling pests who sabotage a garden.

I can still hear the captain. "The quiet ones, the ones to whom no one pays mind, the ones that slip by unnoticed, they'll bear watching." Aphids don't call attention to themselves, slip by unnoticed, and bear watching. Sucking the life out of a plant, they're found on the underside of the leaves, not on top where they can be easily seen.

He also talked about twitches, furrowed brows, and squints, the small signs signaling the stress of risk. In gardening it's a leaf's curl, a slight discoloration, and a stem's canker. Signs of a far deeper and far more devastating threat are eyes turned glassy and pupils narrowed or leaves dropped, stems withered, and plants suckled dry by parasites.

Surveillance is one of the gardener's first responsibilities, every morning and evening patrolling the garden with eyes peeled, looking for the quiet ones. On these patrols through the garden, it's best is to poke underneath the leaves while sniffing out lurking culprits . Check litter, such as small piles of leaves or pieces of wood. Scatter them, bend over to peek underneath, and then dispose of them. A principle task for a gardener is to snoop. Enjoying a garden isn't enough. Inspecting it is crucial because only an inspected garden will thrive to be enjoyed.

At the first hint of sabotage, don't hope the problem will take care of itself. It won't. It'll get worse which means that the gardener on patrol must come prepared, as in well-armed with a spray gun and a hose equipped with a nozzle. Never allow the enemy an avenue of escape. Ne pas faire de quartier.

Two sets of eyes are better than one so, if possible, take along another snoop while on patrol.

Never use ammunition that afflicts the garden, such as friendly fire poisons. Human beings are singular amongst animals in that they foul their own nests, such as spraying poison on their gardens and food. At the first sign of under-sided sabotage, turn the nozzle down to a sharp stream and wash the insects into oblivion. If they appear again, spray them with insecticidal soap, offing the under-sided saboteurs without poisoning the garden. If they appear again, off'em again until they are no more. Sans merci.

Saboteurs surprise, striking from secluded and secret lairs, so it's important to find their hidden cells and destroy them. Grasshoppers lay their eggs underground in the fall so that they can strike by surprise in the spring, suddenly flying out of the sun, like dive bombers in a blitzkrieg, devouring a garden.

Turning the soil with a spade helps expose the nests of eggs to the air, destroying them. But spading is not enough. Nests of eggs will always be missed. Happily, grasshopper nymphs have a thing for wheat bran, and if the wheat bran is mixed with NoLo, their voracious appetite will be their undoing. Always encounter enemies at their weaknesses. The grasshopper's vice is gluttony.

NoLo is short for Nosema locustae spores which are fatal to grasshoppers but harmful to no one else. NoLo can be purchased in the armaments section at local nurseries or over the internet.

Finally, in the fight against sabotage, allies, such as, green lacewings, lady bugs, and praying mantises are always useful. More eyes and mouths will find and devour more saboteurs. These allies can be bought, but as with all bought friends, they're fickle and tend to fly away. So release them at dusk so after a night's rest they can ravage at first light. These fickle friends can be kept in a garden with the hospitality of such plants as dill and yarrow.

The captain, a classics scholar in civilian life, often quoted Demosthenes warning the Athenians of Macedonian perfidy, "There's one safeguard known generally to the wise. What is it? Distrust." Vigilance is one safeguard known to wise gardeners keeping their gardens safe from saboteurs.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2009

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