Sunday, December 12, 2010


Dana Prom Smith

Approaching my 85th year, I’ve been thinking about growing old, especially after receiving an invitation to my 60th college class reunion. Old age took me by surprise. It’s something like that used car I bought when I was in high school. A 1929 Model-A Ford Coupe, it had no floor boards and was sans a right front fender; however, it had a rumble seat. It ran, but something always needed fixing.

Since we never look back on old age and there’s no future to it, I’ve become an existentialist. Everything is now. Given the alternative, I’m grateful for my creaky knee, arthritis, left-leaning, friendly-fire hole in my back, slightly damaged ticker, and Selma-gifted, racked-up left shoulder. Alive in good health, no longer suffering fools gladly, I always need fixing.

All of this is like a garden. Something always needs fixing. Two fixable problems are aphids and grasshoppers. Anyone who doesn’t believe in the existence of demons has never dealt with grasshoppers and aphids. Evil is random. It doesn’t make sense. We’ve all suffered for our sins and stupidities, but with evil there’s no quid pro quo. Random, demonic forces strike without reason. We ask, “Why me?” A bit paranoia helps.

However, we can strike back! NoLo bait spread throughout the garden before the grasshopper larvae hatch in early spring will lay waste grasshoppers; not instantaneously, but gradually; not merely over the season, but throughout the years. NoLo is a targeted weapon, sparing everything else, including human beings. It’s an eco-healthy malaise. Cannibals, grasshoppers eat their own who’ve fallen with NoLo, ingesting their fallen comrades’ NoLo. It’s an affliction that keeps on afflicting.

Actually, the grasshoppers aren’t attracted to the NoLo but to the wheat bran in which it is served, something like cyanide in lemonade.

Also, we’ve an ally in a fellow flesh-eating predator, the praying mantis, who could well be called the preying mantis. Waiting in ambush, when a grasshopper comes close, our friend grabs it with spiked forelegs and devours it with a gluttonous lust. An asymmetrical warrior, it’s adept at camouflage, looking for all the world like a leaf.

Praying mantises are mercenaries. They can be bought and sent into battle to devour the demonic. If gardeners are fleet of foot and swift of limb, they can grab a grasshopper in flight, squeeze it, feel the crunch of death, and then wash off the green residue. I, for one, prefer the mercenaries.

Next in our demonic litany is the aphid, an icky, soft-bodied, foul-looking manifestation of evil. It lies in wait underneath leaves, sucking out their life-juices and then emitting at the end of its alimentary canal sweet offal, favored by ants. As a matter of fact, ants farm aphids just to eat this gooey mess, commonly called honeydew.

Aphids signal their presence by yellowing, curled leaves and a plant’s withered death. Also, if they overgraze, they produce flying aphids, clouds of them, which spread to trees like aspen and drop their honeydew on cars, fouling the finish.

Initially counter-attack with a hose, nozzle attached and turned down, washing off the buggers underneath the leaves, sending them to a watery grave. If that fails after a couple of tries, then it’s time to use insecticidal soap, again blasting away at the leaves’ underside. Generally, one time doesn’t do it, the conflict being a war of attrition, wearing the bastard’s down. Also, if there are aspens in the yard, spray them, too.

Of course, we have allies, chief amongst who are lady bugs, green lacewings, and parasitic wasps, all of whom like to dine on aphids. Lady bugs can be purchased from local commercial nurseries but are best sent into battle in the evening hours, lest they fly away. Fickle, the best thing to do is provide them with an attractive bivouac, buying their loyalty by planting sweet clover, spearmint, sweet fennel, and Queen Anne’s lace, their favored confections.

As our gardens age, be grateful. They’ll always need fixing along with the rest of us. This means fighting the good fight, finishing the race, keeping the faith, persevering therein to the end, and laying waste the demons.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

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