Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Social Perils of Gardening

If you are smart, and sensitive to social ramifications of putting your obsessions on display for all the “normal” world to see, you will say “No, but thank you!” to social invitations that come your way during spring, when the natural world is full of exuberance and your gardening spirit has not yet been beaten down by explosions of bugs and infestations of holey foliage. 

“Why” you ask? 

Fava bean in flower!

Realize that you are all too likely to speak your mind. And your mind is, shall we say, differently attuned, than most? Without thinking you may say something like, 

“I’m so excited about my favas!”

Yes, I know, vegetable gardening has become the new “in” thing to do. Still, in the real world, your listener will more than likely reply, 
“…Favas? What’s that?”
“Favas are big beans. Some people call them broad beans!”
“So what do you plan to do with these beans?”
“I’m not really sure … this is the first time I’ve grown them. And they’re absolutely beautiful! Big, sturdy plants standing in handsome rows! Ants have been crawling all over them. You see, the plants have extra-floral nectaries tucked beneath their leaves, which draw the ants, which then keep away other leaf-eating insects … theoretically. It’s like watching a science project!”
Ants and favas. Perfect together?

“Extra what?”
“Extra-floral nectaries. Plant parts that are not flowers that produce nectar!”
“For the ants.”
Ladybugs to the rescue!
“Yes! I don’t think the ants have much to do with the black aphids that congregate on the tops of a lot of the plants, but they might. There’s a lot of research on that but I haven’t found any conclusions. I’m starting to see ladybugs on some plants, which is an exciting development! They’ll help control the aphids. I’ve found that spraying aphids never works. You need the ladybugs.”

At about this time you may notice (or you may not) your listener’s attention straying, and his or her eyes looking around the room for a reason to make a polite escape.
“Aphids, huh.”
“Black aphids. They’re different from the aphids on lettuce, which are usually green, or on tomatoes, which are sometimes pink. Isn’t that absolutely fascinating, how the color of aphids sometimes matches the plant they feed on?”
“Umm, yeah. Hey, I think I see my friend over there …”
“Now the fava flowers are beginning to turn black—that’s what’s supposed to happen—and I’m just starting to see the beans form. I’m wondering if they’ll get as big as they’re supposed to get. The thing about favas is … my son the farmer told me this … it doesn’t even matter that much if you get a big harvest. They’re worth the trouble just for their value as a cover crop! … oh … ok … we’ll catch up later.”

But, no.

The “bore” label has attached itself to you. Like a black aphid on a fava bean plant. Maybe staying home, gardening until dark, and after dark delving into the mysteries that have thrust themselves into your psyche, would have been a better choice.

But there must be a way that we can convert the masses into seeing the fascination, locking in to the mystery.

We need to get them outside.

It’s impossible to describe, in an inside conversation, the thrill of discovering connections, the excitement of getting a glimpse into how it all works. The kick lies in seeing for yourself the adaptations plants make for reasons we are only beginning to understand; becoming conscious of the complex interactions that go on outside the door every minute of every day. They set the mind spinning and exploring and looking for answers that only lead to more questions.

On second thought, say yes.

Because, you just never know.

I just have to tell you about the tiniest little grasshoppers I spotted on my tomato leaves today—they were smaller than my little fingernail. They must have been first instar. Did you know that grasshoppers molt five times before reaching full size? Oh, you have to go? Ok, we’ll talk later …won't we?


  1. If they are pale green they could be Katydids.

  2. I love the way your mind works, the things you observe, the questions you ask! And that you share these stories with us.