CONFESSIONS OF A KILLER
Because let’s face it—if you are a gardener, you’re also a killer.
If you have weeds overtaking your grass, flowerbeds, and vegetable garden, what do you do?
If you find slugs on the leaves of your precious plants or crossing the sidewalk, what do you do?
If you find ants and earwigs at the bottom of your artichoke leaves, what do you do?
If you find eggs laid on your broccoli heads, what do you do?
If grass is growing over your stepping stones so much you can’t even tell a stone is there, what do you do?
I rest my case.
“…in this world/you have to decide what/you’re willing to kill.” –Tony Hoagland, in his poem “Candlelight”
So this week, here’s what the gardeners on our small patch of ground have been willing to kill: We’ve pulled beets for canning and eating; called Eco Life to come dispatch our bald hornet nest; stepped on and snipped slugs; tossed out the possibly mosquito larvae-ridden water in the birdbaths and swapped for clean water; pulled weeds wherever we saw them (though not nearly enough); pruned back some errant raspberry vines; soaked the artichoke heads in warm salt water and then sprayed them to get all the ants out; and turning over a stepping stone, gasped and smashed ant eggs.
When you’re a gardener, you are making life or death decisions daily. When you hoe or pull weeds, you are telling them bye-bye. Some folks let them lie if there are no seed heads, and let them become compost right where they are. You dig and find slug eggs, ant eggs, and potato bugs. Stamp, stamp, squish, squish! When you prune, you decide what branches get to live and what ones don’t. Deadheading is more gentle, since what you clip off usually isn’t still alive, although if there are seed heads at the ends of stalks, then the promise of life remains. (If you find dried up heads and you want more of that plant next year, save the seeds and plant them in the spring. That’s how I get my hollyhocks, Sweet Williams, and marigolds. In the herb garden, the feverfew, parsley, and chamomile re-seed themselves. Dried seed heads from those weeds I’ve missed is how I get new weeds, too! Oops.) We spray Neem, insecticidal soap, and fungicide; we share pest management with other species, buying ladybugs and lacewings. We plant Whack-A-Moles. What’s more, we are not alone in our murderous intentions.
But don’t despair (unless you are a disciple of Jainism). You are ridding your gardens of thugs. (Now if only someone could come take out the voles making holes in the mole trails everywhere I look!) There is a saving grace: For everything you kill in your garden, something else more beneficial or beautiful gets to live and grow. We might yank out the pea vines or the fava bean stalks, but they have left lovely nitrogen for our other plant life. We have to pull up the carrots and beets, and dig the potatoes in order to eat them. Ridding blooms and branches of pests keeps our flowers and trees growing lovely and healthily.
Once again, we see how our gardens are metaphors for our larger lives. If we are carnivorous, we kill for meat. If we are vegetarian, we kill vegetables. If we are pescatarian, we kill fish. We kill to survive and to make our world a more beneficial and beautiful place.