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Mutiny of the Bounty

It is a fecund season.  I say that because I learned the word fecund 37 years ago for the SATs, and in all this time I have yet to use it in a sentence.

But fecund it is. 

The weather has been particularly auspicious for all growing things this year, with ample rain in the spring and summer heat arriving at just the right time.     My garden is brimming with nascent eggplants, tomatoes, green beans.  And fruits!  My blueberry bushes are loaded. 

The apple trees, after a hard pruning in the fall, are breaking with their usual biennial pattern and are heavy with fruit for the second year in a row.  

The grape vines, which have been blighted by something or other and have not fruited in years, are all of a sudden sporting lots of little clusters of grapes-to-be. 

The animal kingdom is not to be left behind.  Take, for example, the bunnies.   The New England Cottontail rabbit population has apparently been on the wane for some time.  But I took a walk last night, after the temperature had cooled to a mere 89 degrees, and in the space of half an hour saw no fewer than four of them.  

Now, everyone knows that bunnies can wreak havoc on a kitchen garden.    Not for nothing did Mr. MacGregor take out after Peter Rabbit with a potentially lethal garden implement!  My own veggie patch has hardly survived unscathed the rabbit onslaught.  (What is the collective noun for rabbits, anyway?   A pride of lions; a school of fish…..)    Yes, a pestilence of bunnies has invaded my garden this season.   They are particularly fond of newly-planted leafy greens – seedlings of lettuce, parsley, beans and so on.  They like their veggies young and tender – much as I, undoubtedly, would most enjoy eating the bunnies themselves in their young and tender phase.  

After trying unsuccessfully to electrocute the bunnies some years back, I learned from a friend about homemade pepper spray.  You boil some super-hot peppers for 10 minutes or so, blend them up, strain out the solids, add a drop of dishwashing liquid and a another of oil to give it a little staying power, and then spray it on the most likely targets of rabbit cravings.  The bunnies, undoubtedly of Northern European heritage, do not have a taste for capsaicin; they are somewhat inclined to leave the spicy young plants alone.

It’s not failsafe.  The bunnies still eat some stuff; and of course you have to repeat the process periodically throughout the season, and in particular after it rains.  But it works OK.   Some seedlings get fatally stripped, but most survive.  And in the end there is enough, and I am grateful.

The aphids are also having a good year.   Aphids are one of your more distasteful garden pests:  one is never pleased to find a regurgitation of aphids swarming all over a formerly exuberant kale plant.   Searching for organic solutions on the web, I came across the suggestion of steeping chopped tomato leaves in water overnight to make a kind of tea. 

In the morning you strain it and spray it on the aphids.   The alkaloids in the tomato leaves are apparently inimical to the well-being of soft-bodied insects:  it essentially dessicates them.  That’s the story, anyway…and it turns out to be pretty much true.   The sprayed aphids more or less dry up, and you can easily wash them off with a light spray from the hose.

Of course, there are always more aphids; and you have to keep checking for them and repeating the process every few days.   But….it works well enough.  That seems to be the essence of organic gardening.   The methods are by no means foolproof; but it’s all good enough to get by.  And I am grateful for the kale that survives.

I have a lovely edging of woodland strawberries, both red and white, in my little veggie patch.

I started them from seed years ago; and this fecund spring, the plants were loaded with lovely little white blooms that turn into fruit, each and every one.  They are tiny, these strawberries; but they are scrumptious little flavor bombs.


But have I mentioned the chipmunks?    They are on a reproductive tear that makes the bunnies look abstinent by comparison.    Chipmunks have an entirely undeserved reputation for cuteness.   (Admittedly, they do have an excellent publicist – I believe his name is Alvin.)    They are adored in popular culture, singing tight harmony in their helium-raised voices.  And who could forget the rascally but charming Chip and Dale? 

Do not be fooled.   Chipmunks are greedy little bastards.   The woodland strawberries are right at eye level for them, and these avaricious, fraudulent little buggers help themselves in the most brazen manner.  I have no idea what an appropriate organic response would be to the Madoff of chipmunks that is invading my berry patch. Isn’t arsenic a natural compound?

I don’t expect to get many of the apples, either.  The squirrels love them and they are particularly piggish about it, taking one or two bites of each nearly-ripe apple before tossing it to the ground.    The grapes will likely go to the raccoons who wander up from the Charles River (and who need an alternative food source to the trash bins I have finally learned how to properly secure).  

But perhaps that, too, is one of the life lessons of organic gardening:  the good guys don’t always win.  Although thinking of humans as the “good guys” is also pretty presumptuous.  We are, after all, the species that elected Donald Trump.

And then there are the blueberries, beloved of birds everywhere.   For this, there are indeed several organic options.  The best one is to surround the bushes with protective netting.   We tried this for several years.  But a few birds invariably find their way into the net cage and eat the berries anyway, after which feast they become frantic trying to escape, and I become equally frantic trying to release them.  Not a good time. 

This year, I decided to try an alternative approach.   Birds, it is said, don’t like flashing, shiny things.   So as is done all over Europe, I hung strings of CDs around the nearly-ripe berries, hoping to frighten the birds away.


Now, I do not speak Blue Jay, but I’m pretty sure that when I hear the jays calling in the back yard, this is what they are saying:


Unless they are saying:

“Is she really still using Office 2011 for Mac?   If not, why is she still hanging onto the installation CDs?”

The jays are not fooled by the CDs, not one bit, and they are positively gorging themselves on my blueberries.  

But….I am an organic gardener, and it will have to be good enough.  I am grateful for what I have.  The birds will eat, the chipmunks will eat, I will share with the squirrels and the aphids and the entire pestilence of rabbits.   

And in the end I will be grateful for the blessing of the bounty that remains.


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