I is for Icky

Let’s be honest, not everything about gardening is nature seen through the filter of an animated fantasy. When a Disney-fied Alice wandered through her garden of Wonder, the caterpillar just puffed a bit of smoke in her face. In my garden, caterpillars of the cabbage white (Pieris rapae) gnaw gaping holes in leaves. If there are too many of them, they will chew the plant down to its skeleton of veins.

Up in the arms of the fruit trees, tent caterpillars (Malacosoma sp.) smother branches with a sticky, dense web dotted with droppings. From the cover of this “tent” they set out on raiding parties to strip all vestiges of greenery in their path. Nasty, prickly larvae are these tent caterpillars. Ick.

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But wait, there’s more!

Forget the image of cute little cartoon mice being adorable and sewing a dress for the poor, downtrodden stepdaughter so she can go to the castle and meet her prince. Spend a bit of time near dawn and dusk in observation of your backyard and you will see rats. Yes, the brown rat thrives in our cities and towns. They especially love to dig warrens of burrows under my rhubarb plants. Double ick.

Don’t imagine for a moment that slugs make charming squeaky chatter amongst themselves as certain unnamed-by-me cartoons might imply. Any sound from a slug will be the rasping of its mouth parts as it razes my tiny chard seedlings in the spring. Coated in slimy mucous and ravenous for tender green shoots, the slug is equal parts destructive and ugly. Unbelievable ick.

No, gardening isn’t a lovely princess singing harmony with a cheery songbird. It is a flock of rock doves that swoop down and dig out every single pea seed I have planted with care and optimism. They devour all the peas, then fly to a suitable perch where they can digest them and deposit the results of that digestion on the hood of my car. Ick again.

Shall I describe in detail maggot-riddled carrots or onions shot through with rot? No? I thought not. In truth, no one wants to think about the seamy side of gardening.

La, la, la. Sweetness and light. No ick here!

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Pretty pictures abound in my video for kids learning their abc’s:

 

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F is for First

There are many joys in the firsts of gardening. The first time my hoe hits the ground in early April fills me with buoyant anticipation. The first tendrils of green shoots from the first-planted onions fill me with awe. And the first ripe raspberry sends ripples of ecstasy through my taste buds.

But, there are also many woes in gardening firsts. There are the first weeds – that’s weeds, not weed, because they never arrive singly. The first insect infestation might be mealy cabbage aphids on the Brussels sprouts – always guaranteed to elicit a growl deep in my throat. Then there is the first mammal attack – usually the intrusive grey squirrels who strip the unripe hazelnuts off my trees.

This year a new first has struck. Some creature, for the first time ever, has decided to pull up and toss aside my onions. I’m not sure who to blame for this atrocity. Is it a raccoon? A squirrel? A particularly burly rat?

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Whichever creature is responsible for this thuggish behaviour, it hasn’t bothered to eat the onions. I don’t suppose it fears onion breath, and for all I know, a whiff of onion might improve the halitosis of a raccoon. I can’t say I’ve ever had a sniff, but considering that the urban raccoon frequents dumpsters, I don’t suppose it’s normally fresh and minty.

Finally, there are the wistful firsts of gardening. There is the first die-back of potato plants that signals the time for their harvest and the end of their season. When the last spud comes out of the ground, it marks the beginning of the end for all the crops.

Keeping stride with the potatoes, the first pumpkin leaves turn yellow and begin to collapse. Though the cheerful orange fruits will continue to mature, the plants are soon at an end. Days that moved slowly in the spring now speed up in a downhill race to the first frost.

When the first monsoonal rains of autumn hit the freshly cleared ground of the garden, it is time for the best first of all – the first fantasy about next year’s garden and what a perfect year that will be.

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Young ones learning their abcs can discover words that start with the letter f at:

A is for Applesauce

The apple is my new hero. Forget the old idiom about an apple a day keeping the doctor away. For me, an apple a day helps keep my potassium level low. Well, “low” might be a misleading term here. I mean to say, it helps keep my potassium level below TOXIC.

Now, most of you are thinking, “Huh?” and I would have said the same thing a couple of years ago. Indeed, back in those happy days, I didn’t give potassium a second thought. Truthfully, I didn’t even give it a first thought.

But these days, my doctor has me taking a cornucopia of cardiac medications, and some of those meds are “potassium sparing.” Simply put, they stop my body from getting rid of potassium the way it used to. So, if what I eat each day contains more potassium than my body eliminates, the level in my blood rises.

And high potassium can stop your heart.

Actually, the medical profession uses terms like cardiac dysrhythmia, asystole, ventricular fibrillation, and terminating event. But who cares about the details? Fancy words don’t make it sound like any more fun.

That’s why I’m appreciating the apple these days. A 100 gram serving of apple (3 ½ ounces) has 107 milligrams of potassium. Compare that to another “A” word, the avocado, which has 485 milligrams for the same weight of fruit. Dates are even worse, at 696 mg, and raisins are insane at 749. I will occasionally splurge and have 10 grapes as a treat, but dates just aren’t worth their potassium load.

When I saw that applesauce was even lower than apples, 74 mg versus 107 mg, I celebrated. Then I weighed out 100 g of applesauce.

Hurrah! Let the feasting begin.

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As a Post Script and in keeping with the A letter theme, I have included my video for youngsters of an age to learn their abc’s. It is a search for objects and animals that start with the letter “a.” For your kiddies’ viewing pleasure – Letter A and the Secret Window. Enjoy!