I haven’t been bold enough to make firm declarations about my farming practices to most people, but I secretly harbor an organic farmer’s ambitions. When Jon’s friends first got word that I’d take my liberal education idealism to the fields, they clutched their bellies in laughter, cracking jokes about me using ladybugs, aphids, butterflies, and marigolds to ward off pests. Which was, honestly, my plan.
I bought the marigold seeds, but didn’t know where/how to plant them. And had read they were tough to start from seed. But these past weeks, I’ve been so overwhelmed with the mere physical process of planting and tending that I’ve barely had time to think seriously about organic practices, and a part of me really hoped that the bugs wouldn’t find my little plants before I figured that next step out.
“But I force a smile, knowing that my ambition far exceeded my talent.” — George Jung
So I tried to ignore the new serrated leaf edges on Jon’s pepper plants a few days ago, the yellow spots, but when I saw a fat worm inching along, I took a picture of it and emailed it to him, asking “Is this a bad guy or a good guy?”
He immediately called. “You need to buy Sevin Dust,” he said.
“But I don’t want pesticides on our food!” I wailed.
“We’re not going to have any food at this rate!” he cried.
I’m exaggerating. Jon’s farmer friends are kind, but think I’m ridiculous and naive. And who wants to seek help from people who, despite their best intentions, see your seeking as evidence of your ignorance?
I waited three days and wrung my useless hands. Googled ‘how to make organic pesticide’ and found some cool remedies involving lemon essential oil and castor soap and garlic and cayenne and baking soda — but only certain home sprays worked on certain bugs, and I had no idea what I was dealing with, and I barely knew a soul in the county who I thought would tell me.
And on top of that, organic pesticides are such a foreign idea to me. My dad was a crop duster for much of his life, and I grew up in a house where DDT was right up there next to the lord of all things good. I didn’t go to my first farmer’s market until I was 23.
This is all new to me.
So then that three-day bout of storms swept through and nearly drowned the field, and when I finally mustered the courage to go out and survey the damage, I was dismayed to find the plants a little roughed up by the weather but alive — but to see the lacy skeletons of some of their leaves, victims of insects.
I caved. I bought the Sevin dust. Ran into Eljay, who promised to call the extension services expert and bring him out to offer his professional advice. And who advised me to go ahead and apply the Sevin dust, just this once, to keep the bugs from killing the crops.
“Blame it on your holy shit Republican boyfriend,” Jon said.
“I will,” I told him. “I will.”
So I am.
Earlier this evening, I stopped in the care home to visit his mother, who ran her own cattle farm alone for nearly 40 years, and whine about my gardening troubles. She laughed. Told me not to lose faith. Didn’t have much of an opinion on organic v. chemical insect treatments. Explained that tomatoes can be slow to bolt. Said that I’d been foolish to plant 400 corn seeds all at once (which means we’ll have 400 corn stalks producing corn all at once!) but smart to put the beans next to them — to give them something to climb.
“You’ll learn,” she said, smiling. “You’re learning.”