from sky to seed

Forlorn Corn and Other Woes

Waist-high Golden Bantam and Country Gentleman Corn.

The pests are back.

An application of Seven Dust (sigh of defeat, see post Little Devils) a few weeks ago seemed to take care of some of the leaf nibblers that plagued my baby seedlings, but now that they’ve hit adolescence, the bugs have returned — cutting ugly scars on the leaves of my plants, eating away at their bases, and leaving them moody and slumped over in the sun.

The worst are Colorado Potato Beetles, little bastards that lay eggs on the leaves to give newborns something to feed on.  I also transplanted eggplant a few days ago, but they’re nearly skeletal, thanks to some tiny black beetle that seems impossible to kill.  Companion planting them with green beans and marigolds did not help keep the bugs at bay, despite a lot of what I’ve read in my natural grower’s guidebooks.

The obvious remedy is pesticide.  I bought Neem Oil at the Joplin Garden Center a few days ago, and I know there are various concoctions and ratios of oil and soap and garlic and such.  I’m going to wrestle that project later today.

As I walked my rows yesterday to survey the latest damage the my corn crop, which is particularly disappointing, I drifted back to the naive single corn stalk my college roommate, Marta, had planted in our backyard.  We lived in a shared house with six other friends.  When Marta went away for a few days, she asked us — me, in particular, because we’d been friends since preschool — to water the plants.

“Sure,” we told her.  “No problem.”

And we did.  I did.  But the weekend before she returned was a rowdy one, and we lived near a bar district whose patrons often cut through our backyard.  By Sunday, strangers had trampled her corn to threads.

I’ll never forget how twisted Marta’s face became when she found the ankle-high stalk on its side.  My roommates and I tried to explain, and she tried to understand, and we all acknowledged that it was really no one’s fault, but I sense that she never quite got over that tiny kernel of disappointment.  We had failed her.  By the end of college, she had drifted away from all of us, but especially me.

And now I have my own corn stalks, eight rows of them, and the only person responsible for their care is me.  Something’s eating them, but I’ll take care of that.  The wind tries to push them over, but they persist.  I give them water.  I clean the weeds at their feet.

When I first planted the corn, I was surprised to read on the seed packet that you’re supposed to plant corn in at least four rows, in order to encourage pollination.  I thought about that single corn stalk from years ago, suddenly understanding that it wouldn’t have mattered how well we’d taken care of it, if we’d guarded it from trespassers, allowed it to grow.

A dead plant is no good reason for a friendship to end, but I don’t doubt it was the beginning of a long line of small disappointments that plague a fallout.  And I know it’s not the failed prospect of food that mattered most to Marta, but I wish I could go back and explain that the corn dying didn’t actually matter, not in the long run, because unaccompanied by other corn, it would never fruit.

I feel ashamed about that incident, though I know pinning the blame on me is not entirely fair.  We were shits in college — all of us, at younger stages, are shits.

I’m better now, I like to think.

Or, at least, I try.

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