Saturday, September 30, 2023

The Monster in the Garden

The growing season is coming to an end. The sunflowers, fading and drooping.  Basil, shedding leaves, seedpods drying.  The great riot of butternut squash yellowing, as the squash slowly tans on the vine.

Over the last few weeks, I've begun the process of wrapping up this year's garden, a slow whittling away and settling in.  It's a peculiarly destructive process.

Green bean and tomato plants, torn up, roots straining against my arms as I heaved their fading life from the soil.  Sunflower heads cut from stalks with shears, the flowers split, the seeds forced out onto paper to dry.  I cut all of the squash away from the vines, setting it in a warm place to cure.  

One of the squash began spewing tailings from its cut stem, the spew of yellowish frass a sure sign of the presence of a squash borer.

That little devourer gets planted as an egg through a slit in the squash vine by a large, brightly colored adult moth.  It's an aggressive sort of moth, half moth, half wasp, its sharp ovipositor an evolutionary intermediary between egg laying and stinging.  The egg then hatches into a fat, glistening grub, which munches its way all the way to the squash itself, where it eats to its heart's content.  Up until this point, the thicker, denser stems of my butternuts have been resistant to them, to the squash borer plague that had ruined all of my prior efforts at spaghetti squash and zucchini.  This was not a welcome discovery.  It required swift corrective action.

I found a long flexible steel garden tie, then inserted it down into the borer's tunnel.  The probe snaked and teased further and further, until it finally met a soft resistance.  Ah.  The worm.  I stabbed the sharp tip of the probe down, then repeated the stabbing into the quiet darkness, over and over.  The borer slaughtered, I cut away the top of the squash.  Most of the flesh of the fruit had not been touched.  

As I was hacking the squash into cookable cubes and began the seedsaving process, I marveled at the violence of my gardening.  Plants are, simple though they may be, living creatures, life that would be a precious marvel were we to encounter it on any other world.  Sure, the worm was a digger and nibbler.

Yet here I was, rending and tearing, cutting and slicing and stabbing at life.  Massaging seeds from the ruin of a butternut placenta, which I had torn from the cut fruit with my fingers. 

Was the recently very deceased borer the monster, I wondered, or was I?