Thoughts From the Belly - April 2007
Thoughts From The Belly
copyright April 2007
By: Dan Mays Ironbelly1@aol.com
I like gardening because it gives me time to ponder. I typically garden without any radio or other societal makers of noise because they are just unnecessary. While the topic of gardening can be eagerly discussed at length by any two people familiar with a trowel, the very act of gardening remains largely a solitary endeavor. To be sure; we all appreciate a little help with some of the larger, burdensome chores. However, the day-to-day futzing with plants in the soil almost always finds oneself in solitude.
I say "solitude" but the reality is that other sorts of friends surround me and lend assistance in my communion with Mother Nature. I have to wait for some of my friends to appear but appear they will. While doing spring clean-up chores, I recognize the egg sacs left behind by old friends like the , who patrolled the mums at the northeast corner of my house or various other locations about the landscape. Their tawny-colored egg sacs are about the size of a small chicken egg. Actually, they look like an errant glob of insulating foam that dripped from a can of Great Stuff. I know that if I let that "blob-on-a-stem" remain in the garden, I will eventually get to meet their progeny. No doubt, they will also scramble to the top of plants, looking at me with great distain, whenever I spray water on their favorite plant; just as their mother did last year.
Other old gardening friends are a pair of robins that have learned to hang around me when I am digging. I developed a habit of throwing root-feeding grubs out into the street. The robins, in turn, recognize an easy meal when they see one. They have learned to hang-out at curbside whenever they see me in the garden. As they continue to grow more trusting, I can coax them closer and closer. However, if no grubs are forthcoming, they seem to admonish me with a nasty chirp, just to let me know they are still waiting.
Of course, not all immature forms of insect life found in the soil are dispatched to the robins. I take particular delight when I discover the pupae of the sphinx or hummingbird moth. These shiny, dark-brown capsules of life are about the size of your index finger, from the tip to the second knuckle. If one looks closely, you can see the long tongue (proboscis) stretched-out alongside the body; just beneath the half-transparent, amber-colored protective case. The fun comes later in the year when, typically in the early evening, you see these humming bird-sized moths darting about, sipping nectar from tubular flowers. They seem to particularly like ÂWaveÂ petunias. As flying adults, their tongues remain coiled beneath their head until they stretch it out (Almost two inches!) while hovering in front of their meal. (Link to more info.)
I tend to find these large pupae within several feet of where I grew tomatoes the previous year. When digging in these areas, I use extra caution to not damage these immature insects. Therefore, hand digging Â not rototilling Â is utilized in these areas. The relationship to last yearÂs tomatoes is no accident. The tomato horn worm is the larval form of the humming bird moth. YesÂ that big, green, eating machine (about the size of your entire index finger) devouring your tomato plants is the precursor to an adult insect we love to watch. Kill all of the tomato horn worms and you rob yourself of the later show.
Although I used to consider "the big, green, eating machine" a pest, I have learned to live with it. Lets face itÂ those of us who grow tomatoes usually have them in abundance. Every year there are people taking their extra "love fruit" to work. Even then, they canÂt give them all away. Why not share a bit (I didnÂt say all!) with an insect that later provides so much delight? Actually, just watching that green monster eat is a field day in itself. You wonder how they can eat so darn much! But thenÂ it does come out almost as fast as it goes in! This curious, green worm with the horn on its tail blends in so well with tomato foliage that the droppings on the ground are usually the first hint of his presence. Follow the droppings upward and you will probably find your new buddy Â if you look close enough.
Pondering in the garden enriches your soul Â no radio required. *******