Apr 7, 2007
Life’s Simple Pleasures Get Harder to Derive

Writing about fruit and vegetables is, for me, made doubly satisfying because I try to practice some of what I preach. I have a large garden and a small collection of fruit trees, and I love “different” kinds of stuff.

I have medlars, paw paws, oriental pears, ground cherries, Jerusalem artichokes, winter onions, 12 varieties of tomatoes, horse radish, okra, daikon radishes, blue potatoes – in addition to the normal stuff like green beans, summer squash, pumpkins and sweet corn.

I like to learn about and apply good farm practices, from pruning to pest control, but it’s increasingly difficult to do that. I don’t avoid pesticides because I fear them but because people in “high places” do and because I can’t get the right ones in the right quantities for the various patches I have. Quantity and access are both problems.

Back in 1985, I paid nearly $200 for a gallon of herbicide that would take grass out of strawberries and asparagus. The herbicide formulation was discontinued in 1995. I am down now to less than a quart – I use only 2 or 3 ounces a year. Similarly, I paid about $80 for a gallon of Roundup five years ago, and I still have plenty left. Most farmers don’t have to buy a lifetime’s supply at one time.

It’s always bad news for me, too, when something bad happens to commercial growers. When existing insecticides no longer killed Colorado potato beetle back in 1995, I, like commercial growers, suffered. Admire rescued them, but I couldn’t really go along for 400 feet of potatoes.

So I took the “organic” route, and each year knock off the beetle larvae into a bucket and drown them. I catch the first eggs before they hatch and then pick beetles three times, which gives pretty good control.

Now, I wonder, is downy mildew going to take me out of cucumbers, ruining my annual attempt to duplicate Mom’s dill pickles?

Gardening is not my livelihood, but it is my favorite hobby. I like to have effective products, and it irritates me greatly when they are not available.

In part, that stems from the general attitude of the government that people can’t be trusted to use poisons that work – because they’re poisonous. Pesticides that don’t kill things aren’t very useful, but garden stores are filled with stuff like that. I think the reason lies with the Environmental Protection Agency, which puts all kinds of restrictions on purchase and application of good products commercial producers use and leaves us with the junk. I’ve talked to chemical company reps about it, but most companies seem reluctant to bring good products into the lawn and garden product market.

Sometimes, I think we need warning labels on products telling us that the products don’t work because of EPA restrictions.

Here’s an example: I went to the barn loft in early fall to get some lumber, only to find it had been infested with a nest of paper wasps that were at full seasonal strength. These things happen every year, and I have my usual ritual. I buy a can or two of an insecticide that shoots out 20 feet and kills these wasps on contact. The nerve poison is so effective they fall to the ground like rain and die instantly.

At least, they used to. This year I sprayed, only to be rewarded with hundreds of angry wasps buzzing around my head as I beat as hasty a retreat as I could down a ladder.

Back on the ground and at a safe distance, I read the label to find the product had been changed. The new ingredient acted more like steroids, and the next day the nest showed no sign of having been sprayed with anything even remotely toxic.

Thanks, EPA. That really helps a lot. It’s lucky I wasn’t killed from anaphylactic shock.

It seems to me the whole country is becoming increasingly conservative and fearful, and I don’t know if the government is leading the charge or following the people. In either event, if they can’t get a life of their own, I wish they’d get out of the way for those of us trying to get the most we can out of life.

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