From Murder Hornets – Shock and Horror – to the Balm of Baking. Monday, May 4, 2020.

Each morning you rush out to the garden with your cup of coffee and then tiptoe around the beds where you’ve direct seeded, or approach quietly those plants that might be beginning to show signs of fruiting. You tiptoe without reason or rhyme, hold your breath and gently move a leaf here and there, searching for signs of emerging edibles.  You do not want to disturb them, you speak coaxingly in low tones, are inclined to break into a lullaby. 

look! look! the first tiny zucchini

It’s such an exciting time of the year, as the summer crop starts revving into life. My Doctor, MM, tells me that the quarantine has been so long that her kids have learned to plant a variety of seeds and actually seen them sprout and grow! I remember as a little kid the excitement and fun of watching maize seeds in a jar, captured between glass and blotting paper, sprout. And everyday at this time of year, for a short time each morning, I enter again that childhood zone where curiosity and revelation fuel the everyday, radiating wonder.

Here is the Jetsetter tomato I’ve been watching ripen day-by-day.

Almost there!

Slow planting continues – in the front yard: a cactus dahlia and green sunburst sunflower. Also some spreading vines, a bit of an experiment: an eight ball squash, and a sweet passion melon, one on each side. Also have a delicata squash to go in. Normally it’s not such a great idea to mix these snakelike creatures in with flowers and fruit trees, partly because they take up so much surface room and are likely to displace the more modest and delicate flowering beauties. Plus, they are greedy feeders and their requirements are different from the predominantly floral denizens of the landscape they are now inhabiting. Reading Lab Girl today Jahn reminds me that any plant is as big below ground as above. Moreover, I’ve never succeeded in the past – mixing in the squash and melons in the front. But this year I’ve made sure to situate the plants at water outlets, and will watch and nurture them closely. As the summer progresses the front yard becomes more and more bare as only the most sun loving flowers persist, therefore as the melon and squash expand so will the space around them.

Certainly it’s no option to leave the garden purely to its own devices. There is always a struggle between the stronger and weaker plants. And often those designations of ‘stronger’ and ‘weaker’ are not intrinsic qualities but have to do with climate, the soil, what kinds of nutrients are available, how strong the sun is, how long or short the days are. Take the African Blue Basil, planted between the fruit trees and the veg at back, mainly because it is a bee magnet, and also because it is beautiful and smells divine.

It is crowding out the little citrus tree it’s meant to be nurturing, and needs to be severely cut back. It’s a reminder to me of how invasives can thrive in certain environments and crowd out other plants, most injuriously, natives. Neither of these plants are native, it’s true; the environment I conjure into being is artificial, but equally we might say that most environments are stochastic and even the most apparently wild, if they have been traversed or occupied by humans and touched by their baggage at some stage, require constant vigilance.

After feeling the bush vibrate with the whirring hum of bees I come inside and read, horror-struck, about the ‘murder hornets’, an Asian insect that has hit US shores and is beginning to decimate bee populations. The report is grueling to read, detailing scenes of savagery and carnage. On top of everything else they have to contend with, namely toxic sprays, the bees now have to face this. And the repercussions for our crops if the pollinators disappear is devastating. The story is all over the media, reported in all major newspapers. I go to my ‘go to’ site for further information – the Facebook group, San Diego Gardener, started by Nan Sterman and John Clements. This is an amazing resource, composed of experienced gardeners and professionals as well as absolute beginners. People post fascinating photos and snippets of info and links to useful sites, and people ask questions and get helpful responses. I don’t even have to start searching for ‘murder hornets’; the topic comes up straightaway. Someone posts a link to an entomologist, Doug Yanega, from UC Riverside, who has worked on the hornet, and states categorically that there are no living murder hornets in the U.S. Suddenly all the panic stories are discredited, the hype dies down, and the fear of invasion is put on hold. Though the paranoia simmers away. While it certainly behoves us to be alert to the invasive patterns of particular flora and fauna, the irruption of the hornets panic suggests a displaced form of the xenophobia that exists not far below the surface of this country’s hospitable ethos.

To recover from the shock of the murder hornets I turned to the balm of baking. Gathered chard and oregano and eggs from the garden and using the goats cheese that came our way via Heike I made an easy tart. Deborah Madsen has a  recipe for a yeasty rustic dough which I often use – you simply press it into the quiche dish and don’t have to prebake. The pine nuts got a little burnt but still tasted delish.

But not all my baking works. A loaf of bread emerged from the oven

looking and feeling like a heavy discus

Jeffrey’s suggestion is that we use it to hurl at the squirrel – cackling and purloining with shameless impunity – that torments us.

However, I can’t resist posting a better looking bread. Even though I know that by so doing I enter, cravenly, into covid-one-up-manship, the puerile posting of feeble achievements in domestic adaptation and ingenuity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.