Sometimes what you're battling isn't the elements

THE REAL DIRT

June 01, 1991|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

The long Memorial Day weekend has always been a favorite holiday among gardeners. First we plant Old Glory on the front lawn. Then we set about finishing all the leftover yard chores that have been accumulating all spring.

Non-gardeners cannot understand how some of us can spend a perfectly good three-day weekend puttering around in the yard. Why aren't we out there doing our patriotic duty and clogging the highways like most Americans?

Because we have cheaper ways of getting a suntan. When Memorial Day rolls around, I don't load up the car and drive to the beach. I pack up the wheelbarrow and head for the garden. If I'm hungry, I needn't stop at a burger joint for fast food. I just pull into the vegetable patch for some fresh greens.

Except that this year I had to stand in line at my own salad bar. The dog was there first.

As I turned the corner toward the back yard, there was Katydid, our Labrador retriever, standing in the asparagus bed, wagging her tail and crunching on a fat and tender stalk.

"OUT!" I screamed, dropping the wheelbarrow. "OUTOUTOUT!"

Katydid just stood there and cocked her head to one side. What was left of the asparagus hung out of the corner of her mouth like a cheap cigar.

I took a deep breath and let the dog have it.

"BAAAAAD GIRRRRRL," I said.

Katydid's ears drooped as she slunk toward the doghouse. But she held on to that stalk of asparagus between her teeth. Hunkered over like that, she looked a bit like George Burns.

I surveyed the damage to the rest of the crops. Fortunately, the dog had just started breakfast. I knew Katydid liked raw vegetables -- especially carrots, peas and beans --but I'd never known her to help herself in the garden.

Later, I learned she'd had an accomplice -- a 9-year-old named Beth.

"I taught her to do that, Daddy," Beth said proudly. She was so happy with her experiment that I sighed and smiled and told her what a good girl she was. The dog thought I meant her and trotted over to make up.

As it turned out, an asparagus-eating dog was the least of my worries on Memorial Day. When I went to harvest the first of the broccoli, a gorgeous head with tight green buds, I found that a bird had beaten me to it.

The bird hadn't eaten the broccoli. Oh, no. While flying over the garden, the doggone thing had relieved itself, and its load landed smack in the middle of my first broccoli. SPLAT. Bulls-eye. Target destroyed. Dinner ruined. Even the dog wouldn't eat it.

My Memorial Day meal had been wrecked by a bird whose aim was as good as that of any American bombardier who served in the Middle East.

I dropped the broccoli on the compost pile and turned my attention to the marigolds, which I wanted to plant around the perimeter of the vegetable patch. Marigolds are the sentries of the garden. Interplanting one's veggies with marigolds is supposed to repel all the nasty little bugs that would otherwise covet your crops.

I was ready for the bugs. I had raised an army of 50 marigolds, all of which were sitting on the cellar stairwell, out of direct sunlight, waiting for the call to active duty.

What better time than Memorial Day to summon the troops?

When I went to get the marigolds, however, all I found were a bunch of pitiful-looking plants whose leaves had been stripped and skeletonized. My marigolds had been ambushed, and there were few survivors.

Egad! I thought. What varmint would attack such an offensive plant, and in such a sheltered spot? Whatever ate my marigolds had to cross a 20-foot cement patio, slip though an iron railing and go down six steps just to find the plants. And then it had to EAT them.

It's almost as if the creature is baiting me, preparing to raise the stakes. But that's absurd, isn't it?

Just in case, I'm leaving the dog out to guard the back yard tonight. She can have all the asparagus she wants.

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