Summer Moments

THE REAL DIRT

September 20, 1992|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

I outfoxed a mole. I befriended a toad. And I chased some rabbits into the garden.

These are my snapshots of the summer of '92.

I held a butterfly. I saved some bumblebees. And I managed to grow a few crops as well.

Personal moments all, memories planted firmly in a gardener's mind. Oh, this year's harvest was good . . . and bad. The carrots were tops; the onions made me cry. But when the dust finally settles in each man's garden, it isn't so much the harvest we recollect, but the run-ins with nature along the way.

pTC The butterfly lighted on me as I lay sprawled in the garden, exhausted from a morning of weeding. I'd flopped down in a bare spot between the beans and broccoli. I must have dozed off, because I woke myself snoring. Or was it the sensation of an insect crawling up my arm?

Instinctively I raised a hand to swat the unseen terror, then blinked. Something orange and black caught my eye. Egad, I thought. I'm going to strike either a butterfly or one of the &L Ripkens. Neither choice was in my best interest, so I backed down.

The butterfly flew straight to my palm, landed briefly as if to shake hands, and fluttered away. My palm tingled long afterward, as though I had just met a VIP. In fact, I had. The butterfly is a Very Important Pollinator.

The yard was teeming with wildlife this year. In July, I began chatting with a plump toad who hopped onto the patio each night. He always arrived around 10 o'clock and sat alongside a thyme plant, staring with those big toady eyes at the moths banging into the porch light.

I conversed with the toad as I took out the trash. Mostly, we shared guy talk.

"There are some nice-looking aphids hanging around the tomatoes," I'd say. Or: "Have you seen the curves on those cabbage worms!" And the toad would make gross belching sounds and trundle off toward the garden, with a nudge from the gardener.

The toad moved into the vegetable patch right after the mole moved out. That mole has pestered us for years, tunneling into the garden and attacking the carrots, gnawing on them from the bottom up. But I fooled the mole this year. I surrounded the carrot bed with a 2-foot trench, forcing the creature to dig to daylight to attack the crop.

My plan worked. The mole, who was too lazy to dig under the trench, retreated to other parts of the yard, where he had a glorious time burrowing for grubs and making bumps in the lawn that I scalped every time I cut the grass.

I'm not sure who's smarter, me or the mole.

This was also the year my cucumbers sneezed. It happened as I watered the plants. Something hidden deep in the vines rustled and sneezed.

"Bless you," I said absently, not realizing I was addressing a vegetable. Out of the cucumber bed hopped a wet baby rabbit. Then another, and another. Surprised by the cold shower, the rabbits were racing toward the street to become road kills.

I didn't want that on my conscience. "Wait!" I hollered. "I'll stop!" I dropped the hose and chased after them. Somehow, I herded the bunnies back to the safety of the garden.

I hadn't the nerve to finish my chores. I also waited a week before watering the cucumbers again. Even then, I held my breath. Nothing sneezed. Whew. I'd saved the rabbits, but the plants looked like hell.

The bunnies escaped the wrath of Katydid the dog. She was busy stalking bumblebees. Each year when the lavender blooms, Katydid sits calmly beside the plant and attacks the fat black-and-yellow bees that hover over its flowers. She eats what she catches, and she catches a lot. Somehow she never gets stung.

Although Katydid is a skilled hunter, she is an environmental pest. The world's bee population is shrinking and the dog's diet must change. So we placed a fence around the lavender to protect the bees from the beast.

Meanwhile, I'm searching for a dog food that would appeal to canines who like bumblebees. Maybe I'll try tuna.

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