The reality of leaving the garden during the growing season is that you will come home to some small or large disaster. You roll with the punches, accept the losses, or you never leave home. I love my garden, but since travel is a part of my job (and one that I enjoy), I have had to do some adept rolling as well as learn a bit of acceptance along the way. I also try to plan my trips for cooler parts of the season when my constant attention is unneccessary.
I have just returned from a trip to Georgia to an aphid infestation of epic proportions on two of my Spigarello plants. Of course, they are my favourite two. The prettiest two. The two I am allowing to bolt so I can harvest seed. Were this a Sophie’s Choice situation I would say without hesitation, “Take the ones at the back of the garden. Heck, take ALL OF the kale if you must. We’re pretty much sick of it anyways.”
But no. Alas, we gardeners do not get to choose which plants the pests will descend upon. And often times they want the very plants we want to keep most. That is how it goes. I have loads of nasturtiums in my garden right now (a known aphid attractant), and amazingly enough they are completely unscathed. Nary an aphid in sight.
Were I not trying to save seed from these plants and if the TV crew were not going to be here next week to shoot a segment that involves these plants, I would simply cut them back hard and call it a day. I would wash the aphids off in soapy water in the sink and freeze the leaves for winter storage.
However, due to the reasons above I have had to resort to plan B: Hose that thing down daily and squish aphids between my fingers until I’m dead on the inside.
Inevitably, whenever I travel to speak, someone or several someones in the audience will ask about how to deal with pests. There is a long answer, which involves striving for balance and a diversity of plants and insects in the garden, taking very good care of the soil, and practicing good cultivation techniques that will keep plants healthy and resilient to pestilence. But under time pressure I do not have time to explain the long answer. I have a minute tops to explain, so I usually skip straight to the short answer: squish them. Barriers/preventative measures work for some pests, too.
We want shortcuts, but there aren’t any that don’t involve sprays and/or chemicals. Over the years, I have cut out sprays save for an homemade herbal concoction. I only pull out the soapy spray on indoor plants during the desperate winter months. The reality is that where there are plants, there will be pests. It happens under the very best of circumstances to the very best gardeners. Aphids love brassicas and they are born pregnant. That’s a fighting strategy that is hard to beat.
The key to the water spray/squish method is persistence. Do not wait a day or so between sessions. Do not leave any crack or crevice unattended. This works, but it does take a time commitment that we don’t always have.
P.S. If you’d like to learn more about growing Spigarello and other Brassicas, I have an article on the topic in the current issue (Fall 2011) of Garden Making magazine. There is also a good chunk on the topic in Grow Great Grub.