A friend stopped her bicycle at the edge of my yard, guessing correctly that I would be on my knees battling Bermuda grass.
LaDona and I usually visit at her house, because she likes to feed her friends and I enjoy eating her food. I dusted off my kneecaps and gave her a tour of my squash and tomatoes, and handed off another plastic bag filled with kale seeds.
The kale has become quite an overgrown ordeal.
I could and should yank the plants from the ground. Instead, the plants have gone to seed, again. The lazy plan is to let the seeds scatter in the wind, hoping for a carpet of new seedlings I can snip with scissors. They probably won’t sprout until the fall, but I’ll be ready if and when nature does her thing.
As LaDona and I chattered about this and that, I absent-mindedly began squishing harlequin bugs with my bare hands. The kale was crawling with them.
I almost never wear garden gloves, and frankly, I didn’t think about whether LaDona would find my hand-picking barbaric. The smashing was simply a reflex. Those buggers quite clearly needed to disappear.
My habitual domination over harlequin bugs began in July 2017 when my sister and I returned from Costa Rica. The Handsome Woodsman planted the kale in October 2016, a few weeks before he died. That first year, the idea of pulling those plants would have meant destroying his final garden gift.
Now that I think about it, these are those same plants. Who knew kale could live that long? Now I can understand more clearly why the stalks look like tree trunks, three inches in diameter.
However, back in the summer heat of 2017, those plants were newly overgrown.
I had been traveling, and without my interference, there were so many harlequin bugs on the kale, it looked like my raised bed had become the H-bug travel destination. I learned to strategically position a bowl of soapy water, and whisk the critters to their death.
I searched daily and soon learned to recognize nymph H-bugs, and even the barrel-shaped, silvery eggs, which are deposited in neat rows on the underside of leaves.
When I spotted harlequin bugs again this year, I needed to remember everything I had learned and forgotten. Oh, that’s right … the bugs will suck the life out of your plants.
Kale or cabbage is often used as a lure, to keep the critters from more desirable summer producers, such as tomatoes. I must have done a good job of hand-picking over the years, because the kale plants are alive. In addition to the dried seed pods, new leaves are growing from the “trunk.”
As for the reoccurring problem with harlequin bugs, this is my own fault, as usual. The surviving (and hiding) adult bugs spend the winter in the stalk of the kale plant, which any sane gardener would have burned on a bonfire.
I’ll put some thought into whether the original plants have outlived their usefulness. In the meantime, the bug infestation has given me the opportunity to feel triumphant. I have mastered my technique of the sly-hand backslide, as well as the splash dunk.
More time for hushed observation
Harlequin bugs, the first daffodils, a ripe tomato … all can be noted as markers of time. Some days I feel like a 12-year old on summer vacation, grounded in place. The minutes pass slowly, which means I’m looking at things more closely.
I had forgotten what it feels like to sit, listen to the wind chimes, and clear all of the air from my lungs.
Recently, I unveiled a new outdoor living room.
A heavy plastic tarp is propped up on a metal frame, covering the sturdy wooden picnic table that takes four grown men to move. A string of white lights adds just enough sparkle at day’s end, and I moved my brass floor lamp under the overhang to illuminate board games.
Living the dream. If I invite only one friend for dinner, we can sit six feet apart.
More than 85 potted plants are arranged in no particular order. As a backdrop, the concrete block wall is covered in needle-nosed ivy, from the “floor” to about 14 feet into the air.
I recall the first time the wall “talked to me.” It was a warm, cloudless evening and I thought I heard the slightest patter of rain.
After a curious investigation, I found that the sound came from the green wall.
It was the ivy. Pale green pods hide under the leaves. I saw, and heard, as those pods popped open. The rain-like sound was the tiny seedlings falling onto the leaves.
This week, as a friend and I sat at the table gorging on takeout from Alibaba restaurant, it was that time again.
Patter, patter … the gentle sound of rain with a cloudless sky, nowhere to go, and all the time I needed to sit and listen.