Gardening Means Killing

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Yes, I am afraid it does. If you want a good garden, a garden that produces a lot of the food, you should be ready to kill for it. You will need to kill for it.

Let me step back a bit.

While our garden is doing well, Carolyn and I are always looking to improve our yield. So last week, we went to Filoli (a beautiful local garden) for a morning class on vegetable gardening.

The class had about a dozen students and one instructor. The instructor was a horticulturalist who worked at Filoli and now manages private vegetable gardens and teaches classes. She was a very good teacher, clearly passionate and knowledgeable about her craft. She gave us a number of insights, but I was struck by one exchange concerning garden pests, here is my recollection of the exchange:

Bill Murray and I share similar feelings on Gophers

Student: How do you deal with pests like gophers?

Instructor: Well, the best way is to have a screened-in garden with wire mesh above and below raised beds. Or to have wire around the root balls of your plants. Most people can’t do that, so you need to be good at trapping the gophers.

Student: Do you mean trap and then relocate or move the gophers?

Instructor: (Calm and matter-of-fact) Oh no, kill. Definitely kill. When you start gardening to make a living, or have been working hard on your garden, you really want to kill those gophers. You need to kill a lot of pests. It’s funny, I recently set up a garden for a friend who lives near some open space. He likes the garden but came back to me and said; “you know gardening seems all peaceful and everything, but once you are doing it there is a lot of killing and combat going on”. And he was right, there is.

I was not at all surprised about the need to kill garden pests. We have plenty of animals and insects trying to get at our garden and orchard. But  the instructor’s nonchalance about killing pests did get me thinking about the realities of growing food, and those realities are not as “romantic” as many would think. We are as “organic” and “sustainable” gardeners as we can be at Putney Farm, but we are still killing plenty of animals.

Let’s face it. That gopher isn’t cute, he is going to eat the roots of your fig tree until it falls over (i.e. killing it), he needs to be “removed” from your garden. The wood rats that take every single stone fruit from your trees the day before harvest, and bring your wife and kids to tears, they need to be “dispatched”. When you see aphids sucking the life from your summer squash, it’s time to “control” the population with Ladybugs. When the tree squirrels take one single bite out of twenty loquats to find just one they like, it may be time to set up some hawk towers to introduce more “predation” to your land. When ground squirrels undermine your beds and fences, it is time to “trap” them. Those weeds choking your tomato beds, they need to be “pulled”.

In other words, if you want to eat your produce, it’s time to start killing. Now you can be direct with traps or indirect with predators, but make no mistake, you are killing pests for the sake of your garden. And it all can be “organic”. And it certainly can be “sustainable”. But the pests will be back. And you will need to kill them again. The “circle of life” plays out in the garden, too. There is no free lunch.

And this is worth repeating- there is NO free lunch, even in a garden. A garden may be a true “miracle”, but the garden will not feed you on its own. It must be managed. Some might say, “but we don’t trap gophers and we use natural insect repellents, we don’t kill”. And I will tell you that all gardening is an attempt to co-opt nature for our own benefit. And this is OK. It is necessary. We need to eat. But when we try and control nature we (directly or indirectly) are picking winners and losers. In nature, that means some plants and animals live and some die. Gardeners make these choices every day. These are not romantic decisions, particularly if you are a gopher.

10 thoughts on “Gardening Means Killing

  1. Sometimes I wish I could put a big dome over my whole garden to keep the pests out, but the same dome that would keep the cabbage whites out would keep the monarchs out as well.There’s no joy for me in killing pests, I even feel for the Japanese beetles as they struggle in the bucket of water I drop them in, but what else can we do?

    • I know the feeling. But my consolation is that we feel closer to nature, rather than apart from it. We, like all the other animals compete for our needs.

      But we also get to fully experience the beauty of the garden. And my kids get to eat their peaches…which, however selfish, means a lot.

  2. Well said! It can be hard for tender-hearted gardeners to come to grips with, but indeed, as gardeners, we are called to make life-or-death decisions about insects, rodents and uninvited plants on a daily basis. Otherwise, we’d be merely foraging for whatever nature graciously bestowed on us.
    Happy gardening!

    • Thanks for the comment. I like your blog. I am very impressed with making homemade tamales- they look great.

      I’m sorry Peyton didn’t return to Tennessee. You could have cheered him in college and the pros…

  3. Life goes on, even without Peyton…sniff! (*grin* – we do take our football seriously, but we do try to remember it’s Just.A.Game.)

    Thanks for the kind words – tamales are one of my childhood comfort foods. And back atcha in re: blogs; I thoroughly enjoyed your post today!

  4. Pingback: Heavy Branches and the Lonely Peach « Putney Farm

  5. Pingback: Tell A Good Feeling Story: Gardening is the Vibrancy of Living « gardenwithnature

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