Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Night Garden

I have been getting to know the night life of my garden. According to my husband, the only really foolproof method of ridding the garden of slugs and snails is to hand pick them at night (preferably by moonlight, with a hissing cauldron of hemlock to douse them in, but I haven’t found hemlock at the garden center and most nights have been overcast, so there is no moonlight). The slugs’ and earwigs’ beer habit was getting tiresome. So for the last week, I have bundled up with hat and jacket, put on my gardening gloves and hunted for the creatures with a flashlight. I would have been concerned that the neighbors would think I was up to no good, except our neighbor does this, too. (At least, that’s what I prefer to think he’s doing out in his backyard with a flashlight at night.)

Most nights I have caught at least two or three slugs. The last several nights, however, the only slugs out were no longer than my pinky fingernail. A pearly white, these slugs were almost cute, but I killed them anyway. Earwigs are always out in great numbers and all sizes, from one inch long to a quarter-inch. About the killing: Slugs I pick up and move to the top of the garden wall and mash with a rock. The earwigs are harder to kill, since they cling to the leaves. If I shake the plant so they fall off, they scurry away, sometimes before I can catch them. But those I can catch I squish between my (gloved) fingers.

I can’t help noticing all the other activity around the sunflowers at night, though. A great many ants are doing errands: carrying away bits of dead slug, moving grains of earth out of the crack in the garden wall, tracing their paths back and forth, ignoring the sunflowers. And the worms! They loll on the surface, half out of their holes, as if bathing in the moonlight, or rather, in the city’s glow reflected off the cloud cover. When I shine my flashlight on them, they slip back into their holes instantly, like a spaghetti noodle being sucked up into a mouth. I never knew worms could move so fast. The first time I saw them move, I jumped. They make me laugh. The garden is not peaceful at night. Maybe it's because the sounds carry more at night, or because I'm less distracted by visual information, but it's noisy. I can hear the freeway, five blocks away, and the busy street a block away.

The flower in the photo is a marigold, a jumbo pack ($1.99 at Home Depot) of which I planted between the garden wall--where the earwigs have their dens--and the sunflowers. There is an earwig on the leaf in the center of the photo, caught with her (or his) jaws open, chewing (hard to see unless the photo is full size). My plan was that the earwigs would be distracted by the marigolds and eat them instead. They are eating the marigolds more than the sunflowers now, although a few still sneak past and go for the sunflowers. The marigolds make me hopeful for future golden sunflowers.


Joyanna said...

Daphne, your observations about earthworms reminded me of a fascinating book: The Earth Moved, by Amy Stewart. It's all about earthworms and I think of it often as I garden.
btw, I'm a big secret fan of your blog!

Caroline said...

Ah, a peaceful garden can be a setting for such clamor & violence, too! When I was a kid, my grandfather would pay me a nickel for every 25 gypsy moth caterpillars I would pile up and he would then, I shudder to recall, set them on fire (they pop). Now I, a pacifist in most things, have no problem throwing snails against a wall, or smashing earwigs & slugs under my gardening clogs. It's amazing how fierce we can be to protect what we're nurturing.