Aphids attack winter garden salad greens

Well, my great green light garden has come to a withering halt. Since the fall frost I kept us in salad by growing an assortment of lettuce, kale and other greens in my light stand.

Well, my great green light garden has come to a withering halt. Since the fall frost I kept us in salad by growing an assortment of lettuce, kale and other greens in my light stand.

The light stand was expensive and I figured it could earn its keep as more than just a place to start spring seedlings. And it did. For four months I was unreasonably entertained by getting out the salad bowl and herb scissors and walking mere steps across the kitchen to my “garden”. I relished snipping off leaves for the supper salad while the winter winds licked the windows. I felt like I was getting away with something. Having fresh garden greens in December was like skipping out of school. Some days I would just nibble on the lettuce straight from the stand, while looking out at the winter landscape. But then in late January I was ratted out.

A horde of aphids in biblical proportions descended on my salad bar. Had I noticed them sooner I might have been able to get the upper hand, but as it were every last leaf was freckled with the buggers. Which begs the question; where do aphids come from in the dead of winter? And how did they get in the house? I dabbled in some organic warfare involving everything from squishing them to spraying with concoctions of garlic and banana peels to homemade sticky traps to whatever else Google and my garden library threw at me. I soon lost both my patience and my appetite.

In a final fit, I uprooted every last plant and tossed them in the woodstove, aphids and all. And then I set the boxes of soil out on the deck during a deep freeze to take care of any that were left behind. Fire and ice…it wasn’t very nice. Furthermore it was a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I no longer had aphids, but I no longer had fresh salad greens to look forward to neither. I won the war, but lost the lettuce.

But that’s okay. I am regrouping and getting ready to plant some greens again. And soon, very soon, spring seedlings! I am digging out my seeds and going through them in a flutter of excitement. February is such a dangerous month for gardeners. It’s that between stage where you have forgotten about the weeds and the watering and the work (but not the aphids; I haven’t forgotten about the aphids) and can’t wait for the tantalizing renewal of the spring garden.

I know seed catalogues are as duplicitous as fashion magazines, but I forgive them for it. All those glossy photos of perfect lobed peppers, plump melons, smooth, unblemished skin of sun ripened tomatoes; the ornamental shrubs dripping in blooms, trees with perfectly symmetrical limbs and climbing roses smothering an arbour in red. Some of these will come to pass in my garden, while others will simply pass on. There will be blight, pestilence and no doubt drought, but there will also be the countless unexpected miracles that always come with the making any garden.

Ruth Stout, the late great Queen of the Mulch Method, once recounted a conversation she had with her brother Rex, a gardener and author of the famed Nero Wolfe detective series. Rex opened their conversation by saying, “Of all the activities a man can spend his time on, gardening is the only one which is certain to present him with a bewildering succession of delight and dismay. If, after my 30 years of trying to nurse hundreds of plants into vigor and bloom I was asked to give useful advice to an aspiring gardener, I would tell him to always expect the dismay; then the delight, when it comes, will be a glorious surprise.”

Ruth tells her readers that she is of just the opposite temperament. “For goodness sake, expect delight. If dismay is what you get, it will be a jolt, yes, but think of all the wonderful expectant hours you spent! And the dismay needn’t last long; in no time at all you find yourself anticipating fresh delights.”

I agree with Ruth on this one. If all I did was anticipate what plants might have succumbed to winter’s wrath, or the fall out of next summer’s drought or the moose that might clear the eight foot fence and Hoover up all the peas and raspberry bushes, then I would simply hang up my hoe.

Instead I am already looking forward to the return of the perennials, a bountiful vegetable harvest come fall and my latest wave of lettuce minus the sprinkling of aphid protein. With so much to look forward to it’s a pity that February is the shortest month.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from Northern BC. You can read past columns by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com

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