Imagine a ripe, red, round tomato. It hangs from its hairy, green vine in a clump with its friends among the twist and tangle that is a tomato plant. Unable to resist, you pluck the fruit, admiring its smooth, shiny skin before popping it into your mouth. One squeeze of your teeth and its juice explodes outward, filling your mouth with seeds still warm from the sun. You chew slowly, savoring the homegrown sweetness and then slide it all down into your belly.
It’s a nice image, no? Unfortunately, it’s as close to that ripe, red, plumpy, deliciousness as I’m ever going to get. At least while living in this complicated land called Namibia.
It’s no secret that she and I have a rocky relationship, otherwise this blog would be titled something like “Cavorting with Cupcakes”. Our latest quarrel: my vegetable garden. Apparently, growing my own food, rather than eating the plants she provides, each and every one covered in thorns, is completely unacceptable. And punishable by biblical plagues.
The tomatoes were the first to go. I had six plants growing like it was a race, leaves and flowers sprouting left and right. Gradually, the little tomato balls began to form and I was already listing delicious recipes in my head. Then, just as gradually, the plants began to whither away. Moving from one side of the bed to the other, yellowing, drooping leaves replaced the green ones. I watered and watered but no fruit ripened, and my imaginary recipes remained just that.
Then one day, Jay, who is much smarter than I, came to visit me in the garden. While I lamented the death of my friends, the tomatoes, he knelt down to have a closer look and after a minute asked what those little spider webs were all about. Confused, I knelt beside him and indeed, saw little spider webs encasing stems and undersides of the leaves. I’ll go with the excuse that they were really quite small and that is why I had never seen them before. And I had never seen any spiders, and still didn’t. A subsequent “tiny spider webs on my tomato plants” google search revealed the culprits; not spiders, but spider mites. Tiny varmints that chew holes in the veins of the plant, suck out all the water, reproduce every three days and are very difficult to get rid of. Super.
In an effort to keep the garden organic, the option of pesticides was ruled out. So I tried a variety of other deterrent sprays: coffee water, chili water, stinging nettle tea, everything that anyone ever recommended. Either the sprays didn’t work or they didn’t work fast enough and soon the plants were nothing but skeletons. Namibia just laughed as she sent forward her next blight.
The zucchinis were another plant that used to grow not only well, but so well, that I didn’t know what to do with all of them. Last year, I became an expert on different ways of eating a zucchini. This year, the mice have. I find it especially charming how they eat part of each fruit rather than all of just one or two. But that would be too lenient on me, the sinful vegetable grower.
This time, however, I had back-up. I called in the cats. I could tell they took their jobs seriously by rolling in the dirt, lounging in the shade, and eating grass and then vomiting it up again, but they only cocked an ear, if anything, toward the rustling in the grass. No amount of encouragement from me could entice them to investigate and the zucchinis continued to be reduced to inedible stubs.
My attempt at a counterattack was not received well by my opponent. Soon after, the mice began consuming the flowers as well, allowing no fruit whatsoever to grow. But I was not willing to watch the zucchinis follow the tomatoes into the grave, so again, I raised the stakes. I put a match to the grass surrounding the garden, the grass that protected the mice. I watched those flames with a gleam in my eye and a smirk on my face and went to bed feeling the victor. I was not. The zucchinis now have worms.
Next came the locusts. Giant, yellow, armored locusts with appetites as big as themselves. I countered with marigolds, the so-called workhorse of the pest deterrents. They were simply chowed down to nubs. The carrots stood no chance. The onions disappeared. Lettuce gone. Cabbage ppbtthh.
But I fought back. I fortified. Either with sliced-up Pringles cans, yogurt containers, or strange, black plastic lining that Jay uses for more important things.
In case of survivors, Namibia turned up the sun. In a single day, seemingly healthy plants were fried lifeless. So, up went the shade-netting.
I’ve got a scarecrow. I’ve got a fake snake. Companion planting, crop rotation, piles and piles of manure. But is it enough? How many plagues are still to come? Will Namibia and I ever sit at the table of sisterhood and break those cupcakes together? Only, I imagine, if she has made them herself and covered them in thorns.