Protecting My Investment

The only time the crows are my “friends” is when I have a fox problem. The fox and the crow are after the same food source. As a habit, the crows keep watch on the foxes. When the one moves, the crows are not far behind, scolding, swooping and molesting the stealth creature to the extent that the fox’s twilight progress is broadcast.

Adaptation is an important part of survival. The fox thus extends his haunts, and the crows stand almost permanent sentinel in the taller trees of my neighbor Madoo. The industry of farming produces abundance, and with those offerings should come the awareness that you’re putting out the welcome mat for friends and foes. The more diverse your farm, the more niche worries you have.

Be it with treated seed or a buried horn, much of farming is deciding how far you will go to protect your investment. The fence is three-quarters built, but in the meanwhile I’ve upgraded from a 20- to a 12-gauge shotgun. Cold serves as a natural pesticide. Daffodils have been blooming since January, bees never went to sleep, aphid nymphs crowd the swirl of an overwintered lettuce. I reel, imagining all I cannot see, that which is bacterial or viral and waiting for the inevitable arrival of their hosts, my livelihood.

In general I like to share the agricultural experience with people. I’ll sell plants, give advice and encouragement, sometimes a lot of it, mainly because I believe the garden is an excellent place to learn and observe. In doing so however, I think I may be selling my profession short. By extolling the ease with which our local dirt yields and not conceding to the mounting environmental challenges, I am guilty of perpetuating the myth that raising food is fun and easy. Were this actually true, famine would not be an infamous horseman.

I was among the first farmers to find and report late blight in my tomatoes last year. The only thing that makes this an enviable position is that I was able to gain immediate audience and advice from Cornell plant pathologists. Because I trellis my tomatoes, I was in a good position to fight the disease. The upright plants are relatively open to air circulation and sunlight, so not only were “touchdowns” (sporulation) easy to see, getting good spray coverage was paramount.

I was a few weeks into managing my situation when some second-home gardeners began telling me how all their tomato plants turned black and, in the course of a week, everything was dead. Most were were not alarmed by the necrotic development, some even joked that they knew now, for certain, they didn’t have a green thumb and it was a good thing they “didn’t need to make a living off their garden or anything. And they wouldn’t starve.”

Marilee Foster farms and writes in Sagaponack.