Friday, July 28, 2006

# 169 YARD ADAGES I

TOMATOES AND ELMS

I’ve been out there on a philosophical and fanciful limb long enough. Today we’re returning to the real world. It rained heavy last night so put on your rain boots and lets walk in my yard.

Now the first thing I want to show you is my grove of tomato plants. Don’t they just think that success is all about growing grand foliage and nothing else? I hoped to teach them different so I took out a pair of clippers and ruthlessly trimming their finery. They drooped their heads and examined their ripped and tore dresses. But only temporarily. They are now back in good humor and with such shredded clothes, they have turned their vanity from dress-up games to making tomatoes.

But I also have my special pet tomato, Oscaro, in a big container right by the front stoop. This is the tomato that Hub and I talk to. This is the tomato we poke each day to test for moisture. And this is the tomato that we give a last ‘Hurrah’ too before going to bed. With all this attention Oscaro is my biggest tomato and this is the one with loads of large green tomatoes. Hub was hoping it was a yellow tomato because green can turn to yellow with a whole lot less effort than green can turn to red. But no, although I planted some yellow tomatoes, this one is a red one.

Anyway, some time ago I read in a National Geographic article that when tomatoes were surrounded by red crystals of some sort, they could "see" the red, and thinking it was other tomatoes, they attempted to compete by ripening more quickly. I even wrote a blog about it.

In the photo that accompanied the magazine article, it was easy to see that the red crystals the researchers used had a reflective sheen. I was thinking about this today when I remembered that in my gift-wrap stash I had a red gift bag as bright and shiny as a piece of tin foil. So I tucked it under the biggest bunch of green tomatoes on my Pet where it would catch the reflective rays of the sun. I’ll let you know later how that goes.

But I want to show you something else. There is a young elm tree in front of my house that originally came here in a rather accidental way. One of my daughters rented a rambling old house in the city. While helping her clean up the yard I discovered an old discarded wooden box in an alleyway. It had obviously been there for some time. The box was filled with dirt and in that box were seedlings, the largest being no more than about 6 inches high. I recognized one as a maple, but nothing else, but then I’m no big botanist. But I suspected that they were young trees rather than wild flowers or annuals.

So I yanked up the derelict box, rotted and blackened as it was, and, to Hub’s horror and dismay, I put it in the trunk of the car. When I got home I planted those foreigners in my vegetable garden. That was a few years ago, and from those seedlings I now have 3 elms, 1 maple, 1 apple tree, 1 flowering plum, a horse chestnut, and a couple of remaining trees that have not yet been identified. But the tree of interest right now is one of the elms, Her Elmness.

After allowing Her Elmness a few years to flourish in my vegetable garden until she was well established Hub and I moved her in front of the house. She was weakened by the shock of transplant and leaf-damaging insects took up residence in her branches shortly after. So then each spring Her Elmness would sprout new growth in every direction but come early July the leaf marauders would invade and by fall she was so damaged, it looked like she would never survive another year. Despite that, Her Elmness has doubled in size in only three years.

I adore Her Elmness and I want her to grow up to look as sophisticated as the many mature elms that line so many parts of the Old City. But each year her life is in jeopardy and my fears increase that she is going to die. I have sprayed her with commercial insecticides and garlic water and boiled rhubarb potions, all to no avail. I wanted Hub to put a hose to her roots and saturate her feet with Diazinon but he was unwilling to do so. Said Her Elmness would eventually fight off the pests with her own immunity. If not, "Whatever happens, happens. She’s equally likely to die from chemical poisoning. Remember how upset she was when you saturated her with your rhubarb potion?"

So in my helplessness, I studied and researched tree pests, to discover a cure for that which is ailing Her Elmness. I found little but was still grateful to find that she is not in the final grips of the dreaded Elm Disease.

Then I heard a talk-show on the radio describing the conditions of my elm. A gardening expert said the condition was superficial, needed no treatment, and eventually the tree would fight it off. I was skeptical then and I remain skeptical now. And of course, there is Hub, in the background saying, "I told you so."

So now, again this summer, the insects took up residence in Her Elmness. In no time her fresh tender leaves were warped and wrapped and blackened. She looked dreadfully unhappy. But Her Elmness is fighting back like my tomatoes fought back. With most of her central leaves dead, she is bypassing them and pumping moisture and nutrition to only her newest foliage.

And so, Her Elmness, with leaves so ripped and torn that one might as well consider them clipped away, has responded just like the tomatoes did. The final two feet of each branch are growing leaves like a monster out of control while nothing is happening with the wizened leaves at all.

Yesterday I measured the new leaves and was amazed. My two other elms, that have not been dealing with an insect invasion have normal leaves that measure 3 x 1 ½". Her Elmness’ new leaves are an incredible 71/4 x 5". That is the honest-to-God truth. Her Elmness is out there in the front yard waving banners at the ends of her branches like some kind of flag ship. Those leaves are big enough that even if you ripped one in half, each half would still cover, with room to spare, Adam and Eve’s shame.

I see now that the insects have completed their cycle and are gone for another year. In the meantime Her Elmness has still time before fall to weave more, and bigger leaf flags. My hope now is that the insects are cyclic and that having completed a 3 year invasion, they will now depart for several years before returning. By then, Her Elmness, will wave her many new flags and laugh in their faces.

A rather touching incident with little dog today, but I’ll tell you that story next time if nothing more exciting comes up.

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