Me and My Black Thumb

May 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

E.O. Schaub

Not so long ago, they used to make you raise your right hand and take the Freeman’s Oath to become a registered voter in Vermont. You know why, of course. It’s so they could see whether you have a green thumb or not.

Now, if you have ever made my acquaintance, when you shook my hand, you perhaps noticed that my thumb is a rather unsightly shade of black. Not coincidentally, I have a rather unfortunate talent for killing plants. Luckily, the kind people of Vermont have decided to overlook this massive character flaw and let me live here anyway, primarily on the basis of the fact that I bake a pretty mean cherry pie.

Nevertheless, ever since moving to Vermont thirteen years ago I have attempted to beat the odds and, perhaps, manage to grow a few things here or there when the gods of nature were otherwise occupied. I mean, what with global warming, catastrophic oil spills and frogs growing extra sex organs, you’d think I could slide a few swiss chard plants by without too much notice. But nooooooo. Rhubarb and zucchini seem to be about all I can grow- or rather- fail to kill.

Take last year. I was exceedingly excited when my husband Steve built two very lovely raised beds for me to plant my doomed vegetables in. I ran to the nursery and brought home several cheerful looking starter plants which would, in time, grow to become slightly larger plants. This, for me, was excellent progress.

The Fortress

So you can imagine my delight when my plants did not die. Okay, well the tomatoes did die. Or, at least, they got really yellow and sickish looking, and gave a very convincing impression of fully intending to die, but only after a prolonged illness, perhaps involving an expensive nursing home. After polling my local friends and acquaintances who speak plant, it was universally agreed that I had made the classic rookie mistake of actually buying and planting tomato plants. Ha! Apparently everybody and their pet cat knew that it was way, way, way too early to plant tomatoes and that the plants they put out around Mother’s Day at the local nurseries are, in fact, stunt tomatoes.

But everything else was looking great: the broccoli and brussels sprouts were happy, the green pepper and eggplant plants were singing songs, the lettuce greens were getting straight “A”s on their report card. I still had confidence that I could at last overcome my handicapped thumb. So I replaced the tomatoes. Which was good, because that gave the new ones a chance to start the long, arduous process of dying.

But I was busy worrying about other, more distressing developments by then. In another part of the yard, we’d noticed the unsettling disappearance of pale, fledgling strawberries on our proud, expensive little strawberry plants. This was followed by the mysterious disappearance of flowers, leaves and, in some cases, lawn furniture. It was around this same time that my family also began noticing the exponentially increasing cute-and-fluffy bunny population in and around our yard.

What was happening? In years past we had seen none of these voracious little nibbling creatures- now they were so brazen that I had to elbow them out of the way just to find the toothpaste in the morning. I realized that up until now our dog Tigger had held the adorable little puff-balls in high regard as hors d’oeuvres, along with such other local delicacies as petrified mice, live frogs and deer droppings. But these days Tigger is older, and seemingly retired from finding interesting, owner-grossing-out snacks, preferring instead to sleep under a pine tree for roughly 23.4 hours out of the day. If the cute fluffy bunnies conducted a full-scale Mardi Gras celebration on our front walkway complete with girl-bunnies revealing too much fur in return for plastic beads and drunken frat-bunnies pitching themselves off the end of the front porch, it is highly doubtful that he would notice.

Tigger’s total lack of interest in any small, fidgeting intruders effectively posted a sign at the foot of our garden: “Send us your tired, your poor, your furry masses, yearning to eat green!” However, after convincing Steve to add a buried chicken-wire fence to our growing high-security vegetable compound- I felt confidence returning: finally! My plants would have a chance to grow without being eaten by anyone but us!

Silly me. I had forgotten the cardinal rule of gardening which is: Bunnies Have Magic Powers. Somehow, despite the fortress we had erected, the rate at which the greenery was disappearing slowed not one bit. Then, one evening I saw it with my own eyes: a bunny was inside the fence!

I raced over, wild-eyed, intent on discovering the secret: where was the breach? How had this marauder

slipped in? When he exited I would know.

Lightning-like, the fish-eyed little wretch darted to the other side of the fence and… vaporized like a herbivore Houdini. Poof! I rubbed my eyes in disbelief and at once came to the sad realization that- for that year at least- my brussles would never sprout. Sniff.

This year, however, I have regrouped. We have removed the pine tree in our yard which, we realized with horror, housed a luxurious bunny spa, to which the beasts could retire after a long, exhausting afternoon of nibbling defenseless broccoli buds. Now, we have a new, taller, more deeply buried fence of smaller-holed chicken wire, topped with electric ribbon and surrounded by a small moat filled with grain alcohol and thumbtacks. We have consulted Feng Shui experts and thwarted all the negative energy. We have even moved the garden to place it in full sun.

This year, I have resolved, will be different. This year, I will weed like Lady MacBeth. This year, I will find out what “frost free” refers to. This year, I will read seed packet instructions and actually consider following them. This year, my brussels will sprout, my collards will green, and my eggs will plant. And, I will make it until at least July before my tomato plants die.

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