Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Midday In the Garden of Good and Evil

This year was a banner one for milkweed around the property. It's in the raised beds, cropping up through the bark, and growing in all the places you might and might not expect something to grow. Up until now I've let it stay everywhere it's started, because of my understanding that it is essential to Monarch butterflies, who use it for food and to lay their eggs on (although since we freeze hard in winter, the latter does not happen here, since our milkweed is not freeze tolerant).

So I've been going about my business in the garden, convinced of my virtual sainthood for allowing the milkweed to flourish for the beautiful Monarchs. Then a friend told me that while the Monarch butterflies use milkweed, so do Tarantula Hawks. Which is not good business at all, especially if you happen to be either a human or a tarantula.

I do this kind of thing all the time, to be honest, playing God in my personal garden kingdom of good and evil, and it probably does no good. I've judged Tarantula Hawks to be evil because they land on tarantulas, injecting a paralyzing venom into them, and then proceed to lay their eggs on the still very much alive tarantula. When the eggs hatch, their first meal is the paralyzed tarantula. 

I happen to like tarantulas. They are gentle creatures who will almost never attack people and can actually be kept as pets, unlike Tarantula Hawks, who are capable of inflicting one of the most painful bites in the world on humans who piss them off (probably right after capturing, restraining and torturing some poor tarantula, which will later be eaten alive by its offspring). Therefore in my universe, Monarch Butterfly: Good. Tarantula: Good. Tarantula Hawk: Evil. Evil like serial killer evil. My garden, my call.

But by attempting to encourage the endangered Monarchs by allowing plenty of their food source to survive, I also unintentionally created a garden of bounty for the tarantula hawks and thereby possibly upset a delicate balance of tarantulas versus tarantula hawks. 

Which basically means I suck at being God.

So often, in the garden as in life, we just need to leave things the fuck alone and let nature balance it all out. But we like to play God and cast creatures as angels and demons in our kingdom, and try and manage everything going on. But even God couldn't do that. Look what happened in the Garden of Eden. That too turned into something of a failure.

Humans do this all the time. We remove a predator we deem evil or a threat (such as wolves) only to find that with the predator gone, something else gets out of control, like deer and rodents. Then we try to step in and manage that, only to fail again. "Look, we poisoned all the rodents! But now the poison is killing all the owls. Shit." 

I am now going around and removing the milkweed that is growing in places supported by irrigation, and leaving the plants which are surviving on naturally dry ground, to try and restore some balance. A little less food for the Monarchs, but a little less for the Tarantula Hawks as well.

And I'll be thinking twice from now on about playing God in the Garden of Good and Evil. Because even God had a hard time with that.


  1. Lovely post, and how true!!

    We are experiencing record heat and draught conditions here in Umbria. I too am trying to play God in my garden by watering constantly, even the draught tolerant plants are suffering- may loose some. We are dealing with a martin, who likes to climb on our roof and move terra cotta roof tiles, and eat ripe heirloom tomatoes- in the night.
    I love your outlook. You always make me take another look at our interaction with nature.

    1. Thank you so much Robin! Your words mean a lot. Your Martin sounds like a pesky character! Sad to hear you have a drought; I think it's almost harder when you live in an area that's normally green year-round. Just so much suffering in the garden must be sad to see. We almost expect it in summer when everything's already brown.

  2. Oh I love this post! And yes, you are soooo right. I feel this way whenever I take measures that might or certainly change the way something would naturally play out. much as I hate spiders, I know they are friends to gardens and gardeners. I have to engage in a lot of wasp management as we have so many kinds. Great ones, evil ones, and dozens I have no idea what the hell to think of. Then I laugh too hard reminding them that I'm the supreme WASP around here.

    1. Wasps are a tough call, right? I happen to be allergic to them, so I really have to do some careful identification of any wasp living close to the house. But I will never be allergic to you, my WASP friend, no worries there!