After the last giveaway of Jancis Robinson's book, many publishers asked me to do this giveaway thing. Alas, few had the kind of books I wanted to partner with.
But this one? Oh yes, please!
How to get the book? When you sign up just write in, I'm with Deirdre. (SORRY! ALL GONE!)
Oh! And send me your snail address as well.
I love this book.
First of all it's beautiful. It's smart. It's important. It's probably the most soulful writing ever put on the page about garden, the soil, the vineyard, nature. Deirdre brings such a humane point of view to tending to the vine, and you'll be a better wine drinker for the knowledge she shares with you. For a little teaser, try reading this excerpt.
Japanese beetles always arrive around the Fourth of July. There is something suspicious about the fact that they make their presence known on a holiday, as if they delight in catching you unaware, when you have relaxed for just a moment, let down your guard, and raised your glass to the bounty of the upcoming season. June is one of my favorite months. Everything is blooming and everything looks like the paradigm of health. The roses are in profusion, the leaves are in full green, the vines have just set their fruit. The apples, small and hard, are just starting to blush in the hopeful heat. Then we pass into July, and it’s as if all the pests and their minions storm the walls of the farm, bent on destruction. I think of the Japanese beetle as their leader. Large, well armored, and seemingly dumb, they appear slowly, just one here, a few over there, nothing to worry about. Then all of a sudden they have flocked, swarmed, thronged, clustered, herded, and arranged themselves in a multitude and made a fine fretwork of leaves in the vineyard and rose garden alike. The leaves have an absurd beauty in their lacelike condition, but I know full well that without leaves for photosynthesis it is just a matter of days before the plants might wither and die.
I am at my most vituperative when I speak, think, or write about Japanese beetles. I counsel myself to be more Zen in my thinking. They have yet to destroy everything, and the plants have never actually rolled up their roots. Two years ago, we had a particularly bad infestation. The year before that I thought it would be enough to walk around with a jar of soapy water and drown them. But clearly this was a fool’s errand. Once they are left alone to proliferate, they squat in numbers and ravage every plant in sight.
In my more Buddhist moments, I tell myself that the Japanese beetles are performing an important task. I am working with the Japanese beetles and trying to live in bucolic harmony with them. Usually in July, in a good season, leaf pulling and hedging may need to be done to control the growth of the vines, especially our vigorous cold-hardy varietals, and keep the fruit open to sunlight and air. The Japanese beetles destroy enough leaves that we would be dunces to pull off any healthy leaves or trim shoots. If we did so, there would be no leaves. So we leave the leaf pulling to the beetles while we craft our attempts to control their dissemination.
Japanese beetles have brought me to my knees, my wit’s end, forced me to yank on my own hair. Because they have no natural predator in our corner of the woods and meadow, we cannot encourage beneficial insects already here by planting certain cover crops or perennial plants nearby. I have resorted to bribery, enticing my own goddaughters to wander the gardens and vineyard with their soapy jars of death, paying a new, shiny copper penny for each beetle they collect and successfully drown. There is something inherently thuggish about this kind of behavior.
In the autumn of that particularly bad infestation, a neighboring CSA farmer overheard my vitriolic rant about Japanese beetles while in our local village store. He contacted me, under separate cover, at home later that evening. His suggestion for me arrived in a small package in the mail, almost like a Tupperware container full of some exotic Middle Eastern delicacy. If we could not encourage native beneficial predators, we could purchase beneficial nematodes.
Beneficial nematodes do arrive in a cardboard box in the mail, packed in ice, and must be refrigerated immediately, next to the tahini and Greek-style yogurt. They have a powdery paste-like consistency that you spoon into water to activate. I am reminded of sea monkeys, those weird little sponges shaped like sea monsters that we used to get as children, also through the mail. Just add water and they expand, to everyone’s delight.
My mother swears by the nematodes. She sprayed them into the ground based on a local gardener’s advice when she had been beset in her garden with the beetles. She hasn’t had them for fifteen years.
Last year, with an overwhelming pack of beetles dining their way through our leaves, we sprayed the reactivated nematodes the requisite three times, trying to keep the ground moist after each application. A difficult task given that we were having a drought at the time. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of our Nematode Operation No-Beetles.
This excerpt is adapted from Deirdre Heekin’s An Unlikely Vineyard (October 2014) and is printed with permission from Chelsea Green Publishing.