Cardboard: the unlikely entree

The world seems bent on going green these days and my family seems bent right along with it — from a gardening standpoint, we’re positively verdant.

Grass, flowers, shrubs, trees, ground cover, vegetables: if it can be cultivated, transplanted, pruned, fertilized, or have bugs picked off it, we probably have some of it running rampant on this smallholding of ours — all 3.76 acres of it. My wife is the flower lady, in charge of all things annual and perennial. I’m more of a root and fruit man myself.

One day last month, I noticed some funny orange grubs redacting the leaf margins of my six scrawny little eggplant plants. Actually, they were my wife’s six scrawny little eggplants plants, but since they resided in with the other edibles, it fell to me to make them thrive. I picked the grubs off and stepped on them. They popped rather satisfactorily, like tiny grapes — who needs Monsanto when you have flip-flops.

Three days later, the grubs were back in force, their numbers bolstered by unbridled fecundity; and they were ripping my poor eggplants to shreds. So, I tried a home remedy made from water, a few drops of kerosene and a little dish soap. “Take that, you little grubs,” I said, spraying methodically. And so they did. Yum, they said.

The next step was an old favorite, good old Bacillus thuringiensis, dusted liberally. Went on like confectioner’s sugar; seemed to taste just as good to the grub lords.

Back to the feed store. Got something organic in a spray bottle, this time with lethal (to bugs) but harmless (to us), salts in it. Guaranteed. If grubs could laugh, then this stuff was positively hysterical. Gobbled it like steroids. Fatter got my grubs; more and more raggedy got my eggplants.

Time for Rotenone (made from various root extracts, but nasty nonetheless). And so I sprinkled, but the munch played on.

By now the futility of all this toil and chemistry was taking a taught strain on me, mentally, physically, and, not least of all, financially (when you added up the cost of the plants, the pesticides, and the driving-back-and-forth gas money, I had something near $40 invested).

Coming back from my office each day, I would get myself all lathered up the closer I got to home, and would rush out to the eggplants with clenched fists and without so much as closing the car door or kissing my wife. There to find, (of course) fewer eggplant leaves, and more happy grubs.

A friend of mine, a farmer of sorts who understood the weariness of battle between man and invertebrate, sat patiently one day at work while I regaled him with the tale of my struggles out between the rows. By the time I got to the Rotenone part I was practically sobbing, wringing my hands, at my wit’s end, pleading with him. “Do you think I should call Monsanto directly?” I begged. He put a big paw on my shoulder and looked tenderly into my eyes. “Pete, it’s just eggplant,” he said. “Let ’em go.” I just couldn’t bear the thought. “But I’m so vested,” I whined, like a day trader in over his head.

In the end, I won…of sorts. I went back to the pick-individually-and-step-on technique. Deadly, if inefficient on a large scale (I’m glad I only had six plants), and things are looking up now. I haven’t seen a grub in a week and my eggplants are coming back nicely. I don’t know if there is enough summer left for them to set fruit, but if they do, I have an old eggplant Parmesan recipe from my dad that I want to try.

• Pack half-inch slices of ripe eggplant tightly into a cardboard box and seal with duct tape.

• Soak the box for three days in a galvanized trough filled with brine.

• Slice open the box, remove the eggplant, and discard (per local ordinance).

• Simmer the cardboard and duct tape for three hours in distilled water with a bay leaf and a dash of Worcestershire sauce (do not stir).

• Flake the shreds of cardboard and tape over a bed of lightly steamed rubber bands and let stand 15 minutes.

• Drizzle with a bilge water/charcoal/floor wax reduction, garnish with steel wool, top with aged, finely grated plywood, and serve au flambé with a white wine of your choice.

Please follow and like us: