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Cheryl Hughes: Unhelpful Hints

My Career As A Woman

You know those books you see advertised in garden magazines and supplements to the Sunday paper that claim they’re going to teach you how to raise gargantuan vegetables and get rid of garden pests without using harmful chemicals?  One spring, I ordered one.  Actually, I ordered three—the original, the sequel and the follow-up to the sequel.  (I wasn’t smart enough to order just one to make sure the author knew what he was talking about.  That would have been too easy.)

I ordered the books in February in order to make sure I could commit the information to memory before the growing season began.  I thumbed through the books when they arrived, taking note of the catchy illustrations and exclamation points at the end of every sentence.  Evidently, this guy was very enthusiastic about his gardening information.  That was a good thing, right?

I made a list of the items I would need for the growing solutions and pest tonics: beer, cola, cayenne peppers, dishwashing liquid, baby shampoo, baking soda, garlic, onion, eggshells, coffee grounds, mineral oil, instant tea, Epsom salts, molasses, powdered milk, bourbon, hydrogen peroxide, apple juice, Murphy’s Oil Soap, and ammonia. (Eye of newt wasn’t on the list.  I was just as surprised as you are.)

I mixed up the potions just as my young plants were popping their little heads out of the ground.  I wanted to be ready with my first line of defense—insect repellent.  As I remember, the first thing I killed with my garlic/dishwashing liquid/mineral oil solution was the corn, but it may have been the green beans.  In any event, I did them both in.  The instructions said to mix the ingredients and spray the plants liberally, so I did—spray liberally, that is. 

I told myself it was probably beginner’s bad luck, and I decided to move ahead to tonics that could be sprayed onto the ground around the plants or on fences or surrounding trees.  I mixed up a concoction of eggs, ammonia, garlic, cayenne peppers and water.  I let it set out in the sun an extra two days just to make it particularly revolting.  I sprayed it onto the ground around the rows of corn and green beans that I hadn’t managed to kill with the first tonic.  The smell nearly took my breath, but evidently had little effect on the rabbits, which grazed undeterred in my garden that same night.  While spraying the ground, however, I had managed to spill some of the tonic onto my garden shoes, and for the rest of that season, I noticed that the mosquitos only bit my legs from the shins up, so the effort wasn’t a total loss.

I pressed on, hanging bars of Irish Spring soap in the trees to repel deer.  I put trimmings from my hair, my cat’s hair and my dog’s hair in the sweet potato row to repel rabbits.  I placed old smelly shoes and socks amidst the stalks of corn to repel raccoons.  Not one of those “sure-fire deterrents” worked.  I did notice that the birds were using some of my hair in the building of their nests, and since birds feed on insects, I can’t say the hair idea was without merit.

After that year, I decided to go back to the tried-and-true methods I had used in the past.  I planted the corn next to my dog, Scout’s, pen;  I ran three strands of electric wire around my sweet potatoes, adding musical Christmas lights to the top run; and stationed Garey in the backhoe bucket with a gun.  I’m writing my own book on fighting garden pests.  It will be entitled: A Dog, A Fence and a Smith & Wesson.


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