Early this spring I tore out all of the raspberry canes at the roots and promptly burned them, following the recommended guidelines for old brambles (seven years). It was not too painful a chore. Raspberry plants are not at their best in clay soil, and despite my best efforts - proper pruning and fertilization - they have been only a moderate success in my garden.
What my raspberry plants did provide me with more reliably than fruit were Japanese beetles, the miniature WMDs of the insect world, gifted to us from Japan in 1916 via a shipment of iris bulbs received by way of port in Riverton, New Jersey.
Until I planted those blasted raspberries I could readily boast of having Japanese beetle-free gardens. Perhaps it was only a coincidence, but either way, two years after the raspberries were planted, the Japanese beetles located me by way of their internal GPS. At first the ravenous barbarians seemed to prefer the raspberries to anything else in the garden. Fine! I convinced myself they could have the damn things. "Devour them all!" I cried.
But this was only an early stage of denial: bargaining with the insect gods to sacrifice my middling raspberries for the sake of everything else they love to eat. Then, as they swarmed and mated and buzzed and oozed their slatternly perfume to the wind like degenerate gluttons at Caligula's penultimate orgy, hatred seeped into my arteries.
I was cornered, indentured to confession: I have Japanese beetles. Oh, how these four words chilled my marrow. I vowed to fight, to be brave, to not let them beat me at my game. Every evening after work I stalked the little demons with reprisal, plunging hundreds of wriggling beetles into a bucket of soapy water where, like hoards of flying Rasputins, they clung to life with shocking tenacity. To witness this phenomenon, I immediately discovered, is as equally horrific as it is beautiful.
The war declared, I began to doubt my natural approach to I.P.M. Each time I entered a hardware store I found myself drifting, trance-like, toward the shelves of brightly colored pesticide containers, every label a declaration of annihilation of loathsome garden pests.
Then one day I purchased a bottle of Sevin (carbaryl).
I applied the Sevin to my raspberries. The Japanese beetles seemed mildly irritated but only a handful died. Some flew away before I sprayed them. Many departed unscathed even after I sprayed them.
The day following the first application, the beetles returned to dine, yesterday now forgotten.
As I approached the raspberry patch I stopped to listen to the hum of pollinators collecting nectar up and down the flowering canes. My eyes followed a spider as it danced across a billowing web like an eight-legged ballerina, her private stage hidden within a jungle of glowing green leaves and flickering shadows. Brown ants, fearless, busily streamed atop the shaded leaf litter as they carried the food that would sustain their colony.
When I thought of the lethal rain of insecticide falling down upon all this life, all this important activity, silencing it for the sake of a few raspberries, I reminded myself why I garden in the first place: to woo nature closer and learn from what I see.
In battle a man is tested.
Winston Churchill once said, "Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesmen who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforseeable and uncontrollable events."
I did not ever again apply Sevin to my raspberries but instead returned to hand murdering each Japanese beetle, hurling them into a sudsy bucket. The rows neatly gleaned, I dug a hole and buried the dead.
Shane VanOosterhout is The Passionate Gardener.
For more garden inspiration, you can follow him on Facebook.