Pirates in the Garden

by Ann Bodling, Children’s Garden Associate

Though at first glance, the Hard Bargain Farm Children’s Garden appears to be a peaceful and harmonious place – nothing could be further from the truth. First glances can be deceiving and first impressions often reflect what we hope to find, do they not? While it is true that our garden is filled with the beauty of colorful vegetables, flowers and fruit, it is also filled with menacing killers, robbers and marauders, all bent on self-serving destruction. Some of these villains have six legs, some have four and some have two, and of those who have two, some are even human. 

Cicada killers, intimidating but thankfully non-aggressive wasps burrow long, deep tunnels into the soft soil of our garden beds, filling them with stunned cicadas upon which the females lay their eggs. Robber flies, fuzzy predators with large protruding eyes, perch on the garden fence waiting for unsuspecting insect prey, and dragon flies do the same on stakes placed throughout the garden. Groundhogs breach the electric fencing from time to time, pillaging among the sweet potato vines and bush beans, and squirrels commonly survey the garden from nearby trees, assessing their chances of successful retreat, should they find a way in. Sometimes, whole families are involved in garden assaults as adults teach valuable foraging skills to their offspring. When they rightly assume that the gardener is not watching, mockingbird and crow families swoop in to maim and carry off defenseless ripe tomatoes, leaving partially-eaten ones behind to rot on the ground or become food for the ants. Small flocks of goldfinches, tufted titmice and chickadees stealthily work among the sunflowers, snatching away any seeds mature enough to provide ample nourishment.

As students return to the garden this fall, they will have opportunity to witness these “pirates of the garden” and even engage in a bit of plundering themselves. For, when you think about it, what we term “harvesting” is in fact nothing more than appropriating for our own purposes parts of the plant that would allow it to reproduce during the current season, in the case of tomatoes, peppers and beans or during the following season, in the case of carrots, beets, and potatoes. As this school year begins, we look forward to introducing students to the wonders of the natural world in our garden setting, to the food webs found there, to the many and varied pollinators that work among our plants, to the flavors and fragrances of abundant vegetables and herbs, and to the satisfaction of digging the soil and exploring its life. And we look forward to helping students realize that to garden is to be involved in a grand adventure of piracy, provision, and plenty and that doing so is within their grasp, no matter where they live.