Why I’m gardening during the Covid-19 pandemic: to battle with a pestilence I can see

The snails and cabbage worms in my garden are a modest challenge, one that takes my mind off the larger crisis in our midst.

I spent a few hours with my kale yesterday.  Less than the day before, but the rain barrels are nearly empty. They trickle-filled the watering can enough to minimally dampen all three beds of Lacinato kale—nothing close to the every-other-day root soak I’d been giving my beloveds ever since the mayor first called on us to stay at home. But I’m not worried; New Orleans is due for rain some day soon. Hopefully a gusher.  

Above, a shot of the author’s kale garden at her home in New Orleans. She waters them primarily with rain caught in barrels, which she says has two advantages—it avoids chemicals from the Mississippi River, and helps offset the cost in an area with surging water prices.

In addition to the rain barrels, we keep a bucket in the kitchen sink to capture grey water. I used yesterday’s on the seeds my husband and I planted a few days ago: a new crop of arugula, basil, green beans, and cilantro. Along with the water, the seeds received a patina of olive oil and Meyer’s soap.  So it goes in these hand-washing times.

It’s prime growing season here in the Gulf South. Last week was in the 80’s but today and yesterday were delightfully overcast and pleasant.  The orange and Satusuma trees still have a few blossoms, and along with the marked decline in car exhaust, the air smells wonderful. Tending the garden has become my solace, and now that the farmers’ markets have suspended operations, it feels important.

Tending the garden has become my solace, and now that the farmers’ markets have suspended operations, it feels important.

As my watering can fills, I methodically check the undersides of each kale leaf—leaf by leaf. I wipe away and crush the cabbage aphids, little brown balls clustered together in the veins’ crevasses and the leaves’ outer curls. It makes my scalp itch just thinking about them. I crush the tiny, almost-cute cabbage worms congregating on the inner leaves with the back of my fingernail.  The odd snail? Squashed against the side of the garden bed. It’s hand-to-hand combat. Not a particularly efficient means of pest control, but I don’t want to spray my food, and these days, I have the time.

Covid-19 essay: the author's kale garden new New Orleans, Louisiana

Eve Abrams

Yesterday morning, Ms. Frances, two yards away, was watering her plants while I was ministering to the kale. I called good morning through the chain link fence.  She called good morning back. I asked how she was holding up. She said fine, but there was something in her answer that told me otherwise. I wondered if she was feeling poorly, or if she was simply annoyed with Mr. Hardy, her husband, who’s adorable and old and chain-smokes on their front stoop. Who knows?  Times are strange.

This morning, Ms. Gail—Ms. Frances’s sister, who lives in the house between us—was watching her laundry dry on the line while I was scrutinizing the kale, and she told me Frances had an upset stomach, but that she was feeling much better.

I sighed my relief and Ms. Gail offered me a crawfish pie she’d made.  She walked inside to fetch one and handed it to me over the fence. Then we both backed away to re-establish our six-foot separation.  I thanked Gail for the pie and resumed picking young bugs off my future dinners, glorying in battle with a pestilence I can see.

Eve Abrams is a radio producer, writer, audio documentarian, and educator whose work centers on amplifying the voices from her adopted hometown, New Orleans.