The other day I was reading the news on my phone, and accidentally clicked on an ad. My screen was taken over by a picture of withered crops, and an ominous slogan aimed at unhappy farmers:
NEMATODES ARE STEALING YOUR YIELDS
They are? Damned thieving nematodes! It sounded like some old-country complaint: Ach, lad, the nematodes are stealin' ma yields!
I didn't even know I had yields, but now I felt fiercely protective of them.
The next day my wife came back from the garden store and put a box in the fridge.
"Doesn't that stuff usually go in the dirt?" I asked, demonstrating the horticultural know-how for which I'm renowned around the house.
"They have to be kept cold," she said.
"They? What are they?"
"Nematodes," she said.
I was stricken. "You brought those yield-stealing demons into our house? Why?"
"Well, for the grubs. Or rather against the grubs."
Do you have grubs? If you have a lawn, you may be nodding, for I understand that metro lawns have been wracked by a record plague of grubbery this year.
They're nature's way of destroying nature, more or less: tiny little bugs that gestate under your grass, eating the roots and making your lawn look like you have a pet mastodon with a weak bladder.
Before I knew we were utterly grubbed, I puzzled over the lawn's brown patches. I watered regularly. In the spring, I had scraped the thatch, disturbed the dirt, put down fresh soil, strewed seeds, added fertilizer, bone meal, Miracle Gro, chanted Latin, sacrificed goats, the whole routine. Nothing worked.
Had I added too much seed? Maybe that was it; the individual seeds had to fight for space, and they all ended up dead from mutual exhaustion.
No, I learned from a neighbor, it was grubs. Well, off to the lawn and garden store. I got something guaranteed to kill all 4,936 varieties of grub, and also some stuff that does away with chickweed, spurge, Scottish Thorn, Dog's-Ear, Grackle-vine, and a hundred other types of ugly green stuff. It is applied with a pistol that squirts out the fluid, so you can go all Clint Eastwood on the Creeping Charlie. Do you feel lucky, Chuck? Well, do you?
I applied the Guaranteed Grub Killer, but the lawn did not recover, which makes a man want to visit the paint store and just spray the yard green and forget about it.
But my wife, making one of her weekly trips to the garden store, talked to a Lawn Expert who recommended nematodes. Not just any nematodes. BNs, or beneficial nematodes.
According to the box, it contained over 7 million BNs, each of which would "hunt down, penetrate and kill grub larvae" in the soil. This reaffirmed my preconceptions of nematodes as homicidal maniacs, but it sounded as if they'd be working on my behalf.
They also "seek out and destroy" more than 230 other bugs, including Japanese beetles, which are currently being sued in federal court by ladybugs for ruining their reputation.
If you're wondering what 7 million nematodes look like, I can't say. The container had some packing material that contained the bugs, and they were activated by dunking the stuff in water and letting it soak for an hour. The instructions said to apply at night, because sunlight would kill the nematodes.
OK, great: Activate with water, avoid sunlight. What are these things, vampire sea-monkeys?
So I waited until the sun set to apply them, thinking how do I know these are beneficial nematodes, not Yield-Stealers?
Perhaps there's some sort of interview process.
"How do you feel about grubs?" "Hate 'em! Can't wait to seek them out and strangle them with my little nematodey hands."
"How do you feel about yields? Oh, I'd never steal them. That would be wrong."
"OK, hop in the vermiculite."
Fingers crossed. It's possible we won't know until next spring, but in the meantime it's the end-of-summer lawn prep for winter.
You're supposed to seed in the fall, you know. It's an act of faith, a statement of trust in the cycle of life: These seeds I strew may not spring up lush today, but the Earth will make its way around the sun again, and the warm, strong light of the year to come will coax new life from the earth — a ritual that binds us to the ancient rhythms of the planet.
Or, as the Romans said: "To heck with this, I'm calling the sod guys."