Good Bug Bad Bug


In the SAKGP today at East Fremantle Primary school I spend time in the garden.

Things happen at a slower pace in the garden. After all things don’t grow in front of your eyes. It takes patience to grow stuff. Soil needs to be nurtured and enriched. Weeds need to be pulled. Time needs to pass. Nor do they die and disappear in a puff. Although that’s what it seems like for the beetroots that have struggled against the onslaught of the bad bugs – snails and caterpillars and slugs. Their leaves have been stripped bare. Now just stalks remain.

Today war has been waged against the pests. The army of blue uniforms are out searching the leaves and the hidy holes of the grubs and collecting them in the bucket. Garden Specialist, Katy, has the disposal job, since the kids are not keen on destroying the molluscs. They come over all Buddhist when talk turns to the final elimination. Especially after naming them Curly and Whirly, Creepy and Sebastian.

Still. It’s kinda nice to see kids that don’t take pleasure from stomping on a snail. Doesn’t it say something?

Too much personification – the adults warn. Then comes discussion of whether snails go to heaven. How philosophical a morning in the garden has become. But it is too late. They have been slimed by them and had them wriggling across their palms. The snail trail zig zags its way across a blue wind cheater. The kids are really inspecting the snails – the way they move like mini tractors across the dirt. It makes me recall the book about the movement and munching of a snail written by a bed ridden Elizabeth Tova Bailey over a year where she lay listening to the sound of one eating. In her close observation of the creature she grew attached and, through her attachment, came meaning and solace and understanding. Some are mere babies, the children say, and I imagine a snail secreted home in a pocket, named and stroked, to a bedside table, to become a new pet.

But gardening requires the tendering of the plants and that means the beasts must be got rid of, so collect them, they diligently do. On the way to the bucket of death the kids marvel at the way the molluscs have eyes on stalks that swivel about. How cool would that be? Seeing round corners, under desks. The kids have their empathy and imaginations dialled up high today, suddenly brothers to the creepy crawlies. Many kids may never have taken the time to get so close to a snail. What kid these days spends time in dirt and poking about the garden? Some may not have had the courage before to feel the suck of a snail to the back of your hand. But when everyone else is doing it, it becomes okay, to feel, to prod, to explore. And besides, this is school work – we are supposed to be getting our hands dirty.

There are not enough good bugs in our garden. The lady bird is revered. She is carefully pointed out and then left alone, despite the desire to pick her up and feel her little bug legs march across your skin.

The worm castings are diluted in watering cans and each plant gets its three-second drink of the extra good stuff. The time in the garden has gone quickly, despite the relaxed pace. Less frenetic than the kitchen, its results are slower and take more time to notice. Snail pace. But we have hunted and gathered today from our very own garden and delivered up the reddening capsicum and now it joins the salad of spinach leaves and very soon will be belly-side. Before any pesky snails get to it.