Thursday, April 28, 2011

Guido reflects on a garden experiment

by Steve Downing

I’m flashing back on a long-ago gardening experiment, when I set out to grow catnip as a cash crop. I was thinking, of course, about cats’ toys, but I’d also learned that catnip’s chemical ingredient nepetalactone is an effective mosquito repellent. If the garden grew, I’d exploit the bug dope application, too.
Catnip is a weed. Not growing it is harder than growing it. This experimental patch was at one end of a vegetable garden on a hobby farm north of Grand Rapids. We rented the house and kept an eye on the property for the landlord, who lived nearby. He had a day-job in town, his dozen or so cows serving only to connect him to three generations of farmers. 

By August, my cash crop was up, flowery, looking great. Then one morning it was gone. Totally. Across the driveway from the garden, a section of barbwire fence dangled, useless as yarn.

All around our yard, those catnipped cows were down. They did not move, for a day. From time to time, one of them would roll over in super-slow-motion, but mostly they just laid there looking like an arrangement of Henry Moore sculptures. Next day, they were back on their feet, fine.

Years later, I read somewhere about a short-lived fad, perfectly legal but widely scorned: smoking catnip. I’ve never forgotten the writer’s imagery, describing his (alleged) catnip buzz: “I imagined I was a small girl running through the woods chased by geese.” I still wonder: what were those cows dreaming of that day?

Call in your gardening experiments this Saturday to Between you and Me on KAXE from 10-noon!

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