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Food + Cooking

Extreme Frugality:
No More Mr. Nice Guy

When the fruit of a man’s labors is in peril, stand back.
spraying bugs

It was 6 A.M., and Lisa was showing me how she’d arranged an intricate maze of drip-hoses. She was covered in dirt, and her dark, gray-flecked hair went this way and that—an uncontained mess that has never met a hair-tie it couldn’t defeat. In other words, I was falling in love all over again, when I spotted the foul creatures out the corner of my eye. I sprang into action—arms thrashing, feet gliding upon the ground as if it were carpeted in silk—and became a fluid killing machine. There were thousands and thousands of them and I slapped, pinched, and squeezed again and again.

Jet Li had nothing over me. And, yes, it felt good.

After all, I had coddled and nourished their victims for the last three years. This spring, I had spent even more time with them than ever before: feeding them, protecting them, and tucking them in on more than one occasion. Our well-being depended on their well-being. No one else cared about them as much as I did. No one else was prepared to fight for their lives.

Our fledgling fruit trees were like adopted babies, and their assailants, marauding aphids, were my mortal enemy.

It felt personal, almost as if the aphids were attacking because we are working so hard. Yet it’s still a struggle to pay the bills. Last night after dinner, we had the kids weed for 15 minutes before dessert (Julia Child’s chocolate mousse as prepared by Anabel—perfect!) and, later, between 11 and God-knows-when, Lisa stacked next year’s wood that I had cut and split earlier. This morning, as a supposed two-day rain began to fall, I hurriedly planted another three rows of corn, so we could have a second harvest. We’re putting our all into this new life, and when something threatens a part of it—as clearly these aphids were, judging by all the young apple and cherry leaves that had suddenly vanished—I’ll stop at nothing to stomp that something into the ground.

I finally understand all those farmers who lived and swore by their beloved battery of insecticides and fungicides. I want my DDT.*

After a quick search through our current bible, Organic Gardening: A Comprehensive Guide to Chemical-Free Growing, I rushed off to the nearest nursery and returned not only armed to the teeth but also aglow. Organic farming isn’t for wimps! Even though you might be Green, you can still destroy with the best of them, as long as you use organic insecticides that don’t harm people, animals, plants, or beneficial insects. There’s an organic dust made with bacteria that actually kills Japanese beetles and grubs, for instance. No more paying the kids a penny for every beetle they toss into a bucket of soapy water—although we might maintain that tradition for frugality’s sake. For the aphids, I bought some neem oil made from pressed neem tree seeds from India, mixed up a batch, and sprayed them into submission. (I paid $18 for a 16-ounce bottle that will make 16 gallons of spray; there were also quart-size spray bottles of the same stuff, but premixed, for $14 a pop, making the concentrate I bought almost 64 times cheaper.) Although the neem oil simply repels aphids, I laid it on so thick that I was sure many of them would never see the light of day again. And I’m happy to report that they are completely gone and all is right with the world.

Don’t mess with a man’s fruit trees.

By the way, we ate a salad of radishes, arugula, and lettuces from our garden last night, accompanied by a quiche made with our own eggs and herbs. We’re getting there!

Frugal Tip of the Week

This may be obvious and/or too extreme for many of you: We don’t watch TV. We gave it up a decade ago, and even though it didn’t stop me from blowing things financially, it has kept us all blissfully unaware of the next most important useless thing we can’t live without. The kids know about all the big-ticket items like ipods, wii’s, etc., but have no clue they’re missing the fastest Hot Wheels since last year’s model. We do watch movies three or four times a week, but we’re not constantly bombarded with ads that implore, trick, or guilt us into buying happiness. And we obviously save money on not having cable.

*One of my fondest childhood memories revolves around the loudly screamed words, “The mosquito truck! The mosquito truck is here!” Everyone under the age of 12 in the neighborhood would grab his or her BB gun, maybe an old Army helmet, and go running after the town’s mosquito-killing truck, which sprayed a dense white fog that took minutes to evaporate. We’d dart in and out of the deadly cloud, panting hard from running into battle, sucking down lungful after lungful of those lovely cancerous vapors, following the fog bank for blocks and blocks. Those were the days.