Dispatches from the front line of the monkey wars

2010-02-25 00:00

IT’S one of my favourite times of the year again — pumpkin season.

I previously confessed to being little more than a toe gardener — one who points with a toe at what needs to be done by someone else — so I happily admit that while people refer to my vegetable garden, it’s really Mavis Zungu’s. And God’s.

There really does seem to be a special­ understanding between Zungu­ and God. Between them they have mysteriously transmogrified the discarded seeds from last season’s pumpkin crop into muscular green tendrils that have crept all over the vegetable garden and even colonised the abelia hedge. The area looks like a pumpkin nursery with infant pumpkins and yellow soon-to-be-pumpkin flowers sprouting all over.

The formerly self-important sugar cane seems quite intimidated by the magnificence of the pumpkin plants. I can almost hear the former masters of the domain — the mielies — whispering and sighing among themselves about these impudent new upstarts of the veggie patch.

Zungu and I do a weekly site inspection accompanied by enraptured cries of “buka, nkosazana, buka”. I make sure to buka dutifully and carefully, for there is lots to see and to celebrate. Once upon a time debate bubbled­ and fizzed about whether the Almighty still did New Testament- style miracles or whether it was an age of natural miracles. It was the supporters of Jesus­ turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana ranged against the supporters of water turning into wine through the fruit of the vine.

As far as I am concerned, the fruit of the vine-ers have it. A vegetable garden is surely the site of many daily miracles. Take the peppadews for example. A friend gave me some seedlings so many months ago I cannot even remember when it was. Zungu wanted to khipha, khipha when they seemed to be doing nothing but taking up space and using precious resources. I said: “Cha, siyalinda.” Now, we have a fine crop of plump and shiny peppers about to turn from green to yellow to red.

However, in one area we badly need an old-fashioned miracle along the lines of Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts dropping dead for not sharing their wealth honestly with the community. The creatures who don’t share fairly in our garden community are our biggest problem and Enemy Number One: monkeys.

We did not grow sweet corn for a season after these simian pests destroyed Zungu’s entire crop. I suspect that she was even a bit disappointed with God for a while. They take some of the joy out pumpkin season sometimes by gnawing destructively at the butternuts and pumpkins, not eating them, just spoiling them.

Following advice from a Witness reader, we have tried scaring them with a plastic snake and strips of reflective tin foil tied to emergency tape. Sadly, I have to report that this has not worked. We have already lost many cobs to chittering raiding parties. Perhaps we didn’t use enough tin foil?

A work colleague suggested I put our Great Dane in the garden to guard the vegetables against the monkeys. This sounded like a great idea, so I tried it. It seemed to be working for a while: no more monkeys. Then I noticed­ that something was digging up the potatoes and had damaged some of the amadumbe and groundnut plants in the process. Do monkeys dig? I know wild pigs do. And so do dogs.

I have renamed our hound Demented Dog after I caught him red-pawed digging in the soft, moist soil of the potato patch. So much for being a guard dog.


So I have resigned myself to few if any mielies again this season and want to appeal to readers for a foolproof way to fight monkeys that isn’t illegal or immoral. In the meantime Zungu and I are considering specialising our crops to suit our Hilton patch and her Sweetwaters garden. We have monkeys but no goats; she has goats but no monkeys.

In the meantime, I continue to talk to my pumpkins and look forward to steaming pots of spicy pumpkin soup, come winter.

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