The Root of the Matter

Photo of a Jerusalem cricket next to a quarterOctober 1, the perfect moment to plant garlic for next year, was approaching. Garlic planted in October will yield fat juicy heads by June to last  me another year. Planted earlier, it grows too fast and is zapped by winter storms. Planted later, it grows too slowly and bolts before it’s fully grown.

I loaded my wheelbarrow with rich moist compost, a product of the remains of last year’s garden. A growing new mound, the remnants of this year’s harvest, replaced it. Over the year it will turn from a dry, crackly heap of stems and leaves to dark soft crumbly dough. Garlic loves it.

I scooped up heaping handfuls of this rich stuff, threw it on the bed where the garlic would rest, and prepared to dig it in. But I stopped short. There in the midst of the wheelbarrow lan an insect about two inches long. It was pale and inert, but something about it told me it was not dead. It seemed to move slightly as if it were trying to wake from a long sleep. I have become used to the worms in the compost and have learned that they signal good health in the soil. But this was more than I had bargained for.

Bugs have always seemed foreign to me–so remote from what I know that they seem as if they are from another planet. Yet there is something weird enough about their appearance to make them fascinating to look at –especially when they are just lying there and not doing something unpredictable (and when they are not in my house). I’m not a scientist, unless curiosity counts, but from somewhere in a far off corner of my mind came the name Jerusalem cricket. I decided to find out if I was right.

But what should I do with the critter whose sleep I had so abruptly disrupted? I took it back to what remained of the compost and buried it once again, pleased that I had donned garden gloves before I started the whole project.

Later, I consulted the internet and my field guide on insects. The creature, it seems, is native to our area and is not a pest. It is known in Spanish as niña de la tierra, child of the earth. It does not sting and is not poisonous, although it can bite. Its main diet is roots. So why should I disturb its slumber? In summer when temperatures soar and the land becomes dry, it seeks moist havens where it can sleep, turning pale in the darkness, until the rains of winter arouse it. Roots swell and soil softens. It returns to live the second and last year of its life underground. I woul be no Lady Macbeth and murder this guest as it slept in my compost.

But I do hope the roots my cricket favors are those of weed and not those of garlic. On second thought, maybe I should just plant an extra row or two.

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