Down East 2013 ©
When people say that something is both an art and a science, it usually means they don't know the first thing about it. The Mystic Mainer believes that gardening is neither an art nor a science but a glorious, ongoing catastrophe, before which one can only stand in wonder and dismay. This week, we respond to real and imaginary reader questions on the mysteries of horticulture.
Dear Mystic Mainer: Why are there all these earwigs, and why do they look the way they do, which is unpleasant?
— Liz (remember me?) in Lincolnville
Liz Who? Listen, earwigs have a right to live. And for all we know, to drive and vote and enter the moose lottery. There are lots of unpleasant-looking things in the garden, including, in many cases, the gardener.
O Mystic One: How do I know when it's time to pinch my basil?
— Bruce in Rockport
Dear Bruce: If you follow MM's example, you will know when it's too late that you should have pinched your basil a week ago. You should probably go out and pinch it right now. We'll wait.
Say, Mystic: Where do all these little snails come from? You never used to see snails in Maine. Now they're everywhere.
— Diane up the road
Hey neighbor: They probably came from Massachusetts. Be glad you don't have Giant African Land Snails. People buy them in pet stores and release them into the garden because ... well, who knows why? "They consume at least 500 different types of plants," says the Maine Department of Agriculture , "including most varieties of beans, peas, cucumbers, and melons." MM has also been told there is some kind of malevolent black slug on Vinalhaven. If this reaches the mainland, we are doomed.
Wait, I wasn't finished. You should tell your readers not to plant horseradish, ever. We planted some when we first started this garden, and we've been trying to get rid of it for 40 years. And if you want your potatoes clean, wash the damn things. That trick with straw doesn't work. It just feeds the voles. Tell them that.
We've got to go. (Hangs up.)
Dear Mr. Mainer: Is there any shortcut to all this gosh-darn weeding?
— Thurston M., Coral Gables and Bucksport
Thurston old boy: This is a topic around which MM treads cautiously. Our friend Will (who is also the boss at our day job ) finds weeding to be an immensely satisfying and even somehow spiritual pursuit — a lesson he derived from the Shakers at Sabbathday Lake . Will says there is no shortcut, and you probably should listen to Will. As to MM personally, we are inclined to take a more Jamesian view of the situation — that's William, not Henry — and rather enjoy all that blooming, buzzing confusion . Perhaps we are just lazy. You could always hire our teenage son to rip away at the garden for you.
Dear Mystic: We have this plant in our yard that's kind of pretty, but it just seems to sprout up everywhere. Someone told us it's called goutweed. What should we do?
— Tina and Warren, Vassalboro
T&W: Put your house on the market immediately. Sell at a loss if you have to. Otherwise, give up gardening, pave the entire property, and take up rock-collecting. Goutweed, also known as bishop's weed or more formally as Aegopodium podagraria , is the most pernicious weed we know. If you're looking for a solution, you have come to the wrong seer.
Mystic: We've been fighting a war against these tiny worms that are eating our brassicas. We've tried spraying soapy water on the undersides of the leaves, but is this a long-term solution, or are they going to come right back?
— Iris in Washington
Dear Iris: These are probably cabbage worms. Mother Earth News conducted an online poll  to determine how readers deal with these critters. The most popular answer was "Hand picking," which does not sound like much fun. A solid 10%, however, answered "I've given up — the worms won!" We wish you the very best.
Mystic Mainer: I know you're probably a fraud, but what do you think about using beer in shallow bowls to attract slugs and drown them?
— "Call me Bubba," South Thomaston
All right, Bubba: It does work, though we can't help thinking it's a tragic waste of beer.
Hi Mystic Mainer: Is it ever going to rain? Things are starting to look kind of parched out there.
— Weather Gal, Bremen
Dear W.G.: We give you our word — it will commence raining heavily within 18 hours of our having watered everything in the garden. Follow us  on Twitter and we will notify you of the coming deluge.