I have a long-standing fear and dislike of spiders — especially big ones. Over the years, it has lessened somewhat but was not helped by moving into a house in Golden, Colorado, that was vacant for a year and bred a large number of Black Widow spiders.
I killed 44 of them in a three-month span before eradicating this pest from our new home. You could say I was not a likely candidate for conversion to a spider lover.
I was in the garden one day picking my newest favorite tomato, ‘Juliet’, when I met her. She was striking in appearance and quickly grabbed my complete attention. This was because my hand was dangerously close to the biggest spider I had seen in my four years of veggie gardening in Perry Hall, Maryland.
I pulled my hand back quickly due to the long-standing fear of spiders and considered my options: I could squish the life out of her since she might be a nuisance with her web right in the middle of my favorite tomato plant, or I could leave her alone for now. I decided a stay-of-execution was in order and sought expert advice.
I went inside and grabbed my camera to take her picture to send to the UMD Grow-It-Eat-It plant and garden experts. They would know if this was a dangerous vixen in my tomato patch or a friend to be welcomed.
I sent in the photo and brief explanation of my dilemma and waited for a reply. The reply came back that I had a Yellow Agriope spider, it was harmless, and it would probably be a benefit to my garden. She got her reprieve from death-by-squishing.
Over the next few days, it took intense concentration to avoid her area around my luscious red-ripe ‘Juliet’ tomatoes that were bursting forth in amazing quantities and quality. Several of these yummy red orbs had to be left as they were practically in her dinner-plate-sized web.
As the weeks went by, I marveled at how she seemed to nab at least one of the pesky Japanese beetles per day and that pleased me. When my 12-year-old gardening protégé came over to help for his periodic garden lesson, he got big-eyed and said, “Is it dangerous?” to which I replied, “Only to other bugs, especially Japanese beetles!” He agreed with me that it was fun to watch her and learned to accept her presence in the garden.
As July was coming to an end, I was getting friendlier with her and even named her: Miss Agriope. I started amusing myself by catching and tossing all manner of bugs into her web, thoroughly enjoying the times when with lightning speed she pounced on, wrapped, and bit her easily won prey. She would let it tenderize for later consumption. This game was lots of fun, and she was growing big and fat by now with all the extra food.
August came and it was time for our annual vacation to Alaska. My nextdoor neighbor tends my garden on these trips to the far north, doing a fine job of keeping everything alive, but has a phobia of all manner of stinging bugs.
Looking back, I should have warned my neighbor about this very large and scary spider in the tomatoes. It was probably this phobia that led to Miss Agriope’s disappearance, for when I returned, she was gone from my life.
I couldn’t bring myself to ask my neighbor if she had dispatched my long-legged friend, so who knows what the culprit was, but picking ‘Juliet’ tomatoes would never be the same without my long-legged friend.
Even though she is long gone, I have photos and memories of her scary beauty. I hope that her progeny might grace my garden. If so, let the summer games begin and look out you Japanese beetles — there’s a new sheriff in town, and she will eat you!Kurt Jacobson is a food and travel writer with more than 20 years experience as a professional chef, in addition to being an avid amateur gardener. Read more of his writing at Taste of Travel 2 and find his food writing, including recipes, at Fast and Furious Cook.
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