A month or so back I received a press release announcing successful production of soybeans in space. It's a remarkable achievement and may be a key to exploring the universe. But it got me to thinking. What if….
Star date 2075
Aboard the International Space Station, Galactic Farm Annex To: Intergalactic Department of Agriculture
From: Ronald D. Smith III, director of Ag communications Re: pest control strategy
Morale continues to decline. Success of this year's crops is in serious doubt, putting the 1,200 permanent residents of this outpost in the position of having to rely on surplus MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) stashed here following the Galaxy's final conflict decades ago. My research indicates that MREs have changed little since the middle of the last century.
Canned Salisbury steak or franks and beans are no more palatable than they were in my great grandfather's day. In a diary discovered in the ancestral home in what once was simply called Texas, but is now referred to as the Center of the Universe, he wrote regarding basic training: “MREs are not fit to eat.”
But I digress. We need powerful pesticides to control weeds and insects in our crop areas. I know it was assumed that pest management would be no problem in space. In fact, a pest-free environment was considered one of the great advantages of crops in space ever since the first soybeans were successfully grown in the old space lab during the early months of this century.
In theory, a pest-free environment exists, or did at one time. But government agencies being what they are and prone to tamper with a good thing until they either kill it, make it useless or turn it into a nuisance, vermin have been introduced.
It started with bugs, which environmental researchers assured officials would provide a plentiful and renewable source of protein. I recall that saner heads insisted that bugs would eat the crops, a charge countered by an enviro-plan that introduced bugs that eat only plants not palatable to humans or other space beings.
It seemed like a good idea, a grazing crop for protein pests. Unfortunately, most common grasses provided too little forage to sustain a breeding herd of bugs. Officials tried larger plants and finally settled on an antique vine once introduced into the southern portion of the United States to control erosion. The plant was thought to be extinct, a casualty of radiation during the galactic conflict, but a hardy strain survived and was discovered growing on the remnants of old communications towers.
It grows well in space, too.
Unfortunately, the bugs will not eat it and have adapted their appetites to soybean, corn, sorghum, wheat and collard leaves. They also seem to relish the taste of all manner of vegetable and fruit crops but simply will not eat asparagus. Presumably, the 1,200 inhabitants could survive on a diet of asparagus but the result would put new meaning to the term “greenhouse gases.”
Again, I digress.
The bugs pose only part of the problem. The vine(which one old-timer here remembers his grandmother once referred to as kudzoo (or kudzu or cudzu, whatever) threatens to overrun the compound.
Already it has grown out of its prescribed plot and into the crop fields, choking what little vegetation the bugs left.
The galactic chef reported tendrils had begun to creep into his galley, and he temporarily keeps the vine at bay with meat cleavers and his version of sawmill gravy.
The obnoxious weed has covered a good portion of the ceiling in the ag center, shading out the sun so that even if vegetation still existed after the bugs got through, darkness would prevent growth.
Our small military contingent has attempted to retard growth with laser guns, which seem to do nothing but stimulate it to grow.
Kudzu does exhibit an interesting growth pattern, which would be fascinating if it did not threaten our existence. As the vine reaches any object, it engulfs it, flows over, around and through orifices and, in the process, creates natural sculpture.
From my office, I can look into the overrun ag center and pick out shapes of elephants, bears and one clump that bears an amazing resemblance to Teddy Roosevelt.
It grows darker by the minute and we fear loss of power as kudzu tendrils snake into solar panel outlets and short-circuit our energy source. I fear transmission will be interrupted and, if so, will place a copy of this missive in a lovely antique bottle (MD 20/20) on the label) and hope a passing space freighter will pick it up and report what went terribly wrong with this station. Vines are beginning to crawl into my cubicle. Hmpfjiftttwwm.