Bugz. I haz them.

18Aug09

I knew going away on holiday in the middle of the growing season would cause me problems … I hadn’t, though, quite anticipated the scale.

2009-08-18-Nemesis

It’s so terribly demoralising. Two weeks ago, I left a bunch of good healthy crops all on the verge of being ready to harvest, and I was in lip-smacking anticipation that I’d come back from holiday to find my garden overflowing with good things – courgettes and beans and cabbages and squashes and lettuce and spring onion and tomatoes and and and and …

Instead, I come back to find that contrary to the reported weather, it’s been very dry in the garden, so although nothing has outright died, the ground is very dry and hard and there hasn’t been much productive growth.

That, actually, I could live with.

What is appalling is how quickly the pests have moved in and DECIMATED what I have. I’ve taken out my Rodale’s guide to Companion planting and given it a very stern talking to.

The companion planting of marigolds and fennel and other distractions has not deterred the various cabbage white butterflies one whit, and where I went away leaving burgeoning ranks of cauliflower and red cabbage and calabrese and savoys and purple sprouting brocoli, now all I have is stiff, pathetic, skeleton-veined remnants, fragments of their former selves. What’s more, those fragments were still crawling with the drasty caterpillar fiends that had so ravaged them.

War is now declared. The children are horrified at my casual genocide, but I’m going to save those plants if it’s humanly possible to do so. To that end, I’ve been out in the garden (with my gardening gloves on) hand-picking the wretches of my blasted brassicas and dropping them into a bucket of water. Caterpillars can’t swim, but, as I said to Honey: it’s them or you that gets the meal – what’s it to be?

I know I do tell them that one shouldn’t harm living things, but I find it amazing that they can get tender-hearted over ravening pests, but don’t turn a hair when they eat the ever-so-much-cuter lambs and pigs and cows and chickens that pass over their plates. Admittedly, the critters aren’t slaughtered in front of them, which I’m sure makes a difference, but to me a bug is a bug is a bug. Unless it’s a spider or a ladybird, both of which are very welcome in my garden.

It gets worse: the dry weather has destroyed my lettuce, and what didn’t shrivel has been mightily snacked on by the slugs and snails, as have the beans and peas, and they also seem to have a particular fondness for courgette and squash flowers. I’d hoped the gastropod effect would be pretty minimal whilst I was away, but it seems I’d been lulled into a false sense of security by their apparent absence and the dry spell before we went away.

I don’t use slug pellets: although I’m not an organic purist, I do try to avoid using chemicals on the garden as much as possible, and try for natural solutions to problems and pests as far as possible. With the slugs and snails, although there are organic pellets available, I worry about the onward effect in terms of the birds and hedgehogs that include these pests in their diet of wholesale elimination. I’ve tried various other deterrents – the ‘slug stoppa’ granules had no effect, and, worse, looked like cat-litter on the ground which had obvious and unpleasant results. Beer traps just seem to attract more slugs into the garden, and copper rings are expensive and have little apparent effect, particularly when trying to protect a whole bed rather than an individual plant. I tried – once – my grandmother’s tried-and-tested method of going hunting through the garden and snipping them in half with a pair of scissors … whilst most forms of bug-death are tolerable, that’s one I can’t repeat – I almost lost my lunch, and just the memory of it makes me want to heave. My compromise had been to hunt them down in the early evening and collect them in a lidded bucket, and then alternate between releasing them into the woods, a good hundred metres away from my garden, and offering them up the next morning on the bird feeder.

This evening, my desire for vengeance got a bit blood-curdling: instead of my usual method, every one of the blighters got dumped into the bonfire pile.

Yes. I did light it.

I’m not sure how many of the plants will recover and go on to produce anything edible … but I’m going to be doing my best to help the garden recover in the next few weeks in the hope I can salvage something out of it.

What it means going forward, I’m not sure. It’s been a hard and painful lesson, but I’m loath to net the vegetable patches and swathe things in horti-fleece, purely because it is *so* unsightly, and I certainly don’t want to start spraying my food with chemicals just to keep the pests off – but they have been so much worse this year than in previous years, so I don’t know what to do for the best.

I guess the planning for next season will have to include some more research on natural pest control methods – and I’m wondering too, with the brassicas, if either spreading them out around the garden more, so that there’s less concentration of attractive fragrance for the butterflies and/or companion planting with different strong-scented plants might work  too. I sense some library time coming up. I guess we might also have to reconsider when we holiday, although I feel a little churlish refusing to holiday because of the garden. I wonder if I could find another gardener with co-ordinating holidays who’d sort my pests out & do a little watering & light weeding if I did the same in return? That’d be good ….

My one consolation is that the root crops – carrots and beetroot and parsnip and potatoes – are all looking very splendid. I just hope that I don’t find them riddled with carrot-fly when I dig them, or that the same evil weevil that tunnelled through my radishes with such abandon has also savaged my remaining healthy-looking plants.

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5 Responses to “Bugz. I haz them.”

  1. Oh, this is too sad. Hates them bad bugz.
    Have you gotten into using Neem Oil? Think you’ll like it, if you don’t already. It’s natural, safe up to the day of harvest, and been around forever.
    I use a solution of Neem and insectidial soap, and spray when the bees are not active.
    Hope your garden bounces back!
    Great story, thanks for sharing.
    –Pearl

    • Thanks for the comment, and for the tip!

      I’ll give it a try – I’d not heard of using Neem Oil in the garden … I’ve seen it used in headlice treatments but never in the garden. Do you prepare it yourself or can you get solutions ready-made?

      • I buy concentrated Neem Oil at a local nursery. It’s not something I see sold alot, but you might look on the internet.
        I do mix it myself, 2 TBSP per gal of water. It is an amazing fungicide as well as anti bug. It does not have a huge immediate knock-down factor with bugs, but interferes with their reproductive systems, which I like! If they have children, they are sterile. LOL. I use 2 TBSP Insecticidal soap along with it to knock down the present bugs.
        I’m wondering if it was Tea Tree Oil in the lice treatments.
        And oh, yes, you can buy Neem [and the bug soap] premixed–alot more expensive. Since I use it often I buy concentrate. Helps with powdery mildew on roses etc. a whole lot. –Pearl

      • Thanks! I think I’ll have to try and mail-order it, since our local nurseries don’t stock it (they’re not big on non-chemical pest control 😉 ).

        (and sorry for the long time to reply, I’ve been off on holiday again!!)


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