Thursday, June 15, 2006

Pushed to the Brink

I am seriously beginning to question my sanity.

You all know the garden, right? The one I plant each year? The vegetable one enclosed in the stone walls, somewhat reminiscent of a fortress? Yeah. That one.

Moving to the Upper Midwest from the gentle Northwest has opened my eyes to all the local bug pests. The first couple of years, when still in Northern Illinois, I was granted immunity. No pests, at least the non-human chomping kinds. Pleanty of mosquitos lurking under the cool leaves of the zucchini and hordes of those horrible stinging mini-sweatbees that like to get you behind the knees, where the sweat pools. (Man! Those hurt like hell, making me yelp in a most undignified manner. Then, 48 hours later, they itch worse than any bite I've ever encountered. Bastards.)

About the 3rd or 4th summer, I noticed these guys on my zucchini. I thought they bore watching, but didn't dive in with the bug destruction measures. My credo is 'Live and Let Live', because it is the easiest credo. Doesn't require you to do anything but let things be. That's why I didn't harvest any zucchini past July. Given that you don't expect to get your first zucchini until mid July, well, let's just say that I haven't forgotten the evil squash bugs.

The next year found us in Wisconsin. I kept my eyes open for undue pests, but I only planted a few things that year, as we were settling in and not sure where we wanted things. The second year (last year), found me flabbergasted by the stunning infestation that was the cucumber beetles, both striped and spotted. No cukes were harvested past early August, and when the ghost town that was the cucumber trellis was completely barren, they headed over to the squash, both summer and winter.

Well. Enough of this laissez faire gardening. Time for drastic measures.

This year, I'd bought a giant economy sized bag of diatomaceous earth and liberally sprinkled it all around, dusting it over the small plants, every mother-loving one of them. (Looked like hell, must say, with all that white powder all over. Gah. My sensibilities were shaken, but I had no choice.) The next morning, I went out to see how everyone had spent the night, and was completely horrified to see several spotted cucumber beetles on each cucumber AND all the zucchini and winter squash. The little bastards weren't even going after the cucumbers first!

Time for Operation Scortched Earth.

First, I bought one of those environmentally 'safe' namby-pamby plant sprays. (I was still trying.) Yeah. Like that was effective. So then, I pulled off the shelf, where it had moved with us, after I realized too late that squash bugs were satan's own spawn, and had tried to deal with them via toxic chemicals, the spray bottle of bug-death-from-the-sky. You know, the stuff that you can't spray on your plants less than a week before you consume them? The stuff that you can't use more than a few times a season? That stuff.

{Aside: No, I haven't forgotten the water source is our well. I'm doing this once. It's also not rained in the week since I applied it, and we can't expect to harvest the first of the fruits of my labor for about 6 more weeks. I've tried to keep my inner General Sherman in check. Somewhat.}

So. I sprayed a week ago, with anguished trigger finger. And, by gum, it worked. Sorta. There are still a few cucumber beetles, but they seem to be staggered, at this point, by the natural, non-toxic spray. The squash bugs, however, seem to have made their way to my little garden this year. But! I now know what to look for! And have unearthed a side of myself that frankly concerns me.

I can be found, on at least a daily basis, in the garden, bent at the waist, muttering, peering at every single plant of the cucumber/squash extraction, and under every leaf, for the damned squash bugs. And when I find them? Well. Let's just say: Picture a horror movie, early on. Two lovebirds are going at it under the covers. The moment of ecstasy has commenced. Aaaaannnd a large pair of bipass pruners reaches down from the rafters and bisects first the one and then the other, mid-coitus.

Sort of a buzz-kill, eh?

You do remember that I'm bug phobic, right? Let's just say that this is a measure of how close to the edge my sanity has been driven.

By my word, though, I WILL harvest in August. And September.


So, tell me honestly, should I be concerned?



Blogger amy said...

that's what I'm worried about once my zucchini and cucumbers start sprouting. I hate spraying stuff, but if it will keep the bugs away.....

I like the pruners idea though. very creative!

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Susan said...

My parents live around Truman Lake area in Missouri, one year they grew cantalope, they lived near some small ponds and the turtles would come up each night and eat the cantalope, so we had to cover them with buckets each night until they were ready to pick. My parents had mostly trouble with the wildlife eating their garden, so he put up a electric fence.

10:30 AM  
Blogger CarpeDM said...

Bugs are icky. But yet again, this is one of the most entertaining posts about gardening that I have ever read. You amaze me.

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Credo: Take no prisioners. At least you have grow-able soi. We have lifeless dirt. However, the raspberries are about ready to adorn cereal. The lingon berries have never been picked and probably never will. Who cares???

Farmer RF-er

12:17 PM  
Blogger brooksba said...

You are great. Bugs are evil, pure and simple. And I seriously am enjoying the fact that you have found a solution. Time consuming, but effective.

You deserve great zucchini and cucumbers.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Teri said...

You, uhhh, do realize that bugs can become resistant to pesticides, right? And the more you use them without killing off the entire bug population, the more resistant they get, right? (Lots like bacteria...)

...And that then the birds & other small animals that eat the pesticide laced bugs start bio-accumulating the pesticide too. And that most pesiticides have estrogenic effects & are endocrine disruptors in humans & other animals...

that probably wasn't what you were asking if you should be concerned about, was it?

5:30 PM  
Blogger Jamie said...

Aaaaaagh, squash bugs. They are the bane of my life. Pure, smirking evil. I pick off their eggs, I smash the adults between flat rocks, etc. Still, they usually get the better of me.

This morning I doused the squash plants in pyrethrin spray. The organic-OK stuff. Here's hoping it helps.

6:48 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Amy- It's terribly gross but strangely satisfying. I try not to think about it too hard. Especially the individual wriggling, and crawling halves. Ew.

Susan- Hello! Turtles as pests. That's a new one to me. We have the standard rabbits and such. If they get too brash, I'll zap them with a fence.

Dana- Icky, indeed. And they crunch on the outside and gush on the inside. Most unnatural.

Dad- Guess there's no winning. If we didn't have fertile soil, guess I'd have no bug stories and I'd be a bit saner as a result. Our strawberries have just started to be harvested. Raspberries in several weeks.

Beth- Sadly, the cukes are just not thriving as they should. But you're right. I DO deserve it, dammit!

Teri- Uuuuuuuuhhhhh...and your point is? (She asks with her eyes bugged out and 17 separate tics in her face. Ooooh. Look at that temporal artery pulse.) Actually, that's why I went with the diatomaceous earth. Some bugs ingest it and it cuts them up from the inside. Nothing to develop resistance to, like eating ground glass. Just wish it worked better...

Jamie- That's the safe stuff I've been using. Hope you have better luck with it than I've had. Pure smirking evil, indeed. I saw no adults yesterday. Must mean the eggs are cookin'.

8:53 PM  
Anonymous Ariella said...

You know, I have no idea, not having had such problems with our vegetables in the past. I fully support your scorched earth policy, however, because you did not do that back-breaking work only to have the bugs eat it.

The worst part about bugs is that you absolutely cannot prevent them from getting in. You can put up wire fencing to prevent deer and rabbits, but bugs are just too small. Maybe you need to have Charles build a small screened-in porch around the garden! ;)

9:48 PM  
Blogger listmaker said...

Number One reason I gave up attempting to garden: squash borers and tomato bugs.

Number Two reason I gave up gardening: a farmers' market within walking distance of my house.

It was simply easier to admit defeat at the "hands" of some vile, not-so-little bugs and let the farmers do the work for me. Yeah, I'm a gardening wimp.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Diana said...

Ariella- See, this is one of the myriad reasons that I am so thrilled you will be joining me out here. Misery loves company.

Listie- One of these days, I'll wake up and see reason, oh enlightened one!

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Ariella said...

I cannot WAIT. I get more and more excited every day, and the thought of living with my parents while Erik gets to enjoy living in our house that we BOUGHT and OWN is sort of making me sad now.

Oh well... I will be there by the end of July! And I am so excited to live near you!

11:13 AM  
Blogger moegirl said...

My natural inclination is to not only go General Sherman, but Gheghis Khan...but that's more personality than gardening knowledge, of which I have none...

I love the brutal killing while the bugs were having sweet lovin' One would think that would be a caution to the other bugs! Perhaps you could make tiny pikes around the garden and put bugs heads on them. That would be scary. Or capture a few bugs and make a mini guillotine and make "examples" of them...go medieval baby!

5:45 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Ariella- I know exactly what you mean. When we moved from horrible Bellingham back to Portland, I had 3 weeks to finish in my contract. It was torture cooling my heels up there while Charles was back home with our friends and the new house.

Stace- See, I knew you'd understand. Plus, I figure, what a good way to die, in the throes of buggy ecstasy. I'm a freakin' saint.

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Leigh-Ann said...

I'm picturing your yard as surrounded by rows upon rows of toothpicks, each with a little severed bug head impaled upon it...

It's amazing how much power bugs can have over us. I just had an online acquaintance buy a house, find out there were lots of spiders in the yard, and immediately put the house up for sale again. Immediately. She refused to stay in that house for even one night, and will probably end up losing a few thousand dollars if and when she's able to sell it again. Powerful bugs, man. While she waits to sell, she's paying rent on an apartment and her mortgage payment.

2:12 AM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

Better than the DDT my dad used to spry on our 7 apple trees! We used to bring an apple to our teachers every day!! Wonder how long those people lived??!!!! Not to mention how they made all that applesauce!!

12:47 PM  
Blogger Rozanne said...

I'm still laughing at your "inner General Sherman."

I know that squash/cucumber beetles were the bane of my organic gardening mother's existence.

I'm not sure what she did to control them.

11:17 PM  

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