Birds eat them, so they're food for birds. Good insects eat them, so they're food for the insects we love, like the Lady Beatle and the Praying Mantis. Just say no to poisons. But so often bad insects just seem simply bad and we don't like them because they eat our plants and give us the creeps. And sometimes there's just so many -- like earwigs and Mormon crickets. Plants denuded overnight. At such times, gardeners become desperate without drastic, torch-and-pitchfork measures. Like squishing parties.
Ritualize it! Each night in late June and throughout much of July, dress yourself with a good pair of tight fitting garden gloves, a flashlight or set of back country or climber's head lights -- that's all you need, and a double gin martini (the drinks can vary).
Get ready. An hour or two after twilight head for the garden. Gently move the light from your flashlight and be on the look out for cute little Snout Beetles, the ones sawing circular cuts from the edges of the leaves of your roses, your black eyed susans, and many of your most cherished leafy plants.
The beetles are easy to spot. About a half inch in length, with shiny black, slightly mottled shells and legs, they can be seen clinging to the edges of the leaves. They will be eating happily, but will probably stop eating while in the spotlight. Any other disturbance will prompt them to drop from the plant.
Once you spot the beetle and before it's allowed to escape, quickly secure the little rascal between your gloved thumb and index finger -- grab the beetle quickly as it will drop to the ground if disturbed. Once you have it secured between your fingers, press down hard. It takes some pressure. There's a crunch, but it's a quick death and they're not very gooey. Then simply drop the squished beetle onto the ground to allow it to compost back into the garden from which it came and from which it had been feeding.
If you see one Snout Beetle, you can be fairly certain there are more feasting on the leaves of your plants. You might need a second or third round of martinis before the squish-a-thon is through.
In an attempt to lower the squirm factor, one local gardener uses a pair of pliers for gripping and squishing the beetle. "It takes a lot more skill," Bob says, "and it doesn't get easier with each round of drinks."
If we lived in a world where insects had proper names, of course there would be many that we would consider allies in the noble and heroic garden wars against the pests. The garden world upon which our happeness depends and within which we consume our time in the days and nights of our lives.
Insect allies. Those that fight the good fight keeping the leaf, fruit and flower eating populations under control. The relationship can still be simbiotic. That is, the theater of war doesn't have to include poisons since poisons put everything we fight for in jeapordy, including our own bodies, the bodies of our nonhuman companions (some call them 'pets') and the bodies of our insect, bird, amphibian and reptile allies.
There are contributing degrees of protection provided by the nonhuman allies. While the desired insects are left alone to rule over the garden world, an effect of the effort is a living garden where the alliance between the gardener(s) and the beneficial garden creatures help protect the garden and remove the need and the desire to completely sterialize the space. The living aspect of the garden is protected where a larger collusion of living things is allowed and encouraged to interact.
The old days of running to the chemical isles of the superstores is over. In fact, at least since the early 1970s a more ecological understanding of gardening has emerged which doesn't panic. There is no absolute kill list anymore. That is to say, well, sure, there are insects and other critters that need to be controlled and the action that brings about the desired result is the act of killing. Yes, killing insects will still be on the list of possible controlling measures, but now, with the insect allies welcomed into the garden, the killing won't be with toxic chemicals.
Predator insects get rid of pests in the garden and field, parasites slow the march of leaf eating insects, and pollinators insure the production of fruit and seeds from flowers. This added with your own predator presence in the garden and you have quite a strong defense against plant and crop damage.
A living garden will make every effort to host and assimilate predators, parasites and pollinators. Their presence in your garden can be read as a sign that your surroundings are alive and approaching a vibrancy that is deeper than simply throwing plants in the ground and spraying them with poison.
A living garden could be called a vital garden, a clean air garden, a conscious garden. In such a garden, you won't kill all the pests, and they will be gone of their own accord usually by early August anyway.
If insects were little tiny people it would be. Still, the non-toxic, hands-on approach to pest control has many physical and spiritual benefits. The just-say-no-to-toxic-poisons life style is environmentally beneficial in that select predation does not constitute an all out war. Absolute and complete insecticide is not necessary, nor is it the goal in a living garden. That is, the gardener as a primate predator hand picking insects from the plants being cared for and tended, insures against the most typical type of overkill scenerio where all insects die, including the desirable ones. Hand picking is a way for the gardener to become an intentional, integrated actor and participant in the life of the garden. This integrated relationship between the gardener(s) and the beings that live among and upon the plants, unfolds in the interaction between the human intentionalities and the other insect intentionalities, within a garden which is itself within many and varied simbiotic life and death processes, all happening at once, with us or without us.
Defending your plants with your actual hands (instead of the alienating effects of poison sprays which, if not physically harmful, are usually at least psychologically and spiritually disturbing to most of us to some noticable degree) -- defending your plants with your own body will bring you closer to your garden, to your home, to the living planet.
It's easy to have a Praying Mantis set up residency in your backyard each summer. They generally stay in one area and are incredibly fascinating to watch. Plus they kill lots of wasps and flies.
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