Tuesday, June 26, 2012

C.S.I. Irwin

Rooting out Criminals in the Vegetable Patch

Despite my faithful effort in the weeding and watering departments, our vegetable garden looks sad. Plants are being haphazardly pruned overnight.  Leaves are sheared off.  Tomatoes are topped.  The shoemaker’s elves must be throwing bonsai parties in the garden each night.  Too bad there is nothing make-believe about this damage.

Zapped Zucchini

Suspect number one: rabbits.  My handsome fence-builder shot into action on Mother's Day and constructed a wire fence to keep those long-eared veggie snitchers out. 

The damage continued. 

Bullied Broccoli
Picked-on Peppers
Time for a pitty party.  I’m a procrastinator, after all, and it’s hard for people like me <sniff sniff>  to work extensively without reward.   This was so unfair <insert whining tones>.   I was doing everything right this year.  I'd even planted marigolds between the tomatoes.  Their happy yellow blooms were the first to go. 

Now, hold on just one blessed minute.  The first to go?  What on earth?  Marigolds (in the form of Pyrethrum) are the active ingredient in a handful of insecticides.  What creature in its right mind would eat a marigold?  I pulled out my trusty Ortho Home Gardener’s Problem Solver and searched for Tagetes (Marigold’s latin nomer).  Lo and behold, there were two bugs listed that would eat that insecticidal plant.  Since this clearly wasn’t the work of spider mites, the culprit had to be a cutworm. 

Cutworms are the beavers of the insect world.  Envision a caterpillar with big buck teeth, chomping down every plant in your garden.  In reality, they don’t have big white bicuspids, but that mental imagery helps me identify their damage: buzz-sawn vegetables.  The cutworm is a fleshy caterpillar, about 2” long, which spends its days hiding in the top 2 inches of your soil.  Then, when you’ve retired for the night - when you’ve kicked off your boots and settled down in your Lazy-Boy with the latest edition of the Daily Journal - out they come.  Slinking up and down stems, lopping off a limb here, and a leaf there.   

What this lousy worm didn’t realize is that he just picked a fight with the Terminator.  I’m the girl wielding a Rambo knife.  The procrastinator righteously indignant over her ineffectual effort.  The glutton who lives for every bite of fresh garden salsa she can squeeze out of the season.  He has foolishly tread into enemy territory. 

My fruitless effort: one massacred marigold,
upturned soil and empty bug jar.
Armed with bitterness and a trowel, I set out one night on a seek and destroy mission.  The plan: to dig up the top 2” depth of my entire garden, locate every cutworm, and eradicate their species from the face of the planet (beginning, obviously, with my vegetable patch).  Twenty minutes later, I’d have been glad to find one.  Not a single cutworm had risen to the challenge.  Cutworms were proving to be more clever than anticipated.   Time to up my game.  I would return later - much later - under the cover of darkness.

I’m not excessively scared of the dark (aside from the increased possibility of tripping and falling to my death), but the setting of the sun introduces a new challenge that lurks in our vicinity: Mephitis mephitis, commonly known as the striped skunk.  They’re not as populace as rabbits, but a run-in with one is certainly more potent.  After tucking my children in bed, I faced my stinky fears and plunged into the night. 

Fifty-two brave steps later, I was safely locked into my wire-fenced vegetable garden.  I turned the flashlight toward the recently damaged peppers and marigolds.  Clever or not, those cutworms had to eat.  No amount of camouflage or cleverness could save them from me now.  With the intensity of a surgeon, I examined each plant.  Up and down the stems, under the leaves, around the perimeter of the plants.   Nothing.  Not a one.  What was I doing wrong? 

As I gathered my thoughts, the beam of my light rested on a broccoli stem.  A sliver of copper colored material caught my attention.  A closer inspection revealed four earwigs enjoying an extended one-course meal on the thick leaves.  The broccoli foliage looked as if it’d been perforated by a mad hole-puncher.  Could earwigs have done all the damage to my garden?  I turned to the source of ultimate knowledge: Google. 

Within minutes, my hunch was confirmed and I was in the kitchen mixing up a concoction of sweet stickiness to trap the pincher-bottomed bugs.  One more trip back into the night and the skunk-infested countryside, and three little pots of revenge were set.  Eight hours later, dawn revealed my success: 110 earwigs floating in sticky goo.  The next night I set out one sticky trap and three damp, rolled newspapers (another recommended organic trap).  108 earwigs in the goo and 0 in the papers.  I'll be setting out traps until they come back empty.  Case closed. 

My apologies to the rabbits and the cutworm.  You're off my hit list.  For now. 

Mini-Terminator in the making,
mixing up Earwig traps.

The earwig trap was composed of equal parts corn syrup, vegetable oil and soy sauce, mixed in little margarine tubs and buried up to the soil level for easy bug access.  It also effectively caught 12 spiders, 1 beetle, 2 moths, and countless ants.  Something to keep in mind for other buggy dilemmas.  


Anonymous said...

You may have exonerated the rabbits in your garden, but, I would like to tell you that I tried the Marigolds two years ago (I was told that Marigolds would keep the rabbits out of the garden). I bought three flats and surrounded my garden with them. I had some left over so I planted them in a flower garden by my pond. The next morning I looked out and there was a baby bunny sitting in the Marigolds eating them.

Casa Mariposa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Casa Mariposa said...

That much damage from an earwig? Dang! I will definitely keep this recipe handy. All of my plant damage was done by a bunny that was eaten by a dog who later pooped the bunny out all over the floor. Your oil traps are much cleaner. :o)

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