Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Nomadic Plantswoman is Nonplussed, or Time to Fight Dirty

Japanese beetles. Their ability to reduce avid horticulturists and weekend hobby gardeners alike to tears of frustration and desperation is renowned in various eastern and southern areas of the U.S. I have read and heard accounts of entire rosaries, vineyards and orchards infested to the point of aerial fumigation back when that was still a-ok and couldn't possibly harm anyone as long as they stayed inside.

Since late May I have been marveling at the very large beetles flying across the lawn; I would call them huge but I have experienced, involuntarily, fully grown male hercules beetles far too close for comfort and those are what I now consider huge beetles despite my knowing even larger varieties do exist. I have seen as many as eight of these inch-long, iridescent creatures transversing the 8-12 inches just above the grass in a manner that strikes me as extraordinarily vulture-like in its circuitous and seemingly searching qualities. Their dance has entertained me most mid-mornings since early summer as I water the garden and pick off the caterpillars that come from nowhere to devour the basil and the tomatoes. Had I known then what I do now, I would not have been sitting in the deck chair sipping my morning tea but rather chasing them around with a net and a jar full of soapy water.

Never in my life have I experienced Japanese beetle infestation in my garden areas or the lawns where I have lived even though the map above shows these pests spread over all areas of the country I have lived and gardened in the last decade. I had to move to the American South for that. And boy howdy are there lots of them in my backyard!

I had not suspected the shimmery green beauties to be the source of any of my recent gardening woes here until I actually witnessed a smaller version of the lawn-dancers eating holes in a young tomato leaf this morning. I thought all the holes in the tomatoes were from flea beetles - which I have been spraying insecticidal soap for every evening - and possibly the occasional hornworm I hadn't been perceptive enough to locate and remove before it got thumb-sized, but no, apparently not. And these things have a just-shrug-it-off reaction to the insecticidal soap even when I make it with twice the concentration of ammonia and soap. Not amusing, little green beetle. Not. Amusing. At all.

The University of Kentucky recommends that I use carbaryl, which is completely out of the question, or any number of other synthetics to keep them from eating the garden plants for a couple of weeks. Neem and pyrethrins are also mentioned briefly, but not recommended as they would apparently not last as long or be as effective as the others. Well, effective only short-term or not, I have neem. I used it to control cabbage worms and powdery mildew back in St. Louis; 'cause nothing else was working for me then, either.

Oh, I suppose I could make up some tobacco tea and try that out, but it smells nasty, I always feel ill when I make it and it's deadly to all lifeforms (except apparently certain molds), including humans, and is easily absorbed through skin so I only use it as an absolute, last-ditch option. I'll be neem-spraying the entire garden at dusk tonight; and possibly running around the yard with a net tomorrow morning trying to catch, and subsequently drown in soapy water, as many shiny, green, garden-destroying, vulture-behaving insects as possible. Maybe I can kill enough of them to make pretty beetle wing embroideries or maybe jewelery

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