Sunday, April 21, 2013

Dystopian by Design

Act I

If garden pests were music, Japanese beetles would arrive to the eerie creak of a fiddle and the rolling beat of a drum. The hollow whistle of the winds and the urgent discord of cymbals would announce their every step. Instead they sneak silently into my garden, their iridescent shells cloaked by morning shadows and sleep filled eyes. They devour roses and crawl deep into my Rose of Sharon blooms, ravaging the flowers with neat, circular bites. They hang from the leaves like jewels in an Ethiope's ear, heavy and full enough to make Shakespeare proud. They sway with the breeze but do not slip, their hunger sated only when their handiwork is done and the leaves resemble lace, the stems supporting a network of open space punctuated by rigid veins.

Shock and anger shake the sleep from my eyes and I run for my bucket of bleach water.  Scooping them into my hand, they scramble and crawl across my palms before sliding to their death. Again and again this scene has played out in my garden, the beetles emerge as the victor, my garden the hapless victim, and I, the flailing fool.


Rose of Sharon
Act II

I stand in the pesticide row at the local garden store, contemplating my choices. So much death, so little time, and I feel my stomach twist and knot. I grab a bottle of systemic insecticide and thinking of the damage waiting at home, rationalize my choice, pay, and drive away. I mix, pour, apply. The soil reeks of chemicals and I avoid the garden, guilty and ashamed. The beetles die, the leaves grow back, but the garden is quiet. Birds avoid the Rose of Sharon and the butterflies are absent, the milkweed and parsley empty. I have created an oasis but poisoned the water.


My Abraham Darby rose is full of buds that will open to highly fragrant apricot pink blooms. This picture was taken today. The picture below is from summer 2012. 


Act III

If being completely organic had a color it would be the blue of a can of milky spore and the chalky white of its powder. Brown beetles would be splashed with the green racing stripes of a swallowtail caterpillar and the ruby throat of a hummingbird. If words were replaced by emotions instead of evoking them, "garden" would feel like pure joy and the thrill of surprise. Long gone is the systemic insecticide poured at the base of my roses and Rose of Sharon. The role of the fool has been rewritten and my garden bursts with life. Bravo!! Bravo!!!



* A similar version of this post was originally published in September 2010. I stopped using pesticides in 2009 and applied milky spore to my lawn instead. The increase in wildlife was dramatic as was the significant decline in Japanese beetles. I no longer have any problems with beetles.

64 comments:

  1. There is hope in the war on Japanese beetles. Not a major foe here at this time but I have seen a few. Man they crunch loud when stepped on. Good post. It is possible to fight the foe safely.

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    1. I love crunching them but prefer not to have them all. But if I do see one, I make sure their death is painful. Even the birds avoid them.

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  2. I am so pleased your tale had a happy ending.
    I try to be very Zen about uninvited plant eaters and hope the birds or other insects will take care of them but, like you, if there's a product to stop the nasty bugs without harming everything else it is a bonus. Sounds like you're winning.

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    1. I'm trying! They're not native and have no predators, except for humans. It makes them hard to get rid of.

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  3. Ok so I am running out to the store asap to buy this product!!! I play the same song and dance with them every year...it makes me tired just thinking about it! We don't use chemicals either so I am always out with my bowl of soapy water frantically trying to drowned as many as I can and then I leave them in the yard in hopes that they will get picked off by the birds! Thanks for the great info...your writing is spectacular!

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    1. Thanks! See if you can get a neighbor to apply it to their yard, too, so you can kill all the grubs next door, as well. It's pricey but is a one shot application, which makes it super cheap in the long run.

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  4. A happy ending to a very dramatic story. Tammy, I love love love the writing in this post, as well as the sentiments.

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    1. Thanks! Sometimes life is just a drama, complete with costumes and different acts. :o)

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  5. As always, your words are stunningly beautiful. I'm currently fighting a battle with weevils and have been spraying expensive beneficial nematodes (biological control) on my beds for a couple of years but still they persist in eatig too many of my leaves. (Actually, the leaves of the plants - I've no leaves myself.) Thanks for the reminder of what can happen. It will help me be stronger if the temptation to grab a container of poison rears it's head.

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  6. I don't suffer from those beetles in my garden here in the UK, but there are so many other little bugs that eat my plants, and, as an organic gardener, I generally have to stand by and let them. It's always great to find a suitable product you can use to control them. That is such a stunning rose too, it's no wonder you didn't want it destroyed.

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    1. There are some bugs I totally ignore but the Japanese beetles cause a lot of destruction in a short amount of time. They're relentless eating machines that have to die!

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  7. The rose of sharyn is lovely. I'm never really sure which are good beetles and which are bad.

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  8. Sounds like the best answer for my mole and Japanese beetle invasion every year. I usually don't do anything when they are in beetle form because I have too many roses to hand remove them and I don't use chemicals. I looked up milky spore and it is expensive but sounds like it is worth the investment. Thanks for the recommendation!

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    1. It's an investment in your sanity and garden so it's worth the price. :o)

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  9. Sometimes, we have to take one for the team.
    Love your roses...they are happy that you saved them from the beetles.
    Here we keep bleach water for the African snails.

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    1. African snails? Ugh! They sound big and hungry!

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  10. Glad you are getting things under control. No rest for gardeners to just enjoy all the beauty we work so hard to create.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. I have to remind myself to rest and not fuss over everything so much.

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  11. I detest japanese beetles. I just read an article in my Tennessee Gardener magazine that says they will be early this year to our area....seriously!! :-( Since my lawn area (and pasture) are so big, I would spend a fortune on Milky Spore, so I haven't used it. I try to pick some of them off the flowers, but they always win. I'm so glad they are only here for a short time.

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    1. I hate the feeling of their nasty little legs on my hands. So gross! When I try to pull them out, they just burrow deeper into the flower so that I end up destroying the flower I was trying to save. Fortunately, I rarely see them anymore.

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  12. Thankfully, we don't have Japanese beetles here, but if they ever come my way, I'll try to remember your milk spores trick!

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    1. If you see them, kill them. Show no mercy!

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  13. I don't know why, but we are plagued some years with Japanese beetles, and other years not much at all. Like voles in my garden, they seem to ebb and flow over the years. I am glad to hear you have gotten control without pesticides -- and how great that you actually notice the increase in wildlife as a result!

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    1. My garden was silent and empty. It felt so noticeable to me, like a void. Very creepy. I'm convinced wildlife can smell the chemicals and know when to avoid a yard.

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  14. Yahoo! Good for you.... I'm so happy you found a healthier way to destroy those beetles thank you so much for sharing the Milky Spore product I looked it up and learned that it is a bacteria that kills grubs and Japanese beetles.... YaY! You helped me learn something new today.

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    1. It's awesome stuff! I don't think I had Japanese beetles when I lived in SC but we get a lot of them here. Nasty little buggers!

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  15. I know how you feel about garden pests. Although we don't have Japanese beetle problems here we do have Hoplia beetles who are probably a relative. They arrive this time of year and attack white flowers, especially white roses. They do their damage for a few weeks and then are gone. Hand picking is the recommended control but I'm not that diligent. I just put up with them for the few weeks that they are here. That 'Abraham Darby' rose is gorgeous!

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    1. Abraham is a keeper! He's a David Austin. I'm still learning which beetles are good and which are bad. I wish they came with little labels.

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  16. Thanks for the product suggestion! We don't have a problem with Japanese beetles here but the raccoons are driving me crazy, digging up everything I plant and absolutely shredding some, all in pursuit of grubs. In Shakespearean terms, think Iago. (Or is there a worse villian?) Anyway, I'm declaring war on raccoons.

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    1. I'm curious to see how you scare them off. Line the perimeter of your yard with balloons filled with something nasty? It would freak them out!

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  17. There's much satisfaction in squeezing beetles until they pop. Much like salting slugs and watching them melt. OK, so that's the boy in me, but it gets the job done until they overrun the garden and force one to buy the safe stuff to control them.

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    1. I enjoy smashing them into paste with my big feet. :o)

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  18. You do have lots of info about organic material :-). Do you know the milky spores are spores of what? I don't have any such attack on the garden yet, wood-touch..

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    1. I'm not sure. The link below will tell you.

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  19. Forgot to ask: how big was your pot in which you grew sweet potato? Do you remeber the height of the pot and width of the diameter? Thanks.

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    1. Big/deep enough to hold 64 qts of potting soil. :o)

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  20. I am so glad your story had a happy ending with this milky spore powder, it is good not to use pesticides. I don't use pesticides for several years already, but I don't think we have Japanese beetles. Your Abrahm Darby is beautiful.

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    1. Thanks! Pesticides do so much more harm than good. Abraham would be wonderful in your garden.

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  21. I wonder if I drank the stuff and tinkeled on the plants it double the potency?

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    1. I laughed out loud when I read this comment!! So funny! :o)

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  22. I have no idea what a japanese beetle is but sure glad I don't have them. Many many congratulations to you for leaving the insecticides behind and growing a much healthier garden for you and the insects.

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    1. They're ugly green/brown beetles with the appetite of a starving teenager. Pure evil!

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  23. I have used milky spore in the past and it works. I am glad you have forsaken the insecticides. If I can't rid my plants of damaging insects with soapy water, oils, or powders, I just let it be. Your Abraham Darby rose is beautiful.

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    1. I've made peace with some bugs but not these guys. They're big thugs and have to GO!

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  24. Sniff! I always love a happy ending! I've had Japanese beetles, but never in overwhelming numbers.

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  25. I've been organic here for many years, too. And like some of the others, the Japanese Beetles come and go. Last year, they weren't bad at all with the drought--but the crops weren't great anyway for obvious reasons. I've heard of Milky Spore. Do you apply it to the grass and soil around the plants to kill the larvae?

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    1. Yep! Just apply it to all the lawn in your garden since that's where the beetles like to hide. :o) The more people in your neighborhood apply it, the greater your chances of eliminating the problem. I had one neighbor apply it and neither of us have a problem anymore. Whenever I do see one or two, I squish them and enjoy every second if it!

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  26. For two years we were plagued with those horrible things. They ate my roses and then tried to eat my crepe myrtles. We used Milk Spore last fall, and so far so good, but it's still early!

    Your flowers are beautiful!

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    1. Thanks! Milky spore is my favorite combination - effective and easy. :o)

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  27. Great writing as always Tammy. I was out in the garden earlier this evening and found myself considering whether I should eliminate certain vines and one particular rose that I have come to know are favourite foods for Japanese Beetles. It is sad to feel so defenceless against them that you are wiling to edit your garden. I am glad to read about your method for controlling them and wonder if it is available here in Canada. I will have to keep an eye out for Milky Spore Powder.

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    1. I had those same thoughts, which makes me feel like the bad bugs are dictating my garden design. It seems weird that Milky Spore wouldn't be available in Canada. I hope you can find it! I'd try amazon.com if you can't find it locally. They seem to have everything. :o)

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  28. That's a wonderful story. Unfortunately, the chemical companies have created a culture in which gardeners reach for a pesticide whenever anything goes wrong. Some damage is natural and should be tolerated, and some can be prevented. Education like your post is key.

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    1. Thanks! You're absolutely right about chemicals being part of the culture of gardening. The idea of perfect, bug free gardens is as ridiculous as throwing leaves and then buying compost...

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  29. Thanks so much for the great info which I'm passing along to a friend that really needs it. Love your pictures. Have a great rest of the week.

    Sandy

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    1. Hooray! I hope Milky Spore helps solve her beetle problem! :o)

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  30. I have wondered about milky spore and will give it a try...it feels good to purge the chemicals and welcome the wildlife...I so enjoy the lived in look of my garden.

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  31. I used milky spore in Virginia, once. I didn't have that much of a problem with Japanese beetles, it was more the moles. Since they eat more than just grubs, I wasn't really limiting their menu enough to make them leave.

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  32. Ugh! I saw a few in our strawberries last year, and my husband crushed one, but the other got away. Abraham Darby is beautiful! Can't wait to see the 2013 blooms.

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  33. Damn, girl, that's some good writin'!

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  34. Hi Tammie, I'm afraid I don't have such a guilty conscience when I reach for the chemicals, I don't have many though and they're the usual soapy solutions for the aphids, weedkiller for the patio and ant deterrent to halt the invasion. I haven't noticed declines in insects though, just last weekend when it was lovely and sunny I was busy out in the garden but took a moment to stand still and listen to and look at the birds, the great numbers of flying insects, bees and butterflies and I just soaked it all in, felt re-invigorated, then got back on with all those gardening jobs that were piling up.

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  35. Alas I am surrounded by so much grass (pastures, mine and the neighbor's), that I don't think a whole dump truck load of Milky Spore would put a dent in the Japanese Beetles. I can only hope that the neighbor's loudmouth guineas are actually eating some of them.

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