Beetles and Chipmunks and Birds, Oh MY!

A spring-loaded tea strainer and a bucket of soapy water makes it easy to kill all the beetles you can find!

I suppose it is inevitable that once summer is underway and things are really looking good, the pests begin to make their appearances. Same plants every year. Last year I think I saw about a dozen Japanese Beetles in the yard and was convinced that the considerable expense of applying milky spore twice a year for three years had actually paid off. I started bragging and then heard how few of them anybody had last year and had to conclude it was just the luck of the draw. The jury is still out on the milky spore.

Truth is that although I have had some beetles appear in the last week or so, there are really not many of them. Haven’t seen them on the raspberry or elderberry bushes or the grapes, which are three of their favorites. So far I’ve had just a sprinkling of them in the roses and, of course, deep inside the calla lilies. Nice touch on the dining room table when they decide to make a break for it.

I have resorted to Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew on occasion, but when I can I rely on my handy metal tea strainer and a large covered jar of soapy water. I quietly close the tea strainer’s jaws around a beetle, leaf and all, and then just slide the beetle off the leaf. Then I dump them into the soapy water where they drown – eventually. There are very few escapees and when the jar has more beetles than liquid, I just cover it and set it aside for a day to make sure they are all dead before I pour them out in a woodland grave. Pretty low tech, but it works just fine!

The chipmunks almost won the war for the gooseberries this year, but I opted to pick them green with just a hint of pink rather than give the little rodents a ripe feast. They sit under the shade of the bushes and slurp the pulp from the skins, which they discard around the base of the plants just to taunt me. The under-ripe berries still make a nice jam, but there is nothing to compare to the taste of really ripe gooseberries. . . . .which, I think I have experienced once or twice in all the years I have grown them.

I did buy some kind of a critter repellent this year and sprinkled it down their holes, but it does not seem to have chased too may of them away. Then again, it must have been really great winter for chipmunk reproduction so it is really hard to tell if their numbers have been reduced or not! The repellent is a stinky concoction of dried fox urine which is supposed to scare them out of their homes. It would drive me out of mine! People have suggested that they had equally good or better results by unleashing willing little boys to urinate in the garden, but it seems to me that it might be opening the flood gates to another whole set of problems! The gooseberries are in the freezer so, for now, we are at a truce with the chipmunks. No telling what will catch their fancy latter in the season.

The birds, on the other hand, are a perennial problem for blueberries. In the past I used whiffle balls atop bamboo poles to hold netting around each bush.

The whiffle balls atop the bamboo poles keep the poles from poking through the netting.

This system actually works quite well as long as you secure the netting to the ground so that the birds cannot get through. This year, however, I thought I would try a large, single structure to cover all 12 plants and leave enough head room for us to pick while standing straight. The resulting Blueberry House is working out quite well, but I have my doubts that the lightweight netting will make it for a second year. If not, I will try plan C.

Plan C will consist of sinking some cedar posts into the ground to construct a frame that we can cover with heavy duty window screening for a permanent berry house – complete with a door. I’m willing to bet I will still have to chase out fat robins just as often!

12′ lengths of flexible PEX pipe were curved into arches and inserted into 1/2″ pipes I hammered into the ground first. Then, I stretched fine netting over the whole thing, holding it in place with some zip ties.

About Susan Guagliumi

I am an author, craftsperson and a gardener. My proposal for a book tentatively titled "The Artful Gardener" was just accepted by Stewart, Tibori and Chang Publishers. Although this will be my fifth book, it is the first outside the area of hand/machine knitting. The manuscript is due early in 2013 and the book is scheduled for Spring of 2014. A somewhat longer process than giving birth to a child, embarking on an author's journey can be just as daunting, exciting and almost as fulfilling.
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