BUGS AND WEEDS – September 2021

By Diane Lockspeiser

When I bit into a big sweet juicy red strawberry while gardening, I discovered that the berry had a hollow area in its center. Out of that hollow jumped an earwig. I was startled, but reminded of the old joke that asks what is worse than finding a worm in your apple, the answer being to find HALF a worm!

On another of the many warm and damp days of this summer, as I went to dry my hands with the bathroom hand towel I felt a sharp pinch. Out of the towel ran yet another earwig. The earwigs seemed to be everywhere!

There is a good side to their habit of hiding. I still gather my bucketful quota of weeds almost every day. Since my chickens have been confined because of the fox, I’ve been dumping the weeds into their yard for them to sort through and help break down into soil. If I find an earwig, ant, or grub during the weeding process, I catch it with my fingers and drop it into the bucket. Invariably, it scurries down into the weeds to hide. When I dump out the bucket, the chickens happily chase after the once-again-scurrying bugs and eat them.

I’m not usually one to toot my own horn but, well, “Toot! Toot!” I still get the email newsletter from the organic farm on Long Island where I used to maintain the pick-your-own herb and flower garden by myself, as well as help develop new areas of that garden. At the time, one of the farmers would tease me, calling me “old eagle-eye,” because I would try not to leave behind even the tiniest weed. I was able to do that for such a large area in the one day a week I was there by surface-hoeing, what I call scuffling, every inch of the garden before proceeding on to any other project. They thought it unnecessary to keep it so “clean.”

One of the helpers had gotten the title of Master Gardener from Cornell’s Cooperative Extension program. He kept telling me not to hoe because he was told that it stirs up new weed seeds to grow. Well, YEAH – that’s why I do it every week! His logic sounded to me to be the same as those who don’t want to dust the house because it will just get dusty again.

Mulching, when possible, does help keep down the number of weeds but still doesn’t stop them completely, especially since some weeds love to hide and crawl through the mulch as much as the earwigs do. I have many mulched areas that I still scuffle weekly.

I got an apology, a couple of years after I left, from the farmer who had teased me. They hadn’t kept up with those tiny weeds, ended up not being able to keep up at all, and the garden was a mess. She now understood what I had been doing. Maintaining a large area with lots of perennials is not the same as farming fields that get plowed under each year.

In the last newsletter they mentioned that there were now nine volunteers taking care of that area. NINE !!! …to replace me. Toot! Toot!~