Thursday, July 08, 2004

where do the bad bugs go when they die?

...they don't go to heaven where the angels fly (snarled by kurt cobain, in that unplugged session)

let's talk about pest control.

i don't know what's wrong with my garden this summer.
maybe summer is to blame, the summer that is absent, that is. i've never had a bug problem on my balcony before, but this year, this-it's-20°C-in-july-summer i do. do aphids like cool wet days? i don't know. but i've got the impression that they do.

i thought polyculturing would help prevent bug pests. i thought herbs and strongly smelling plants would help prevent bug pests. my balcony is a miracle of diversity. my balcony is full of wonderful smells. it's a lovely place created with the intent of making it a nice place to hang around for bees and bumblebees and those weird colibri-type little flying things that used to live in the mediterraenean until last years' super hot summer convinced them that freiburg is a cool place to live, too. they like my balcony, too. one of them is visiting several times a day. his name is kolja. or so we think.

so let's take a look at my balcony.
jasmine. osteospermums in various shades of violet. heliotrope. fat hen. lavender. goethe, my ginkgo biloba tree (only 25cm tall yet). violet phlox. lobelia. stone flowers. geraniums in pink, white, red and rose. a banana tree. a marguerite tree. olli, the oleander, growing leaves gain even though he nearly died from drought in his winter quatier in the hallway. white sweet peas that have found their way to the gutter. sunflowers and poppy (still tiny). my four cacti live out there, too. in the herb section, there is vietnamese coriander, thyme, basil, rosemary and lemon balm. there used to be mint. - the aphids invaded it so thoroughly, that i simply could not see myself ever eat from it ever again.

it's been a few weeks since the aphids first turned up.
the sweet peas were still tiny, i had just re-potted them for the second time, and one morning, when i marvelled at their growth and beauty, there they were, the little buggers, eating away at my beloved self-grown little sweetpeas. the marguerite tree had them, too. the mint was covered as well. and my pots of basil, grown from organic seeds turned out to have some as well. those fuckers. it was a bit like d-day. just without the snipers waiting at the coast.
it was a sunday morning, no regular shops were open, the drugstore at the train station did not stock any bug remedies, and so all i could do was cut off the worst affected sections of the marguerite tree, spray the plants with water to no avail (no supersoaker in sight), and hardly look at them all day, because everywhere i looked, there were aphids. or at least so it seemed.
the next morning, as soon as the shops were open, i bought some eco-friendly bug killer: rape oil solution in a handy spray bottle. gentle on ladybugs and bees and all the other friendly things. it gave my sweet peas genetically damaged leaves, turned some aphids brown, crunchy and dead, but did not cause the genocide i longed for.
not that i really longed for an aphid genocide, that is. i hate killing things. even aphids. no matter what other people might say though.
one of those "other people" could be evan, who would have a few stories about me and bugs, me and spiders (all poisonous, of course, this was australia), me and roaches on toothbrushes. he would however, quite likely tell the following little story about me and ants.

on my first visit to australia, in the winter of 2000, his family had, as during many winters, a bit of an ant issue in the kitchen and bathroom. we're talking of a whole lot of an ant issue, actually, at least from my western european perspective. ants that would greet me from inside the kitchen cupboard, from inside the sugar jar when i got myself a cup of tea. ants that would sit on the toilet seat welcoming me when i wanted to pee in the middle of the night. ants that would hurry away when i turned on the water in the shower (or did they hate to look at me naked?).
evans mom, a truly lovely woman, far less ocd with household chores than me, hated the ants, but hated using poison in the kitchen (a stand which i share wholeheartedly). because she had had that ant issue several times before, she knew the issue was going to pass, sprayed some poison here and there and wiped the ants away with kitchen paper on the kitchen counter.
one weekend morning, when i had enough of having ants in my tea, ants in the shower, ants on the toilet, i went on an ant mission. first in the kitchen, wiping them away, everywhere, wiping the kitchen cupboards, taking out the trash in which they loved to spend their time. then i went on a mission in the bathroom. i investigated. i checked the trails. i realised that there were holes in the sides of floorboards which could be easy entryways. and then i sprayed. and sprayed, and sprayed some more poison. even though there were not enough ants to justify all that spraying.
it was, i must admit, quite a satisfying experience. not because of the killing: there was hardly any killing, there were no ants, just their trails. it was because i was doing something.
when i came back from my mission, the bathroom out of order for a while because of the poison, evan made a whole lot of comments about germans. germans using gas made by bayer. and comitting genocide. and loving it.
oh, yes, that's what he did. and that's why he would tell the story if you asked him.

my approach was a good one though. the next morning, there were many, many, many dead ants all around the places where i had sprayed. i felt a bit sad, actually, imagining how the poor little ants would arrive at night, entering the bathroom through the holes in the floorboards, dying when they encountered that nasty residue of baycol. or whatever it was.

anyway. that's the little "caro and ants" story evan would tell if you asked him about me and killing bugs.

despite what that baycol bathroom ant incident might look like, i really don't like killing things.
i enjoyed that bathroom massacre because i was doing something against something that annoyed me. - not because i liked the killing.
i hate killing insects, plants, anything. i just try to somehow justify it when it concerns tiny spineless things that eat my plants, but even then i suffer because it just doesn't fit with the non-violence approach to life i deem best.
but what way should you go?
poison is bad for the environment, but at least it works fast. eco friendly methods, like the rape oil against the aphids, are healthier for big animals like humans, but far harsher for the bugs, i reckon.
over the winter, dirks large palmtree (lovingly called "olga") began to be the home to tiny fruit fly type flies. not wanting to spray anything, i bought yellow pheromone stickers to attract the flies, and fucking hell, it worked well in attracting flies. way too well, actually: the yellow things would be blackened by tiny bodies within a day or two. to my horror, it would take hours until the flies would die. hours of pain, i am sure. imagine half your life with your body stuck to sticky slime that smelled like sex.
on some days in summer, a group of flies will meet in my room and fly under the lamp. after lots of pondering about what to do, i bought some eco-friendly fly spray, and that stuff kills them by slowly dissolving the chitin in their bodies. eco-friendly? pardon me.
i've taken to ask the flies and the bugs to leave before spraying them. i tell them that they are welcome in this world, that i cherish them adn i know they have a purpose in this world, but that i would prefer if they chose another place to live. and then i spray.
i'm serious about the asking them to leave thing, actually.

on the osteospermums, i could see darwinism in action, as some snail-like things started eating away at the already partly crunchy aphids and the spider-like mini flies that followed in their trails.
so in a perfect world, i would have bought some ladybugs to eat the aphids. - i just realised this week that you can actually do that, and what a costly endeavour it is. a batch of friendly bugs is roughly 20€. probably only worth it, if you have a large garden, where they can make a home. not worth it, if your garden is nothing but twentyfive terracotta containers on a balcony in the middle of a city.
last weekend, as dirk and i sat on the balcony having breakfast, i actually saw a ladybug, for the first time this summer. i welcomed him warmly, asked him to stay and placed him on the bug infested osteospermums. - he didn't seem to like them much, and walked around the lavender instead.

for the moment, the situation is under control. while partly genetically damaged and lunched and munched on, the sweet peas are happy, and growing and growing and growing and pretty and i love my garden.
first thing i do after getting up is opening the balcony door to check how everyone is. during the day, as i do my studying, about once every hour i go outside and admire the garden. dirk and i, we eat our meals out there, too, when the weather is nice. in the evening, i spend some time tending and watering and saying goodnight.
i practised yoga out there on sunday, doing the yoga journal "happiness" routine, and doing that around things i have grown, things that are filled with love and energy is just lovely. the now is out there, on my balcony, between my plants, between my flowers.
i never thought growing things would be my thing, but it is, and it gets more and more important with every summer.
maybe it's my grandpas genes. he was a carpenter and enthusiastic gardener, and bulding things and planting things was his passion. he raised most of his plants himself, inclduing masses of geraniums and roses. and tending roses is a science. most of my memories of him are of him in the garden or the workshop, wearing his blue work apron. he was happy when he was out there, working hard to make the garden beautiful.
he is the reason why i plant geraniums every summer: they smell like him.

even though i love my grandpa lots, even though he was a good gardener, i know that even if he hadn't passed away 16 years ago, i wouldn't have approached him with advice on bugs:
grandpa was less hesistant with poison. he used herbicides and pesticides, sprayed from a huge yellow tank that he would wear in backpack-style fashion, wearing a breath mask. my brother and i weren't allowed in the garden for the next day or two, to avoid us getting up close and personal with the poisoned plants.
if i sprayed pesticides in my garden, i simply couldn't stay away, not for a day, hell, not even for an hour.

hippie? yes.