Friday, 25 November 2011

Earwig Wars

NOTE: this body of this post was composed by Rob, a friend who is a keen gardener, rather than myself.  However I thought the content and tone of the post were quite suitable for my blog (he doesn't run one himself, possibly because he spends most of his waking hours pursuing earwigs) and he has given permission for me to copy his work. 

As a result any references in the rest of this post to "my garden" or in the first person refers to Rob's garden and/or other activities rather than my own!

For the last few years the productivity in my garden has dropped off quite a bit – initially due to drought and water restrictions, but last year when water was plentiful I had terrible trouble with plants, especially seedlings being eaten. I assumed that it was slugs and snails and took appropriate action, but with only limited results. Things that I grew from seed would get wiped out overnight – entire rows of carrots demolished for example or broccoli seedlings chewed back to ground level. Larger plants (either survivors or larger seedlings) might get a bit munched, but survived OK.  I concluded that it wasn’t snails doing the damage and started to form my suspicions about earwigs and slaters.

When I was in Adelaide in the middle of the  year, Shaun my brother in law told me that he had once had an earwig infestation and gave me a method to combat it. This involved leaving pieces of corrugated cardboard in the garden under which the earwigs would shelter and you could then catch and destroy them. This again only produced limited success and quite a bit of cardboard in the garden.

When we went to Malaysia in October I had just germinated 2 rows of carrots, a row of beetroot, 4 zucchinis and 6 cucumbers. When we returned, my veggie garden consisted of 1 carrot – not 1 row, but 1 carrot. Everything else had been eaten. I wasn’t happy and having confirmed via Shaun that earwigs were probably the problem resorted to Dr Google and commenced a war. I have now tried a variety of methods which I detail below

1.       Shauns’s method
2.       Spray plants with a soapy water solution
3.       Earwig trap - a tin of oil and soy sauce buried at ground level
4.       Newspaper rolled up which attracts them (variation on Shaun’s method)
5.       Pyrethrum
6.       Cleaning up leaf litter and finding nests
7.       Earwigs are nocturnal so going out with a torch and squishing them with your fingers

All of these methods have been tried. I decided it would be interesting to keep track of which method was more successful by counting successful ‘kills’. Of course some methods it is hard to tell – the soapy water might be effective, but it didn’t produce and carcasses. Also some methods are done in combination – pyrethrum sprayed into a crack in a retaining wall flushed out quite a number who were then squished. Also I don’t know if they would die from pyrethrum contact – they certainly didn’t like it much.

The body count summary is

1.       Shaun’s method – 4 deaths
2.       Soapy water – 0 (but perhaps might help keep them away – I did spray half a row of beetroot & they have fared better than the other half (might taste soapy though?))
3.       Trap – 0 a complete waste of time
4.       Newspaper - 1 death
5.       Pyrethrum – 0 confirmed, but certainly useful
6.       Clean up. I have found 5 ‘nests’ in compost, leaf litter and retaining walls. With the use of pyrethrum & squishing this has resulted in 634 deaths
7.       Nocturnal squishing 1564 squished between my fingers
A total of 1933 earwigs have been eliminated.

Unfortunately method 7, while very effective does involve grovelling around outside in the dark and also gives me sore back from leaning over the plants . Method 6 is also quite effective, but of course you have to find the nests. I now find myself looking at the garden in a whole new light. ’If I was an earwig, would I want to live there?’

Most of the time when you spot an earwig it is a sitting duck, but every now and then,  one is too quick for me (quite often actually, especially if it is after dinner) and escapes. They are quite adept at just hiding in the soil or mulch. A few times  they have managed to get me with their nippers – it doesn’t really hurt but was enough of a shock that the first 3 times I dropped them (now I just squish harder).  I wonder if via a form of natural selection I am building a race of super earwigs that will taunt me in years to come.

So what lessons do you take from this. Firstly, if you garden is getting munched overnight it may be earwigs. Take a wander around your garden at night and see who is eating what. Even if you don’t find anything, it will give the neighbours something to talk about. The second lesson take out of this is that you really shouldn’t pee me off.

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