Home Invasion Repelled

June 26, 2010

Okay, that title is sort of a teaser.  No one actually invaded my home; they invaded the whole area where I live.  It even made the local evening news – Japanese Beetles Invade the Ozarks.  They invaded us last year, too.  I suppose the beetles are around all the time, in smaller numbers, but last year and this year, their numbers were high enough that we home gardeners took notice.

Popillia japonica, the Japanese beetle, is rather a pretty little bug, as beetles go, with its iridescent copper colored wings.  But, en masse, they can quickly skeletonize the leaves in an entire bean patch or series of grape vines or rose bed, as I learned when we were invaded last year before I knew what they were.

Last year, I was too late to do much but shake them off the plants and spray them with my favorite homemade concoction of garlic and chili pepper, both of which stopped them for the moment, but did little to discourage them permanently.  So, after talking to my fellow gardening friends online and reading several articles around the internet, I settled on a plan of attack for this year.

Since I eat what I grow – including many of the weeds in the yard – or share the vegetables with friends and neighbors, I don’t use harsh herbicides or pesticides around the house or garden.  That’s just my peculiar preference.  There are bait traps for Japanese beetles, but they can attract adult beetles from several neighborhoods away and don’t capture all the beetles they attract, so that seemed rather a losing proposition, too.  I settled on neem oil.

Neem oil is pressed from the fruit and leaves of the neem tree, Azadirachta indica, which, as its name implies, grows in India.  And, to quote that internet favorite, Wikipedia:

“Formulations made of neem oil also find wide usage as a bio-pesticide for organic farming, as it repels a wide variety of pests including the mealy bug, beet armyworm, aphids, the cabbage worm, thrips, whiteflies, mites, fungus gnats, beetles, moth larvae, mushroom flies, leafminers, caterpillers, locust, nematodes and the Japanese beetle. Neem oil is not known to be harmful to mammals, birds, earthworms or some beneficial insects such as butterflies, honeybees and ladybugs. It can be used as a household pesticide for ant, bedbug, cockroach, housefly, sand fly, snail, termite and mosquitoes both as repellent and larvicide (Puri 1999). Neem oil also controls black spot, powdery mildew, anthracnose and rust (fungus).”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neem_oil

A pint bottle of 70% neem oil cost me under ten dollars.  A tablespoon full in a quart of water made enough solution to spray both of my gardens, the grape vines and the roses twice.  The beetles are gone.  If I see signs of them again, I’ll respray, but it seems like a bargain for the price.

As I’ve mentioned before, I believe we are a part of nature, not its owners.  The food and shelter we obtain from it should be used with gratitude and humility, keeping in mind our place in the whole.  I can’t imagine that, if we had done this all along, we would need to worry, now, about destroying ourselves and the world we live in through climate change, oil spills, mountain top removal and the host of other assaults and insults we’ve committed in our self-delusion.

Nature has a generous bag of tricks to maintain homeostasis and shares them with us if we look for them.  But I am not alone in my fear that, if we do not quickly re-learn our place within nature, we humans are in grave danger of being the next home invaders repelled.

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