Of bugs and pests

From a gardener’s point of view it has been a bad few days.

First, we have used a chemical insecticide. On the advice of the Engineer, this was the only way to treat a nasty infestation (of mealy bugs, I think) on the guava tree and something different but equally nasty on one of the orange trees.
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The Engineer was sure this was the only way to combat the bugs, so I agreed to let him spray. He brought the Malathion – an organophosphate! – and out the window went any hope of truly organic fruit. If we ever get any guavas or oranges, that is.

I provided him with a face mask. There are supplies of such things in Cairo, but you will never, ever see a workman wearing one, no matter how dangerous to health the work he is doing. I try to insist they use them; only the Engineer listens.

Using the organophosphate was a major defeat. Looking it up on the Cornell University external toxicology network (ExToxNet), I note it is generally classified as “slightly toxic”. But when it comes to honey bees, this changes to code red – “highly toxic.”

This is awful. We have five hives on the roof. I feel I ought to go up and apologize: the bees are among our most precious friends. As it is, the smell of Malathion that day was strong, repellent and wafting their way, so I guess they will refuse to hear what I have to say anyway.

Next up, a major snail attack in the raised beds. It was atrocious: baby lettuces beheaded, parsley blitzed, coriander decimated.

This isn’t a new problem. I came across a battalion of snails proceeding in a south-easterly direction across the lawn one night last summer. Presumably they were foraging along the way. At the time, it seemed comical. Not any more.

The trouble with raised beds is that slugs and snails can all too easily hide along the edges and in the corners. It takes a fine tooth-comb to dislodge them all. I collected as many of the pests as I could find, in all sizes, and popped them into a bucket. I wonder if, tonight, I should do a search by torchlight to make sure I got ’em all.

Task done, now I have to decide what to do with the snails. No chemicals, you understand, the round-up was done by hand.

A confession: I am wickedly tempted to re-locate them to a certain garden down the hill from ours. This may seem deeply antisocial, but I assure you it is not. Here in Egypt, we suffer a lot from the effects of hyper-conspicuous consumption, particularly in the matter of residential developments. In our area, building is supposed to be subject to quite strict controls. Given that the general rule here is to break the rules, we see how this sort of consumption translates into grotesque structures way above the height “restriction” and in no way conforming to the “regulations” concerning harmony of appearance, colour of paint, etc.

So I could just invite the snails to try pastures new down the road. And hopefully, once sated on new plants, the snails will be too, er, sluggish to make it back up the hill.

Of course, there are useful bugs in the garden too. I was forgetting them, amid the mayhem of the weekend. One of my favourites, a praying mantis, is pictured here – I found him sauntering among the mint a few weeks ago; then he turned up unannounced for tea on the balcony a while later. He was magnificent!
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