The bugs have been having a ball in our garden this year. I guess gardening organically means that, for all the abundance of wildlife in the garden and therefore of natural predators, there’s also an overwhelming buildup of pests.
It didn’t help that I was away for nearly two months from mid-July. Or that I’m not particularly stringent about “hygiene” in the garden. If the idea is to let nature have her way – with a bit of guidance – why obsess about collecting up leaves and “cleaning” the beds? It’s a word I hear constantly from the gardeners: The verb nadafa (to clean) is over-used, and needs to be, er, swept away.
There have been some unexpected encounters. In the spring, a praying mantis in the big basil (Ocimum basilicum) near the balcony; more recently the garden has been alive with crazy jumping grasshoppers/crickets (they love the piles of drying materials between the raised beds) and one magnificent locust:
Yesterday, as the gardeners began trimming our hedge of Ficus nitida (Indian laurel), dense with dead wood, infested leaves and dust, down came a stem with a truly beautiful caterpillar attached. Magnificent in the finest shades of green camouflage, he seemed to have meandered straight off the toadstool in “Alice in Wonderland”, leaving behind his sheesha:
Astonished by his glorious colouring, I took some photos and then popped him in with the clippings to ride off with the waste – giving him a fighting chance. Perhaps I shouldn’t have done that: I would love to see him transformed into a full-fledged butterfly.
The overgrown borders have turned into the usual haven for snails. Wherever the perennials are dense, usually under cover of frangipani (Plumeria acuminata), hibiscus (H. rosa sinensis) and the like, it’s damp enough for snails to make merry and multiply like there’s no tomorrow.
The explorer climbing up the rose (Rosa spp.) is behaving true to form: Snails are often found at a considerable height on anything from hibiscus to the walls of the house! The damage is limited in the borders but much more problematic in the raised beds, where they hide along the sides and in corners, and behind stones or bricks used to batten netting down.
Also hiding in the borders are vast tribes of woodlice, and even some small, dark cockroaches – all of them frantically burrowing into the soil the moment I raise the cover over their heads.
Among the truly spectacular casualties this summer was the chard in RB2, the culprits most likely a herd of rampant caterpillars:
The damage was so comprehensive, it made me laugh. I cut the skeletons down, and fed the roots with compost to encourage new growth, while taking care to cover the bed well with netting. We shall see…
As usual, however, it is the mealy bugs that are wreaking havoc in all directions, especially on the roses, plumbago (P. capensis), Indian laurel and some fruit trees.
One of the lime trees, the kumquat and the Italian lemon tree are all affected not only by mealy bugs but also by other pests that leave sticky webs around the stems, leaves and fruit, as here on the kumquat.
This could be scale, as it appears to be associated with the patches of white, containing insects, on the stem. Not so much of a problem previously, but quite obvious this year.
To combat the fruit flies, we stripped the guava tree of leaves and immature fruit early in the summer. It should flower again soon and produce fruit in the winter, when there are no flies – but, meanwhile, the pests moved on to the lemon tree nearby and did their best to break through the defences:
According to Eric Moore*, the Middle East is a “relatively pest- and disease-free environment.” for gardeners. Well – not in my experience! I can’t accept spraying with chemicals, so I will have to do a lot more to encourage the birds, lizards, beetles and spiders that might help to combat them. And be more conscientious about cleaning out the infected stuff…
* Gardening in the Middle East – Eric Moore – pub. Stacey International