Monday, July 1, 2013

Are you drowning in doodlebugs? I was drowning in doodlebugs. I might have won the bugger war (and no I will NOT apologize to OSC, he's a nutterbutter and doesn't deserve it).

     You can call them pillbugs, or roly-poly's, or woodlice, or sow bugs (there's another kind that looks just like a doodlebug, but the bugs I'm talking about are the roll into a little ball kind). I've always felt quite friendly towards these little guys. You gently pat one, it rolls into a ball, it's non-stop good times for poor kids (at least it was for me).
     They are nocturnal, they are usually not a problem for gardeners, and some people like them because they feed on decay, like the world's tiniest composters. They are not insects (too many legs), they are crustaceans and related to lobster and crabs (I wonder if anyone has steamed and buttered a pile of's not any yuckier than eating something that looks like an overgrown albeit delicious spider).
     I realized I might have an infestation in May. I was putting in some seedlings, and about fifty doodlebugs came boiling out of the soil the minute I started digging. I scratched into more soil, and many, many more bugs came pouring out. I started watching for them, and realized that my daisies didn't actually have a fungus. The bugs were destroying the roots of big, well established plants, to the tune of about one plant death a week. When I pulled up the dead plants, doodlebugs were literally dangling from the roots. After about a week, the damn bugs weren't limited to the roots and stems of the plants. They were crawling on the leaves and flowers, mowing them down like horrible little lawnmowers.
     I've been researching this subject a little, and it seems there are experts and and gardeners who refuse to believe that the bugs will eat leaves and flowers, but they do indeed eat them, and they absolutely can destroy an entire row of established plants.
     It was a much wetter spring than usual here, and I suspect that is the key to this infestation. A few weeks ago, I was knitting on the porch around ten pm, and I smelled that strange, specific smell that I've only heretofore smelled in swamp country. My garden flat out stank of rotted things. I'd removed the winter mulch in early spring, and I hadn't put any more down yet, I'd been vigilant about removing dead leaves, etc. I hadn't put the compost or manure down yet,  like I usually do; the only viable culprit was the overly rainy season.
     Let me list what has most definitely NOT worked in my doodlebug infestation: tuna cans filled with cheap beer (both with the tuna remains rinsed, and without rinsing), eggshells, homemade insecticide with oil/soap/water combo, diatomaceous earth, and the usually tried and true smoosh-the-bug-when-you-see-it routine. I'd read that many people use the beer in the tuna can thing to great success, with doodlebugs racing in from all corners to drown themselves willingly, frat-boy style.  It didn't work, even with many refills due to evaporation.  Ditto with the eggshells scattered about (apparently the bugs are supposed to avoid crawling on them due to, I dunno, prickly feet?), and the homemade insecticide. I had high hopes for the diatomaceous earth. The biggest problem is the cost (almost twenty dollars a bag) and the fact that you can't water the garden with the DE on, because it doesn't work if it gets wet (also, make sure it's food grade DE, not pool grade). I used an entire bag, scattered everywhere, and didn't water for a week. I had some dead bugs, but not many. Five days later, we had a tremendous downpour that lasted for a day and a night, and it washed it all away (the flowers were looking quite wilted at that point, esp. the daisies with their shallow root system).
     For my experience, I think the DE works best in the house/garage (I have doodlebugs crawling on the floor, through the carpet, across the tiles, along the shower floor; they're everyDAMNwhere). I'm going to save up and buy another bag and use it in the house and garage. The house will look like Johnny Depp on a cocaine binge,  but I suspect it will help in the long run.
     The only thing that has worked in any manner is a product with the charming name of Sluggo Plus. I've read comments in gardening message boards, and some people are concerned that it will hurt bees, but apparently it only hurts them if scattered on fruit or floral blossoms; if scattered on the ground it's harmless (I sincerely hope so since I haven't seen more than a few bees this year).
You have to get the ground wet, like damp wet, not standing ground water wet, before you sprinkle it around the garden. You're not supposed to use it more than a few times a year; even organic remedies can have lasting and unfortunate effect on the environment. This is also an issue with the diatomaceous earth. It goes to work on dehydrating and killing ALL the bugs, even the good ones. I feel quite bad about my scorched earth campaign, but I'm not going to sit back and willingly donate my flower garden in the name of living copacetically with all God's little critters. Not gonna happen.
     I've had the Sluggo Plus working now for about six days, and there is a significantly noticeable decrease in the amount of doodlebugs. They have been been crawling all over the outside of the house, all over the cement patio, check to jowl in the soil and plants, just literally infesting everything. I've smashed so many, SO MANY, up till now, but when I just checked this evening, there were only a few stragglers crawling across the porch, and only a few came up after I dug a little in the dirt. On the bottle, it suggests sprinkling a line around the house, like a line of defense, and I'm going to try that tomorrow. Right now I've got the contents of an entire bottle of granulated Sluggo Plus resting in the front garden, patio and doorway.
     In a disturbing side note, I've noticed that I've become the tiniest bit addicted to the little cracking sound that the bugs make when squished by my finger (like an unsucessful spinoff from "How to eat fried worms," I find myself looking for bugs to squash. I know. Nasty behavior from a ten year old, unspeakable for a middle aged woman). Sluggo has slowed down that sick little habit.
     In a side-side note, if you are likewise inclined to kill them with your own bare hands, it's important to pick the dead and dying off the battleground: I haven't seen this in my limited research, but the doodlebugs in my garden are cannibals. When I leave a squashed bug behind, I will find, hours later, the corpse surrounded by a wagon circle of doodlebugs going to town on its remains, like supper-time at the Sawyer homestead. 

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