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Friday, 14 August 2009

Live or Let Die?

I’ve just got back from a long weekend running around Scandinavia with one of my girlfriends. Lots of interesting things happened that weekend. Among the less interesting things was her announcement that she no longer kills insects. She told me this whilst tenderly plucking a blood sucking flying thing from her arm and releasing it back into the wild. When I say less interesting, I mean less interesting for you. There’s no getting around it anymore, I’ve become a fully fledged gardening geek so in fact I find a decision like that fascinating.

For a few weeks now I’ve been studiously ignoring the growing sense of guilt at my brutal approach to any insect that manages to find its way into my garden. I’ve doubtless learnt this behaviour from my mum who positively enjoys the crunch of a snail meeting its doom. She in turn learnt this from her mother who used to throw spiders into jars of bleach. “How cruel!” I hear you cry? And whilst I must agree, “she lived in different times”, I find myself replying, “tougher times when it was difficult to muster sympathy for the Andrex puppy let alone an unwanted spider.”

I digress. I don’t think my guilt comes from the actual killing of bugs and grubs, it’s more that I haven’t taken the time to think about it enough and decide my stance. This has left me in a thoroughly unsatisfactory position. When I choose to ignore a woodlouse scurrying away from me back to the safety of my beetroot pots, I feel a little ball of resentment grow inside of me. By contrast, when I leave them to it, my lettuce end up looking positively polka dotted.

I think it would be a worthy thing to spend the time researching the ecological impact of the insect inhabitants of my terrace and making a valid judgement that way. Unfortunately I am not always a worthy person and I’m hoping that the more ecologically versed among you will comment and let me know what to kill and what to keep.

I think I should qualify here that my ambivalence to insectkind is not wholly unfounded. Some of you may remember that earlier this year my rosemary bush was infested with beetles, though they’re now departed, the rosemary failed to flower this year and has never quite recovered. I have countless similar such stories where my plants have been left battered and bruised by some insect or another.

On the other hand, I do love it when my plants are adorned with butterflies and bees. More than that, gardens depend on a diverse wildlife, and who am I to decide what stays and what goes?

But my rosemary… butterflies… basil… bees… oh the dilemma.

I think I’ve reached a conclusion… I pledge to only kill insects that I’m sure are causing harm to my plants. Oh and mosquitoes. My war on mosquitoes will be waged until my death.

Thanks for listening.

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Joshua said...

As well as bleaching spiders, our grandmother also used to throw salt on slugs. Rach may have been to young to remember this but it made a strong and lasting impact upon my 5 year old psyche. The result of salting slugs is that they shrivel up in a sodium chloride-based nightmare to resemble dried up bits of snot. Black snot, the kind you get when you've been travelling on the London Underground. It's a form of chemical warfare against gastropod molluscs. I'm sure nan derived pleasure from murdering slugs.

(There was also the 'blithering wasp' incident but that's for another time...)

People always say 'there's a point to every creature' or 'every insect plays a role in the world's ecological systems'. But what, for example, do flies contribute? Feed on dogshit and then puke in babie's eyes? Great. And wasps, what do they do? Sting you and then go and breed more wasps in their evil nests? Thanks wasps. Don't get me wrong, I actually like insects. I would never EVER kill a spider (arachnids, I know, shhh..) but that's mainly due to Charlotte's Web and a bit because they are beautiful and a bit because they are the major ally in my personal war against flies. It's not really to do with their ecological function. But their webs are cool and must contribute to natural compost surely?

There are lots of good insects. And there are some bad insects. So I think your approach is right Rach. Kill the bad ones. If we eradicated the world's mosquitoes, or the world's tsetse flies, or as David Attenborough recently mentioned, worms that burrow through children's eyes in Africa ( surely the world would be a better place?

Rachel Surtees said...

" But what, for example, do flies contribute? Feed on dogshit and then puke in babie's eyes? Great. " AMAZING!!

Anne said...

I used to look at snail's shells lovingly, wondering how they could achieve such beautiful symmetry. That went on for two years; defending their habits, eating my flowers, herbs whatever until I suddenly decided enough was enough. They were breeding at an astonishing rate.

I started killing them. Still feel bad but not as bad as when they have destroyed my carefully cultivated seeds.

Perhaps an expectation that some plants will inevitably be lost to insect would help level out our desire to have perfect plants.
Thanks for provoking a very difficult discussion Rachel.

Frugilegus said...

I sympathise with you. I veer wildly between marvelling at the amazing David Attenborough footage of slug-love to crazed sessions of snail genocide. And my Rosemary beetles: well i picked them off but couldn't crush them, so they're still in a jar - and, three months later, they still live. I had my own moral dilemma here and still don't have an answer.