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Japanese Beetle on my raspberries

Well, they’ve arrived.  The Japanese beetles, right on schedule.  Now, the trick with these guys is to go after them when they’re sluggish, before the sun gets hot or in the cool of the evening.  Warmed up by the heat of the sun they are very feisty and quick,  and able to out maneuver you.

Everybody has their favorite garden tool — the one you always take with you, and can’t really go about gardening your way without it.  Mine is my little weeding fork.  And my trusty ‘bug bucket’, which is actually a gallon milk jug cut down on one side, leaving the jug handle intact.  About the middle of July I begin taking this with me into the garden each morning, making my rounds.  I pick the few remaining lily beetles, and the one or two plump potato bugs and any of their larvae I see — IMG_0277plop! into the jug.  Here is my jug this morning, sitting on the potting bench behind the barn.

A little squeeze of dish soap and filled half full with sudsy water, the beetles can’t climb out of the soap film and are doomed. However slugs, I’ve found, manage to slink  out of the soapy water and make their way up and over the side when I’m not looking.  Yuck.  If I expect to be working in the flower beds where I’ll find nests of these guys hiding around the daylilies, for example, I toss a dash of vinegar or lemon juice into the soapy water, and this neutralizes the slugs and they drown.  OK, speaking of slugs – UGH! ICK! YUCK! – another handy tool for dealing with these slimy critters is an old teaspoon.  I keep this tucked into my pocket, and I much prefer scooping these little amorphous squishy things with the cold spoon and dropping them (they slide right off, with just a little help) into the bucket rather than touching them. (Did I say ICK!??)  It works like a charm.

beetle collageAnyway, the beetles.  I know I’ll find them on my roses and in the raspberry patch.  So, as I stroll through the gardens in the morning, I keep my eyes out for them, usually in orgies of two or more, reveling in the rosebuds and newly ripening berries.  Like most insects, they are going after the sweet, juicy reproductive parts, though they do plenty of damage to the leaves as well.   Some go gently – I position the jug underneath and merely touch the leaf – they fall into oblivion.  Some go with a valiant struggle — they flail about and cling harder, to the leaf, or to each other, whatever is at hand.  Here, I usually win.  Some try to escape, but the thing about Jap beetles is, they tend to drop down before they take wing and fly off.  Some insects, like cucumber beetles, fly straight up and are nearly impossible to trick into the bucket.  But Japanese beetles drop down, and if you have your bucket just right, they’ll drop, try to take off, but bump into the tall side of the jug and plop instead into their soapy grave.

So, why do I do this?  Since I choose not to spray generic bug-killer on my plants, hand-picking is part of my routine. Day after day,  about one hour out of each glorious day,  I go about the irises, roses, lilies, raspberries, asparagus, dropping bugs into my jug of soapy water.  I’ve seen what one bug can do in short order – stripping a leaf bare overnight.  So, I take notice of all the dead bugs I dispense everyday, and add up all the leaves I saved!  I feel pretty saucy, ridding my precious raspberries of these pernicious ravagers, and I saunter away, swinging my jug, and fling the murky contents out among the pine needles behind the garden shed; and then I look up, into the birch tree, and there, on every curling leaf, clusters of mating bugs, up, up as far as I can see.  There’s no end to it.  So, why do I do this?  Well, the birch tree looks impossible, and I can’t rid the universe of bugs, but maybe I will have enough berries for savoring in the sunshine as my bare feet burrow into the cool grass between the rows and the sweet warm flavor of a ripe berry bursts on my tongue; for every breakfast;  for jam in December, when the hours spent tending my little garden have been long forgotten.  I trust that God, too, knowing all of me, is patiently tending the garden of my soul, one small bug at a time.  And that the endless chore that is my heart doesn’t diminish His eternal delight.  In that I keep my hope.

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There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that God, who started this great work in you, will keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.  (Phil 1:6, from The Message)

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