Battles, Beetles and the Stones

Battles, Beetles and the Stones

June has been rather frantic. As well as stressing about my fantastic hives of bees, my weekends and evenings have been all about the veg. When I planted a 180′ row of potatoes with my Dad back in May, I wasn’t really thinking ahead. For example, I wasn’t thinking about how each row has two sides, so that would be 360′ of potato row to hill up. Twice. Nor did I consider that come the fall, I’ll have 180′ of potatoes to dig up again. That’s assuming of course that the Colorado Potato Beetle doesn’t eat them all between now and then.


They are new little buggers to me (sorry for the bad pun) because in the UK we don’t really get them. It’s probably something to do with it being way too wet and them not being very good at swimming. I’m amazed that in the first year of growing potatoes, on land that hasn’t been farmed for 15 – 20 years, they just happened to be wandering past my field. I’m even more amazed that there isn’t a filthy chemical to kill them but like Keith Richards, apparently these bugs have developed immunity to practically every drug invented and are but a whisker away from immortality.

Never one to complain, at first I was just crushing the beetles and eggs as I found them, laughing like some demented god of beetle death. Unfortunately, according to a co-worker, even after a good squashing the eggs will often hatch and wreak a terrible revenge. Seriously, these bugs are like miniature tanks. Of course he could have been winding me up, but why take the chance?

While I’m not aiming for organic certification anytime soon, I am trying to adopt reasonably organic practices. So despite what the beetle can do to a crop, I didn’t want to napalm them with pesticides in the hope of beating the bugs into a retreat. Instead, that means literally bending over and giving it to them. Tonight I’ve inspected 180′ of potato rows to painstakingly pick the beetles off the leaves and strip any I found with eggs laid on them. And I have to do it each week. Twice. Until July.

So instead of Lord of Squashy Death, tonight I transformed into the Merciless Lord of Hellfire. I filled the bottom of a big yoghurt pot with petrol then put every beetle and eggy leaf I could find into it. Having filled my pot, I poured it all out onto a log, doused it with yet more petrol and set the mother alight. Sure, I lost part of my eyebrows and singed my beard but unless I’m massively mistaking them for rare dragon eggs ala Game of Thrones, those little buggers ain’t gonna hatch after being cremated. For now, my potatoes are safe.

Unfortunately, I wish I could say the same for everything else; the thistles, vines and grasses are choking the life out of all my other crops. The peas are losing the battle against the bindweed and my strawberries are wholly submerged beneath a canopy of meadow grass. And the less said about the carrots and rhubarb the better.

However, I’ve invested in more mechanised mayhem to tackle the problem properly this coming weekend by treating myself to a 29cc Troy-Bilt mini-cultivator. That beauty is going to eat up those weeds like they are apple pie and I’ll be able to sit back to revel in my absolute victory with a cuppa and a fat cigar, admiring the beauty of my finely tended half-acre veg garden while the kids play nicely with each other. Or at least I’m hoping it’ll be something like that. Given my unfortunate history with garden power tools, I might take off a toe or two, shout a lot, destroy the parsnips and bok choi and end up settling for a score draw if only the boys would give me 5 minutes peace.

One thing’s for certain: this summer equinox weekend will witness the crescendo of my battle against the weeds and bugs and I’ll be victorious, or otherwise my next blog post will proclaim my shameful defeat and you may all call me Weedy Stephen.

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