Learn To Live With A Little Damage

February 11, 2011

Insects today in Master Gardening! I was certainly looking forward to this one, all about those creepy crawly bugs we share the garden with.

Whoa – one of Russ’s first statement is that 90% of your life is spent within 10 feet of a spider. That’s almost 22 hours every day just three steps away from somebody with a lot more legs than you. Isn’t nature a BLAST?

Russ presents a large poster with different insects and asks us to identify them and explain if they are beneficial or a pest. There is the Japanese beetle, a mosquito, a Monarch butterfly, caterpillars. At least 97% of all insects, he explains, are beneficial. Some of the 3% is our own doing, like that Japanese beetle. I don’t have them because my neighbor across the street is a prolific and constant lawn waterer. They don’t want my thin and pathetic grass; they’ll stay right in his yard and feast on the green carpet.

There are about 18,000 species of insect in Illinois alone. There are more types of beetles, over 360,000, than any other living creature in the world.

Russ tells a story about a man who brought in his wife’s bra, completely infested with grain beetles. He didn’t believe Russ’s diagnosis because his wife kept a fastidiously clean home – how could there be grain beetles in the closet? Three weeks later, the man called back with an apology. They had forgotten all about that therapeutic pillow filled with buckwheat, undisturbed on a shelf for over 2 years. The eggs, always present, were left to hatch, reproduce and thrive – and provide a wonderful surprise to his wife when she donned those foundation garments.

I learned that chemicals should always always always be a last resort, used only in cases of health concerns or a huge financial impact. That I liked. Insecticides are non-selective which means you kill beneficial insects right along with pests, and the beneficials have a much more difficult time of recovering. I learned that handpicking bagworms is very effective and that Japanese beetles can be knocked off branches and drowned in a pan of soapy water sitting under the plant.

I learned there is an insect, Galerucella sp, that is being used to halt the spread of the invasive purple loosestrife. Dragonflies are the dinosaurs of the insect world – an Old World species – and cannot fold their wings.

I learned that I’m making a larger effort each week of not visibly rolling my eyes at Autotroph Woman and her sycophants. Today, at the first break, she made mention of some bug fact she considered missing from Russ’s session and said, “Maybe he doesn’t know that.”

Seriously? Your horticultures classes for a few semesters has educated you so far above and beyond someone who is a U of I professor, has worked in agriculture and on research projects for decades and actively cultivates and manages a farm that’s been in his family for almost 200 years? If the seat wasn’t so perfect, if the view wasn’t so ideal from that table, if I hadn’t made friends with Jackie, I would sit somewhere else next week.

I learned, astonishingly, that an entire colony of African killer bees can be tamed just by replacing their Queen with a Russian or Italian honeybee Queen. (Why not American, you ask? Why, we’re a democracy!) It has something to do with food the Queens feed the bees and a shared mindset. Doesn’t that just blow your mind??

When Russ began talking of spiders, I couldn’t stop an earworm of “I Don’t Like Spiders And Snakes”, but learned that a wolf spider runs so quickly that it actually chases down its prey. I learned there was an infestation of brown recluse spiders at the Grundy County Jail not too long ago and that recovery from their extremely toxic bites can take over a year.

I learned that Autotroph Woman & Co. cannot keep their mouths shut during a lecture and can ignore the Hostile Glance, the Throat Clearing and even the ultimate, An Annoyed Eyeball From Instructor. (These women really need to go back to kindergarten to learn the rules of courteous listening.) If something isn’t done, I’m going to learn how to tape their mouths closed.

Russ talked of collecting and pinning insects for collection, forever banishing all guilt about killing rare specimens. (I’ve already started searching for the pins online.) He spoke of the many people who think their gardens should be perfect, with every leaf a perfect tribute to the species, nothing chewed or sucked or poked. He said that insects have their place and with proper selection, adequate diversity and good health, damaging insects should be few in the garden. And those you can learn to live with.

“Learn to live with a little damage,” he said. What a concept – that could make all of life so much sweeter. When we understand that no relationship is perfect, no husband or wife a faultless satisfier of our every need or emotional twinge, we appreciate what we actually have. When we comprehend that our jobs aren’t going to be fulfilling every moment of the workday, our homes are not going to stay spotlessly clean, that our relatives will sometimes (often) drive us up the wall, we can relax and look at all the beautiful gifts all around us. We can stop worrying about unattainable goals and set realistic benchmarks. We can make progress and feel good about each step of the way.

The damage is what makes us human, what makes us real and true. It’s what makes us appreciate the unblemished so much more, revel in the positive, bask in the blessings and the boons. I can live with that.

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