Thursday, July 10, 2014

Japanese Beetles Are Eating Our Hollyhocks

Japanese Beetles are eating our hollyhocks.  This is good news for Haiku poets  – that sentence has the correct number of syllables for the first two lines of  (5 plus 7) – but not for our favorite New Mexican-born perennial.
In October 2008 Mars noticed dried hollyhocks towering over the entryway to Monica's and Bram's newly acquired house in the high desert town of Santa Fe. 
And (with permission) she picked some dried seeds from the dormant plant; placed them into a used plastic Ziploc snack bag; sequestered the polymer repository in her purse; and transported it (via Southwest Airlines) to our home in central Connecticut. Within days of their arrival she applied them to the fertile soil in our under development perennial garden – the former site of our rabbit-ridden vegetable garden.
2009 – two barely recognizable hollyhocks poked their stalks up just inches above the surface. Neither rain, nor sun, nor Miracle-Gro could coax them any further. That autumn Mars repeated her southwestern seed snatch and transported a second crop of potential ‘hocks to our east coast acreage.
2010 – Mother Nature poured on the rain. Those seeds that were not washed away sprouted into rust-infected, haggard hollyhocks. That autumn -– you guessed it – yet a third iteration of Mars’ seed acquisition.
 2011 – moderate rain in early spring then D-R-O-U-G-H-T!  The hollyhocks evidently loved this meteorological mistreatment. Two of them shot up to ten feet in altitude. Other shorter, but still formidable, ones surrounded them.
2012 and 2013 – the flowers appeared again in smaller numbers at lower heights in slightly different parts of the garden with no noticeable problems.
This year there is a pair of hollyhocks – one at each end of the flowerbed.  Two years could be an accident, but three years is definitely a trend.  So I figured that this persnickety perennial had at last successfully adapted to our quirky drought-or-deluge New England climate and would be pretty much on cruise control for the rest of its generations.
But now there are the beetles.  Hollyhocks are a secondary host to these detrimental copper and green colored invaders, which will eat the leaves until they are too skeletal to provide any nourishment – or aesthetic enjoyment.
This is not our first experience with these insects.  I don’t remember what brought them to our premises, but many years back our yard was bedecked with “Bag-A-Bug” traps using sexual pheromones to lure the excited plant predators to their lemming-like demise.  (There is apparently at least one thing more important than leaf chomping to a J. beetle.)  Emptying the sepulchral sacks was however not much fun.
The current volume of J. beetles definitely does not warrant such a wholesale offensive.  
A more elegant and ecological solution came from an Internet forum that discusses suchproblems. “Dad controlled them by catching preying mantids and introducing them to the patch. Those beetles left over he would hand pick and toss into our turtle tank. Pokey ate the beetles and spit their shiny wings back out, so after awhile the surface of the water looked iridescent.”
Several others on the website suggested handpicking them into a bucket of soapy water.  Mars said that her grandmother did the same thing with kerosene.  Coincidentally I’ve been doing something pretty similar.

Since I first spotted them a couple of days ago I’ve been using my index finger to flick them off the plant each time I am in the area.   It’s a 100% natural solution that also allows me to use the “kicking” skills I developed back in college playing Matchbook Football on the dining room table in my dormitory.
It has been about fifty years and my accuracy is still pretty good.  But I am losing a little in distance.  Maybe distended beetles weighed down with a leaf’s worth of roughage aren’t as aerodynamic as a full book of matches.  Or maybe it is just another instance of “the older I get, the better I was.”
Either way, (with some poetic license) I now have the last seven syllables.

Japanese Beetles
are eating our hollyhock.
Field goal!  Fie-eld goal!

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