Insects can be sneaky and cowardly. Gardeners don’t mind battling enemies that they can see. A rose bud covered with scores of aphids may not be visually appealing, but we can see plainly who the culprit is. Tent caterpillars in trees should not be closely viewed by the squeamish but you can at least determine with some measure of accuracy who is eating the foliage.
It’s the insects you can’t see that drive you to distraction isn’t it? One morning the foliage on your prize vegetables or flowers looks pristine, the next it looks like it’s been shredded by hail but none has fallen. There are large notches chewed from the edges of leaves and no sign of the perpetrator.
How does a gardener do battle with an unseen enemy? Contact insecticides are of no use because you can’t see any bugs to spray. Direct pressure with a thumb and forefinger or application of the bottom of your shoes is pointless without a target. Meanwhile the leaves get smaller each day and you swear you can hear the insects trash talking you as you stand in the garden, hands on hips, muttering under your breath.
I’m a firm believer in the 75/25 rule in the garden. You know, 75% of the plants for you, 25% for the insects. I’m quite tolerant of most insect activity in my garden; most of it is quite harmless. When the situation gets serious however I take action.
My favourite weapon of choice against sneaky and cowardly chewing insects which refuse to show themselves is a product called diatomaceous earth, which will be referred to as DE from here on. DE is made from the powdered remains of diatoms, a form of ancient sea-dwelling algae. It is available in garden centres in a soft-sided plastic container that can be squeezed to release the soft powder.
DE is harmless to humans, although you wouldn’t want to inhale the dust. But it’s lethal to many types of crawling insects in a deliciously sinister way. You see, when a sneaky and cowardly chewing insect emerges from his lair to have his next meal and crawls across a leaf surface that has been dusted with DE the experience is similar to you or I crawling across broken glass.
The insect is sliced open, it dries out and dies. If the insect should manage to crawl across the leaf and chew the foliage it will ingest the dust. Its insides are sliced up and it dies. Simple as that. No multiple syllable chemicals, no toxicity, no days to harvest limits as long as you wash the produce first, just a quick end to feeding. Dust it on the foliage and at the base of your plants and the free lunch will soon be over for sneaky and cowardly chewing insects in your garden.