When I first started working in my garden I confess I was a little apprehensive. Everything was so different and new. Instead of the crumbly dark London soil I was used to on my allotment, the clay here is red and sticky and the colour of builder’s tea. Further poking about reveals unfamiliar creepy crawlies, not to mention other creatures you certainly don’t see in a South London back garden.
Before you run off screaming, I am still alive a year later and am now longer afraid of the insects I encounter. Rather they fascinate me and make me feel honoured that they have visited my garden. They just seem to appear all of a sudden as you are weeding or raking. Here is a cricket hiding in the grass. He is very well camouflaged!
Those of you with a nervous disposition can look away now because I’m going to start with the most frightening one. Don’t worry, it is rare and only hides in the deepest darkest stones. We encountered the mother of all these creatures at the bottom of an old bread oven we dismantled. It was about 10 inches long. I don’t like killing anything, so we tried to capture it to take it away…big mistake. It is very aggressive and we had a rather alarming encounter with it rearing up at us as we tried to catch it with the dustpan before we beat a hasty retreat. I am currently ordering a boiler suit with elasticated legs as I live in horror of it crawling up my trouser leg.
Here is the beast. It has a nasty bite and you will need to get some attention if it bites you, so beware.
The creature that people seem to be very nervous of are scorpions. I have never seen one in a whole year of gardening in Portugal, but I think it is a good idea to wear gloves at all times and shake out your shoes, especially if you have left them in the garden or shed overnight. I don’t think the varieties in Portugal are deadly if they sting you, but I expect the bite will be painful. Make sure you know where your nearest health centre or pharmacy is so you can get rapid treatment if you are bitten.
Ok, now let’s move onto some harmless (to humans anayway) but rather intriguing creatures. First the preying mantis. This is a definite goody, since it eats many of the more harmful bugs and insects in your garden, incuding mosquitoes. I once saw one laying its eggs into a case that looked like a piece of Styrofoam on the gate of our house. Another time, we were enjoying dinner in a restaurant nearby and one joined us ata the table!
I said it was harmless, but not to dragonfly nymphs. This is a disturbing film of one being gently eaten alive!
The bible talk of plagues of insects, but I have never actually seen one. That is, until it rained last October. The first rain brings plagues of little black millipedes. They come out of the soil to mate in their hundreds and sometimes we have had to sweep dustpanfuls off the terrace. (In Portugal they sell dustpans with long handles and I have come to learn why…they double up very well as creepy crawly catchers) They are harmless, unless you crush them when they make a horrible stink. We put draught excluders under our mosquito screens as they seem inclined to try and get in the house, where they promptly die. They only last a few weeks though mercifully and after mating either die or return to the soil. They have been much more of a pest in Australia, where they have accidentally ended up and have even stopped trains running due to the amount of them squashed on the tracks!
Now to an unidentified flying object. I can’t find out what it is called, so please let me know if you can identify it. It lived in our garden for several days and we became rather fond of it. It was really big for a bug and so unusual looking that I fancied it may have come to earth on a meteorite we had seen the night before. He camoflauged himself among the green plants and moved every now and again, so we had to really look to find him.
The other creatures to be careful of in your garden are mosquitoes, ticks and fleas. There is a period in June where they all hatch out at once and drive you crazy! Make sure you have tipped out all standing water from buckets etc, because that’s where mosquitoes lay their eggs and produce lavae. Fleas, which I have always thought live on cats actually live in the ground and jump on the cats, lay their eggs and jump off again. So they can equally jump on you. And ticks, which are generally only found in long grass and mostly where sheep have been can be dangerous and spread lyme disease or tick fever. Our cats get them quite a lot, even after we have treated them with flea and tick repellent and we have to remove them with a tweezers. So wear good boots, and don’t be gardening in your flip-flops. A good strong antiseptic liquid is very important to have on hand when gardening I find…just make sure to treat anything immediately with an undiluted dab. When I first started gardening bites festered more than they do now. I think your immune system needs to get used to the different bugs and germs. And don’t forget to keep your tetanus shots up to date!
When I retired, people asked me what I was going to do. I said, “I’m off to Portugal to watch the ants all day. This is what we do a lot of the time. There are many different sorts and they are very entertaining. We feed them bits of biscuit and watch them carry off chunks larger than themselves. Unfortunately, one of our chickens loves them too and will stay by their nest all day, picking them off as they come out.
Now I have frightened you all to death, can I point out that I have a big garden and none of these bugs and minor hazards have caused me much discomfort. They have however, caused my vegetables some damage. But that is the subject of another post!