This is a post about beasties, for it’s the season of beasties and the garden is teaming with them. This is all perfectly natural of course, but there are times when it gets a little bit much and lest you think I’m totally living the dream, without any irritants and that gardening in Paradise is my daily state, let me tell you something. Go on, come a little closer and I’ll tell you a secret. Here it is: “There are mosquitoes in Paradise” Not only mosquitoes but ticks, bird lice, fleas, the Mediterranean fruit fly, red spiders, locusts and huge hornets. And right now, I’m not sure which of these plagues is worse!
Let’s take the bird mites first. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that if you keep chickens, at some point or other you’ll get bird mites. I’ve only had them once, a few years ago, but I never want them again. Take heed, chicken keepers, and take preventative measures before you ever get a case of them! This is a salutary tale which I’m about to tell. One bright Spring morning, you go down to the chicken coop in your pyjamas, even though you really know you shouldn’t. Then you go back to bed with a cup of tea and your book. Snuggling in, you start to itch a little and think perhaps it’s an allergy to pollens. Then a little mite runs across your book, closely followed by a second one. Starting to get a bit suspicious you pull back the bedclothes to inspect your trouser leg, which you realise is covered in little mites! Arrrrrgh! It’s the worse thing….the little varmints run up your legs as soon as you go near the infested coop and although they are almost too small to see, they are very irritating and make your skin tickle. They need to be fought aggressively by any means possible and measures taken, such as regular coop cleaning and dusting with diatomaceous earth, so you don’t get them again! Awful things. I still shudder to think about them.
Are you itching now? Good! You can share my pain. And the chickens don’t like them much either!
Now the evenings are so balmy, we sometimes sit outside to watch the moon rise. The other night we were sitting on the terrace as the sun went down, with the swallows dipping and diving delightfully across the pool when a noise akin to some kind of helicopter landing assaulted our ears, as a huge and ungainly cockchafer beetle flew around the corner, veering crazily from here to there, blundering its way around, terrifying in its size and unpredictability. Then, just as the last rays of the sun lit the sky, the loud insistent buzz of dive-bombing mosquitoes started and we knew it was dinner time and we were the tastiest dish on the menu. We beat a hasty retreat!
The next morning, I went down to harvest the apricot crop, which had been ripening beautifully on the tree. I bit into one expectantly, the juice running down my chin. So sweet! Then I noticed the other half had small maggots wriggling about inside. Sure, they’d only eaten apricot, but it was a bit off-putting. I wondered if I’d eaten one. I made a note not to tell Señor Faztudo, since he’d never eat the courgette and apricot chutney I was about to make if he knew the dreadful truth. He isn’t very fond of the idea of maggots in his food, even when I promise to remove every one! The Mediterranean Fruit Fly is a serious pest here and can infect 250 kinds of fruits and vegetables. I have been researching different ways to combat it without chemicals, including traps and barrier methods, as I won’t use chemicals in my garden. The fly injects its eggs into the fruit just as it’s ripening and then the maggots hatch and turn the fruit bad. Most people pick the apricots early and let them ripen inside. Luckily not much of my crop was affected, only some, but it’s something I’ll have to think about in the future.
On a further itchy note, I’m still recovering from the flea bites on my legs I got a few weeks ago. I’m not sure where they came from, really. We don’t have animals in the house, so I suppose I could have picked them up from the cats or chickens who live outside. The thing about fleas is that they are in the earth, jumping on animals is only part of their life cycle. I have started to wear thick socks in the garden, tucked into long trousers which helps to avoid being bitten. I don’t even want to get started on the subject of ticks. Luckily in four years I have only found two ticks on me, but I live in fear and terror of them.
I’ve found the best relief from itching, once bitten, is the hottest water you can bear on the affected parts, which means our water bill will be huge as I’ve been showering twice a day!
Is it all worth it? Of course! A few bites and the odd irritant is more than compensated for by the beauty of the garden this Spring. It’s been truly amazing, beasties notwithstanding.