In Praise of…Earwigs! (Kathy A)

I have not been an earwig lover for all of my life. As a child, I remember my father making a nightly check on his prize dahlias and coming back into the kitchen with earwigs crawling out of the turn ups of his trousers. My mother’s predictable reaction meant that I thought earwigs were definitely not insects one was meant to love. Now years later, in my own garden, I can see the results that a small earwig population have on my own favourite Dahlias, Verrone’s Obsidian, and it’s extremely annoying. But this Christmas my husband gave me a book – “The Garden Jungle” by Dave Goulson and it has rather opened my eyes to the trials and tribulations of this little insect.

Goulson points out that earwigs are easily eradicated by sprays, and because they don’t fly and only produce one generation a year, they don’t re-colonise very quickly once they have gone. I haven’t used pesticide sprays for some years, with the exception of a drench for vine weevil in my containers, so I know I do have earwigs in the garden, although not in the numbers I remember as a child.

Earwigs are overwhelmingly beneficial insects, they feed voraciously on aphids, as well as munching on the occasional petal. In orchards where earwigs have been sprayed out of existence, trees are infested with three times as many woolly aphids as those with a good earwig population. It is generally the case that beneficial predators of a crop pest breed more slowly than the pests they feed on.  Aphids, in particular, breed spectacularly fast, giving birth to live young which themselves have developing offspring inside them when they are born. In contrast, Mrs Earwig produces maybe 50 offspring a year, laying creamy eggs in a burrow in the ground towards the end of winter. She tenderly cares for the eggs, guarding, cleaning and turning them and looks after the young brood (nymphs) until theearwigy moult and gradually become independent. Then she turns them out of the burrow and they must look after themselves, foraging at night and hiding in the day in any crevice (or dahlia) they can find. They must do this all Summer and Autumn dodging predators while they grow, until winter comes and they find a mate and it all starts again.

The fierce looking pincers are actually quite feeble and incapable of doing harm to a human, they are used by the earwig in defence against predators such as ground beetles, and also in mating. The “wig” part of their name comes from an old word for “wiggle” and they definitely never burrow into ears!

We should certainly see earwigs as our friends in the garden, just as we now do ladybirds and lacewings. I have decided that a nibbled petal here and there is a small price to pay for all the good they do.

Speaking of Foxes: Tales of Woe, from a frustrated gardener (Angela B)

Foxes are the bane of my life. I first became a keen gardener twenty five years ago when I moved into my small three story terraced house close to Ministry of Defence land, a wooded conservation area, and was confronted with a back garden that was bare.  Keen on wildlife, I decided to try and create a wild life garden, including digging a pond to encourage the breeding of frogs  which over the years has matured successfully. However I had not bargained with the attraction this would have for the local foxes who much to my chagrin have come to see my garden as their play area and my pond a drinking place They have spent their time wrecking it, most days trampling down and pulling up the plants and bulbs, burrowing deep holes, messing up the paths and pooing everywhere. For example, enthused by the recent CABAHS talk on tulips, I bought a range of tulips which I planted in very large pots and colour schemed.  As suggested by the speaker I planted violas on the top of them. The next morning I discovered the foxes had ripped them all up, muddled up the bulbs, totally messed up the different colours and ruined my design irreparably.

Foxes have three times got through my cat flap into my basement kitchen area. The stench they left was awful and on one occasion took two days scrubbing to get rid of.  During the fox mange epidemic I even found a bald cub lying near death in my basement. As someone who would not harm an animal I contacted the South Essex Wild life and Fox Sanctuary who obligingly came and took it away.  I thought that was the last I had seen of it.  But later in the year this charity sent me its annual report. It referred to my fox and how they had nursed it back to health and, much to my horror, had returned it to the area from which it came!

My cats regularly got fleas from the foxes as they both liked to sleep in the same place under a very large sycamore tree. I thought I am going to stop this. The academic in me thought if Qin Shi Huang, the Chinese emperor of terracotta warrior fame, could have a terracotta army I would have an army of reconstituted stone gnomes to deal with this situation. I bought some fifteen garden gnomes which I placed closely packed together on the place shared by the foxes and my cats, thinking they would no longer be able to sleep there. Did that work? No. They just slept on top of the gnomes!  Incidentally when my elderly cats later died I took great pleasure in getting rid of them. Some of the gnomes saw their way to the plant stall at CABAHS!

I am an early riser and weather and work permitting, as part of my daily fitness regime, I do some gardening usually about 30-45 minutes. The time is often spent clearing up after and repairing the damage made during the night by the foxes.  Sometimes I take a quick rest and sit on my garden seat drinking one of my three morning wake-me-up cups of coffee. Often my ginger cat, Bonzo,   would   come and sit on my knee for a five minute cuddle. One morning a young cub having seen this came up to me, obviously thinking it was a cat it wanted to do the same. It wouldn’t take no for an answer and took some shooing away.

Angelas fox

Animals know instinctively if a human is an animal lover and none of the foxes are afraid of me. They come up to me and don’t take any notice of what I say or do.  I have tried everything to get rid of them over the years. Including fox repellents. The only thing I haven’t tried is lion poo which I gather they don’t like.  After the tulip fiasco I have decided to throw in the towel. I finally accept my back garden belongs to the foxes.  I will just have to live with them, garden around them and make good after them. The only outlet I now have left for expressing my fox frustrations is boring my friends and social network with my woes.

If any other CABAHS members have gardening frustrations, problems or tales they want to get off their chests and give an airing why not send them to CABAHS for this webpage? Perhaps other members have similar problems. It’s said a problem shared is a problem solved. Some might even have an answer to them. Perhaps we could start a CABAHS Moan Corner webpage.