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Gardeners, Gentle Reader, Lend Me Your Earwigs
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost

email: dan.clost@sympatico.ca

First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b


May 29, 2011

There is a nasty wee creature lurking in our gardens it shuns the light of day waiting for the cloak of night to shield its despicable activities. A short, shiny brown carapace gleams in the stark revealing light of day whenever a rock is turned over. They scuttle for shelter, searching out the dark, moist habitats of their domain. A set of ugly looking pincers guards their rear and, as some of us have found out, they can inflict a bit of pain.

Gentle Reader, if you haven't thought, "Ugh, earwigs!" then you are not a gardener.

Here's another "Ugh!" or better a "How gross!" The common name "earwig" is derived from an old superstition that these insects crawl into people's ears at night and burrow into the brain. There is no truth to this myth. I do remember, however, a deliciously squeamish episode of Twilight Zone depicting this belief.

From our standpoint, here in the Quinte region, earwigs are enemy number one in the garden this year. They are present in startling numbers and love to live in dank, dark places. Egg containing burrows can be found in mulched flowerbeds and around compost piles. The hatched young look very similar to the parents. (There is a fifty-dollar technical term to describe this, GR, but I refuse to use a word I can't pronounce, let alone attempt to spell.) One of the caveats that kept popping up on the websites was that earwigs tend to cause less damage than their apparent numbers would suggest.

A common question concerns their diet. Omnivorous is the twenty-five dollar word. They will eat anything they can find or catch, i.e. spiders or mites, dead or alive. They also munch on algae and fungi. Hmm, should we introduce them to the water garden environment?

However, they do prefer plant material and will climb to great heights to get it.

So how do we control them? The American websites, most not all, seem to prefer the chemical approach using chlorpyrifos. This is banned in Canada. Diazanon is a successful alternative. Also banned in Canada

Here are three simple approaches.

First, they eat anything so bait is an excellent option. You can use poison bait but I prefer not to. You can use any container you want as long as it will provide room for many of the pests. The margarine tub with side slits cut out and placed in a dark spot is ideal. Put a piece of peach or dab of honey inside. Smear the sides with a liquid soap or vegetable oil. In the morning, bring the container over to a bucket of water and let the creatures have a brief swim.

Second, they are insects and this presents us with a vulnerable area. They breathe using spiracles or openings in their exoskeleton. The incoming oxygen is "washed" over the internal fluids. Here are your two choices to exploit this Achilles heel. A solution of either a pyrethrin or nicotine based "tea." This does nasty things to their nervous system. The other solution is a soap and water mixture with an optional dollop of vegetable oil. This will clog the spiracles and the insect suffocates. The down side with this method is that you must spray the concoction directly onto the bug. This means spending a few late nights strolling your estate. If you’re going to do this, remember these organic pesticides kill organic things. You are an organic thing.

Third, give them places to hide, such as rolls of newspaper or even plastic tubing. A cardboard box with holes poked in the side will work well. In the morning, as in method one, empty the safe "havens" into a bucket of water.

There are some natural enemies emerging, fly and roundworm parasites and even a fungal disease. They are not readily available yet. The other caution is that this method precludes any form of insecticide being used. Not necessarily a bad thing.
We have a new dog in our house, his name is Sox, he likes to chew.

Computer cord, indestructible chewy toy, chunk of river rock 0- Sox 3.
 
Perhaps I should train Sox as the first earwig hound.

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