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Gardening: The Pessimist's Guide to Pests

Aw, just give up. They're gonna win anyway.

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I mean what's the use? They just want your yard more than you do. Sorry. That's the way it is. And it's only gonna get worse. Fire ants are moving in from Hampton Roads as we speak. It's not long before we've got killer bees. Next it's hyenas, I'm sure. Just you wait.

The ones that are already here are bad enough. For one thing, you're outnumbered, and for another, there's no one good way to get rid of anything. If I were you, I'd just sign over the deed and think about sprucing up the bunker. But anyway, here's what I know, for all the good it's done me.



Mosquitoes: This year's been so wet these things are worse than ever. I think I hear helicopters overhead and then there's this bug-shaped needle sticking out of my forehead. Well. They won't be around much longer, but until the sweet embrace of winter, make sure there's no standing water. And if you have ponds or whatever, there are these doughnut-shaped things made with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is a biological-type pesticide that is harmless to people. Or get goldfish. They eat 'em. Don't use pesticides that'll kill natural predators like dragonflies, beetles and frogs, though. Forget about the bat house. Their mosquito-eating reputation is way overrated.



Aphids and Caterpillars: You can order ladybugs on eBay. From California. Hand-picked by hippies, I bet. Like $4.99. They'll devour aphids like crazy. Course, when they're done they'll take off (such loyalty) or just move into your house for the winter. You can order all sorts of bugs on the Internet, though, which is great unless the box gets opened in the mail truck. See if you ever get your Eddie Bauer catalogs on time again. You can get parasitic wasps, which dig on caterpillars, as well as elegantly creepy praying mantises, which like eating lots of bad things, from sites such as www.arbico-organics.com and www.suburbanhabitat.com.



Slugs: They know all about harvest season, don't you worry. But they're also notorious drunks, so leave out a dish of beer near those prize beefmaster tomatoes, and in the morning it'll look like closing time at the Salted Wound Lounge.



Raccoons: I just make sure my trash cans are locked up, and there's no food in the compost heap. Those agile little hands can get into practically anything. Sometimes I'll leave out jars of peanut butter or pickles that I can't get open to see if maybe they can help me out. Hasn't worked yet.



Moles and Voles: Really, just stop planting bulbs. This is the time to do it and you'd save yourself a lot of time. Or you could do what I do, which is pave over the garden area. Try coffee grounds in the holes or around the garden. That either bothers the rodents or chases away the grubs they like so much. Another option is human urine. That should keep away your smaller ground-based rodents as well as friends and relatives. But if you get a kick out of it, go ahead. And you can also start keeping fingernail clippings and hair in individually labeled jars! Weirdo.



Variable Oakleaf Caterpillar: These are what ate all the leaves off the white oaks starting back in July. Virginia Cooperative Extension says there ain't much you can do, since chemical treatments aren't recommended and Bt won't really work on the mature insects. They say beneficial insects should start pulling their weight next year, but should you find any caterpillars, use tweezers or wear gloves because they secrete formic acid, which can blister the skin. They ruined my hand-modeling career.



Squirrels: Look, face it. They're smarter than you in every way possible. Hardly anything works, and if they wanted to get to China, they'd probably chew right through the earth's core. If they're in the house and you find the hole and you decide to seal it, make sure they're out of the house at the time and then go ahead and prepare for war. They'll find their way back in. There's sticky traps and cage traps, there's hanging and water torture, but for me the best thing to do is just give them copies of the house keys and make sure I've got enough cashews on hand. Maybe the squirrels can start a bridge group with the ladybugs, I don't know. HS



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