Winter’s Salvation

bugNever has a topic been so thoroughly explored and exhausted as that of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug infestation that has plagued the East Coast for several years. I use the word ‘exhausted’ very deliberately. One grows bone-weary of reading articles filled with half-truths and empty promises regarding physical or chemical control; and after one too many summer-sucked tomatoes and autumn-covered houses, most of us have shrugged our shoulders and settled into our new normal. A very uncomfortable normal filled with the sounds of armored terrorists smacking the bedroom lightshade repeatedly until they drown themselves in your water glass; but normal nonetheless.

Six weeks ago however, a little snag in their plan for world domination was discovered. Professor Thomas Kuhar, an entomologist at Virginia Tech, found that the buckets of brown bugs he had overwintered in environments approximating their hiding spaces were dead. Dead to the sweet tune of ninety-five percent. Evidently, the sustained orchestration of extreme temperature conducted by Polar Vortex and his band, Brutal, had bested the insects’ ability to turn their blood into antifreeze and greet spring with a fresh attitude and a sharp proboscis.

I have to admit, I didn’t spend much time looking at the study. In my mind, stink bugs have become as inevitable as death and taxes, and I certainly didn’t have much hope that a desolate winter would do much more than teach them how to burrow deeper into my underwear drawer.

Turns out that my cynicism was unwarranted. Professor Kuhar and his artificial bucket environments might have offered up some pretty impressive numbers, but these are nothing compared with the results of a real-life, real-time study conducted over the last two weeks by yours truly and a brooder full of hungry guinea fowl keets.

guineasGuinea fowl are one of the wildest of domesticated birds. African by descent, they move over your property like a synchronized herd of velociraptors, consuming extraordinary amounts of insects and shrieking the alarm anytime something untoward happens (like the postman). In these days of rampant Lyme Disease, they are an excellent weapon against ticks and other blood suckers. It is also said that if you have guineas, you don’t have copperheads. Period.

The problem with Guineas is that they don’t for one moment believe they are yours. They are free agents, and quite able to survive without any help from you – that is until an enterprising raccoon happens to come across them nesting in your maple tree and puts poultry on the evening menu. So, if you wish to keep them, you’ve got to train them to come to you when you ring a bell in order that you can get them safely cooped for the night – and you must do it from an early age, providing something yummy each and every time you ring the dinner gong.

I’ve grappled with Lyme Disease for long enough to know that I don’t want my children to deal with it. Two weeks ago, I brought home ten guinea keets, found a bell and started hunting behind pictures and under boxes for some free six-legged poultry snacks.

I had high hopes. Last autumn we experienced our worst infestation to date. I’d clear 300 off of one side of my light-colored stucco home only to get back to the beginning and start all over again. Garaged Christmas boxes were filled with them. They flew in on the backs of dogs or waited patiently for the door to open. Indeed, it began to feel as if they were possessed of a very frightening intelligence. With those kind of daily numbers, I knew the barn and the garage would hide thousands.

Yet to my astonishment, each time I found a cache of flattened, overwintering bugs to feed to my ravenous raptors, every single one was dead. Every single one. The only bugs that showed any sign of life were those that had made it inside the house – particularly the one that flew into my mouth at the dinner table.

And so I have had to make a request that almost chokes me. Each time someone comes over, I ask them to hunt in their attic and bring me a jar of stink bugs. That it should come to this incredible state of affairs is both absurd and wonderful, and will no doubt cost me a fortune in mealworms at my local pet store. I’ll pay it gladly.

Furthermore, natural intervention has probably worked a few miracles with the overwintering tick, flea and mosquito population. At last – a reason to celebrate a winter that has turned my garden into a compost heap and my pot ghetto into a graveyard.

Let’s hope that guineas truly do eat copperheads – that might be all that’s left out there.

2018-02-20T20:41:25+00:00 By |

About the Author:

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Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.

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