I’ve got marinated green beans growing in the garden. Yes, I know, it’s a bit weird. It’s all to do with fluffybums. They’re ridiculous little critters and they’re breeding like rabbits on my beans and rhubarb. Sometimes they hop over to my newly planted lemon tree. They’re no bigger than a pinhead but they’ve got this cluster of soft fluff on their backs making them easy to identify. They seem to like my beans. But I like the beans, too, and something had to be done. Like with many aphids no sooner you get the idea in your head to squeeze the life out of them, they hop off. But I’ve learnt a trick. They react to any movement in the air – I don’t think they care about a big hand being close to them, but if you move too fast, you disturb them. Sneak, that’s what you have to do, sneak up on them from behind and pinch the fluff. You’ll never get them any other way. If you allow 10 seconds to catch each one, because annoyingly they wind themselves round and round stems and stalks so you have to sort of wait for them to come back around so you can surprise them, and you’ve got several hundred on your plants, well, you can see where I’m going. Yes, straight to the Placemakers store to get some spray because an hour spent squishing aphids will not get you ahead of an invasion.
I’m not keen on insect sprays, I may even have the start of a phobia about them. Whatever next! Go to Waiheke and get an insect spray phobia? That’s ridiculous. But it’s kind of true. The nice chap at Placemakers showed me which spray was required to knock out fluffybums (passion-vine hoppers) and the plastic spray bottle I would need to do the deed. While I was waiting to pay I read the label on the spray, ‘Toxic to bees’. Oh, that’s not what I want. I want to encourage bees into the garden, not knock them off, so I went back to the man and asked for something organic. ‘Everything here is organic,’ he blurted out pointing to a sign that spelled ORGANIC. Oh. Then he said, ‘This is the safest most effective treatment. All sprays, organic included, are toxic to bees.’ I went up to the counter and paid.
When I got home I put the bug spray on an outside table. I looked at it every time I went outside. Eventually, I plucked up courage to read the label. It said to wear protective clothing when mixing and spraying the stuff and to wash clothing after. I put it back on the table and left it there. I began to fear it. Seriously. It resembled death. At night I dreamed of spraying the aphids, the wind changing, and the spray coming back on me. Of course, I had my mouth open, as you do, when you are in the garden hot and dusty. I dreamt of mounds of dead bees. The aphids multiplied and grew bigger in size, and the toxic smoke from burning contaminated clothes billowed up from my place in a tell-take plume. The neighbours were chasing me with a pitchfork for daring to kill bees, the whole of Waiheke was after me …
Yes, it had got out of control. I went back to Placemakers and asked an even nicer chap than the one who sold me the spray if I could return the spray. I told him the instructions had freaked me out to such a degree that I couldn’t use it. ‘No worries,’ he sympathised, then he went on to tell me that the cautionary advice was to ensure people didn’t have an accident by doing something silly with the product, then turn around and sue the company. The product is American, probably, he proffered, or based on an American one. Blaming the Americans fairly or not, I escaped, with my cash, and ran all the way home (well, hopped in Fifi and drove like the clappers). The table looked all right now being devoid of bug spray. But the fluffybums remained.
I wondered whether a good old drenching in water, detergent and garlic would do the trick. I saved soapy water from dishes, squirted in a bit more ORGANIC detergent and finely crushed some garlic, first grating it on a microplane, then crushing it into a semi-liquid with the back of a knife to ensure it wouldn’t block the nozzle in the spray bottle. Out I went, in my regular clothes, without a mask, gob open, as you do, and sprayed it everywhere. The fluffybums retreated, hopped off somewhere, some falling by my exposed jandalled-feet, and it looked like a success story. It was, for a day, but then they returned in droves. They liked the bloody stuff! Maybe it was just coincidental, and they were about to explode in numbers anyway. But there you have it, no solution to fluffybums yet, though I have a very stinky plastic spray bottle and every time I walk past the beans, especially mid-afternoon with the sun beating down on them, combining with the rising waft of thick organic matter from the earth, they smell like marinating steak. Or a rhinoceros’s backside. A good rain should see things right.
Photography Aaron McLean http://www.aaronmclean.com