Snakes & Beans19/07/2012 14:25
When I was a young child there were no video games as of yet.We played board games.Remember those?Usually only on a rainy day as the rest of the time we played outside.Remember when kids still played outside?
One of my favourite board games was Snakes and Ladders.You probably played it yourself.A simple yet fun little game.
You started at the bottom of the board and moved your 'man' the number of squares as indicated by a roll of the dice.Whoever made it to the top of the board first,won the game.But here's the catch;on the board were snakes and ladders.If your man was fortunate enough to land on a ladder you could take a nice shortcut up the board by climbing the ladder.This gave you a real advantage over your opponent.If, however,you had the bad luck of landing on a snake,than back down the board you slid,leaving your laughing opponent far ahead.
I was reminded of that amusing and sometimes frustrating game a few weeks ago while standing on a ladder and coming face to face with a snake.He was in my beans.Not sheltering under them but actually in them.Mind you,these were pole beans that had grown to a good 8 to 9 feet tall and George the Garter snake,as I later named him,was right up in them near the top.I guess he had slithered his way up the vines.
I discovered George while I was out on my daily Japanese beetle patrol.Well,a Japanese beetle killing spree to be more accurate.I have no mercy when it comes to those little buggers and their voracious appetites.I pick them off my beans and crush them between my fingers with something akin to glee.I'm not a violent man by nature but I love beans and were talking about my beloved Kentucky Wonder pole beans!
Japanese beetles are known to feed on over 300 species of plants but they seem to have a real fondness for beans.I suppose just as we humans have our favourite food to eat;Japanese beetles have their favourite plants and this year it appears to be my Kentucky Wonder pole beans.
It didn't start off too bad;just a few beetles here and there turning some bean leaves into something resembling a slice of Swiss cheese but nothing too serious.However,things were soon to get worse as insect attacks sometimes do.
The first Japanese beetles decided my garden would be a swell place to hold a family reunion and so out went the invitations.These invitations are in the form of pheromones that can be smelled by other beetles a long ways off.
Mom's,dad's,brother's,sister's,Grandparents,aunt's,uncle's and long lost cousins started flying in from all directions.There was a lot of hugging,back slapping and how you doing cous going on and than the relatives got down to the serious business of eating.Every family reunion needs a buffet and my Ketucky Wonder pole beans were the main attraction on the menu.
There's various ways of dealing with this predation as Marie Iannotti mentions in her article on controlling Japanese beetles.I usually just go out there,pick them off and crush them between my fingers but when their numbers are large as they now are,I knock them off into a container of soap and water.You will often see whole groups of them on a single leaf and a nice thing about these beetles is that they just sit there munching away as you approach them rather than flying away so it's easy enough to knock them into a jar.It's tedious but effective if you have the time to do it.
A word of caution about pheromone traps.As Debbie Hadley,the Guide to About.com Insects,talks about in her article about pheromone traps,these contraptions can often make your problem 10 times worse.They are meant more for monitoring the Japanese beetle numbers to see if chemical sprays are warranted rather than actually controlling them.As I mentioned,they communicate with pheromones and you could end up attracting far more than you trap.
I was thinking that one of those 'traps' would make for a nice little prank on my cat loving neighbour.We don't get along.As I have mentioned before,his cat uses my garden as his own personal toilet.It so happens that my cat loving neighbour grows beans as well.Perhaps I'll slip over there one night and set up a pheromone secreting device or two.Or three.Or four.Millions of beetles will descend on his beans like a plague out of the bible!
At any rate;lets get back to George the snake.
As I was saying,I was out collecting and crushing beetles and in order to reach the ones on top I had to stand on a ladder.I was reaching for one of the shiny buggers when suddenly a snake stuck his head out from between the leaves,inches from my face!
Now I know some of you live in parts of the world where seeing snakes in the trees is a common occurence but where I live,snakes are for the most part ground dwellers.As such,the last thing in the world I expected was to come face to face with one 9ft above the ground.And in my pole beans to boot.
I lurched back so fast that the ladder started to tip and I had to grab the beans to keep from breaking my neck.Fortunately my beans are growing on a sturdy support that I had rebuilt this year so I was able to steady myself while doing only minor damage to the vines.
The snake had vanished as fast as he had appeared with all my vine grabbing antics so I thought perhaps I had been seeing things.Holy smokes.Was that a snake or am I seeing things?
Now,Garter snakes are not poisonous but they are capable of giving nasty bites so as I started to part the leaves to see if indeed,there was a snake in there,I did so rather gingerly.
Sure enough;there he was.A nice looking Garter twined in and amongst the bean vines.What the heck was he doing up here I wondered.And 9ft above the ground!
He certainly didn't seem frightened of me.He moved around a bit but seemed quite content to have me looking at him.He flicked his tongue in and out a few times to 'smell' me as snakes do but other than that he just sat there watching me watch him.
Well George,I said,I'm not sure what you're doing up here in my beans but I have beetles to catch so if you don't bother me I wont bother you.At that point I wondered if perhaps George was doing the same thing I was;catching beetles?Do Garter snakes eat beetles?I pondered.Lord knows I could use the help as the reunion was now in full swing but I wasn't sure if beetles were part of a Garter snakes diet or not.
I climbed down the ladder,went inside and turned on the computer.A great thing about the net is you can research just about anything including whether or not George eats beetles.The first article I read said their diets consist of worms,slugs(God Bless them),lizards,frogs,toads,rodents and even small birds.I knew that about birds as I once watched a large Garter with a sparrow in its jaws.Not a pretty site.The other sparrows didn't care much for it either based on the racket they were making.At any rate,no mention of insects.Bummer.I was hoping to see Japanese beetles at the top of the list.However,the next two articles I read said that their diets did indeed include insects.Mmmm...
Well,I was going to find out for sure a few days later with some good old fashioned field observation.
George had now become a permanent fixture in my beans.I would see him almost daily as I went about my gardening chores but I still hadn't seen him eat any beetles.Than one day I was back up on my ladder removing some bean leaves that had some fungus on them when I spotted George do what I had hoped he was doing.He ate some Japanese beetles.His head didn't lash out at lightening speed as we think snakes always do.He just slowly stretched out and gobbled them up.The beetles in question were,shall we say,copulating?Yup.It's now the time of year when the beetles mate and the females will soon be laying their eggs in the soil to start the whole cycle over again.Well,the beetles didn't have a do not disturb sign on the door so George had them for lunch.I guess there's worse ways to go.
What a thrill it was to discover that George was allied with me in my war against the beetles.Snakes may have been the bad guys in that board game I loved as a child but George was no bad guy.Any creature that will help me control those plant destroying Japanese beetles will always be welcome in my garden.
Thank you George.Eat well.