Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 07.28.06
Stanstead, Quebec


Bugs: This time it's personal

If bugs were truckers, the potato plant would be the equivalent of a brightly flashing neon sign at the end of a long day on the road that reads "Gas! Lodging! Defoliate!" Throw in some nude dancing aphids and what orange-blooded parasite could resist?

How else to explain the fact that our two rows of potato plant are infested with Colorado potato beetles?

We've never planted potatoes before in the eleven summers we've lived on this property, not counting the accidental compost potatoes. So where did the beetles come from and how did they know we had planted a crop this year?

Were they there all along, hanging out in the garden's dark corners like street thugs waiting for a victim to walk by? That would certainly explain the teeny-tiny cigarette butts by the zucchini patch.

When it comes to gardening, this household is pretty laissez-faire. We weed but we don't fixate on fertilizing or worry about watering or apply pesticides. If we see a bug, we generally think, "Well, a bug's gotta eat."

When I first saw a beetle on the potato plants, I said to myself, "This must be the legendary potato beetle. My, isn't it attractive with its yellow back and black stripes."

A few days later, I checked the plants again. Good Lord! It was horrific. Bulbous little salmon-coloured slugs were crawling all over the leaves. As a rule, larvae aren't cute but these were disgusting, as if someone had taken a pink worm and inflated it with a bicycle pump.

I knocked the larvae off and went about my business.

A day later, they were back, and more of them: engorged ones, tiny ones chewing their way to becoming engorged ones. I imagined coming back after our vacation to find a six-foot slug sitting in the garden picking its teeth and saying, "Got any Pepsi?"

I knocked them off again. This time, though, I watched. As soon as one hit the soil, it would immediately start inching its way back to the plant. They had one thing on their larval minds: eat!

They were like children coming upon an overturned ice cream truck. They were driven, voracious, unstoppable.

So I smooshed them.

I've become somewhat fixated on killing them. I wade into the potato patch, whack the stocks with the hand weeder to knock off the larvae, then crush them with the metal end of the tool. My bush-whacking is probably doing more damage to the plants than the bugs.

And that pretty much sums up our relationship with insects. At some point, the desire to kill them becomes disproportionate to the harm they can do.

You'll recognize this phenomenon if you've ever been roused from your comfortable bed to go leaping across the furniture to swat a buzzing housefly. Each time you swing and miss, you become more determined to not let a puny insect outwit you.

Eventually, you are so sweaty and stimulated that even when you do kill the fly you can't get back to sleep.

In public, people are most likely to swear such a vendetta against the deer fly, that perpetually drunk-seeming biter. As it zigzags around your head, you might manage to swat it away. But is it dead? No.

It is impervious to your hitting. It mocks you. It will haunt your dreams. It must die! You end up standing with your head tilted back, flailing your arms about, grunting unprintable words. Just to let you know: you look like a crazy person doing this.

But when you do kill it, oh, the satisfaction!

All this to say, I don't really care about the potatoes in our garden; I can buy a bag for three bucks. But I'm bigger than the potato beetle larvae, smarter and mostly better looking. I shall prevail. Even if they do outnumber me 338 to one.