I collected a lot of bugs as a kid but I’m pretty sure earwigs were not among the crawly critters that I kept in the jars next to my bed.
Earwigs are the ones with the creepy-looking pincers on their abdomens. I always called them “pincher bugs,” which seems to be a nickname that’s as commonly used as the much-studied yet still confounding term “earwig.”
Both entomologists (the bug people) and etymologists (the word people) remain curious about the origin of “earwig.”
I should quickly note: Researchers have found no evidence that these bugs burrow into and/or lay eggs in human ears. It’s possible they do wear wigs — send me a photo, if you see one — but there’s nothing in the literature to support that either.
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“Like so much entomological misinformation, the notion that earwigs infest ears may have originated with Pliny the Elder, the first century polymath who, among other things, believed that caterpillars originate from dew on radish leaves,” wrote May Berenbaum in a 2007 article in American Entomologist.
Though off-putting and a little mysterious, earwigs aren’t all bad. They’re omnivorous, which means they not only eat plants but other bugs that can wreak havoc on yards and gardens, such as aphids.
Problem is, they’ve got a big appetite. They’re also nocturnal so they’re enjoying your garden buffet while you’re asleep.
“They eat anything,” Advanced Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith says in this week’s Dig In gardening video while holding up a zinnia from her yard with more holes in it than a slice of Swiss cheese. “They especially love ornamental flowers and basil.”
Debbie said she eliminated slugs from her list of suspects when when she examined the flower.
“No slime trail,” she noted.
In recent weeks, the Ada County Master Gardeners has received many inquiries from local residents who want to protect their yards and gardens from the ravenous insects.
You can fight earwigs with pesticides. But there isn’t anything that takes out only earwigs, so you’re likely to kill off some beneficial bugs if you blast them with chemicals.
Debbie suggests trapping the bugs instead. One way to lure them in is to create a dark, damp place for them to hang out when they’re lunching on your plants.
Creating this earwig version of the roach motel (where bugs go in but they don’t come out!) is probably easier than you think. In fact, you can use an old newspaper.
Roll up a piece of newspaper, wet it down good with a spray bottle and twist off one end. Lay the wet paper newspaper tubes among your plants before you go to bed at night and check them in the morning.
Pro tip: If you find the traps are full of bugs, toss them in an outside trash can. Don’t throw them in the garbage bin inside your house, unless you want earwigs hanging out with you on the couch.
Another inexpensive way to create a trap is with empty tuna or cat food cans and the like. Leave a speck of food in the can to lure bugs, add some cooking oil (to make it harder for the bugs to get out) and place at the base of your plants.
Time is now for second-chance garden planting
Gardeners joke that the “gardening season” never ends. So if gardening has not been successful for you this season, or you haven’t had time, the good news is that you get another chance.
The window for planting is the next two weeks.
Appropriate vegetables are those often categorized as “cool season” crops. It may seem counter-intuitive during hot weather to plant cool season crops, but they will mature when temperatures are cooler in September and October.
What to plant: Beets, broccoli, carrots, kale, lettuce, peas, spinach
If you feel like gambling: Cauliflower, cabbage
There is time for these crops to mature before a traditional killing frost. Some, such as beets and kale, can still be harvested after frost. You may be taking a bit of a risk with a few of these plants — cauliflower and cabbage, which may perish if frost comes early — but that’s part of the fun in gardening.
Even if your garden has been a success, these fast-growing crops mean you can enjoy another round of fresh vegetables well into the fall.
Bonus: Common garden pests for these crops may not be as plentiful for late-season growing.
More: Don’t overlook opportunities to adopt homeless tomato and pepper plants from nurseries and stores. There is still time for them to reward you with delicious food if you rescue them from the bargain bin
Tips: When planting seeds, keep soil moist for germination. That may take vigilance with hot temperatures.
Plant spindly tomato plants deeply. Remove bottom leaves before covering with soil.
Debbie Courson Smith