The Nitty Gritty on Battling Earwigs

Summer is flying by, as we come into the month of August, school is only a couple weeks away from being back in session and Pumpkin Spice Lattes are on its heels!  During the day of hiding inside from the heat and the crazy smoke from these devastating fires, I have stacks of order sheets to place and 2018 brides planning their wedding flowers.  It's midsummer but I have spring flowers on my mind!  Life has expedited since flower farming, when you're always planning two seasons ahead.  In the cool of the day, life doesn't slow down for Sierra Flower Farm.  We are still harvesting, pampering, and even planting more flowers for fall blooms in between fertilizing and battling our buggy foes... especially the menacing earwigs.

I must warn you, the photos of the plants that have been annihilated are sad, to say the least.  Don't worry!  Most of the plants are intact and are thriving.  I took photos of the worst in the garden to show the amount of damage these critters are capable of.  As with any munching and sucking insect, they can spread disease.  If not tackled, it can devastate the garden.

Earwigs are a never ending battle in our gardens.  Some people have munching bunnies or hungry deer.  We have earwigs.  I’m not complaining too loudly or much, because, overall they are gross looking and easy to kill.  There are a lot of them though!  I was chatting with a neighbor, because with an urban farm, you have neighbors.  Much like in the show in Home Improvement, we peer over the fences and chat.  I’m sure we are far from alone on this, but it is not a typical expectation when you think “farm.”  Anyway, her yard has been infested since she remembers moving in over twenty years ago.  Her situation hasn't improved, I'm determined not to make that our destiny.  Who knows, perhaps we will be able to conquer all the earwigs of the entire neighborhood!


Walking through the gardens each morning with zinnias chomped to bits, and my sad heirloom mums, was disheartening.  We have been battling these little jerks all season, actually for a few seasons.  We have many theories behind the reason behind the masses.  Our soil, though we continually work on building up, is still out of balance.  This is a project that is on the top of our list to combat in the fall.  Healthy soil doesn’t happen overnight, or even over a few seasons.  It is something that can continually be improved upon.  Considering our garden beds were just neglected areas of the yard, with mounds and mounds of rocks, we are proud of it so far.  Still, it needs to get better.  The weeds and pests are definitely indicative of that.


Earwigs LOVE to hide.  We have plenty of those, if the areas in our yard (hello hastily laid bark in the yard in an effort to make the yard look slightly better…) our neighbors have sheds up against our fence… on all sides!  Plenty of places to hide and at night our gardens are open like a casino’s buffet!  We try to keep the yard clean of debris, but they really don’t mind the grass either.  I'm working on hubs about ripping up the grass.  We are after all, Urban farmers, "grow food not grass," right?  In our case, it would be flowers because much like Monet I must have flowers always and always.  He's still concerned about resell value, why does he have to be so practical?  Anyways, someday I will get my way, right?  I'll just load some more Urban Farmer YouTube videos onto his phone, yes that is how I shall win.  Now back to the earwigs.



Lastly, they have been left alone to rule the yard for decades.  When we first moved into our house, those creepy crawly guys were EVERYWHERE!  We’ve definitely knocked down the population down since then, but it just goes to show how out-of-control their population truly was. 


Why the long litany of stories on earwigs?  They are a huge battle for us, and after speaking to many of our wonderful friends and customers, next to Bambi snacking on your tulips, earwigs are a big battle for you too.  Perhaps you don’t even realize it, you see nibbles out of your tomatoes or zinnias and just assume the culprit is a caterpillar.  It could be, but a quick trip to the garden at ten-o’clock at night can be quite revealing.  In previous blogs, we’ve covered a little bit on earwigs.  As we experiment, we learn more about what works and what doesn’t.


We have been spraying our plants and seedlings with spinosad every couple of weeks since spring.  We also lay out Sluggo Plus (because we have some slugs too), which also has spinosad in it.  We use a homemade contact spray on the earwigs, as mentioned in one of our previous blogs.  These tactics have greatly helped, but have not eliminated the pests. One trick we were told to do, but ignored until desperate, was the earwig trap. 


A quick internet search can reveal a lot of different earwig traps, from soggy newspapers to cut up hoses to tuna cans filled with beer.  We tried the hoses, wasn’t making enough dent.  The soggy newspapers were gross.  Plus, these methods weren’t killing them (until you went and dumped them into a bucket of soapy water).  Sometimes, life happens, and you don’t get to that chore everyday.  After my poor dahlia babies were getting munched, they decimated my heirloom mums, the zinnias were struggling, and our daughters were screaming, we decided to try the beer traps.  We didn’t use beer.  After some research, we realized that earwigs like the smell of sweet rot.  Not like bad meat rot, but the sweet smell of composition, like the smell of walking through a damp forest.  Which beer does is fermented and sweet, but it is also kind of pricey.  The earwigs have had enough fancy feasts.  The recipe we decided to use for the traps included: the cheapest cooking oil we could find, full salt soy sauce, and dark corn syrup.


Many of the articles on these traps tried just soy sauce, or beer, or oil.  Earwigs like sweet and fermentation.  Soy sauce provides the fermentation, the dark corn syrup provides the sweet, and the oil drowns them.  Some were of the opinion that the full salt soy sauce is what kills the earwigs by dehydrating them, perhaps it does, but I’m pretty sure the oil is drowning them.  They can’t break the surface tension, similar in thought to putting them in soapy water- they can’t pass that barrier.  


We needed a shallow container, think tuna can.  Well, we don’t eat gobs and gobs of tuna and definitely were not going to consume ten cans within an afternoon.  We went to the store and found some inexpensive containers, much like the shallow plastic containers hummus come in, and purchased those.  Four dollars well spent, plus they were a little bigger.  That allows us to not have to dump them out every day while getting more victims.  Which is essential for us on crazy farmer market Saturdays.


That night, we buried the containers filled with our sweet-fermenting concoction.  We put them in the walkways between the rows of flowers that we saw the most significant damage.  These rows happened to be by the zinnias, dahlias, mums, sunflowers, celosia, and for good measure by the shed.  The containers were buried enough just to be level with the ground.  After the sun set, and the summer sky filled with stars, we went to see how the traps were working…


It was a MASSACRE!  Hundreds upon hundreds were just clamoring over each other to partake in the deadly treat.  Within one night the containers were filled to the brim (which is super nasty but also very rewarding).  As the containers filled up, we dumped them out and refilled them.  As time goes by, there are less and less.  As we see other damage, we move the traps that are no longer luring the earwigs into new spots. 


This battle is going to take time.  In the meantime, I’ve made some organza and tulle bags to go over the dahlia blooms and the mum plants.  It is time consuming, but the result is a perfect dahlia without chunks missing from the petals.  The tulle coverings over the mums is giving them some protection and time to hopefully bounce back from the constant attack of the earwigs.  This is not a forever method, just until we get the population under control.  Keeping up on making the bags takes some effort, especially now that the dahlias are beginning to bloom like crazy! 


We have shared our favorite recipe for traps with others, and they come to us like war heroes when they speak of the slaughtering of the earwigs.  The men are especially proud of this feat, chest puffed out and a twinkle in their eyes about how they had slayed the earwig beasts.  Ladies, if you are squeamish, allow a man in your life the honor of this gruesome project, it will save some gag-reflexes and boost his ego.


 Try the following method to gain the upper-hand on the earwig enemy (and go ahead and practice your warrior cry of victory, we won’t tell).


The How-To:

Grab a shallow container, one you have on hand (yogurt cup, tuna can, hummus/salsa container)


Fill the container with equal parts:

Cheap cooking oil (canola or something on super clearance- don’t waste that awesome olive oil!)

Dark corn syrup or molasses (the corn syrup is a cheaper option, plus comes in a handy squeeze bottle)

Full sodium soy sauce


At dusk, go to the problematic areas and bury the container level to the ground.  If you are extra vindictive (like we were) go out at night and watch the massacre by flashlight.  Empty containers into the trash (do not put in compost, the oil and soy sauce is not good for it) and refill as needed.  Once you’re not catching anymore, don’t worry- they didn’t learn your tactics, you have just conquered their population in that area. 


Hope this gives you another tool to naturally combat some garden pests.  If you are seeing a lot of insect damage, your soil most likely needs some love and keep your garden clean of debris as best as possible.  Overall, gardening and growing is being part of nature.  Sometimes, nature doesn’t play nice but there are ways without busting out harsh chemicals that aren’t good for you and not good for you soil.  Growing using more earth-friendly methods can be more time consuming but you will also learn a lot about your growing space, how to grow, patience, and in the end, it will be so much more rewarding. 


Happy growing!

- Jessica