The Curious Incident of the Earwig in the night time…

When your plants come under attack, it isn’t always easy to identify the culprits.

Our runner bean wigwam, under-planted with courgettes

We’ve had a lot of damage to plants this year, including the runner beans. They flowered, but no beans were forming. At first, I blamed the sparrows, with which we’re inundated, and which I know were destroying our spinach and chard (until we covered them with mesh). The sparrows were all over the beans too. But then I remembered when, a few years back, I’d grown the most glorious wigwam of sweet peas; as full, healthy and lush as anyone could wish for. But without a single flower. It wasn’t until I went out at night with a torch that I realised why: they were crawling with earwigs.

Flowers but no beans!

Another night-time foray showed it’s the same case with the runner beans. Flowers come out, the earwigs eat them, and no beans form. How do you deal with these tricky little varmints? Well, you can go out at night and pick them off, but they tend to scarper as soon as you start, and you’ve only got one hand to try and catch them with while you’re holding the torch.

Earwig nesting box!

An easier way is to put a plant pot stuffed with straw on top of the canes. The earwigs crawl up into the pot at the end of the night, thinking it’s a nice cosy, safe place to hide out during the day. Oh the naivety! Come daylight we tip out the pot and… well, you can guess the rest. Nightly hauls have varied between one and eleven. Hopefully we can get the numbers down sufficiently to give the beans a chance to do their thing, and provide us with a harvest.

The residents evicted into a plant tray

Many garden pundits will try to tell you earwigs are good to have in the garden, because they predate pests like greenfly. The reality is that not even the heaviest infestation of green or blackfly will leave you with no crop at all. A moderate infestation will do little damage, and provide food for other, less destructive predators, like birds, hoverflies and ladybirds. Earwigs may control aphids, but if they deprive you of a crop – either edible or ornamental – how are they helping? Aphids will at least share the spoils!

In my experience earwigs, like that other favourite of the so-called experts, the wasp, do far more harm than good.

text & images © graham wright 2022