Spider mite infestation — Part 1

by weirdlittlepony

Having been in on the tilly-keeping thing since August last year — eight months to date — I’m still a relative newbie. I guess I’ve been relatively well off where pests and disease are concerned, compared to the experiences of some others in the community, but it had to happen sometime.

Last week we had weather that seemed kinda bipolar. It was both rainy and searingly hot. I had been watering the plants on alternate evenings except for days when it rained heavily and they got a good splashing of good old natural rainwater (which is better for them anyway. They seemed fine.

Then on Sunday evening, while doing a quick round of spraying before heading out to attend an Easter service (first time attending a church service in 10 months, by the way), I realised that two of the mounted plants — a small T. ehlersiana clump and a T. sitting pretty — that were gifts from S were catching the droplets on what seemed to be masses of fine web.

Spider mites. Oh, crap.

There are reasons I prefer preventive action to violent reaction. One is the fact that these pests can do serious damage to plants, and sometimes the plant doesn’t recover. And I’m squeamish. I hate bugs. I hate, especially, those that operate in swarms. Just looking at them makes me feel phantom sensations of said bugs crawling all over me. And now you know why there are NO PHOTOS in this post.

But there was no way to deal with the problem immediately. It would have to wait till I got home from work on Monday.

Having previously recced the nearby supermarket in preparation for just such a situation, I headed there to pick up some of the community’s tried-and-tested miticide. To my horror, there was none to be found. The staff had seemingly misplaced the entire gardening section in the midst of the haphazard ongoing renovations. I was forced to change plans on the fly.

Since there was no way to get hold of habanero peppers, I settled for a local alternative — chilli padi (bird’s eye chilli). Since they’re supposedly less hot than habaneros, I figured I’d just have to make the brew a lot more intense. A third of the packet, chopped, went into a small pot along with four smashed garlic cloves. While they simmered, I inspected the infested plants, their neighbours, and some other suspected victims.

Then I dunked them all into a hellish mix of chilli-and-garlic soup and soap solution and left them to soak underwater for three hours. Hopefully all the disgusting little bugs would be drowned, along with their eggs. After that, I had the odious task of removing the webbed portions of the plants, along with dead and blackened leaves and pathetically languishing grass pups. And then cleaning all that gunk out of the sink and into the trash. Only after that did I rinse off the affected plants and hang them outside the window to dry off — as far away from their compatriots as possible. Just in case.

The simmering mixture filled the entire house with biting vapours. There’s nothing like it, though slicing/chopping up a bunch of particularly fumy onions comes close. In minutes, and for hours after, my eyes were stinging and watering, my throat was itching, my nose was runny, and the skin on my fingers was burning (despite my having used several pairs of disposal gloves in quick succession).

Truth be told, I was supposed to repeat the treatment on Wednesday, or last night. I failed due to last-minute overtime in the office. I may try it tonight.