Friday, 13 September 2013


It had to be done. It was horrid. It was sticky. It was itchy. And I'm not talking about eating candy floss.

You know we have a willow arch in our back garden? Andy and I planted it, oh, two or three years ago now, and it affords an authentic woodland outlook for the hens who are very fond of eating the leaves and thus never suffer a headache, what with willow being, I understand (though please correct me if I am wrong), the source of aspirin. 

But willow grows like crazy and has to be pruned back every Autumn else it would grow to the moon and we all know where THAT would lead us.

('We do?' says Daisy. 'Yes,' says I. 'Just don't ask me to explain right now. It would require too much thinking.')

Now, this year the willow arch has not only grown upwards several metres, is has also grown a healthy insect colony. Namely the giant willow aphid.

I have never before encountered the giant willow aphid. And given the choice, I'd rather I hadn't. If ever there was an insect to give you the willies, the giant willow aphid is that insect. They live in heaving great grey masses on willow bark and should you try to remove them without first safeguarding your hands with a sturdy pair of rubber gloves they will leave sticky orange goo all over your skin. 

And if you blow on them they raise their dangle spidery legs in unison and wave them in the air in what I can only describe as an insecterly menacing manner. They work by safety in numbers. There are at least 156 billion of them. There is one of me. 

I am sorry, but they are hideous. Google them at your peril. Have the anti-histamine ready. The sight of them WILL make you itch.

They also attract wasps. Wasps in their droves (which are not, as is oft thought, a pair of small leather hot pants). Wasps think great willow aphids taste like chicken.  And hornets like to join in the aphid-fest, too. And you all know what I feel about hornets.

So putting the chickens to bed and letting them out in the morning has been an interesting experience this last month because one has to traverse the willow arch in order to reach the hen pod. And in doing so one also has to run the gauntlet, gladiator-like, with the aphids, the wasps and the hornets. 

I am better at dealing with this activity than Andy, which is odd given he is the VET and a MAN and ought to be more used to creepy-crawly bug life than moi, a pathetic girly. 

Anyhow, yesterday, with the arrival of a burst of late summer sun, and feeling heady with enthusiasm for filling up the green waste bin before it was due for collection this morning,(we pay £30 a year for the privilege of a green waste bin and I am determined to cram it full every two weeks without fail to get my money's worth) I ventured into the garden armed with aforesaid rubber gloves, a pair of garden shears with a goodly length of arm, the garden trug and, it turned out, dressed in a totally unsuitable way for the task of 'Cutting Back The Aphid Ridden Willow Arch.'

I shan't go into detail of what occurred during the ensuing two hours, dear readers, because you may have Googled the Great Willow Aphid (I did warn you) and you will be squirming in your boots by now. 

Suffice to say that if you should be about to prune your willow, and your willow is full of creepy-crawlies, you would be wise to follow this hastily constructed Much Malarkey Manor Guide:

1) Never look upwards with an open mouth during pruning
2) Never knock violently against the base of the willow - aphids many have long spidery legs but they are legs that are useless at clinging on
3) If the buzzing becomes too loud, stand back from the willow and sing The Happy Wasp Song
4) Always keep your eye firmly on the hornet
5) The fake tan effect via the medium of squashed aphid orange bug innards is not a good look. Too streaky.
6) Work through the itching. Think of the hot shower at the end of the exercise because there is no way you'll want to go back to the willow if you complete only half the job in one session
7) The chickens will be NO help whatsoever. Not even in providing an encouraging cup of tea mid-prune
8) When you have finished and you head for the shower for bug decontamination, it is best to avoid looking downwards as you divest yourself of clothes, and it is DEFINITELY best to avoid counting stray aphids as they drop out of your 36Fs.

And as an after thought, and a note-to-me for next year, should the bugs return, I really ought to remember I have a bee suit and that a bee suit is the only appropriate outfit to the pruning and debugging of a willow arch. 


Countryside Tales said...

Ah ha! I googled them! And they are Doctor Who monsters!
Do you wear your bee suit for other occasions? Like dealing with difficult children at school, or going food shopping? How marvellous if you did! x
(PS- I have some Reiki info for you which I shall email forthwith, by which I mean some time tomorrow). Night Night :-)

rusty duck said...

Oh dear. I too googled. Spotty aren't they. And very long in the leg.
Primrose and Daisy didn't fancy any for dinner?

Denise said...

Now listen here, CT and Jessica! I distinctly remember saying DO NOT google them. You are very bad, the pair of you. (Sighs....)

The only times I have worn my bee suit in public were when retrieving a swarm from our front garden wall, and when transporting a hive in the back of our car. I have been requested by the occasional child to wear it in school, but I fear that will just be asking for trouble.

I did try to tempt Primrose and Daisy into hoovering up some of the aphids. They took one look at them and said, 'Eeeurgh! Spidery legged gooey insects! Bring us legless food, like mealworms and snails, and grapes and pasta.' They were, quite frankly, useless.

(CT - looking forward to Reiki info arrival, and thank you!x)