The Nematode Challenge

Post by Mike Klassen in

5 comments


CityFarmer instructs on how to apply nematodes to your lawns in the coming week

It's a slighly complicated process, and frankly spreading nematodes onto your lawn is not for everybody. But in order to save your lawn from the voracious appetites of raccoons, skunks and crows, you better get onto it right away.

I wrote about the destruction of our lawns by these animals months ago. At the time I argued that it was up to each city in Metro Vancouver – specifically their park boards – to help notify residents about how to prevent the spread of European chafer beetle grubs. It's those little yummy worms that raccoons and their night crawling pals love.

The problem seemed to begin further east a few years back. Lawns in New Westminster were ravaged by the beetle problem. Then it moved west, through Burnaby and eventually it began to show up in the Killarney area of southeast Vancouver. Now you can see lawns ripped up in Dunbar and Point Grey. There is only one way to really stop it, and that's to spread nematodes onto your lawns now – the last 2 weeks of July – as this is when the beetles' eggs are being laid.

The Courier's Sandra Thomas mentioned in her column from Friday to let your grass grow a little longer during this time, as it makes it a little harder for the beetles to get down into the grass roots.

If there is any political angle to this, it might be the view that lawns are considered "inefficient" by some in the enviro crowd. Vision city councillor Andrea Reimer, for example, has made disapproving public statements about lawns. While lush green grass might not pass muster with some, it's still the most popular way to keep our neighbourhoods green and cool in summer.

Knowledge about how to battle the beetles has not traveled easily, which is why I support local governments getting more involved in this process. Communications campaigns would be a good start – multilingual brochures with lists of locations to order/purchase nematodes, and instructions on lawn application. The Vancouver Park Board made a good start on this back in 2006, but unfortunately have not pursued it further.

I've seen the little orange beetles lurking in my yard, and I know my backyard is regularly visited by raccoons and skunks. It's only a matter of time before they begin digging up my grass, which is why I'm going to try and get my nematodes applied soon.

Kudos to the CityFarmer folks who have produced these helpful videos. I challenge the Vancouver Park Board to get on this, and let the public know how to avoid getting their lawns ravaged. It's too late for 2010 unfortunately, but let's hope that under their new General Manager a plan to deal with the European chafer beetles is ready for next year.

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CityCaucus.com tweeted about it first yesterday afternoon. City Manager Penny Ballem sent out a bulletin that the new Vancouver Park Board General Manager has been hired. Malcolm Bromley hails from Toronto, and yes, we've checked to see if he was married at Hollyhock and we can happily report that so far we've found no evidence of a Cortes connection. Given the fact that the Park Board actually hires Bromley, we thought it was telling that Penny Ballem signed off on the bulletin about Bromley's hire. We'll leave it to our readers to decide what it means.

- post by Mike

5 Comments

Hi Mike,
We had the nematode guys out to our place last night, and you're right, it did seem pretty complicated. They kept checking their notes, which was pretty funny. And now we wait and see what happens. Our lawn was decimated this spring.
And you're right, the city and park board have taken no lead on this issue. It's also impossible to tally what the dollar figure might be when it comes to property damage, but I'm guessing hundreds of thousands across the city.

I put traps in my yard and release whatever I catch at the City Hall garden.

Andrea is actually right about traditional grass lawns being not that great for our environment, mostly due to all the pesticides and fertilizers used to keep them weed-free, and the huge amounts of fresh water required to keep them green.

Take a walk around the seawall near the Olympic Village and you'll see all kinds of beautiful wild grasses and plantings that do well in our particular climate without the need for pesticides or large amounts of water on a daily basis. To me this looks a lot better than a typical grass lawn.

Hi Mike,

Great post. As you know, we've been dealing with the European Chafer for over a decade here in New Westminster. They're like delicious garlic prawns for the raccoons, skunks and crows who dig up grass areas to get at them.

At first, and before anyone knew what was really going on, it looked like the crows were doing the damage because they were the ones we saw digging during the daylight hours. But then it became clear that the raccoons and skunks did the major excavation work at night under cover of darkness making it easier for the crows during the day.

I haven't noticed a lot of chafer damage this year here in Queens Park, but it may be early. And I've got my eyes peeled.

As for those who don't like lawns: do they have kids? I would rather that my kids and their friends fall on the grass than on hard pavement. Lawns are also an effective way to control soil erosion over a large area and they're a "green" walking surface for garden area.

The upside of the chafer is that there are a lot of better kept lawns around the neighbourhood now from past chafer damage that's been repaired. And in a good number of cases, people have opted to replace their damaged lawn areas with plants and garden areas.

One thing I've noticed that has helped to lessen the initial damage is to put down chicken wire on a patch of damaged lawn as soon as you notice it. This seems to prevent the raccoons and skunks from doing their part of the damage.

I suggested this strategy to my next door neighbour when damage showed up on his front lawn last year and it seemed to help.

However, the chicken wire strategy doesn't address the chafers themselves. And in the one instance where my front lawn got attacked about three or four years ago, I used a careful application of a common pesticide that stopped things dead. I don't normally use any pesticides or herbicides in my garden, but in some cases, and with careful thoughtful application, it is the right way to go (and I've been gardening for about 40 years now).

Overall, there should be enough local scientific knowledge and anecdotal experience about the chafer's local behaviour and patterns for the municipalities of the Lower Mainland to be able to mount an effective campaign against the chafer and the damage that's resulted from their introduction to our environment.

Hi Patrick,
Read your post about chafer beetle...I don't usually use pesticide either, but can you plesae tell me what kind you used. I guess I can just pick this up at any hardware store?
Thanks very much!
Tony

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