I remember with total clarity my first sight of a Japanese beetle in my first garden, back in Maryland a thousand years ago. "Come look at this beautiful insect!" I shouted to my daughters, and we all stared at what, with its iridescent copper wings and emerald head and thorax, looked like a scarab out of a pharao's tomb.
Of course, I have since learned to hate Japanese beetles. I have trapped, drowned, squished and cursed whole generations of them. When we left sub-tropical Maryland for Vermont, one of the many blessings of the move appeared to be the relative absence of Japanese beetles.
There were always a few hanging around the roses in mid-summer, and the top leaves of the Harry Lauder Walking Stick (you can take a look at this weird-looking shrub: http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/gardens-gardening/your-garden/plant-finder/plant-details/kc/c360/corylus-avellana-contorta.aspx) always got that lacy look that tells you the beetles have been at their orgies. But as a semi-buddhist gardener, I believe in leaving bugs alone unless they are actually killing my plants.
This hellishly hot, wet summer, however, the beetles have arrived en masse. They have reduced the leaves of the Harry Lauder and of the ornamental plum tree to brown filigree. I don't eat either the bush or the tree, so I wasn't too concerned. But when I saw that the top branches of the apple trees were turning brown, and the blueberries I picked had chunks chewed out of them, I got mad.
I went out in the early morning with a pail of soapy water and started shaking beetles out of the trees. But they were up at the very top of the branches to catch the early sun,and this meant that when I shook the branches most of the beetles fell on me instead of into the bucket. This caused an involuntary jumping reaction on my part, which dropped even more beetles on the ground.
I got even madder. I had set out meaning to drown every single beetle in the garden, and I was not even coming close to my goal. But because being in the garden often calms me down, I eventually decided that catching some beetles was better than catching none, that perfection is the enemy of action, that it is impossible to control Nature, etc.
I persevered, and when I had a goodish mass of drowned beetles in the bucket I went to the hen yard, called the hens, and poured the contents of the bucket on the ground. To a hen, a Japanese beetle is as a truffle is to you and me. Here are the girls, gorging on my harvest of iridescent scarabs:
My time was well spent. In fifteen minutes I managed to decimate a garden pest and give my hens a nutritious delicacy. My eventual recompense will be a clutch of protein-rich eggs with bright orange yolks free of the slightest trace of iridescence.
If there is a more rewarding job than hunting Japanese beetles, I don't know what it is.