by Richard Jones

There are precious few bugs about still. A small cloud of diaphanous winter gnats flutters above the shed but all else is quiet, until I pull up a small groundsel plant.

WirewormSunday, and my first trip to the allotment since November was made with some trepidation. We never seem to have quite enough time to get things fully organized up there, and although it's a wonderful place to sit and look at the world, we really need to do less sitting, and more cultivation. But it doesn't look too bad. I can see where the recent snow has pressed the netting down over the strawberry bed, and the canes from last year's French beans have blown over. But apart from that it doesn't look too unruly or unkempt.

The rhubarb is just about breaking the surface, and the beds I recently dug over are not overrun with weeds. So I can spend a gentle couple of hours doing a little bit of pottering, and afterwards feel smug that things are getting ready for the big planting session after half-term.

There are precious few bugs about still. A small cloud of diaphanous winter gnats flutters above the shed but all else is quiet, until I pull up a small groundsel plant. There, wriggling in the moist soil is a wireworm. I know these are supposed to be notorious garden and agricultural pests, but like so many insects, I can't really treat them as pests unless they reach pest proportions. A few of last year's potatoes had small holes in them; slugs I thought, but maybe not.

Wireworms are the tough cylindrical orange-brown larvae of click beetles. The agricultural ones, several Agriotes species, live in the soil layer feeding on roots and tubers, which of course, brings them into conflict with anyone growing plants for their roots or tubers. Most species, though, are dead wood feeders, and they include lots of very rare species, which only occur in old woodlands, ancient hedgerows and other important wildlife habitats. Their larvae feed in the mouldering logs and stumps. A quick look at the internet shows that many of the click beetles illustrated against 'pest' wireworms are probably harmless woodland species.

The adult beetles are long and narrow and get the click of their common name from their ability to suddenly flex thorax and abdomen, jerking themselves into an airborne tumble with an audible snap. This is a very good escape strategy, startling any would-be predator and hopping themselves off to hide in the herbage.

I have a fond memory of picking up my first click beetle, many years ago. It twitched and clicked between my finger and thumb and I felt I must have found something truly remarkable. I dashed off, whooping and clutching my prize, to show mum and dad.

There was no-one to show my writhing wireworm to, so I chucked it into the compost heap with the groundsel. Plenty of old roots in there.

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Wireworms
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 19/02/2009 at 14:12

im ben does any one know if you can buy worms from a shop to put in the soil or a compost bin ?

Gardeners' World Web User 19/02/2009 at 21:06

fishing shops sell worms

Gardeners' World Web User 19/02/2009 at 23:29

How do I treat my bay tree whose leaves have gradually turned yellow since I took it out of a tub & put it in the herb garden. The soil is sandy.

Gardeners' World Web User 25/02/2009 at 09:23

Reply to Benjamin. The best worms for compost bins are brandling worms, Eisenia fetida, rather than the lobworm or earthworm. These are available from the companies that sell wormeries and compost kit. Try here: http://www.wigglywigglers.co.uk/

Gardeners' World Web User 25/02/2009 at 09:36

Reply to Linmos. The most important thing about nest boxes is that they should be in a position in which the birds feel safe. These boxes are for birds that normally nest in natural hollows in old trees, cliffs and gullies. Although some nest boxes are marketed specifically to attach to windows for interior viewing, this goes against my intuition. I think the best place to put these boxes is in secluded secret places, hidden on a fence under clematis or ivy, high up in trees in dense foliage. North-facing is probably the least attractive, since this is the wet and cold side. Hope this helps.

See more comments...