Spider mites. Yes! I can finally type those two words without muttering a preceding F-bomb or two. But it has been awhile now, and my therapist agrees, I am pretty much over it.
To be up front, this article is not about what spider mites are but about the predicament they put me in when their attack came so near the end of my indoor grow and how I finally resolved the issue.
But in case you don’t know, mites are tiny little spiders (Tetranychidae) that suck the life from your plants and the dreams from your life.
Beauty and the Beasts
So, the story is, I am about two weeks or so away from harvest (the difference between good and great, IMHO) and to the naked eye, my plants were looking pretty good. More sugary and sparkly with each passing day.
I enjoy a pretty garden and this particular little four-plant grow was looking quite colorful. There was a Granddaddy Purple with its sweet, essence of grape fragrance. A menacing Great White Shark and an orchard-scented Kush Berry, in addition to a fuzzy little Do Si Dos. Practically a jar of jellybeans.
I purposely had not checked my maturing buds using a magnifying glass so that I would be surprised at how good they looked when I did. A few weeks out from harvest, it was time to put the big-eye to the jeweler’s loupe and I did. When I found the focus point, I nearly gave my underwear a hickey. Spider mites! Surprised is not the word. Horrified, that’s the word. I was looking at an aerial view of a jailbreak.
Drat! I was so close to harvest, too. I had religiously given my girls everything they needed and more. They had their own tanning booth, a fabulous diet and free makeovers via FIMing, pinching and trimming. How could I let this happen to them?
The answer came quickly to my mind. I had set a couple plants out one day to get some real sun. It was a little cooler and a bit overcast. Perfect. Or so I believed. When bringing them back in, I noticed a gossamer strand of silk across one of the plants as the sunlight caught it. I assumed it was merely a filament of webbing drifting on the air as they often do. And it was. It’s just that this web came with spider mites.
I removed the thread but not the threat, which would have been so simple to do. A thorough examination before I brought them back in would have taken only a moment, but I didn’t do that. By rarely having an issue with an indoor garden, I had grown smug. Or at best, careless. You reap what you sew. Now there’s a double entendre for you.
Hindsight aside, I had to think. A light bulb went off in my head. My vacuum cleaner has a detachable hand-held vacuum on it. Could I suck them up with that? Using duct tape and a soda straw I taped off the opening to the hand-held so that only the straw was sticking out. I hit the ON-switch, felt suction on my fingertip and took a quick look through the loupe. I spot three amigos enjoying a bud. I attack. I stop and take a look. One gone. I hit ‘em again. Adios.
Three down and God knows how many to go. I bent the leaf and saw eggs on the underside. I hit the switch. I take another look.
Again, I got some. After a few more passes with limited results, I’m thinking this isn’t really working as I had hoped. The mites don’t come off that easily but more than that, I just spent 10 minutes on one flower and three leaves while also scratching off crystals. I looked at the hundreds of leaves (collectively) on my plants and shook my head. Hope may float… but my heart was sinking.
It was apparent, this would take forever and I would never get them all. Meanwhile, the dining room was still open and the mites were not practicing social distancing. My fingertips pressed my temples. All right, think.
Try as I Mite
The longer I studied my dilemma the clearer it became that at this late stage of their development I had a unique situation. My remedial options were sorely limited. In fact, what were my options? Hand-picking with tweezers? If only I were younger and had that kind of time. Circumstances dictated that rinsing wasn’t feasible, either. Besides, I was bound to miss some even if I could rinse. And there had to be some in the soil.
I was in a quandary, to be sure. I tried spraying some nugs with Isopropyl alcohol but realized after a quick look through the loupe that I didn’t want to soak my garden in that. They looked like a salted slug.
I remembered insecticides like AzaGuard. And while perhaps safe and effective for mite control, it is an insect growth regulator and life-cycle disrupter but does not control adult mites and I didn’t have time to watch it stunt their growth. There were others, but honestly, I really didn’t want to spray any insecticide on them this late in the grow cycle or anything that could potentially abominate their flavor profile. Moreover, I prefer a more natural garden.
I considered introducing predatory insects. But even if I ordered them, who’s to say they would arrive in time or even be able to help if they did? Too late for them. Another dead end.
I was running out of road here and I had to make a decision.
Why Didn’t You…?
Okay, I just ran through a list of what I couldn’t do and now I had to think of what I could do, today, right now. It didn’t take long to realize that the list of what I could do ran concurrently with what I couldn’t. Then suddenly, the solution was apparent. No second guessing. Cut and dried, if you will.
With a sigh of frustration mixed with relief, I resigned myself to do what I must do to save what I have. I had to cut my plants in order to cut my losses. Because even if I believed I’d gotten all the mites via whatever method, if I missed some, it’s back to square one in short order. Not to mention I would also need to vacuum everything, fumigate the tent, and the room, ad infinitum.
Undoubtedly there is a reader out there saying oh, man, you could have easily done this or you should have done that. And to that person I say, I wish you’d been in the room.
To Make a Long Story a Little Longer
Now that it’s over, it was an interesting experience. I gained some knowledge, honed my problem-solving skills, and salvaged a harvest in the nick of time.
Having survived the ordeal and, once the flowers were dried and cured, I felt it only fitting I should toast the tiny terrorists. And so it was with a smile that I put a victorious match to those minuscule little mummies and toasted us both. I was the ancient warrior eating the heart of his defeated enemy. Well, maybe not that heavy but I did detect the sweet taste of revenge in that first smoky toke.
All things considered, my girls turned out to be pretty good. Even a mite better than I expected.