(Un)welcome guests

For people that love cooking as much as we do (and we sure do love cooking!), Germany, or perhaps just Freising, is not fantastic. Herbs here are a big and boring disappointment. I don’t have a clue why, but fresh herbs here (1) are either all parsley, chives or not available, or (2) when they are available, they suck. Tasteless green filler, that lack secondary metabolites and for some reason also do not store well in a freezer. But mostly just (1). I don’t understand why. I feel like every time I walk into a supermarket there is a hidden camera show following me to the herb aisle, and when I get there, someone flips a switch that empties all herb compartments. Everything not parsley or chives is always gone. The labels are there just for show. A few times I got ‘lucky’ and there were a few packs of cilantro and basil. As you could have guessed, this was around Christmas, when people may try some more exclusive cooking. I of course bought it all, like a pandemic hoarder buying all toilet paper. It mostly tasted like nothing, and the ones that I stored in the freezer came out green snot that tasted like even less. I love Thai, Middle East and Mexican kitchens. I need strong mint, Thai basil, and a good soapy cilantro! Is it really all that hard to grow proper cilantro? The more the cilantro haters complain about the taste, the more I like it.

A couple of weeks ago, I walk into the local REWE supermarket. In my automated supermarket zombie mode I walk past the herb aisle, ignoring it as there is of course nothing to be seen there. I had almost gone across, when I heard the little whispers. “Hey, over here, look.” I realize the voices in my head sometimes take on another level, but I decide to not ignore them and have a look. There it is, in all its glory. A real Thai basil bush, surrounded by the most beautiful halo. Angel voices were singing in the background. “Aaaaaahhhhh” (this sounds better in my head) Before I even knew it, the pot jumped into my shopping cart. What a trophy. It smelled so good. I decided then and there to give it all my love and care, so I could enjoy it for the weeks to come.

Fast-forward three weeks or so, to yesterday morning. I have been very careful with watering my prized Thai basil and it grew like crazy and, I must say, looks healthy and happy. We have not yet used it much, so it got quite bushy and I decided to thin out some of the larger sprouts (and freeze them) to make space for the smaller ones. That’s when I spotted something odd. Honeydew… Somehow some of the local aphids managed to find my beloved Thai basil too. Or… more likely… they were on it already when I bought it. Perhaps the aphids were the ones inviting me to their southeast Asian street food party. It’s always good to invite an entomologist friend that will treat your host plant nicely.

Look at that cool shape and color! The dark green stripe makes it look neat, and the antennae are very long.

Anyways. I feel very conflicted about the whole situation. One part of me thinks these six-legged cunts should get their nasty stylets off my Thai basil. It’s mine, and mine alone. But the entomologist in me gets all excited. What a cool-looking aphid! What species could it be (too lazy to look it up now)? It is quite chunky and interesting looking. Must be a breeze to work with! Is it a generalist or a specialist? Should I start a colony next to our Sitobion avenae clones? It would of course be a fantastic excuse to use our fitotron chamber for growing Thai basil at the department, so that I always have some stock. Maybe I should also get some cilantro aphids…? I’m already doing experiments in my mind.

I really am bad at taking on insects on my plants, even if they are pests. The mealy bugs eating up my aroids and orchids I find somehow sweet (and last year they attracted a bunch of cool parasitoids while I placed the plants in my garden in summer). This winter I befriended a Marmorated Stinkbug. It’s really that bad.

My new aphid buddies are here to stay. I guess I’ll have to eat a lot of Thai food the coming weeks, because this plant for sure is doomed. I wonder when I will get lucky again to get such a double prize at REWE.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of one but almost two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

One thought on “(Un)welcome guests

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