The Revenge of the Mandarin Stinkbugs – or How I Learned to Love the Broom

July 18, 2012

I’m on all fours in the kitchen, scrubbing sugary orange blobs that have splashed from the stovetop to the floor and cursing the day I rescued my mother’s mandarin tree from a disease-ridden death.

Two bumper mandarin crops and many batches of marmalade later doesn’t quite make up for three years of pruning, regular feeding and watering, weed control and scrutinising for caterpillars. But I can’t go back now …  I’ve become the mandarin marmalade queen and there are expectations. I have orders to fill.

Home-made mandarin marmalade

Now, where’s my crumpet

I’ve come late to the world of gardening, and no-one warned me to look out for the scourge of the citrus grower:  stink bugs.

These nasty sap suckers appear in summer and you’ve soon got yourself a nice part-time job protecting young shoots. They are almost indestructible and will multiply overnight just when you think you’ve won the battle.

Whacking them into semi-consciousness seemed too brutal, so last year I squirted them individually with soapy water. Sure, it dazed them, but their revenge was a crazed kamikaze swoop towards my eyes before I ducked for cover. There’s a stylish Italian travel accessory company called ‘Mandarina Duck’ and I wonder if they’re named after a similar manoeuvre. Nah, probably not.

Nodding off on the bus a while ago following another session at the killing fields, a voice from behind whispers, “Excuse me, I thought you’d like to know there’s a bug on your head”. Panic can’t describe my reaction as I start swatting the pest, hoping it will move along without any fuss. The stink beetle, who’s enjoyed a free ride without a valid ticket flies off my head and releases such an acrid stench that I jump off the bus red faced – and well before my destination.

It got me thinking if you’re going to have something flapping on your head in a public place, it may as well be a bigger statement. Like a pigeon. In the 1995 film Forget Paris (directed by and starring Billy Crystal) Debra Winger makes contact with an unwelcome feathered friend:

This year I reverted to the broom ‘n’ bucket method, wielding my weapon of torture while wearing industrial strength goggles, gloves and a fetching hat. I’m atop a ladder while my aged mother waits below with a bucket of metho for the bugs. (It’s the least she can do for making me inhale the fumes of her home-made Italian mandarin liqueur in the early 1960s.)

Any good suggestions for disposing of the bugs are welcome. Apparently Clint Eastwood, in the film The Outlaw Josey Wales, has a habit of spitting tobacco juice on them, but I don’t know how effective it was. And I’m not willing to try it.

If you’re wondering what the Musgraveia Sulciventris looks like, here it is – quite the looker when young, somewhat uglier when mature.

the offending bug

For my delicious AmbraJAMbra, I used Stephanie Alexander’s Seville Orange marmalade recipe from her Cook’s Companion It can be adapted for all citrus fruits successfully.

Related post: Buddha’s Hand Citron-Lemon with a Twist


  1. Patrick knocks them off into a bucket of water by tapping them with a heavy stick, bucket held underneath, glasses on to protect eyes. Then they drown. If only a few he squishes them with disposable gloves on and lets the squish fall on the ground. He makes a good marmalade (Ruth’s recipe) but needs the Seville oranges…not quite in season yet.

    • Thanks Tash. Although I suspect the stinkbugs of the innerwest are a bit hardier than yours. Tap them? Hah, they just laugh. Haven’t tried making Seville orange marmalade – all citrus seems late this year due to the hopeless summer we had.

  2. This year wasn’t bad for me for stink bugs. I thank la Nina. El Nino years see my citrus covered in it. My husband and I go out every day with a rake and hunt the beasts down, knock them off the tree (or carefully lure them off if they’re flyers) and then squish them on the ground. I figure that is the least painful method of death for them and there is no way they can live in peace with my citrus.

    Here’s my post about these garden pests.

  3. Thanks Laura – any advice is most appreciated. And by the way, you sure do have good lookin chooks!

    • Yes, they are good lookin, and don’t they just know it 🙂

  4. Hi Laura, Stephanie Wood (ex sydney mag dep editor) now writes for Fairfax DailyLife blogs and today wrote a piece about her sad mandarin tree and added a link to my post. She needs help! http://www.dailylife.com.au/dl-food/blogs/short-order/garden-of-evil-20120803-23k9a.html

  5. […] have minded so much had the fruit not been harvested in our garden with my own sweat and tears (see past blogpost). Here’s the […]

  6. Hello Laura! I use tongs… I pull each stink bug off the citrus tree and dunk it straight into a bucket of soapy water. They still squirt but it’s at an arm’s length so they aren’t quite so dangerous. Ruthy

    • Good idea – as long as it’s the long, barbecue type tongs. Those bugs can shoot!

      • You’re right Laura. I wouldn’t be comfortable with tongs any shorter than four metres!

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