Friday, 12 October 2012

Conkers, moths and spiders

Conkers, not to be confused with chestnuts


Although September is spider month, October is conker month. The two are connected because spiders hate conkers and having conkers around the house can keep spiders away.

Why it works, I don't know. This isn't science. But it does seem to work.

The other thing conkers seem to repel is moths. I get asked a lot about moths and moths are subject close to my wool-clad heart as I've suffered much at the jaws of moth caterpillars.

It is of course, not the moths that do the damage  but the baby moths, aka caterpillars. Moths usually only reproduce twice a year, but because we heat our houses now, they can reproduce all year round (if you want to protect your clothes, and your bills, keep your house heated to below 20C, which I now do, look at me, I am so virtuous).

You don't need to be scared of all moths, well, not so far as your clothes are concerned. The moth larvae that does the damage is a clothes moth, of which there are three in this country. The most common is the webbing moth, which is small (no more than 10mm long) and is the sort of colour Martha Stewart loves: beigey caramely.

All moth repellents, at least that I know of, work on repelling the adult female. And that includes my conkers but they're so much nicer than conventional moth repellent, natural and free. Repellent is fine if your clothes are egg free, but if they're not then they won't kill the eggs already laid (which, incidentally, are often deposited where there is any food spills, which is why so much damage is done across the chest area...). You cannot tell if an egg has been laid, you can only see the caterpillar. If you suspect you have eggs on your woollens - and yes they do favour high quality cashmere (it's softer) and colours like caramel, because they've had less done to them - the only way to get rid of them is to clean (hand, machine wash or dry clean) or freeze. Conservationalists freeze items at a temperature of minus 28 to 32C for seven to ten days. If your freezer doesn't go that low, just freeze for longer.

If you want to store precious items, do so after washing/cleaning/freezing and put in individual closeable plastic bags to limit any damage if you have missed eggs. But really, as moths like dark, undisturbed places, the worse thing you can do is pack things away in a dark, undisturbed corner; the best thing you can do is take your dress/coat/jumper out frequently. I once had a precious dress hang on the back of my bedroom door and it never came to any  harm. My gorgeous wool dress in the cupboard was eaten to pieces.

If you do use moth repellents, change them every three months, and once you're sure you're moth free, keep your cupboard doors closed. (I always, always go in and check on favourite pieces regularly having lost many precious pieces to the moth.) If you hoover your cupboards out, change the bag as a closed, dark bag full of dust and clothing fibres is like a moth nursery that's been rated Outstanding by Ofmoth.

At room temperature, it takes 7-10 days for the eggs to be laid and them to hatch and start munching, so you see how quickly the damage can be done.

I think it's time for tea now.

BTW: if you're wondering how I know so much about moths it's cos I interviewed an entomologist at the National History Museum a while ago.

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