In the Garden:
An early morning stroll through the garden may reveal a squash vine borer adult about to lay her small amber eggs on your squash plants.
Footprints of the Gardener
You may have heard the old adage, "The best fertilizer is the footprints of the gardener." It is certainly true that a garden visited frequently by its owner is more likely to be a productive and attractive one that a garden left to fend for itself!
I would add to this adage another proclamation, "The best pest control is the footprints of the gardener." Pest problems tend to take off like a wildfire. Early on they are but a smoldering ember or small patch of burning grass or pine needles. But left unmanaged they grow with increasing speed into the blazing forest or prairie that is virtually unstoppable.
Enough of the analogies. The earlier you identify a pest problem and take steps to manage it the easier it is to manage. At an early stage you have more options for controlling the pests including the least toxic or environmentally disruptive choices.
This means frequent visits to the garden along with some observations of what is going on at plant level. I was out in the garden a couple of weeks ago turning over some broccoli and kale leaves and noticed the clusters of eggs that look like a group of wine barrels that indicate a group of harlequin bugs are about to invade my garden.
It is much easier to smash a couple dozen of these destructive devils with thumb and forefinger than to wait until they hatch and reach adult stage to chase them around the garden with a spray wand! The key is knowing what you are looking for and, oh yeah, then getting out there often to look.
While this story might make me seem like a wise, diligent, entomologically astute gardener, I can assure you that there are many stories in which the garden was neglected for two or three weeks while I attended to other things. Upon returning I found a horde of harlequin bugs and some severely abused cole crops.
The same advice goes for stink bugs on your tomatoes, squash bugs, cabbage loopers, squash vine borers, aphids, and most any pests that threaten to spoil the show each gardening season.
Most gardeners are at least somewhat familiar with what most of the major pests look like. However very few are familiar with what these same notorious criminals on the "most unwanted" list look like at other stages of their lives. Insects have various life stages including, depending on the particular group they belong to, eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults.
Being able to recognize both pests and beneficials in their different stages of life will help you stay a step ahead of the situation. It will serve all of us to be lifelong learners when it comes to the pests, and diseases that impact our gardens and landscapes.
If easier, less toxic pest controls are not enough, let me add interest and fun to the list. Kids are absolutely fascinated by the insect world. An inexpensive magnifying loupe can be purchased for as little as $5-10 that will magnify 10 to 20 times. A magnifying loupe requires a little learning to use since they are held to the eye and the pest is brought up close for viewing. But they are in the words of my daughter, "Way cool!" Well said.
You may not consider yourself a bug lover but trust me; as you learn more and do some exploring around your garden it gets to be addictive. One minute you're out examining an unknown insect and the next you are inside with a book or doing an online search to discover its identity -- and what it is up to in your garden!
So spend some time out turning over a few leaves this week. Many pests begin as eggs or larvae on the underside of the leaves allowing them to go unnoticed unless the gardener is playing Sherlock Holmes periodically.
Well, I have go now. There are some aphids outside that I think are being parasitized by a tiny wasp and I gotta go check this out. It is WAY COOL!
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