As a child I believed all bugs were harmless. It was my innocence that misled me. I used to love playing with the brown fuzzy caterpillars that appeared every spring. That is, I loved it until one stung me. My trust in "all things insect" changed. When my five-year-old sister sat in a pile of red ants and her legs turned just as crimson as the angry mound she had disturbed, I vowed to rid our yard of every ant for her protection. My family weren't avid gardeners like I am today. There was no ant killer in our home nor was there any hope of our busy parents splurging on ant poison. A friendly neighbor told me to sprinkle our borax laundry detergent mixed with some sugar around the ant hills. And sure enough, after a few weeks and half a box of 20 Mule, the ants had moved away. As my experiences with nature broadened, I discovered the symbiotic relationship between humans and insects. A few years back while scraping off some mud dauber nests under my porch, I found the organ shaped mud homes to be filled with dead spiders. Distracted, I left the majority of the mud dauber nests. Months later my mother called me, distraught over the amount of various spiders that surrounded her home this year. Recalling the spider-filled dauber nests, I inquired whether she had removed any such things. Sure enough, Dad had eradicated an entire colony from the side of the garage earlier in the year. Mud daubers help control the population of spiders. Also, they don't sting and they return to the same nests each year.
There are subtle things in nature we overlook when cultivating our own gardens. We know what we want and what we want to grow, but a garden based solely on desire will have its flaws. To grow a healthy ecosystem, we have to take a few notes from the wild. Incorporating knowledge in a desire makes dreams a reality. Did you ever notice how certain plants in the woods and forests only grow near certain other plants? This is companion planting; the relationships between the living creatures, including us. With any garden pest, populations can be controlled by introducing beneficial insects and the plants that attract them, improving the soil and even repelling the bothersome bugs we wish would stray from our gardens. There's no need for chemicals and poisons that are harmful to you and the earth we love. Here are three of the most intrusive garden pests and how to avoid and control them.
Let's start with aphids, one of the most common and biggest nuisances in the garden.
You'll usually notice them after you notice all those ants trailing the stem of your heirloom tomato vine. The ants are enjoying the sweet sap secreted by these destructive pests. Out of just over 4,000 species included in the family Aphididae, about 250 of them are considered a serious threat to cultivated plants. Though a small infestation is nothing to fret about, they are capable of extremely rapid increase in numbers by asexual reproduction. Sure you can get rid of them with a quick spray of poison such as DDT or pyrethroids, but not only does that get on and in your vegetables (if that's what's affected), it also can be harmful to the beneficial bugs in your garden, such as honey bees and ladybugs. For small infestations, a daily blast from the garden hose can knock them into remission. An alternative approach would be a good homemade insecticidal soap. Plenty of organic recipes can found through the internet. However, soap sprays only kill on contact and do nothing to prevent future infestations. Also keep in mind that some plants are sensitive to such sprays, especially in high concentrations and high temperatures. Encouraging natural enemies to the aphids is another solution. These include ladybugs, hoverfly larvae, parasitic wasps, crab spiders, and lacewings, but several applications or introductions of the aphids' natural enemies would be needed. To remain cost effective, this method is better utilized in closed environments, such as greenhouses. Companion planting is another method with a good percentage of success. Certain plants can both encourage beneficial bugs to stay in your garden and repel the aphids. Yarrow, fennel, cilantro and angelica are just a few. With diligence and determination, an aphid infestation can be managed with the right ecosystem accompanying your garden.
Tomato Hornworms are my worst enemy. They strike almost instantly and devastate a beautiful garden. Imagine a lush tomato vine that you started from a single seed. You nurtured it until it was tall and covered in yellow star-shaped blossoms, just ready to produce that best-tasting tomato you've been dreaming of all winter, admiring its aesthetics and dreaming of the sauces you'll make from its fruit. One morning it's fine, the next it looks as if someone sabotaged your plans by cutting off all the leaves and flowers. Now it's just a naked bush with more than half its foliage missing. This is the work of the Tomato Hornworm. These large, spiked pests, the same color as the tomato stalk, overwinter in the soil. So if you're planting tomatoes in the same spot you did last year, it's a good idea to really work the the soil before planting. These guys are experts at finding their tomatoes. If you've only experienced a few in your first year of cultivating these fruits, you can expect a full-on attack the next unless you till the heck out of the soil. Let the robins and other birds eat them after you've unearthed their cocoons, which look like small cigars. If your hoe or tiller doesn't chop up the rest, the sun will wither them away. Tomato Hornworms, despite their name, don't just go after tomatoes. They prey on your peppers and eggplants too. If you happen to find them in the garden, you can spot them by following the trail of their black sand caterpillar droppings as they work their way around your plants. Hand picking and squashing is an effective method. Personally, I carry a pair of small garden sheers and cut them in half when I see them. It sounds a tad morbid, but it's either them or your garden. In most cases, parasitic wasps will remedy the problem for you, but that doesn't mean they won't do some damage in the meantime. Companion plants such as Borage and Zinnias can also dramatically reduce infestations of the Tomato Hornworm.
Slugs seem to be the bane of many gardeners, finding their way into home gardens year after year, damaging beloved potted plants in a perfectly moist environment. Many who have sufferered the devastating effects of these slimy devils have heard about the crushed eggshell method. Yet, it is not always as effective as promised. The fabled beer trap, however, has proved to be successful. A container filled with beer, with a mouth opening big enough for the slugs to fall into, set snugly around the affected plants, is a fail-proof way of cutting back on the infestation. Other ways of eradication will have to be implemented to further eliminate the pests. Iron phosphate bait and diatomaceous earth are tried and true methods. Diatomaceous earth has many other uses as well, such as a health tonic for your body. A teaspoon in an eight-ounce glass of water has been considered a miracle worker for many. If it's good for you, it's good for the garden. The slugs can't stand it because the crushed fossilized powder of diatomaceous earth is like a thousand tiny glass shards cutting away at their soft bodies. Larger predators can also play a major role in a healthy ecosystem that doesn't include slugs. Chickens, ducks, and garter snakes have all been known to reduce the population of these bothersome pests. Whether you're interested in starting a chicken coop or renting some ducks from a friend, these poultry companions are stars when it comes to devouring slugs.
Pests in the garden are never a casual experience. When your hard work, crops, foliage and flowers are threatened by outside enemies, a war must be fought to regain your ground and empire of cultivated earth. Regardless of the type of pests, your battle troops will almost always consist of predators and companion plantings. Marigolds, clover, fennel and spearmint are just a few plants to name. Not only are they incredibly easy to grow, they also can assist in attracting beneficial insects, such as damsel bugs and minute pirate bugs. They've also been known to help repel the pests that never fail to threaten plague year after year. Not all bugs are the enemy. That's why in this day and age, organic methods of pest control are suggested. Not only are earth leaching and harsh chemicals bad for you, they're bad for the environment, bugs, and animals that coexist with us. So if you encounter a pesky bug problem, try alternative and organic ways of dealing with the problem before turning to poison.