Dirty Therapy-The Guardians of the Garden-Bugs
It all started when my son decided he wanted to try praying mantis in his greenhouse to control the gnats and flies. I thought, why not, I am for non-chemical bug control so lets get a few and see what happens. Well, we purchased a little weird looking sack that resembled a wasp nest and put it out in the greenhouse. And in a few weeks we had hundreds of tiny little mantis babies crawling around the greenhouse. The sort of sad thing about these alien looking creatures is that they will eat each other. The bigger they get the more aggressive they are. But, what a cool way to eliminate bugs instead of using chemicals and the kids enjoying watching them attack.
Next come the LadyBugs or Lady Beetles as some people like to call them. We had a horrible infestation of aphids on a sweet potato plant in the greenhouse so I purchased, yes you can buy them at your local garden center, a bag of lady bugs. They were in the cooler but as soon as you bring them out to warm up they are ready to be released. Lady beetles prey on aphids and other soft-bodied insects. The adults will eat as many as 50 aphids per day. If you have enough aphids, and the beetles stick around long enough to lay eggs, each hatched larva will eat some 400 aphids before entering its pupal stage. There are many species of lady beetle that attack many different prey. The adults are independent, flighty creatures. If you buy some at the garden center and release them into your garden, be prepared to watch most of them fly away to your neighbor’s yard. Those that stay, though, will be a big help.
One that we haven’t purchased yet are the fairy-like green lacewings As they flutter silently by in search of pollen or nectar, I find it hard to believe that this pretty little bug is fierce during the larval stage. It can devours aphids, caterpillars, mealybugs, leafhoppers, insect eggs, and whiteflies. Up close, the larva looks like a tiny 1/2″ alligator. If you keep a supply of flowering plants, adult lacewings may take up residence. They especially like Fennel. Even if you aren’t going to eat the fennel, it’s a great attractant to have around. If you decide to introduce beneficials to your garden, lacewings are the most effective predators you can buy.
The last predator that we have purchased this year is the Predatory Nematodes. Last year we had such a bad problem with cutworms. It took us two plantings of our seedling broccoli and cauliflower to finally get plants to grow and it was all due to the cutworm. It looks like someone just came by with scissors and cut the plant right off. So, this year before we put the seedlings out we will be adding nematodes to our garden beds. They will attack and kill almost any insect that lives in the soil. They only attack pest and not plants and never earthworms. As long as an insect spends part of it’s life cycle in the dirt, they attack by actually invading the insects body and reproducing themselves on what remains, until only a shell is left behind. They are so tine that 1 million of them fit on a small 2″ sponge that I picked up at our local garden center. It’s an interesting process to apply and takes special timing and soil temperature but we are willing to try it this year. YOu just rinse the sponge out in a gallon of water and then dilute that water and then apply it to the soil. But, you have to use the water within 2 hours of mixing or they will drown in the water. We may have to reapply in 4-6 weeks but it will be worth it.
Orchard Mason Bees
My favorite beneficial bug to have is the Mason Bee. Of the 4,000 bee species in North America, Mason Bees are among the easiest to raise, And are also gentle and amazing pollinators. By raising solitary Mason Bees, we can increase their population. It’s a great way to supplement the stressed Honey Bee and sustain our future food supply. The Mason Bee is a very productive pollinator for spring flowers, fruits, and nuts. The female carries pollen on the underside of her hairy abdomen, and then scrapes the pollen off within her nesting hole. Because the pollen is carried dry on her hair, it falls off easily as she moves among flowers. She is able to pollinate more flowers than her cousin, the Honey Bee, who wets the pollen and sticks it to her legs during transport to the hive. The Mason Bee, who gathers pollen and nectar on the same visit and cross-pollinates. She flies back and forth among the flowers instead of striping the pollen and the nectar from one source.
It’s pretty cheap to raise Orchard mason bees. You can make your own houses with do it yourself kits or purchase kits from the garden center. Plan about 15 minutes to find a spot for them. Warning! When they start to emerge from their homes, it’s time to stop and watch them for a while, laying eggs for next season’s bees!
In June, bring the nesting material inside to protect your developing bees from pests. That takes about 10 minutes. In the fall, you can harvest the cocoons and store them for the winter. In just 1 to 2 hours a year of your time, you’ll get a healthy family of bees and amazing garden companions. In order to steadily increase the Mason Bee population across North America, http://crownbees.com/ located in Woodinville, Washington, would love to receive your excess bees in the fall, and trade you nesting material for next season. Your bees will be re-homed to other gardeners and eventually with growers. Read here about this Bee BuyBack program. I can’t wait to go check them out.
So, this year we hope to control any bug issue with the guardians of the garden. It should be a profitable and pest free year.