Thursday, July 21, 2011

Got Bugs? Good!


There, I said it. If you're running to the RAID or whatever every time you see a bug on your flowers or veggies, you're making a grave mistake.

Who is this? Read on to find out! (Underside of basil leaves shown)

There are some creepy crawlies that freak me right out, so I understand the aversion. I completely and utterly sympathize with anyone who goes a little buggy over insects!

But not all bugs are bad! Just as "Not all bugs need drugs" (i.e. don't use anti-microbial/anti-bacterial products ad nauseum, or zap a cold with antibiotics which is really stupid) in the healthcare world, in the garden "Not all bugs are slugs". And I can't even say that! For all the harm slugs do to gardens, the beloved native banana slug (very cool!) are actually GOOD for your garden (they're composters and they eat fungus! Read more here). They're also the second largest terrestrial slugs in the world (and they live here in BC!). I have to share this - a link to a banana slug crochet pattern. How awesome is that?!

Aphids, however, are often a problem. And so is whitefly, which is a scourge of greenhouses everywhere and which recently infested my potted basil, which is now summering outdoors and is looking less bug-infested everyday.

Aphids (green, and one brown one) - notice how they've arranged themselves on the leaf veins, sucking out the plant juices, like vegetable vampires

Beyond the limit of my macro lens, but here's a green aphid on my arm.

Other pests I keep on the lookout for are the tomato horn worm, the carrot rust fly, the cabbage butterfly, and those irritating little brown slugs that pig out on your lettuce (which is why I want to have pet ducks like neighbours of mine did - they eat the slugs! Slugs will destroy your lovely hostas, too - beware!).

Unhealthy basil with sticky 'honeydew' residue (from either the whitefly or aphids).

Everyone knows the ladybug (or ladybird beetle) is a garden-helper, eating aphids like it's going out of style. But there are many other predatory insects out there, some of which are raised commercially and sold to pesticide-free greenhouses as a source of organic pest control (and a pretty efficient source too, it should be said!). A few companies around the world like Applied BioNomics in North Saanich, BC breed predatory wasps and other insects for use in BC Hothouses (where the red peppers and tomatoes at the store come from!) and also abroad (biological pest control is HUGE in Europe, and as usual, big business here in North America has been keeping the good stuff from us as long as they can. Same with GMO-free Rice Krispies, but that's a separate rant!).

A friend visiting last month, taking a breather on the mint leaves.

I briefly mentioned ladybugs in my balcony garden, which of course are welcome tenants (well, visitors - they're more like hotel guests). I was starting to have an aphid issue on my bean leaves (I planted borage nearby, and for some reason that normally robust and lovely plant did not do well this season and got sick and aphid-infested. I had to remove all of my borage this year, which is really sad).  

Weird fact of the day: did you know ants "farm" and "milk" aphids for that honeydew? They herd them like cattle, look after them, and eat their sticky poo! Full article on ScienceDaily here.

I wish I had taken a photo, because I was only pointing out the aphids, their eggs, and some mystery eggs that looked like these ("Hopefully predators!", I had said) on the underside of the leaves a week or so ago.

Some little black aphids on the underside of a bean leaf

Today, no more eggs to photograph. Less aphids, too. And more of these weird guys, which at first I feared had come to eat my tomatoes. So I searched for red black larvae (anything squidgey and crawly like that is probably larva), and I discovered the identity of these guys: they're ladybug larvae!

Free aphid-control! Organic and kind of pretty, too (now that I know what it is!).

And they're EVERYWHERE! And where they are, aphids are not. Wonderful! Those eggs I saw were probably ladybug eggs (and I was right in guessing they were predators - much bigger eggs parked right next to a field of other eggs. Lunch would be waiting for them when they hatched! Ladybugs are good moms!).

Pupal stage. Get action figures of this here!

So there you have it - the next time you see a weird bug on your plants, do a quick search before you squash it. It might be there to help! And if it isn't, it might just be a meal for a helpful bug about to swoop in. (If it's on an indoor plant, consider moving that plant outside, if it will stand for it, and let the patrolling troops of the predatory insect brigade clean up the mess for you!).

Thank you for indirectly helping my pasta sauces, little guy!

And as my Dad always used to point out - if you find a bug in your broccoli (or a spider in your green grapes - it's happened to me a couple of times!), it's a GOOD THING. If they were poisoned to death by the product then you'll be poisoned too (it's true - it just takes a lot more to kill us 'cause we're bigger). And if they're alive and kicking, well, it's safe to consume!

Some more Green and Broke buggy friends:

A honeybee!!! Finally! I hadn't seen one in so long. :( (photo: 5 Aug 2011)
Welcome, welcome! :)
Bright green grasshopper that was moving into my apartment!

Long antennae! (Incidentally, bug nets are very useful things to have in places without screens over the windows!

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