Sunday, 27 July 2014

EW!!! A bug!!

This is an exclamation I often hear in the garden when we have new visitors.  I always take the time to let everyone know that the bugs are a group of our most committed volunteers but we also have some that have taken to vandalizing our garden.

In this month’s post I’d like to cover the topic which makes most people run for cover… bugs.  Yet, as a gardener, one has to be comfortable and aware around different kinds of creepy crawlies and critters. Identifying them and their purpose in the garden is essential to creating an ecosystem that supports your efforts as a gardener.  There are many different kinds of bugs that call the garden their home.  Some of them beneficial, like worms, bees, butterflies, ladybugs, spiders and centipedes.  While others can wreak havoc, like flea beetles, Japanese beetles, slugs, snails, aphids and grasshoppers.
We are very lucky at West Humber, as we have some well established Milkweed plants. They sprout up just about everywhere.  They have been attracting a few of my favourite pollinators: butterflies and bees.  The monarch butterfly, in particular, loves these tall plants.  They lay their eggs on the milkweed and when the caterpillars emerge, they eat these plants, and these plants only.  There has been a sharp decline in Monarch butterfly populations recently, so planting Milkweed is essential to their survival. The David Suzuki Foundation is running a campaign this year that deals with this issue call “Got Milweed”. Got Milkweed?

Currently, the West Humber garden is dealing with a pretty bad infestation of Japanese Beetles.  These critters have made themselves right at home on our eggplants, raspberry bushes and grape leaves.  I have made some garlic spray for them which has taken care of the problem a little bit.  Just let some crushed garlic cloves sit in water for 24 hours and spray it on the plants. The ratio is about two cloves per 1 cup.  Make sure to reapply after every rainfall. It’s also important to spray both sides of the leaves. We also handpick the beetles off the plants and squish them. Another method we are employing at WHCI to combat the japanese beetle is planting the members of the allium family next to the plants that the japanese beetles love.  I have put some chives and onions nearby my eggplants.  One of my student volunteers asked me this past week why we don’t just use a pesticide?

Pesticides kill not only the bad bugs, but also the beneficial insects.  One species which has been affected by the use of insecticides is the bee.  Bee populations have dramatically declined since the marriage of agriculture and chemicals.  Neonicotoids in particular, have been linked to the dramatic decline in bee populations and are known to cause colony collapse.  For more information check out this infographic: Not only are the pesticides harmful for the bees, but they are harmful for all living beings - including the microbes in the soil, worms, plants, soil quality and you guessed it, us, too!

This phenomenon is very troubling as one third of our food crops rely on pollinators to produce food.  And for all those who are scared of the friendly bee, remember that bees only bite when they are threatened.  So as long as you are careful not to disturb the bee, it will not disturb you!

In the image above, you can see the dammage done on the eggplant leaves by the Japanese beetles.
In this image you can see the beetles mating on a raspberry leaf. They mate on the surface of the leaves and then the female Japanese beetle will burrow down into the ground to lay eggs.  The larvae also cause damage to the plant’s roots.
A beautiful eggplant, despite the damage done by the beetles. Here, we see a Milkweed plant and a beautiful pollinator.This is my magic potion. Garlic infused water to repel the dreaded Japanese beetle.
This borage attracts pollinators and you can use the flowers in a tea! My favorite mix is mint, borage and lemon balm.

Another handy way of getting rid of pests like the Japanese beetle, is to attract birds to your garden by putting bird feeders up and planting some of their favourite snacks! One vine that our fair feathered friends love is the Virginia Creeper. We have one of these at the West Humber Garden. It's foliage turns a deep red in the late summer and fall adding a beautiful dimension to an otherwise boring fence. Not to mention the berries, though poisonous to humans, are a culinary delight to the local bird population.

As you can see, there are many alternatives to industrial agriculture's solution for pests. Whether you chose to hand pick, companion plant, attract predators or use a natural homemade spray; or all of the above, the wildlife in your garden will thank you. Well, perhaps, except for the Japanese beetles.

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