Tiny Black, Jumping Leaf-chompers

Flea beetle damage on bok choy_BlkForest-CO_LAH_3411 Our family loves bok choy, so I always plant at least one block of the baby variety. And every year I harvest bok choy that looks as if it’s been peppered with buckshot. I can explain that I washed the leaves and they’re perfectly safe to eat, but really—who wants to eat leaves that were eaten by something else first? Ewww.

The culprit behind all those holes is an aggravating insect called a Flea Beetle. No, they aren’t really fleas, and they only bite plants, not people. If you look closely, you’ll see they’re shaped like beetles (fleas are vertically flattened). Still, they are very small, dark brown to black, and they can jump—just like fleas. And just like fleas, they can drive you crazy.

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IPM: Pest-eating Vertebrates, Part 2

Mountain Bluebird_Johnson'sCorner-CO_LAH_2843Last month I explained how amphibians, such as frogs and toads, and reptiles, such as snakes and lizards, are beneficial to our gardens. This time I’ll focus on birds and mammals. Inviting these wild animals into ours gardens is yet one more way that we can control the pests that dine on our flowers and veggies.

Birds
As an avid birder, I have up to a dozen feeders scattered around our yard. It may seem as if I’m doing the birds a favor, but it’s really the other way around! While most birds attracted to feeders eat seeds, many of those same species switch to bugs, with their higher protein content, during the breeding season.

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IPM: Good Bugs and Other Garden Heroes

spider_dbg_lah_7406If we set a thief to catch a thief, then why not set a bug to eat a bug? Sometimes the best way to control an outbreak of an insect pest is to use another insect, or a close relative (such as spiders). Ladybugs, the most famous of these insect killers, are wimps compared to some of the other predatory critters in your garden. Lacewing larvae, ground beetles, praying mantises, wasps, hover flies, spiders… there are plenty of beasties who are more than happy to keep garden pests under control.

lacewing-on-cuphea-micropetala-cigar-plant-sanantoniobg-2003nov30-lah-001 Continue reading “IPM: Good Bugs and Other Garden Heroes”

IPM: Physical Barriers

apples_browns-tacoma_20091016_lah_4005Let’s say you want to grow apples in your Colorado garden—a perfectly reasonable option for this area. You’ve selected a variety that’s resistant to fireblight (I discussed disease-resistant varieties in May), and your tree is thriving. In fact, after several years, it’s finally beginning to bear fruit. You pick your first juice, red apple, take a big bite, and… oh no! Yup, you find half a worm. Ewwww.

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IPM: Cultural Control

caterpillar-and-leaf-damage_blkforest_20090729_lah_7823The best way to ward off insect and disease problems is to grow a healthy plant. Just as a wolf pack will target the weakest member of a herd, insects seem to zero in on a plant that is under stress. Good gardening practices—choosing the right plant for the spot, soil preparation, proper planting, feeding, watering, mulching, and the like, all go a long way to keep our gardens free of damaging pests.

But cultural control goes further than just having a green thumb. Sometimes our yards are invaded by insects no matter how good a gardener we are. In that case, it pays to know the enemy.

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IPM: Resistant Varieties

dbg_lah_6794Is your garden being bugged? While 95% of all insects are either beneficial or benign, that last 5% can eat us out of house and home—or at least out of cabbage and broccoli. If insect invaders are on the attack, sometimes you just have to fight back.

Pests may be persistent, but we gardeners are not helpless. I like to remind myself that I am smarter than an aphid and more cunning than a flea beetle. When it comes down to a battle for the harvest, there are lots of tools at our disposal. As a master gardener, I was taught the principles of Integrated Pest Management, or IPM. Rather than just reaching for a spray can, this approach is multifaceted. There are many ways to outwit a weevil.

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Seeing Red

redcoats-painting-f-cotes-pxt-1764-by-francis-cotes-1726-1770

What do Minute Maid® or Ocean Spray® ruby red grapefruit juice, Revolutionary War British soldier uniforms, and Almay lipstick have in common? Yes, they’re all red. But there’s more to it than that. They, along with a myriad of other cosmetics, foods, and a few fabrics, all contain a red dye known as cochineal red or its derivative, carmine.

Almost everything these days contains some sort of artificial color. While some people avoid these dyes, most don’t think twice even if they do happen to read the label. Besides, cochineal isn’t artificial. It’s a natural product that has been used for hundreds of years.

So just what is it, and where does it come from?

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Mealybug Invasion

long-tailed-mealybug-c-david-cappaert-michigan-state-university-bugwoodorg-2With temperatures dipping into the low 20s and our first (finally!) snowfall, the bugs in our gardens are either dead or in hiding. But before we collapse into that comfy recliner with a garden book and a cup of tea, we need to take a good look at our houseplants. It might be winter outside, but indoors the bugs are having a field day.

At least they are at our house. I’m currently at war with some aggressive invaders. They’re about an eighth of an inch long, are covered with sticky, gooey, white fluff, and are wedged into the leaf axils of many of my favorite houseplants. Yup, my indoor garden has mealybugs. Continue reading “Mealybug Invasion”

Man Eating Bugs

them-posterJust the title evokes images of a Japanese horror movie with giant beetles running down the streets of Tokyo, grabbing screaming people and crunching them between its mandibles.

That is not what this book is about.

Rather, it’s about the many and varied ways that humans consume insects, arachnids, and other creepy-crawlers. There are plenty of graphic color photographs, too.

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Amazing Insect Images

You have to see these photographs.

I am very aware that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of emails making the rounds, not to mention blogs and other websites, all with cute or unbelievable photographs in them. This is not one of those.

Well-known photographer Igor Siwanowicz is in a class by himself. If I can manage to create photographs half as incredible as his are, I will consider myself an unbridled success.

The above link takes you to just 60 of his close-ups of insects and other small creatures. Each one is a work of art. Please take the time to look. You’ll be so glad you did.