Early one morning a couple of weeks ago, some friends and I were birding around Kettle Lakes, a number of large ponds on U.S. Air Force Academy property. We exclaimed over the accuracy of a Belted Kingfisher’s dive to nab a fish for breakfast, in spite of the distortion caused by the air-water interface. A Great Blue Heron followed suit, coming up with a flapping fish in its beak.
The neighborhood where I live seems to be a magnet for door-to-door salespeople selling services. One company in particular has been particularly persistent in their marketing attempts—an exterminator.
The first time they rang the doorbell, I politely but firmly told the guy I did not want my yard sprayed. I consider a diverse arthropod population to be a sign of a healthy landscape. I particularly want insects around to feed the birds I feed. Moreover, I had just planted a pollinator garden, designed to attract bees, butterflies, moths, and other fascinating creatures;. The last thing I wanted was to kill my invited guests.
In last month’s post on “Who Ate My Plants?” I described the following scenario:
The heavy snowfall took a while to melt, but finally your dormant lawn emerges from under its frozen blanket. Last time you saw it, it was perfect turf, smooth and even. But now, it looks as if an army had performed maneuvers across your yard! Shallow furrows run here and there around islands of still-intact grass. What in the world?!
Your carrots have finally reached harvestable size—you can tell from the broad shoulders slightly protruding from the soil that the crop is going to exceed expectations. Excitedly, you bend down and gently tug on the feathery green leaves. Pop! Up come the leaves and the top of a carrot—but wait! Where’s the rest? All you’re holding is a quarter inch of orange. The rest of the carrot is missing! Confused, you stick your shovel into the soil to bring up the next root, but it suddenly plunges downward, encountering no resistance. There’s a tunnel under your carrot bed. Grrrrr!
It sounds too good to be true. Not only are marigolds pretty, but growing in your vegetable garden will protect your harvest from nematodes, beetles, hornworms, whiteflies, squash bugs, thrips, hornworms, and even rabbits. I know it must be so, because I read it on the internet:
“French marigolds repel whiteflies and kill bad nematodes. Mexican marigolds are said to offend a host of destructive insects and wild rabbits as well.”
“Annual Marigolds can be used anywhere to deter Mexican bean beetles, squash bugs, thrips, tomato hornworms, and whiteflies. They are also known to repel harmful root knot nematodes (soil dwelling microscopic white worms) that attack tomatoes, potatoes, roses, and strawberries.”
“Marigolds also repel pests, including beetles and nematodes.”
Gee, if it’s that easy, why not? Marigolds are easy to start from seed, grow quickly, thrive almost anywhere, and produce tons of sunny yellow and orange blooms all summer long.
Exclaiming over the lovely colors, I went to put the bouquet of bearded irises into a vase. As I took out a sharp pair of scissors to cut the stems to size, I noticed a bumpy layer of pale green… something, tucked into the crevices between the leaves. On closer inspection, I realized they were aphids. OK, sort of gross, but not terminally so. Then I realized I had smooshed aphid bodies all over my fingers.
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.
Last spring, our daughter and son-in-law moved into their first home. For the first time, she has a yard of her own. And being my daughter, of course she couldn’t wait to grow her own veggies. Although they moved in March, her advanced state of pregnancy took priority, and instead of carrots and beans, she grew an adorable baby girl. But this year, it’s time to garden!
At first, things seemed to go well. We consulted on the best crops and varieties for her area, and she wrote away for some local seed companies’ catalogs. Seeds were ordered in plenty of time, the packets arrived, and she started preparing the garden space where things were to grow.
Where did they go? Yesterday I had a nice row of lettuce seedlings down one side of my raised bed. This morning three were missing! Not a leaf remained, only the gnawed off stump of a stem, leveled to the dirt. Grrrr!
Since we live on a few acres, there are many possible culprits: insects (such as cut worms or grasshoppers), jays, crows, or other hungry birds, pocket gophers, or rabbits. Figuring out who done the deed was essential to knowing what defenses I needed to erect to protect the rest of my crop. It was time to pull out my Sherlock Holmes hat and bubble pipe and do some sleuthing.
Last 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.
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.