I love being in my garden. Not only because it’s soothing to my soul and completely awe-inspiring, but also because I don’t know how I would ever learn anything if I didn’t actually spend time in my garden! Simply showing up to observe can be very rewarding. It’s as easy as taking notice, asking questions, and seeking answers. What I really love about gardening is that it inspires curiosity, and that there is a wealth of information at our fingertips with which we can satiate that curiosity. Take that leap into the unknown, tap into the traditions of science and all of the knowledge that has been collected before us, and participate in the exploration and advancement of life on Earth. The practice of acknowledging ordinary things occurring in nature, grants the opportunity to discover extraordinary things about nature.
I prefer to water by hand, with a 2 gallon watering can, because it gives me the chance to look at what’s going on with each individual plant on a regular basis. Even if the garden is not thirsty, I make a point to show up every day to care for my plants in some way – even if just for a few minutes. Whether that means harvesting, weeding, training vines up trellises, fertilizing, pruning, up-potting, squashing bugs, or a little bit of everything – this is always when I begin to learn.
This year I have really been getting to know my pests! In fact since I began drafting this post, I’ve had to add a few more to the list. I’m also researching how I can manage the bad bugs without using nasty chemicals or harming beneficial insects. I recently read a piece of insight from Petra of Fruition Seeds – she said, “cultivating life is curating death.” I think there’s some real truth in that statement.
So far, I’ve identified and targeted the Eastern Tent Caterpillar, the Red Turnip Beetle, Leaf Miners, the Rose Chafer Beetle, Grasshoppers, and Stalk Borers. The Grasshopper is not pictured because the damn things hop away so fast, but I have seen so many incredibly cute, baby-sized ones. And the Stalk Borer is pictured twice – because it looks different from each end.
The 3 substances that I’ve applied to my garden are: BT, Diatomaceous Earth, and Neem Oil. I won’t go into full detail about how to use these products because I don’t feel qualified to do so. Look it up on other sites and cross check info. They are organic but that does not equate with being 100% safe. They can still harm beneficial insects and need to be used with care, if at all.
What I thought was downy mildew, actually turned out to be leaf miners. I watched this video that popped up on Facebook, proceeded to walk outside to check underneath the leaves of my chard and spinach, and found those tiny white eggs. It’s too late for me to employ row covers, but I did remove lots of leaf miner eggs by hand.
Applying Neem Oil seemed to help keep them from laying more. The strong odor or flavor of Neem Oil is supposed to prevent insects from munching on leaves. Diatomaceous Earth kills all hard bodied insects. I’ve found conflicting info about these two things harming bees, but it seems like a good idea to to refrain from applying any of these treatments directly on flowers.
The only way I’ve found to prevent total grasshopper invasion is to eliminate the tall weeds that love to grow around the perimeter of my raised beds. Keeping the yard mowed also helps. One of my first mistakes with my garden was in the original design. Since weeds tend to grow up in between the outside of the beds and the fence, I tend to not weed them.
The edge area is impossible to get with the mower and therefor very difficult to keep tidy. I thought it would be nice to let the border grow up as tall meadow-y grass but that turned out to be a bad idea, because grasshoppers. I must stick my hand through every 2 inch section of fence to pull weeds from between the welded wire. Next year I really ought to manage them earlier, because I think that is how many of these pests entered my garden in the first place. Some may also come from the dead leaves that I bring in for mulch, but I have a feeling that the tall weeds are mostly responsible.
My #2 mistake was allowing last year’s plants to remain in the ground over the winter. I will definitely make a point to clean up my beds this year before winter sets in. Now that I know how to identify the presence of the stalk borer by the tiny holes that it makes, I am certain that I had it last year in one of my tomatoes. It never completely killed the plant but it must have laid eggs in the soil. Now I have more of them. I first found one in my Lily plant that just snapped off when I lightly tapped it. I saw the bug in there so I looked them up online and found out they will cause plants to wilt. Proud of myself for figuring out the mystery of my wilted tomato plant, I sliced into where I could see a couple little holes in the stalk of the next tomato that had also started wilting. Sure enough there was the head of the stalk borer – which is not uniformly patterned from end to end.
In addition to familiarizing myself with local insects – and learning which are beneficial and which are destructive, I’m also studying local weeds. My mom got me this great book: Common Backyard Weeds of the Upper Midwest by Teresa Marrone. Knowing what’s native, what’s invasive, what’s edible, what attracts pollinators, etc., are all things that can help one become a better gardener. I will continue on that topic in a future post! After all, the war on bugs seems to start with the war on weeds!
UPDATE: I didn’t want to face the music, but the stalk borer was also damaging one of my bean plants. I should have taken a picture of the wilted plant, which I’ve been noticing for some time. But upon closer inspection, you can see the holes in the stalk which are the tell tale sign. When I opened it up, I could see that this little guy had burrowed almost all the way to the top of the plant, turning the inside of the stalk to brown mush. I have one extra bean plant. I am worried about this thing affecting my whole garden, but I don’t think there’s much I can do but hope for the best.