Garden Friends

While working in the garden yesterday I came across so many wriggly, crawling, hopping creatures! We have been working this garden space organically for three years now, attempting to use organic insecticide only as a last resort, and I am pleased to report that the harmful/beneficial insect life is starting to balance out. I know that there are some pests that can completely destroy crops, but I have found that good crop rotation, healthy plants, and careful monitoring goes a long way in restoring the balance of nature.

Last year we were overrun with Japanese beetles, so I bought one of those traps, but that only brought in hundreds more. This year I have been picking off and killing any that I see, and we have had much less damage. Last year we lost every single zucchini and squash plant to cucumber beetles. I sprayed them constantly but it was to no avail. This year I have been examining the plants and squishing any cucumber beetles that I see. I am proud to report that mid-August we still have a thriving zucchini plant! I did get slightly overrun with Mexican bean beetles on my green beans this year, but next year I will watch closely for them and pick them off before they can over populate. I have learned that one of the best defenses against harmful insects is squishing them with your fingers. Sometimes it still makes me gag to see the guts squirt out everywhere, but I’m getting better about it.

Anyway, here are some of the creatures I found yesterday, all of which are new to our garden!

This praying mantis was so still and so cleverly camouflaged that I thought he was a stick for a long time. Apparently they have a big appetite and are skilled hunters. They eat moths, Mosquitos, aphids, beetles, grasshoppers and even roaches. Interesting fact: sometimes female praying mantises bite the heads off of the males they mate with!

Did you spot the toad? I saw three of them yesterday and shrieked each time they jumped out of the spot where I was digging because I hadn’t seen them. Frogs and toads can eat close to a hundred insects a day, so they can be very helpful in controlling insect populations.

Now let me introduce you to a tomato hornworm. This one was about the size of my pinky. These worms are easily identified by their large size, 7 straight white markings down the side, and small horn on the end of their body. Contrary to popular belief, they will not sting you. I never seen one of these in my garden before, but according to things I have read, they can eat down an entire tomato plant in a matter of hours.

At first I was panicked that our plants were infected with hornworms and were going to be eaten, but before killing this one I did a little bit more research and discovered that the white eggs on it’s back were larva of a braconid wasp. This wasp will lay its larva inside the hornworm, and they eat their way to the outside of the wasp as they hatch. This process kills the hornworm. I decided to leave this worm alone and hope that once these wasps hatch, they will kill any more hornworms in our garden. I have found it quite interesting to read about braconid wasps and how they can inject a virus into a host which allows the parasites to grow inside the host undetected! The best part about these wasps is that they don’t even sting you!

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