Editor’s Note: I am loving all of this time in the garden this time of year. My mother-in-law might wonder “What time in the garden is she talking about? I never see her in the backyard.” It’s true. It seems that most of my time is spent out at the Comox Valley Regional District Compost Education Centre with the crew from the SPROUTS Children’s Gardening Series. We only have one more week in the very successful Spring launch of the program – and Summer options are soon on the way.
Yesterday, the kids all painted their feet as a part of the permanent Ecological Footprint mural to be installed on site at the compost centre. It was so cool. Just wanted to give you the link to some awesome photos of our good gardening times. Check them out HERE.
Now, on to Kendra and her insight on garden creatures:
I am always amazed at the creepy crawlers who come out when I am gardening.
Move a rock and peek a boo – a little earwig slips over the dirt and disappears.
While I am often caught by surprise by little legs and squirmy worms, my little ones adore them. Gardening often turns into a treasure hunt for bugs, or a counting game to see how many worms call this place home.
Regardless of what we’re up to, we’re sure to come across some sort of creature. After awhile I began to wonder what was actually helping my garden to grow, and what was eating my beans?
Aphids are the number one problem we have in our garden, and what I didn’t realize until a few years ago, was that ants actually farm aphids for the sticky sugar they produce as they eat up our plants.
While I am never happy to see these guys, it is fascinating to watch the little ants run up and down and over the aphids as they ensure everything us tickety boo. We have a massive infestation on our lupins right now – the aphids are huge!
I suppose I should be thankful that they usually hit up our nasturtiums and sunflowers, and not any of my regular food sources. But, still I don’t really want them on my salad flowers either.
The best methods of controlling aphids is to spray with an organic insecticidal soap, especially if they are being farmed, or to introduce predators such as the lovely ladybug, who will gobble those little bugs as fast as she can!
Ladybugs are our favorite garden friend, because they are so bright and cheery! They show up on everything from laundry and toys to plants and flowers.
Sometimes we try to keep ladybugs on our clothing or in a special place so we can peek at them. It is always hard to watch them fly away, and who can blame us for loving them?
This year I think we will look for some lady bug eggs, and make a little house for them inside to see if they hatch. You can keep ladybugs as a pet and feed them aphids and raisons. Make sure there is a wet paper towel so they can have a drink too, because often these little guys die of dehydration if inside. I prefer to let them fly in my garden anyway, that way they can come and go as they please, and eat aphids galore! Maybe we could let one have a sleep over since my little one always wants to keep ladybugs when she finds them (Art Knapp has live ladybugs for sale).
Another pest that is abundant in out garden is the little wood bug who curls up into a ball when disturbed. Although wood bugs may chew through some young seedlings and do enjoy cucumber munching, they actually prefer to eat dead plant debris, and only really become a problem in a greenhouse.
When wood bugs are around it is more of an indication that it is time to tidy! Woodbugs like to live in dark and damp places, so they are often found in corners and under rocks. This is because they breathe through gills – how neat is that?! I don’t really mind seeing these guys around, and I have fond memories of collecting the little balls and seeing how long they would stay curled up before getting their legs out to run away.
Slugs and snails are other garden munchers that we like to collect and watch as they poke out their eyes and then pull them inside to hide. It is fun to follow a slimy trail to see where it goes.
Unfortunately these guys, especially the snails, do cause damage to plants, and they are hard to control. A little bowl of beer will attract and drown them if need be:( and I have heard that dumping old coffee and grounds around the garden will deter them. We have small sharp rocks all around our garden beds, and I think that is why we don’t have very many slimy visitors.
Finally there is the wonderful variety of caterpillars and butterflies that show up randomly. It is funny to me that we don’t want the caterpillars around, but we do want the butterflies!
Planting flowers with nectar such as lavender, phlox, rosemary, and verbena will attract butterflies. I always love to watch the large monarchs flutter around. And I do love caterpillars, even though I know they eat my plants. These critters are especially amazing to little ones, and it can be fun to learn about the stages from birth to butterfly.
When you find a caterpillar, do be careful, because caterpillar hair can be quite toxic. Some caterpillars even shoot out acid as protection! Skin rashes are a common reaction, and some caterpillars have barbs that stick into the skin like thorns – ouch! So maybe these guys should be observed from afar, and moved with a gardening glove.
The best defense against garden pests in knowledge.
Get a book out from the library with you kiddos and take the time to learn about what is living in your yard. Then you can decide how to react when you see some interesting critter crawling across your dinner.
And remember, we cannot rid our garden of all the pests, so the question becomes what can be tolerated?
If the plants are still healthy, then does it matter if a little nibble is taken out of the leaves?
Are aphids really a problem if they are just on my lupins?
In the end, if my garden is a growing, and my children are entertained, then all the little guys can stay.