Saturday, August 28, 2010

cute things keep eating our food

Ok, not-so-cute things too.

But, let's start with the bunnies. They're not so much of an issue now that we have a secure fence, but before we got that together, they had a daily feast. Bunnies have munched our kale, lettuce, blueberries, grapes, raspberries, and blackberries. Don't get me wrong, I love the bunnies. I even have a holland lop bunny named Alonso residing in my home... and he eats a lot of organic produce too, come to think of it. Thankfully, the fencing has eliminated any sort of internal struggle I might have in the battle of bunny vs. sustenance. Hopefully, we can now have some of those 'spring greens' in fall.

this one was so cute, i actually *tried* to feed him.

The terror of the garden now is the cucumber beetle & his friend, the squash bug. Their first victim was the lone cucumber plant. We'd just harvested our first cucumber, and several more were in progress, when I started noticing wilted leaves. After some research, I identified the "yellow ladybug" and tried to save the plant, but to no avail. I'm still not sure exactly what happened, but it looked like bacterial wilt.

we have the striped & the spotted ones. we're lucky that way.
The squash bugs showed up shortly after. I noticed an insect laying eggs on the squash and watched in awe. Mistakenly thinking this could be a beneficial bug, I let them flourish and take over the garden. I thought they might take out the cucumber beetles. I'm a n00b, I know. Since correctly identifying them as the destroyer of squash (where's Gil Grissom when you need him???), I've started regularly dousing them with an organic garlic spray concoction. They don't like it, but it hasn't quite gotten rid of them either. The fate of the squash is yet to be determined.

squash bug laying eggs on our summer squash plant.
With organic gardening, there are some sprays & repellants that can be used, most of which you can make yourself - essential oil sprays like garlic, peppermint, etc., soap-based sprays, baking soda, and several others. However, as with most things in life, it seems the best way to control pests like beetles is to prevent them. (Now we know what to do next year. :) While we have used some essential oil sprays and soap sprays, we'd ideally like to support a symbiotic ecosystem in the garden with beneficial bugs eating destructive bugs, and not rely on sprays at all.

We hoped to have some praying mantids in the garden, but we were late to the beneficial bug party this year, so it's at the top of the list for next spring. We did, however, order some ladybugs from (further proof you can get anything at They arrived in great shape and with clear instructions on how to release them. Having no experience with keeping bugs instead of getting rid of them, I was surprised to find that you should store them in the refrigerator until release. Though I was concerned they'd die in there next to the soy milk, it actually helped to make them less alert and slow-moving for release. Once you take them out of the fridge, it takes a few minutes for them to become active again, so it's a good time to open the lid and put them in the garden without having them all rush the top at once.

The ladybugs stayed around for a few days, but within a week they'd all left. We did multiple releases over the course of a couple of weeks, but I'm guessing there just wasn't enough of the food they prefer to stick around. Still, a small investment to at least give it a try.

The most recent visitor to wreak havoc was actually enjoyable to watch, which is always a plus. These are black swallowtail caterpillars and grow up to be very beautiful butterflies.

fat swallowtail caterpillars in the parsley
what the caterpillars become

Granted, they devoured every last bit of the parsley in the span of a day, but they were so stunning to watch, I must admit that I really didn't mind. Maybe in their next life they'll return the favor by coming back to pollinate.

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