Notes From The Field Blog
Bugs Are Not Bad
"Bugs," a term loosely applied to insects, spiders, millipedes, and all other creepy crawlies, are everywhere. They run the planet, in fact the vastly outnumber and outweigh us. In the U.S., there are about 400 pounds of insects per acre, compared to about 14 pounds of human flesh per acre. Yes, some of the insects, mites, and other bugs out there can be pests in our gardens. They can transmit plant diseases and destroy foliage and fruits. But here’s the thing: if you kill them with pesticides, you kill all the other good bugs, too. You’ll kill the bees that pollinate your fruits and vegetables. You’ll kill the butterflies that visit your flowers, and the "beneficial bugs" like mantids that naturally control pests by preying or parasitizing them. The benefits of pesticides are extremely short-lived. Beyond the fact that they are dangerous and toxic to pets, family, and other wildlife, the "bad" bugs will rebound, and it is typically the pests whose numbers shoot back up quickly. But this time, there are no beneficial predators to control them. Which means you need even more pesticides. It’s a vicious cycle that ends with you shelling out a lot of cash to create a chemical war zone in your backyard space of solace.
Let natural predators take care of your pests for you! Here, a spined soldier bug makes a meal our of Mexican bean beetle larvae.
There are many species of ladybeetles in Ohio, and all are excellent helpers to gardeners looking to control pests. Beware of companies that sell these insects- the beetles are collected en masse out of their native habitats and then sold to consumers. Instead, attract ladybeetles to your yard by keeping pesticides out. They'll naturally flock to a chemical-free yard.
The invasive brown marmorated stink bug has only been in Ohio for four years, yet it already seems like it's everywhere! This generalist feeder damages practically all the fruits and veggies we love to grow in the summer, and is already proving to be an agricultural pest in New York and Pennsylvania
Don't be fooled by the spotted cucumber beetle's beauty! This pest will feed on and damage cucumbers, squash, melons, and more
Have you seen these small black-and-yellow flies buzzing around your plants? They're called syrphid flies or hover flies and are amazing predators that help control the pests who bug you!
Tips for Managing Insects in the Garden:
- Learn your insects. Get a book or peruse online ID forums. Often, the bugs you see hanging out on your plants aren’t bad guys, they’re helpers! Knowing the signs of a beginning pest infestation (i.e. egg masses) can help you get control of bad bugs before they take off.
- Attract predators. Healthy, chemical-free yards with features like shelter and water will attract insect-eating birds. Don’t squish spiders- they are among the top natural controls for problem bugs! Easy-to-grow plants like dill, anise hyssop, and borage draw in predatory insects that naturally control pest numbers.
- Learn to live with them. A healthy garden has balance, and this means living with some pests in order to have a healthy population of beneficial species. Instead of reflexively reaching for the sprayer every time you see an aphid, hand-pick the pests you can, and count on predator buddies to help you out with the rest.
- Use floating row covers. Investing in this cheap garden fabric will greatly reduce the pest damage to vegetable crops.
- Confuse them. Pests can mercilessly attack our gardens when we cluster all their favorite foods together in groups. Make it hard on them by interplanting a variety of flowers and vegetables together
- Spray discriminately. A really bad bug infestation can be spot treated with a pesticide with minimal collateral damage. Do some research and choose an organic pesticide that you know will be effective on the pest you’re trying to eradicate. Spray only as much as you need, and do not spray plants that don’t need it.
For more information on bugs good and bad, check out: http://entomology.osu.edu/
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