Tag Archives: organic gardening

Beneficial Bugs: Earthworms

Beneficial Bugs: Earthworms.

Class: Chilopoda

From the time we are kids, we are told that worms are good for the garden and soil, but we rarely are ever told why. Earthworms can eat their weight in decaying plant matter every day. That thick band you see toward one end of their bodies is the area that holds their reproductive organs. Two worms become impregnated by each other and offspring can live for 10-12 years.

Earthworm castings (excrement) greatly improve the texture and mineral content of the soil. They are high in phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium, all minerals many soils would lack without these soil dwellers.

To encourage worms in your garden, make sure to add plenty of compost to keep them in your garden soil. If they do not have organic matter in the soil to feed on, they will go elsewhere.

Natural Insect and Disease Control: Tulip Fire (botrytis blight).

tulipfireA common disease in areas that get a great deal of rain in the spring. Spotting and collapse of the stems, leaves and flowers is usually accompanied by brownish gray mold. This fungus will stay in the soil and infect next year’s flowers as well.
Once plants are infected, they should be pulled and burned. Do not plant tulips in the same spot year after year. Dig up the bulbs of healthy plants in the fall (or get new bulbs) and keep them in a cool, dry place over the winter. In the spring, start a new tulip patch each year.

Beneficial Insects: Braconid Wasp

braconid-wasp_eggsBraconid Wasp
Order: Hymenoptera. Family: Braconidae

Average Size: Very, very tiny. Only about 1/10 th to 1/2 th of an inch in size.

Resembling flying ants, these “good guys” are usually too small to be noticed. You may see their eggs on a host before you ever spot an adult braconid wasp.

They lay their eggs on other insects and the larvae feed on them as a host. They will parasitize such insects as tomato hornworms, armyworms, cabbage worms, codling moths, gypsy moths and caterpillars of many kinds.

When adults, they feed on nectar from small blossoms such as sweet alyssum and crocuses, so keeping these flowers around will help keep these beneficial pals around as well.

Photo: A tomato hornworm infested with braconid wasp eggs.

See our main gardening page, Garden Circkles, for much more information than what is posted on this blog, including full articles on greenhouse growing, sustainable and organic tips, beneficial bugs, the latest techniques such as aquaponics and vertical growing and much more.

Beneficial Insects: Aphidiid Wasp

Aphidiid WaspAphidiid Wasp
Order: Hymenoptera. Family: Apidiinae

Average Size: They vary in size but are just slightly larger than an adult aphid: about 1/8 inch.

As the name implies, these wasps love aphids. They are all black and look similar to an ant with wings. The females lay their eggs inside the aphid and when they hatch, the young feed on the aphid eventually killing it. Almost (almost) makes you feel sorry for aphids. But not when they are chewing up your potatoes or brussels.

Active in the late summer and fall, aphidiid females can parasitize hundreds of aphids per day. You’ll know you have these wasps around if you see “aphid mummies” or paper-bag colored aphid shells stuck to leaves.

Beneficial Insects: Tiger Beetle.

tiger_beetleOrder: Coleoptera. Family: Cicindelidae

Average Size: 1/2 to 3/4 inch.

Varying in color from metallic blue to a bronze color, green or purple, tiger beetles can run pretty fast with their long legs. Their prey of choice is ants, smaller beetles, grasshoppers and aphids. Because they run so quickly, you will probably not be able to spot one in the garden or elsewhere.

Tiger beetles are attracted to lights and warmth. They will sun themselves along roads, the edges of well-warn pathways and bare patches of soil or sand.

The larvae are shaped like an “S” and have a humped back and strong hooks on their abdomens that allow them to anchor themselves in the soil to seize prey which they drag back to their burrow to eat.

See our main gardening page, Garden Circkles, for much more information than what is posted on this blog, including full articles on greenhouse growing, sustainable and organic tips, beneficial bugs, the latest techniques such as aquaponics and vertical growing and much more.

Companion Planting: Cabbage.

Plants that assist each other to grow well, repel insects or even other plants when grown next to each other is called companion planting and can be a sustainable and eco-friendly way to improve and protect your garden against unwanted pests and disease.

CabbageCabbage.

All members of the cabbage family do well planted with aromatic herbs such as celery, dill, camomile, sage, mints and rosemary. Hyssop, thyme, wormwood and southernwood help to repel the white cabbage butterfly which lays eggs that turn into cabbage worms.

Do not plant members of the cabbage family with tomatoes, pole beans or strawberries. But they will do well with potatoes, beets and onions.

If cabbage or broccoli does not form good heads, it is a sign that lime, phosphorus or potash are needed in the soil.

See our main gardening page, Garden Circkles, for much more information than what is posted on this blog, including full articles on greenhouse growing, sustainable and organic tips, beneficial bugs, the latest techniques such as aquaponics and vertical growing and much more.

Beneficial Insects: Mealy Bug Destroyers.

Order: Coleoptera. Family: Coccinellidae
Average Size: 1/8 inch..

Sometimes called crypts (short for their scientific name Cryptolaemus montrouzieri) look very similar to ladybugs, but with an orange-red head area and tips of wings.

Although they will also eat the occasional aphid and scale insects, their favorite food is mealybugs. You will find crypts in areas that do not have severe winters and can also be purchased through some gardening catalogs to place in greenhouses.

Ants tend to destroy crypts because they in turn destroy mealybugs and ants protect mealybugs for the sweet, cottony substance they excrete. The crypt larvae look like giant mealybugs so be very careful which one you are destroying when you spray plants or squash the bugs.

Photos from top: 1.) Adult mealybug destroyer or crypt. 2.) The white, stringy-looking object is the larvae of the crypt or mealybug destroyer eating an aphid.

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Companion Planting: Borage.

Plants that assist each other to grow well, repel insects or even other plants when grown next to each other can be a sustainable and eco-friendly way to improve and protect your garden against unwanted pests and disease.

borageBorage (Boraginaceae).

Also known as starflower, this flowering herb can grow the size of a small bush with some compost mixed into the soil and regular watering, and if it does, it will be covered with blossoms and honeybees. A perfect example is the photo to the right.

The flowers are edible and have a slightly cucumber flavor that can be added to salads or squash dishes. Borage is high in potassium, calcium and other minerals. It’s also fairly high in vitamin C.

The seeds are used to make borage oil, one of the highest sources of Gamma-linolenic acid or omega 6 oils, however, you would need a great many plants to get enough seeds to make your own oil.

If you want to keep honeybees around, this annual herb is one of their favorites.

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Natural Insect and Disease Control: Spider Mites.

spidermite-webSpider mites are so tiny, you will likely not notice them until you see their webs all over your plants and the plant looking diminished like the sap has been sucked out of the leaves.

Some agricultural sprays and products will actually encourage spider mites in orchards and on plants. Sprays with copper and zinc will increase the numbers of citrus red mites. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers increases the number of red mites and two-spotted spider mites. The citrus rust mite likes copper.

Spider mites are very sensitive to any changes in their habitat and predators and some chemicals have been found to upset the natural balance that keeps mites in check. They favor hot, dry weather, so keeping plants well watered and using an overhead watering system will help keep them in check.

Homemade spray for control: Dr. G. Edward Marshall of Purdue University found mixing wheat flour with buttermilk coats the mites and suffocates them with their hind ends up in the air. They get stuck in the glue-like mixture and some of the mites appeared to have exploded when the mixture dried. He made his mix thick enough to stick to surfaces but thin enough to spray through a high-pressured sprayer. You will probably have to experiment with your spraying equipment and the consistency of the mixture to get it to work with your equipment.

The ladybug is also a natural predator of mites.

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Companion Planting: Black Nightshade.

Plants that assist each other to grow well, repel insects or even other plants when grown next to each other can be a sustainable and eco-friendly way to improve and protect your garden against unwanted pests and disease.

black-nightshadeBlack Nightshade (Solanaceae).

Members of the nightshade family draw the Colorado potato beetle away from potatoes because they prefer the weed, even though it is poisonous. The beetles eat it and die. It’s also said that nightshade will grow when the soil is too exhausted or malnourished to grow root crops.

Members of the nightshade family include: eggplant, belladonna, bittersweet, capiscum, jimson weed, petunia, potato, snakeberry, tobacco and tomato.

 

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