By Valerie Barr
Creatures of the Air
Swallowtail Butterflies, Ladybugs, Dragonflies, and even Hover (or Syrphid) Flies seem to represent a fantasy world for humans – we love watching them. Just the motion of their flight entertains us and they display, to our eyes, attractive and mesmerizing colours. We are often infatuated with the flying creatures in our gardens which, as icons, show up beautifully in our art culture. We are not as friendly or aware of the flying insects which we consider pests. When have you seen a painting of a wasp or an aphid? They generate in us a different emotion than a Butterfly does.
Home use of toxic pesticides is a bygone practice, at least on Quadra, and we are now very protective of all types of insects. We fear we could lose whole genera. We have adapted to the conservation of wild and safe habitat in our gardens. Now we realize all creatures add much to the earth’s health, and undisturbed, the insect world will keep in balance….well maybe not mosquitoes. I wonder how many of us are consciously planting flower-bearing plants to encourage all types of insects to hang out with us in the garden?
Pollinators, including bees, flies, butterflies, moths, and don’t forget the hummingbirds, assist most plants to progenerate. These flyers drink nectar from specific flowers, but different insects may be attracted to the same flower. They carry pollen with them and cross pollinate as they go. This seems like common knowledge, but most of us are unaware of the multitude of nectar collecting insects that help us out in the garden.
This multitude of different species will continue working in our garden until the fall, hopefully pollinating everything that produces a flower. When pollinated, the flower becomes fruit and then seed. During May, the Bees loved the Blueberries (excellent crop this year). In June, Bees are still finishing off the fruit on the Raspberries and have just started pollinating the later-bearing Blackberries. Each little berry seed is fertilized by an insect. We encourage our winged friends to stay around by growing different flowers from Crocus to Iris, and later Phacelia, Fireweed, Borage, Zinnias, and more.
One of the earliest pollinators in late Winter are the Mason Bees. There are many different types and colours of Mason Bee, but the one I notice pollinating our fruit trees looks like a small, black fly. It is identified as a bee because it has 4 wings while flies have 2 wings. There are also many early flies, busy in late winter, moving pollen. I notice them early, particularly when the Willows are in bloom, and the Winter sun silhouettes them swarming over the flowers. After the Willows, several types of flies and Mason Bees are busy around the fruit trees. These little flies are the insects that help us without being noticed. Active in the cooler time of year, they are dormant now, having completed this year’s life cycle. Other than Hover Flies, which move like little helicopters (which I do notice), it is hard to see these little friends.
Honey Bees, Bumble Bees, and other Wild Bees, are working now in our garden. We are fortunate to have local Honey Bee hives in our neighbourhood. The deal is that we get fruit, which we share, and the hives produce honey. We also see a great mix of Wild Bees working and I believe they start pollinating before the Honey Bees get active in Spring. I have just watched a Hakai Institute video report of a Bee study, conducted at Calvert Island, where they found many different species of Bees. The Scientists at Hakai Institute have so far recorded 480 Species of Bees in BC.
Butterflies and some types of Moths appear later in the Spring and are busy, but quiet, pollinators. The Butterfly I notice the most, which has been around since mid-May, is the Swallowtail. It has a melodic flight pattern and circles around in our garden looking for a place to land and drink nectar.
The White Cabbage Butterfly, mistaken for a moth, has a caterpillar which is a smooth green and a voracious consumer of Brassicas. One caterpillar had feast time on my flowering Broccoli plants but was very easy to find when I noticed the damage. There are many caterpillars that live on our fruit trees, including Tent Caterpillar, Leaf Curl Caterpillar, and Winter Moth Caterpillar (the Moths that bang on our windows at night in January). We are aware that there are a lot of Moths living here because of the many assorted larvae found this time of year. I am going to keep a look out for the adult stages of these caterpillars.
I love watching the Woolly Bear Caterpillars that appear at the end of the season, and for a crawly critter it is cute enough to become part of our art culture. The folklore says that when the brown section of this black and brown striped crawler is larger than normal, we will have a mild winter. I did not realize until I looked it up that its parent is an Isabella Moth – light orange or rust colour with black dots on its wings – not as noticeable as its offspring.
Insects that we consider pests are those that damage our plants, or attack us (wasp – 2 stings already this year). The worst and most visible garden pest for us are Aphids. They come in many colours, and are specific to different types of plants. Aphids noticeably feed on our Brassicas, the lower leaves of Kale, and mature Dill. They can make plants unappetizing during the latter part of the season, when their excreta, called ‘honeydew’, moulds, turning black or sometimes a pale blue, and gets a bit crusty with wax – yuck. I have several times canned green Aphids. In the end, although I think I have washed the Dill well, dead Aphids are still floating around in the pickle jars – you get used to this organic way of eating.
Aphids have huge reproductive capacity, and reproduce so quickly at the right time of year that It is impossible to keep up by removing them. In fall the adult females lay eggs to overwinter, which hatch in the Spring to produce generations of nymphs (defined as insect stages from live birth not from an egg). In Summer, the adult females fly (some species don’t fly) to the plants that will feed their offspring through the next life stages. It is these instar stages that we notice because of the volume of individuals. They can grow to adult within seven days and asexually reproduce nymphs, bypassing the egg stage altogether, They produce multiple generations each season. As nymphs, they are not capable of moving far, which is why a good control method is to spray them off of the plant with water from a hose.
Ants and aphids go together. I remember the story in our grade school readers about the ants farming and milking aphids. If you see a number of ants on your trees, this may indicate an aphid infestation. Use Borax to remove the ants and the Aphid problem will reduce.
Ladybugs are Aphids’ number one predator. Encourage a good population of Ladybugs and their larvae to stick around through Aphid season. Flowers in the garden encourages Ladybugs to stay close. Both adult Ladybugs and their dramatic looking larvae eat volumes of Aphids daily.
Leaf Hoppers, Shield Bugs, Leaf Miners, and Spittle Bugs are harmless pests in our garden – probably because nature keeps a balance. They can disfigure plants, but in small numbers they don’t seem to damage our food crops. Leaf Hoppers are those small (1/2”) hard-looking bugs that spring off of leaves as you get close to them. If you see white spots on the leaves of beans or potatoes this may be caused by Leaf Hoppers. They suck out the chlorophyll from the undersides of the leaf creating white spots.
Shield Bugs are larger, triangular shaped, and have a fiercely armoured body. I have seen brown and bright green adults in our garden. Their nymph stages (black colour) do not look like the adults at first, but change gradually in each instar, taking on the armour and colour of adults. Also named stink bug, I have not experienced their smelly attribute – they move away quickly when disturbed. The largest adult stage is seen in late summer. Females wait until October to lay eggs in the soil for next year’s offspring.
Leaf Miners, larvae of a small fly, always enjoy our Swiss Chard and Beet leaves, leaving the telltale tunnels under the leaf surface. Within the leaf, they are protected from predators, and also consume the soft tissue of the inner leaf. I have just picked perennial Spinach with little mining tracks inside the leaves which can only be from a small leaf miner. When preparing Chard or Beet Greens, I simply throw out the small areas where there are miner tracks, and we eat the rest of the leaf.
When I was working, I often found that Spittle Bugs could create horror in sensitive customers. I would always suggest that the spit was harmless, and that it would be easier to just live with the bugs. This did not usually happen. The spit would be obsessively removed – this all goes back to controlling nature. Spit bugs do no significant harm to plants or flowers. They are the larvae of Froghoppers – what a great name for an insect that hops – which look like colourful beetles, but are not.
Update on Previous Posts
The garden is doing well. With all the rain the plants are putting on great vegetative growth, especially the cooler season crops. The night time temperatures have been warm, with cooling wind off and on. Who could have predicted such a wet June? Hopefully we will have very few forest fires in BC this year.
Everything is planted and we have no room for more. The last vegetable transplanted were the Brussels Sprouts. We have been eating Peas, Red Leaf Mustard, Lettuce, and Kale from this year’s transplants. We are deciding when to dig the first hill of Potatoes (soon) to see if they are big enough for eating. The Black Beans are doing well, but the Pole Beans are slow to put up new leaves. My Pepper plants have yellowing lower leaves, but the new top growth looks normal. I am sure the Peppers may have suffered temperatures that were a bit too cool. The Basil transplanted well, but I was several weeks behind normal planting out time (June 18th this year), simply because it was still too cool for them. The Basil were well rooted in their tray and look very healthy, although a few are lost to pests. A few days of Sunshine will fix the problems with the slower vegetables.
The Sour Cherries will be ready to pick in the next week or so. They are always the first fruit to harvest in the garden. We have Raspberries that are turning red but I have not tasted any yet. Three of five apple trees have a good crop and I expect the ‘June drop’, when the baby apples do not develop and leave the tree early, is over for this year. I should thin the heaviest cropped apple tree, allowing for the remaining fruit to grow larger. With all the rain, this has not happened yet – great excuse.
I am happy to say that we are on top of the weeds. We have been mulching with hay or grass clippings as the vegetables in an area are large and strong enough to ward off the bugs that hide under the mulch.
We have lost a few plants to slugs – it has been so wet that they are bravely eating our little plants. The snakes do not like cold weather and have slowed down too much, so are not preying on the slugs. I think Cabbage are hardest hit, and I have kept back a few extra transplants to infill. We have also lost a few plants to root maggots but can only guess which type of maggot. Generally everything is growing well and will survive.
The vining squash will have room to grow out, but may end up on the lawn in a month or so. If we have too wet of a season the squash may not produce well, but then the Brassicas and other leaf vegetables will be their best. I am planning for a busy canning season, cooking up lots of tasty chutneys, salsa, pickles, and jam.
Next Post I will talk about harvest and processing the food.
Grant Hayden and Val Barr are happily retired to play in their garden as they like. Val worked in horticulture for almost 45 years and started her first food garden at 18. Grant grew up as a prairie farm-boy and his last occupation was in forestry. He has planted thousands of trees and cut quite a few down as well.