June 03, 2009
Earlier this week I got a call from a woman looking to buy “aphid eating bees”. I suggested she hang a hot dog out by her aphid-infested plants to attract yellow jackets. She didn’t like that idea very much. Apparently, someone at a garden show years ago had sold her “nice bees” that eat aphids. When she described what she bought, it sounded a lot like she’d been sold orchard mason bees. I don’t think they eat aphids, but please correct me if I’m wrong here readers. I’ve seen posts mentioning “aphid bees”, but I have yet to find any real detail on them.
Anyway, back to the ones that do eat aphids and other pest insects — Yellow Jackets and Bald Faced Hornets are notorious meat eaters. They’ll snatch up aphids and clean your plants beautifully. Just steer clear so they don’t come after you. Yes, Yellow Jackets are mean. But, Bald Faced Hornets would rather go about their business than chase you around the garden. Stay away from their nests and don’t swat at them, and odds are they’ll leave you alone. Yellow Jackets on the other hand might just chase you for their own personal amusement.
That being said, I was thrilled to find a big, fat Yellow Jacket hiding under my floating row cover just above the cabbages and cauliflowers that have been munched on my cabbage worms over the last few days. I’m not sure why s/he decided to plant herself there, but I’m hoping she’s on guard for worm hatches. This morning, I found no new worms and no new worm damage in the bed. Fortunately, when I peeled back the fleecy row cover, I didn’t manage to touch the Yellow Jacket. She stayed put as I gently draped the cover back over the beds after working. Hopefully, she’s my new pest guard and will make my worm picking work easier.
Not interested in attracting Yellow Jackets or Bald Faced Hornets to your garden to help battle pests? Try creating a Hummingbird-friendly space. I’ve caught them harvesting aphids in my garden more than once, and generally they’re pretty nice. They can be territorial and may dive-bomb you, but that’s pretty rare in my garden. Too, attracting wrens, nuthatches, titmice, and other birds will help keep down pest problems from aphids to mosquitos to root-eating grubs to all sorts of other non-beneficial insects we gardeners love to hate.
March 20, 2009
Odette from Baltimore, MD writes in:
“I have a boxelder bug infestation. I removed the box elder tree in the back last fall, hoping they would go away, however, I as welcomed to my garden today with swarms of them again. for the past 2 seasons I have been fighting these bugs with sprays, which work, but they keep coming back because I may not have gotten them all. Now that I have removed the tree, will they go away? (I moved to this house 2 years ago – the previous owner complained about them but did not know that they came from the tree. can you help me here? what else can I do? Any help is appreciated. “
Odette this is an interesting discussion item. Without a quite a bit more detail, I don’t know how helpful I can be, but here are some items to get you started.
First, I don’t know what insects you’re dealing with. It is important to fully identify the pest in order to understand how its life cycle happens and what plants it uses for these cycles. Once you identify your pest fully, you will be better armed to create an integrated pest management program (IPM) for managing the issue. And, it’s critical to be sure the insect you consider a pest isn’t actually a beneficial!
It may be that you noticed the insect in the Box Elder, but it could be that it only spends part of its lifecycle there. It may spend, say, a nymph stage on another plant in your garden or in the soil, for instance. Or, it may only live in the Box Elder. Or, it may have only spent its adult phase in the Box Elder because the Elder was under stress (pests like to go for the most stressed plant in the garden first in many cases). Or, it may need the Elder for part of its life. So, I suggest you fully identify the pest (if you haven’t already) and work with an arborists or local horticulturist to understand its lifecycle requirements. That might help you know if it will come back.
Since you do mention that you’ve been spraying, I’m going to assume you already know exactly what pest you have and that it is a pest. Knowing which pest you have is critical to knowing what course of pest management to take. If you don’t know the pest, your sprays may have been contributing to the problem. Sometimes pesticides are applied by the unknowing only to end up killing the beneficials that prey upon our pests. Once the beneficials are removed, the pests have that much more success overtaking our gardens.
One thing you don’t mention is any damage the pests did to the plant. Did they actually do anything to the tree or garden? Or did they just seem annoying in big buzzing swarms? Could it be that these were actually beneficial insects that might have been “swarming the tree” to attack another pest that you didn’t see? It’s a question to consider…
So, what to do?
Try to identify the insect, understand its lifecycle and preferred habitats during the life cycles. If you’re unable to do this yourself, try working with your local Master Gardener Extension office to start.
Thanks for writing in and keep having fun in the garden!
November 07, 2008
Anyone in tune with popular media has heard that bee populations are dieing out and have been in decline for several years. In my own very diverse garden I’ve noticed a huge decline in honeybees. I use no pesticides, and I provide a diverse array of food sources for all bees. Still, this year my carpet of blooming thyme is visited by just a few bees at a time and the usual incessant buzz is nearly silent this year. Despite knowing that the bees are in decline, most still wonder why this is happening. There are several theories to choose from. I’m sure there are more theories than those I’ll discuss, and I look forward to learning more from your input into this discussion.
Colony collapse disorder is the term used to describe the losses where suddenly all of the worker bees just take off, abandoning the hive – baby bees and all. But why and where are they collapsing to?
- Dead beat dads: Some will say the bees are just stressed out and can’t take it – kind of like a deadbeat dad that hits the road. But all the dads leaving all at once?
- A fungus among us: When adult bees are infected with disease, such as gut fungi, they will fly away to die alone in order to save the hive. The question is, why is the entire hive flying away rather than just one bee at a time?
- Vampire attacks: Yes, I said it. Vampires, well vampire-like mites that suck the life out of a bee are infecting hives. But these have been around for 30+ years in the U.S. and predate the huge population declines we’re now seeing.
- A Pesticide by any other name is still a pest: Sevin, aka Carbaryl, is out there, and it is killing bees. It’s actually been killing bees since it was introduced in 1958. Maybe it’s reached levels that are contributing to colony collapse disorder, maybe not. And, yes, there are other pesticides that kill bees.
- Flowers aren’t as fragrant as they used to be: Earlier this year a UVA study introduced a new theory – that pollution is contributing to reduced fragrance paths for the bees to follow. So, if the bees are confused or just can’t find food near their home, maybe they’re hitting to road to a new location where they can find food?
Well, if the scientists dedicated to this problem haven’t figured out why the beehives are collapsing and why the bee populations are in serious decline then certainly I can’t give you the answer. Still, what I can do is give you some ideas to help us work together to repopulate our bee communities:
- Take up bee keeping: If you live in an outlying area, think about starting up hives of your own. You’ll bring in bee populations, have a wonderfully pollinated garden, be able to study how the hive performs and have honey galore from your own local source.
- Leave off the pesticides: Practice integrated pest management (IPM) and think before you apply a chemical to your home or garden. Products like Sevin are sold as harmless despite continued research exposing them as toxic to humans. And, read the labels on all pesticides. Trade names may change despite keeping ingredients the same. Sevin is, after all, Carbaryl in sheep’s clothing. Oh, and one more note on these pesticides. Realize that when you kill off predators like wasps, hornets and yellow jackets, you are disturbing natural ecosystems. The beneficial predators (aka wasps, etc.) take longer to repopulate than the pests (aphids, cabbage loopers, tent caterpillars, etc..). Once you’re out of balance; it can be hard to get back into balance.
- Plant diversity: By providing a wide array of blooming plant materials you will give the beneficial insects the food sources they need to keep their populations high and our gardens blooming for generations to come. Remember: If the bees aren’t here to pollinate the flowers, then our plants die. If our plants die, so will we.
Following are some great plants and planting ideas to incorporate in your garden for the bees:
- Fruit trees: These bloom early in spring as the orchard mason bees come out briefly. Orchard mason bees are non-aggressive, small black bees that love orchard fruits. It’s not unlikely for you to miss them during their brief active cycle in spring.
- Herbs: Bumble bees and honeybees alike love herbs like thyme, oregano, rosemary, lavender and sage. Hey, and the hummingbirds love lavender and sage too!
- Berries: Again, the bumblers and the honeybees vie for the chance to spread pollen from one blueberry to another. And raspberries? Well, I’m glad they all get pollinated and then set fruit. Ahead of fruit set, my canes are a-buzz for weeks!
- Fruiting vegetables: I call them fruiting vegetables because I’m encouraging you to plant tomatoes, eggplants, squash, cucumbers, green beans, peppers and peas. These plants provide their fruit for us to eat – despite the fact that we call their fruit a vegetable! Bring in the food crops and bring in the honeybees.
- Vegetative vegetables: These are the ones that produce leafy, stalky food that we love like cabbage heads and unbloomed broccoli bunches. And what if you get a cabbage looper worm? Well, if you’ve got parasitic wasps and yellow jackets cruising the garden, they’ll snatch’m up or lay an egg in them faster than the green crawly can fatten up. And, if you’ve got a chicken, robin, or house finch pecking around, she’ll thank you for the tasty snacks you brought home for them.
Hopefully, you’ve gotten the message that by providing a natural, pesticide-free habitat for bees and birds, particularly by planting edibles for yourself, you have the opportunity to create a complete ecosystem. The bees pollinate the plants. The wasps parasitize the pests. The birds pollinate the flowers and eat the pests. And you? Well, you benefit from a healthy planet and a garden that feeds you organically and locally.
For additional reading: