Pests vs. Predators

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My kids have been watching the cartoon Monsters vs. Aliens lately and it reminded me of how I feel walking through the garden. Which ones are monsters? Which ones are aliens? Who are the good guys and the evil villains?  Bugs still make me a little grossed out - they are cool and all, and I know they play a very important part in a gardens ecosystem but I hate seeing them on my plants. I once cooked up some broccoli from a farm and noticed right before I took my first bite that there were tiny, broccoli-colored aphids ALL OVER the inside of the broccoli heads. That image flashes in my mind every time I see aphids. Those disgusting little things that so conveniently match colors with whatever they are trying to destroy.  Ick. Did you know that aphids multiply so rapidly because they are born pregnant? True story. And they grow into adults in one week. Double ick.

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As you can see, I have a couple kale plants that are being totally destroyed by aphids. They love kale, broccoli, fava beans and other dark leafy plants. I read a book last month called Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City and the two guys who wrote it converted a barren backyard into a food growing paradise and used only organic pest control in the garden. They talked about leaving pests like aphids where they are and a few days later they started seeing natural predators taking over and devouring the aphids.

I am ok with making these kale plants the martyrs for this experiment because they have already flowered, lived their whole life cycle and are ready to set their seeds and finish living. It's been about a week and I'm starting to see tiny little clear winged bugs crawling over the aphids and am hoping they are aphid predators.

Two of the best predators are ladybugs and green lacewings. You can attract them to your garden by spraying a light solution of sugar water onto your plants - 1 Tablespoon of sugar + 1 cup of water. The sugar solution mimics the sticky sweet honeydew that aphids create when they suck the life out of your plants. Be sure to also plant lots of flowers that will attract ladybugs and lacewings too. For more info check out these two resources:

About Lacewing Flies: How to Attract Lacewings to Your Garden Natural Enemies Gallery: University of California Integrated Pest Management

Here are some of the "good" bugs in your garden....leave these alone in all stages of life and let them do the dirty work of clearing out the bad bugs.  Green lacewings grow to between a half inch and an inch long and love eating aphids. Ladybugs are also great aphid killers and my kids favorite discovery in the garden. Just be sure they don't discover the inside of your house....I knew a group of guys in college whose run down house was infested with ladybugs. There were literally millions of them crawling on the ceiling above their bunkbeds - how they ever got to sleep is beyond me.

However, I wouldn't mind a few in my yard so I don't have to squish these nasty aphids myself!

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Best wishes to you and your garden!

Thumbnail photo courtesy http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2010/03/plants-influence-food-chain-bottom Lifecycle photos courtesy http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/NE/index.html">Natural Enemies Gallery: University of California Integrated Pest Management