Backyard Bugs!

Bugs are not going to inherit the earth. They own it now. So we might as well make peace with the landlord.

Thomas Eisner

Hey Farm Fam! Welcome back!

What a year it has been! Here in Northeast Ohio we’ve had an unusually warm year. With the exception of the arctic cold snap at the end of 2022, this year has been relatively mild. Temps in February averaged closer to 50 degrees Fahrenheit than the usual 20-30 degrees we’ve come to expect.

And for the last few months we’ve also been exceptionally dry. Instead of the usual inch of rain per week that we should receive here on the homestead, we seem to be getting about an inch per month. And that typically comes in the form of one big rain every few weeks. We lose more to daily evaporation than we receive from the few rain events we’ve seen this summer. Our moderate drought persists, at least here in Stark County, Ohio.

The combination of a longer warm season and the lack of heavy spring rains seems to have lent itself to the benefit of one farm inhabitant. Bugs!

Bugs are everywhere here on the farm. Some old, some new. Some detrimental and some beneficial. Some of these bugs also fall somewhere in between… having both benefits and drawbacks depending on how we look at them.

Here’s a quick rundown of what we’re seeing around the homestead and how we’re handling them in the field.

Spotted Asparagus Beetle

This little fella is an asparagus beetle. If you’ve grown asparagus before you know you need about three years of growth to begin a sustainable harvest from your asparagus plants. While we were excited to see (and admittedly, sample) our asparagus patches that came back in this our second year of growing them, these beetles are apparently also well aware of our patch. They typically appear shortly after the asparagus begins to sprout and can continue throughout the growing season.

Typically you can hand pick asparagus beetles and drop them in a solution of soapy water. Insecticidal soaps, neem oil, and spinosad are also effective organic means to control asparagus beetles.

Spotted Cucumber Beetle

Here’s another bug that amazes me. To my knowledge no one around us is growing cucumbers. But the second we had a plant appear, we had cucumber beetles! It’s like they just know you’re growing them and so they show up out of nowhere!

Cucumber beetle larvae feed on the plants roots, but adult beetles can damage the cucumber crop destroying leaves and blooms. Yellow sticky traps can be used to capture cucumber beetles. Neem oil can suffocate larvae and adult bugs, but applying spinosad or Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) as a soil drench can kill larvae in the soil.

Nasturtium is alleged to help deter cucumber beetles, making it a potential companion plant to grow among your cucumber plants.

Horned Squash Bugs Mating

Squash bugs are another pest that we’re seeing in large numbers, especially in the 3 Sisters garden where there are several varieties of squash growing. Not only can these flat pests cause damage to the leaves, blooms, and squash themselves, but squash beetles can also carry yellow vine disease which can decimate your plants.

Again, these bugs can be hand picked and dropped in a solution of soapy water. Their eggs can also be scraped free of leaves and doused in soapy water to keep additional bugs at bay. Diatomaceous earth (DE) applied periodically to the plants and ground around squash plants is also an effective means of control. Keep in mind that DE loses effectiveness once it gets wet though, so reapply after rains or periodically in moist areas of the soil. Products like spinosad are effective against nymphs, but have little to no effect on adult bugs.

Squash Vine Borer

This is one bug we were none too excited to see in the garden. Squash vine borers can decimate a squash crop literally from the inside out. These moths can lay over 100 eggs each season. Each egg hatches and the larvae eat their way through the plant’s stem, slowly eating the plant to death.

DE is effective for controlling squash vine borer larvae before they enter the vine, but has no effect against adult moths or larvae developing inside the plant. Spinosad is another effective control, but needs reapplied frequently to maintain effectiveness. BT is one of the most effective controls of squash vine borers, rivaling the effectiveness of some synthetic pesticides. For the not so faint of heart, larvae can also be manually removed from the squash vine, but significant damage can occur in the process. Neem oil seems to have no noticeable effect on the squash vine borers.

Companion plants like marigolds, nasturtium, and radishes are alleged to aid in repelling squash vine borers.

Pink Spotted Lady Beetle

Not all bugs are detrimental to the garden, however. In fact, some are down right great to have on hand! The pink spotted lady beetle is one such example. These beetles are a great natural, biological control of pests like aphids and other smaller insect species.

If you come across these in the garden (and there are many different types out there), know that you’ve found a friend who is aiding in controlling the unwanted pests that are about.

Aphids were especially bad this year, likely due in part to the lack of drenching spring rains. Having a few (or few hundred) lady beetles around can be a great benefit to the garden!

Praying Mantis

Another beneficial insect you want to see in your garden is the praying mantis. These guys are workhorses with big appetites that chow through moths, mosquitoes, flies, aphids, spiders, fleas, ticks, and a host of other insects. Full grown praying mantises have even been known to consume frogs, lizards, and small rodents in gardens and fields!

These effective predatory protectors of the garden are definitely the gardener, homesteader, and farmer’s friend.

Red-banded Leaf Hopper

Not all bugs are easily defined as good or bad though. Recently we found these red-banded leafhoppers on several of our sunflower plants. While, yes, some leaf hoppers are significant agricultural pests, these were very few in number and have not caused any visible damage to the sunflower plants on which they were found.

Nature is never black and white. There are always shades of gray. These leaf hoppers don’t appear to be detrimental in their current numbers. They do, however, provide a valuable food source to many beneficial predators. So we could control them by dusting the leaves with DE. But if we let them remain then ladybugs, spiders, and even the praying mantis will potentially feed on these small leafhoppers present in the garden.

That, brings us to the last species we’ve observed in the garden in the last few weeks. These larger caterpillars we found foraging on desirable plants in the garden are ones that we’ve either allowed to remain or have relocated to reap the benefits of at a later date.

These good sized caterpillars were found in the herb garden. Yes, a first instinct upon seeing such beasts is to pluck them off to feed them to the chickens. But we opted instead to leave them be, sacrificing a small portion of our herb harvest for the benefit of another species.

Because these colorful caterpillars would become…

Black Swallowtail

The even more colorful and beautiful Black Swallowtail! These beautiful butterflies are welcomed and help pollinate throughout our gardens, flower beds, and tall-grass meadows.

If we’re going to sacrifice a few herbs, sacrificing them for such beauty is an easy choice to make.

That’s a quick update on the various species we’re seeing in our gardens over the last few weeks. A summation of the good, the bad, and the ugly. What spiders, insects, or bugs are you seeing in your gardens and fields? Drop us a note in the comments below and share your finds with us!

Take care, farm fam!

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