Back in May of this year, I moved to my new house. It’s a gorgeous house and while I really enjoy the layout of the garden, the positioning of the garden is flipped; I prefer a southern garden and a northern front yard, but at this house, I have a northern backyard. Come winter, this will present a problem but the back fence faces south, so for the spring to summer months, it’s not usually a big problem except that full sun space is limited and it’s all up against the back fence only. Since I have maple trees lined up with one 5 feet between them on the west side of the house, this also means the ground is not workable because their roots are so shallow. The only option would be to remove the trees, but that’s one of the main reasons I don’t foot a $1,000 electricity bill–because those trees provide the much needed shade from the afternoon sun.
When it comes to plants or my survival, I’ll always pick me, and I simply die in heat.
But with gardening in any yard comes a slew of pests that could be present. At this yard, I’m finding that I have an insect conservatory in place. Before I go into the insects, it might be wise to share exactly how much I hate bugs. I have never been one to enjoy any type of a bug–crawling or flying (worse), I don’t like them. Even as a child, I did not find ladybugs remotely interesting and would never knowingly grow any bug. I don’t like birds except from afar, and I kid you not, I moved away from San Francisco at least partially because of the pigeons. If a moth comes near me, I go screaming like a little girl….a little girl on FIRE. That is how much I hate bugs.
But with gardening comes at least some bugs, and if you can’t handle it, you need to get out of the kitchen, so to speak. And, well, I like this kitchen so I do my best to tolerate bugs. And some bugs are great for the garden.
I do my utmost, despite my fear and hatred for all bugs, to create a beneficial garden that provide food for bees and butterflies before they go extinct, though I really am not interested in having them live here in great numbers. As someone who firmly believes in organic growing whenever possible or beneficial, I probably spend 3-4 times more hours in the garden to keep it bee-friendly overall. I use absolutely no control methods for any pests except coldhearted removal tactics, and haven’t sprayed a single plant in years because I figure that if it can’t make it here, I’m not meant to grow it. Ladybugs, worms and even horrifying looking ground beetles, I let live…maybe even thrive, because they’re good for the garden. But this year is testing my patience in a big way. There have been days I just want to call it quits and go to Whole Foods for vegetables. Aside from aphids which seem to not visit this yard at all, I am, in turn, visited and tortured by many, many other creatures–very few of them actually welcome. BEES I can’t prune a single plant without having bees hover. I am finding that they generally leave me alone, but that took years to come to this point where I’m horrified but go about my business while they hover. I mean, it’s not like I am touching the flowers; I’m just cutting leaves off the plants and they still hover.
I have carpenter bees that come to my yard and for some reason fly straight into any cups I have on my patio table. What is that??! If not that, they fly into what used to be incredibly leafy tomato plants and get stuck/lost in the middle and die there. I have nearly a quarter of an acre where you could do whatever you want and LIVE, but you opt to nosedive straight into a cup with, at best, one inch of water and DIE? I have bumble bees…honey bees….carpenter bees…and hornets or wasps, I can’t even tell the difference and don’t give a hoot at all. It’s an insect conservatory, I tell you. DISGUSTING HORNWORMS Hornworms…I mean seriously, how did I grow tomatoes for nearly 20 years without meeting one before? If this had happened year one, I’d have stuck to farmers’ markets! Do you know how big a tomato leaf is? If so, you can understand the scale of this creature.
This goes far, far beyond anything I can handle.
I do not honestly think I could let this thing live if it were the best thing for any garden. Thankfully, it’s not so I can kill it, but why must they be so hard to find and so rampant? I’m out there every morning with a coffee cup in one hand and bent over peering up into tomato plants looking for new worms before I’m even fully awake. Thankfully, and I never thought I’d say this, but there’s a praying mantid living in one of the five bushes in a row, and I’d never thought I’d live long enough to say I’m thankful for that creature.
It’s come to that–I am now grateful for the presence of something that I can’t touch and will absolutely not go near. TOMATO FRUIT WORM (AKA CORN EAR WORM) I have no corn here, but that doesn’t seem to stop the corn ear worm from coming to my poor Maskotka tomato plant. Look at this nonsense!
This is totally unacceptable. It was this discovery today that got this post started because first, I cussed like a sailor when I found them, and second–I’ve about had it with bugs this year! This tomato is one of my favorites to just pop into my mouth while in my garden. Maskotka are really perfect tomatoes for patios and balconies because they’re not large, but they produce juicy tomatoes larger than cherry tomatoes–and also as important, they produce a LOT of tomatoes! I’ll write more about them in a later post.
See how beautiful this one normally is?
Now, at least some of the tomatoes are ruined due to the fruit worm. I’m told by a knowledgeable tomato guy that it’s still edible, but I have absolutely zero desire to open one up to find a worm, since there’s no exit hole and I’m told they make an exit hole when they leave. That means the suckers are still in there. HELL NO.
Pruning a tomato takes awhile. One day it took me over an hour to prune five bushes as I’m quite strategic (or neurotic) about it, LOL. I have to count how many leaflets exist on one stem to figure out how many I can rid the stem of, and which are most easily reached by sunlight balanced by which are positioned to shelter fruits to avoid scalding growing tomatoes. So yeah, once every three weeks or so, I prune my tomatoes down. It’s not common practice, and most would probably not recommend it, but I do it, and you should do your own research before doing it. That said, while taking on this endeavor, I toss the leaves behind me onto concrete to gather while I go through this business but at this house, by the time that hour is over—the leaf cuttings are swarming with ANTS. Which part of a dying tomato leaf is attractive to ants!?#@!! And even nuttier, one day I was repotting a succulent. Just a regular echeveria hanging out in gritty mix. I brought it out to water before pulling it out and for heaven’s sake—2,000 ants and about 3 white spiders with 2 million little white spiders came out of the mix. There may be some exaggeration in the numbers but I’m dead serious–it was a lot. WHAT ON EARTH ARE ANTS AND SPIDERS DOING IN GRITTY MIX? I flooded all the other plants right afterwards and nope, no insects. Just in that one.
Oh, and when it comes to my town, let’s not forget the spiders. If I go three days without clearing webs, I could seriously run a haunted garden program and charge kids a buck to enter. All I’d need to purchase to start making a living would be some skulls and pumpkins. I even have the hay bales you need already! THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. The spiders, not the hay. “They’re good, they’re good,” doesn’t help when they’re ruining the very reason I spend so much energy and time out here–to make it look good. I can’t even tell the difference between spider webs, spider mite webs or anything else. I see a web and I take it down. I have black fuzzy ones, black and red ones, daddy long leg kinds, pure white ones (WTF!?!), cream colored ones, grey/brown ones and best of all — ones that JUMP. It’s like having rabbits…except they don’t make webs and they might eat hornworms; these don’t. The only upside to rabbits is that I don’t have to pick up rabbit poop.
I also managed to go through my decades of life on this planet without having seen what is apparently a June bug. Well, that’s no longer because this house was the first place I met June bugs–and what horrid, stupid creatures they are, reaming themselves into my windows and landing on their backs, buzzing and then eventually dying like that. Of course, I spent about 3 days believing I had flying cockroaches as I’d heard that these things exist; I was basically freaking out nightly….but thankfully, a friend posted her June bug on Facebook and I recognized my “cockroaches” were not cockroaches. (Thank you, Jesus!) Every night, hundreds of them would come to the backyard if I keep my family room light on, or take a nosedive into containers that I have stacked up in one corner…and I only find them dead on their backs once I begin choosing containers. Incidentally, I found out why they’re called June bugs…because they really all did disappear come early July. I have not seen a single one in a month. Whatever I come back as after I die, please, Baby Jesus, let me not be a June bug.
You know what else is good?
Butterflies….save the butterflies, right?
While I have a bunch of milkweed seeds that I didn’t plant at this house, the intention was there; the full sun spots were very limited in my north garden and my southern side is the front of the house, and milkweeds don’t make the cut. Save the damn butterflies…..except why on earth do I have 100 white butterflies and about 20 monarch butterflies that basically live here?
WHERE DO YOU THINK THEY WILL LAY THEIR EGGS? Arrggh…!!!$%!!
And it seems to me a small, fluttering creature should be afraid of me but they hover around me with the wretched bees. It’s all just too much!
The other day I was pruning my poor shiso and found a tiny green hornworm looking thing on the back of a leaf. Either the hornworms have gotten to the shiso, or some butterfly reproduced on my plants. I pruned them all down to nubs and it’s entirely possible I will have to go without my perilla this season at this rate, because I moved them to this spot solely to save them from what I believe were slugs, and now they’re going to be home to something different but just as non-conducive to growing the plant.
SLUGS AND SNAILS
What vile, vile creatures. Really, what is their purpose in this ecosystem? I don’t get it. The creatures I knew I had when I first visited this house were snails. I’ve never met a snail that can live past Sluggo-type baits, so I thought it’s not a big deal.
Then I realized that they’ve built a colony and set up shop in what turned out to be my NZ Flax…so out it went. Didn’t like the beast anyway. The only other “plants” at this house were some flowering annual-looking bushes and euonymus–a plant I do not understand why anyone keeps. They, like snails, really serve no purpose, LOL. (No offense if you like them–this is my rant and my opinion only.) Apparently, snails realized this and also lived in those. Removed those, too. So now, aside from maple trees, there is nothing in the backyard that I didn’t plant myself except a hedge of some sort up against the house in full shade. I wouldn’t mind removing those to plant hostas, but why supply slug food?
I used two bags of Sluggo — the iron phosphate kind — and all of the snails appear to be gone. At least they have the decency of hiding in obvious places. What “SLUGGO,” despite the name, didn’t get were the slugs. (The company should seriously consider a name change.) I don’t know where they’re hiding but they’re there and chowing on my raised bed seedlings, starting with the hole-iest shiso you had ever seen. The damage is more than just slugs–probably sow bugs and whatever other night creatures come out and do this atrocity to my baby plants.
And honestly, who wants to eat shiso that slugs and other bugs climbed over and around? Not me. I’ve since moved them out of the raised bed that my wonderful Mr. K so kindly and amazingly built for me and into the ground about 15 feet away (like that measly distance would deter them). I cut off and threw away all of the damaged leaves and they’re like little nubs peeking out from the straw mulch at this point. It’s survival of the fittest now.Against my own beliefs, I’ve ordered poison for slugs. Many years ago, before the iron phosphate pellets, I think we all used metaldehyde–and while I am really loathe to use it again, I’ve ordered it. I can’t take it anymore, and if you guys spent as many hours as I have in the garden, you’d understand.
ROLY POLY LIKE BUGS, EARWIGS, AND GROUND BEETLES…
I can’t even tell if mine are sow bugs or pill bugs; I find varying articles claiming one rolls, the other doesn’t but they can’t decide which one rolls. Mine roll when touched.
Under every container are earwigs. Hate those things. They look for moist soil so I get why they are under my containers, but I move most of them every other day at least a foot or two, because I don’t know what these creatures are doing under there.
And then when I clean up any corner where spiders have built webs or debris from the disgusting tree next door is dropping its flowers, I have tons of what I have since identified as ground beetles crawling out of the ground up the fence, perhaps screaming for dear life. Looking yet another critter up, it appears they are beneficial also. Clearly, they aren’t doing their job very well in my garden.
This one scares me a little.
As a rule, I don’t like things that flutter so it’s not that I really like birds. But I really do like hummingbirds though I am still not sure what their reason for flying right up to me are. Just a like a dog that goes up to the very people who fear them most, hummingbirds love coming inches away from my face.
DO I LOOK LIKE FRIEND TO YOU? Look at your size, look at mine–and steer clear!
In any case, I keep one flowering aloe and usually try to grow a hummingbird bush for them, or salvia etc. This year, I didn’t get a chance to do the latter two at this house because I started so late, but the hummers visit daily. I moved my aloe, and I think it’s really cute how they look for it. In a day or two, they will find it, and they’ll be happier to know that I split one big plant into about 15 plants, which means more flowers for them soon.
THAT SAID, when I moved in, there were at least 2-3 resident birds that basically lived here. One was a bright blue one (blue jay or blue robin?) and the others were smaller brownish/grey birds–sparrow looking things. So long as they’re not crows or pigeons, I can take it.
Well, they have all disappeared. Not sure why — but other than hummingbirds, I do not see a single bird in my yard. It’s not like the few plants I removed were bird-friendly, so I’m not sure where they went.
Leave it to me to not appreciate them when they’re here and then wonder where they went when they leave.
So now, I’ve caved and have come to the decision to spray. I still wanted to pick something “organic” as can be but for all the work you put into spraying the plant and UNDERNEATH the leaves, I need it to be at least moderately effective.
I’ve settled for “BT”–bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring bacteria that apparently doesn’t harm beneficial insects (though I wouldn’t mind some control over them–like a deterrent!) and does attack the multiple varieties of pest worms I have here…mostly via wasps and moths apparently.
Wish me luck–it’s due to arrive today thanks to Amazon Prime, and you BET I’ll be using it tonight once the sun begins to set! I hope to update at a later date to report no more leaf-munching critters of any kind exist on my property.