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Re-evaluating Pests in Permaculture

 
Amit Enventres
Posts: 267
Location: Ohio, USA
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fish food preservation forest garden
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I thought I was such a permie with my garden sporting a large variety of plants - both traditional and non-traditional. I was using water and waste products when I could. Had a healthy worm population and even refrained from killing some snails, but I had a weakness.

Now, when I was little, I LOVED butterflies and moths. I would catch them, raise caterpillars, draw images of them etc. But, when they began eating my lettuce that meant war. I would glare at them and pick through the garden paranoid that I would miss the one that would hungrilly eat my next salad before I did. I even considered BT (pesticide) to kill 'em.

As the seasons began changing this past year, I saw the presence of caterpillars growing - Oh no! I thought. This time, there was too many for me to handle and I had to surrender. It was in my surrender that I learned something new. What did they eat? All the stuff going out of season. They deposited it al down in nice little fertilizer pellets next to the plants just popping up for their chance to grow.

Wow! These guys aren't my enemies! They are my helpers. They were just thinning, composting, and more or less tending the garden when I couldn't or didn't think to. Later, they'll come back and pollinate all those plants they had made room for.

I know the season's still young and I could end up at odds with the little guys again, but I just wanted to point out the benefits of NOT gardening in the garden and letting what happens happen.

Have fun!
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Hooray!
 
Joshua Finch
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Welcome to the party.

I love watching the "wildlife" population explode this past year in our garden as we began implementing a basic design. Only once did we decide to actually combat a "pest"- we had squash bugs we manually picked from the plants and fed to the fish. At one point their population was knocked back far enough for us to spare some plants. Since then, as the niche requirements for predatory insects began to be filled (slowly but surely), its been a fun trip.
 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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I have reservations about aphids. Sometimes there just aren't enough ladybugs around to keep them in check. I let them go, in hopes of attracting more ladybugs, but I might lose a few plants because of it. They seem to concentrate on 1 or 3 plants and leave the rest more or less alone. I need to read Paul's aphids and ants article.
W
 
John Polk
master steward
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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I have observed over the years that the plant eating insects will usually go for the sickly plants, but leave the healthy ones alone. I believe that this is nature's way of culling out the bad seed. "Survival of the fittest."

I once read that a stressed plant emits an aura that insects can detect. It is like a magnet that attracts them.
I don't know that I believe this, but I have watched them, time and time again, attack the weak plant, while leaving the healthy ones alone.

 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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a few years back there were thousands of tent worms, millions, in the counties around me. The counties were spraying and they would just multiply. Then the counties got smart, they brought in this little black housefly looking thing and the next year there were only a few, and the following 2 years now, none..it was a fly that preyed on tent worms.

gotta learn from those pesticide mistakes..eh?
 
Amit Enventres
Posts: 267
Location: Ohio, USA
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fish food preservation forest garden
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Thanks for the discussion!

One thing I noticed about my aphids is that they appear in large numbers when I over-fertilize with nitrogen. I consider them like doctors with needles, pulling the excess nitrogen out of plants where it would otherwise reach toxic quantities. But, that coudl just be how they function in my area.

As for survival of the fittest, I learned something interesting about natural conifer forests, which may apply everywhere. If you look at the trees supporting pine cones - there's very few. They are the largest and look older/majestic. Truthfully, they could be the same age as the smaller ones that don't reproduce. It's just that the ones that do reproduce are some how healthier and therefore became dominant. Aparently there's a certain number of dominants per area and it's just naturally how they function. I feel like I see the same thing in my garden when I plant things real close together.
 
John Richer
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Location: Ontario
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today I saw black ants all over these little bugs under the leaves of some weeds.. does anyone know what they are? are ants a problem in the garden? Looks like they were feeding on whatever those bugs are.. I managed to get a pic of what I thought was a large one..
IMG_8249.jpg
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IMG_8250.JPG
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Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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The bug in the top picture is a baby ladybug. The bugs in the lower picture are aphids, the prey of the baby ladybug. Ants gather secretions from aphids, so aphids attract ants who aren't eating the plants.

Top bug beneficial, bottom bugs not so beneficial.

It's a good sign that you have baby ladybugs, means your system is becoming more balanced between prey (aphids) and predator (ladybug).

Best thing to do at this point, in my opinion, is stand back and watch!

 
Thekla McDaniels
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Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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Aphids I don't have much of a problem with.  They stay at acceptable levels.
Now if you want to talk grasshoppers...........

I have them by the millions this year.  People say "have you used NoLo bait"  and yes I have but did not see much benefit... and I tell you I am thoroughly tired of the attitude that because it worked for someone else, and it did not work for me, it must mean I did not do it right.

For now guineas and/or turkeys are not an option.  I've mowed, to decrease habitat, and to make them more accessible to the local bird population because surely magpies and such eat them at at least ONE stage of their lives.  The grasshoppers are eating my walnut trees, kind of a surprise to me as walnuts have such a reputation of killing/suppressing other organisms.
What I've noticed:  My neighbors do not have the hordes, because they barely have any cover, just inch high "grass".  Other properties in other parts of the valley do no have them to the extent I do either.

I live next to "wild" habitat where grasshoppers may hatch, but then when the dry period comes, they move to my house where there is so much to eat, but can this be enough to explain it?

I know that some fall winter spring cycles encourage grasshoppers and some suppress them.

What I am wondering is how to suppress them, what makes them so abundant here when not elsewhere, that kind of thing.  Not to be misleading, I should say that many people agree that "the grasshoppers are bad this year" so I am not the only one with the problem.

A little background on grasshoppers:  they are "migratory", so that even if I were tempted to kill them all with some dastardly preparation "natural" or no, there would be new arrivals every day.  

I believe any success I enjoy will be because I've found a way to encourage their departure, discourage their arrival, and decrease their resident numbers.  I think I'll have to achieve all three. 

I'm interested in the ideas and experiences of others in how to solve this puzzle.
 
Bill Erickson
garden master
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Location: Northwest Montana from Zone 3a to 4b (multiple properties)
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In the past, I have had magpies descend upon my property when the grasshoppers were in full flush. My chickens seem to like the taste of them as well.
 
Thekla McDaniels
gardener
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Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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Thanks, Bill, unfortunately, predators cleared out my chicken population earlier this season, and because my address has now won  the predator's attentions, I'll wait at least a year if not two before bringing chickens back.

Glad to know the magpies DO eat grasshoppers, possibly most corvids do, and I do share the neighborhood with crows and ravens and magpies.  Possibly, though, they (magpies) are too busy eating ripe fruit.  They are the ones who let me know when it is time to pick the sweet cherries!
 
Scott Stiller
Posts: 280
Location: North Carolina zone 7
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I have a very large infestation of squash bugs. They literally cover my squash, zucchini, and pumpkins. Suprisingly they are not attacking my cucuzza melons. I have spent hours picking them off along with their eggs. I know that permaculture has a solution but I'm overwhelmed by their numbers. Anyone have a suggestion?
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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Squash bugs over winter in mulchy type soil and soil covering.  That's not much help for this season, but may help in years to come.

Some people grow their squash plants in large planters because they can control the soil that fills the pots, and make sure no squash bugs are there, (at the start of the season).  Then with the plants in squash bug free soil, if the plants are covered in "insect barrier" the bugs can't migrate in from elsewhere.  Insect barrier could be anything from the row cover stuff ( some folks won't want to use because it is a petroleum product), but a person could also make bug proof boxes kind of like cold frames, only instead of glazed, they are covered in window screen, builders choice whether to use fiberglass (it's not really glass, it's primarily a petroleum product) or aluminum, or steel hardware cloth, or maybe even some kind of cotton or linen  muslin, or a recycled sheer window curtain (petroleum based).

Once you get the plants protected from squash bugs, you have also excluded the pollinators, and you either have to leave it open every once in awhile, or you have to get a fine small paint brush and transfer pollen yourself).

In this area people believe that once you have squash bugs in the soil, they are "permanent".  I have not even tried to grow squash for years.  It may be that with the healthier soils I now have, that squash bugs would be in balance with what ever keeps their population in check.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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This thread discusses breeding squash bug resistant squash:  http://www.permies.com/t/57592/organic/pulling-hair-years-garden
 
John Weiland
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Just adding a tid-bit to this thread.  There is still much that we don't know about "mosaicism", genetic or otherwise in multicellular organisms, here focusing on plants.  As a plant shoot grows out, the meristematic zone within the shoot where cells are rapidly dividing is also the zone where new mutations may arise.  In the example below, it may be that a mutation occurred in the DNA of that branch as it developed (or alternatively an epigenetic event or perhaps some other physiological phenomenon having a basis we don't understand) that conferred beetle resistance to that branch.  I don't know anything about eucalyptus reproductive biology, but if flowers exist(ed) on that beetle-resistant branch, either through self-pollination or receipt of other pollen, that resistance might be maintained in the offspring from that branch.  The same is likely true in any other plant, since some of the tissue that will eventually form the flowers can be (at a very low rate of occurrence) genetically different from the rest of the plant on which that flower is born.  The point, starkly illustrated in the photo below, is that we may wish to use caution and not throw out the baby with the bathwater.....examine plants under disease or predation carefully to make sure that mosaicism for pest/disease tolerance or resistance isn't present in something we are about to discard.  Not always easy to determine, but sometimes worth saving some seed if possible.

Photo below from  http://www.hermonslade.org.au/projects/HSF_13_10/hsf_13_10.html
Branch.JPG
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Thekla McDaniels
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Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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That's a very cool picture, John.

Thanks for bringing up an important and seldom considered point.  When chestnut blight hit this country, the "experts" said kill them all and the lumber companies were happy to do so.  There were very likely at least a few trees with natural resistance.  Had the folks in charge proceeded a little more slowly, we might have the mighty American chestnut with us today in numbers as before.
 
elle sagenev
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Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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Strong and healthy plants are the most resistant. Can you tell I've been reading Ruth Stoute's book? I haven't had any kale like ever because of bugs but I caught a gardner snake moving into my corn yesterday and it's the first snake we've seen in 8 years. Nature is in action.
 
John Weiland
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@Thekla M: "There were very likely at least a few trees with natural resistance."

Yep....and luckily most such purges miss a few trees, which now may be serving as breeding stock along with the Chinese chestnut germplasm.

http://forestry.about.com/cs/treeid/a/achestnut.htm

FWIW, most of my firewood is 20 - 30 year old American Elm that has finally succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease.  But there are a few much older elms that have not fallen to the disease. In fact we've planted some local nursery stock of elm that was selected from similar type trees in our area.....those that appeared resistant in a stand of elm that otherwise was getting plastered by the disease.  We've already begun making cuttings from the older trees that have not died from the disease, but may not be around to see their full resistance if they happen to have some.
 
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