• Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

My scary backyard ecosystem...help!

 
Andy Grove
Posts: 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi everyone, first time post here! I love reading about the practice of permaculture and the idealistic lifestyle of living with the environment every day as a way of life. I'm new to the concept and frankly am overwhelmed with all of the information out there! My wife and I (and our three young kids) just planted a fall vegetable garden in the backyard and I realized that I really have a big bug problem. First I noticed an unusually high number of crickets. I also killed three black widow spiders. I saw four millipedes. I also noticed new mole tunneling in the yard. My kids play in the backyard quite a bit but now we aren't allowing them to play out there due to the black widows. I could nuke them all (except themoles, of course) with pesticides but really don't want to go that route. We had a warm winter and so bugs in Tulsa have been crazy this year! I would like to find a quick solution in order to protect our new plants, and to protect my kids from both harmful chemicals and dangerous spiders. I feel like this is a complex problem and although I feel a little overwhelmed, I know this is a learning opportunity. Where should I start?
 
John Elliott
pollinator
Posts: 2306
77
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Black widows are not that much of a problem. When I was in elementary school, some of the other boys in the class and I were fascinated by the little striped spiders under the drinking fountains, and we would tease them out of their webs with sticks, put them in jars with holes in the lids, and all sorts of other things that little boys are wont to do. Until we found out that they were juvenile black widows. Then we left them alone. Most of the recorded instances of black widow bites are people who (1) reach, or (2) sit (as for example in the outhouse) without looking where they are going. If you just squash the ones that are too close for comfort, that might be a good compromise. None of us ever got bit.

Millipedes are recycling your leaves, dead grass, and mulch. They are a necessary part of the soil food web and are beneficial. The same goes for sow bugs or roly-polies.

Crickets can be a problem, but they are food for frogs, toads, lizards, snakes, birds, and many others. Maybe it's time to invite a few more cricket predators to share your home with you. The mole will also eat the crickets, and does a lot of valuable aerating of soil. If you can live with a couple lost carrots or turnips (which is what I do), leave him be.

Get some Neem oil at your local home center and put a tablespoon in a spray bottle, add a teaspoon of dish soap, and fill it with hot water. Now you have a general all purpose insecticide that is about as environmentally friendly as possible. It breaks down in a few days, so you don't need to worry about overspraying if you have a particularly potent outbreak of bugs. But realize that part of permaculture is tolerating a certain amount of insect life and not breaking out the bug killer for every one that crawls by.
 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
65
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I totally understand your fear of Black Widows, especially when your children are involved. I would say however, that I grew up in Southern California, with TONS of Black Widows in every nook, cranny, and crevasse. I never once even heard of anybody being bit by one. Sure it happens, but just saying that for all the heresay and urban legends, I never heard of it happening. I know, take it with an anecdotal grain of salt. But I really wouldnt let you deprive your kids of quality time outside. I think that when we get outside and start really looking around for the first time, the amount of creepy crawlies can be shocking.

What I did with my kids was to explain what they are, show the kids some super scary pics of both Black Widows and their bites on the internet, and then let them play.

Seriously, the consequences of kids cooped up indoors scare me a lot more than a spider bite!
 
Renate Howard
pollinator
Posts: 755
Location: zone 6b
9
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Can you have a few small chickens in your yard? Because they really knock back the bug population. I think even in town really cute ones like silkies or bantam cochins wouldn't be too objectionable to the neighbors, especially if you explain they are for insect control. Of course you'd have to fence them out of your garden then (but my banties went into the garden pretty often and mostly just ate the bugs.)
 
Andy Grove
Posts: 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thank you guys for your great responses! We live in a surbaban neighborhood on a surbaban lot. Our backyard is definitely multiple-purpose and we use it as a playground for our three kids (all under the age of four), entertainment (built a large brick patio, grilling, etc), area for our dogs to run around, gardening, and general landscaping. I very much appreciate the idea of introducing new predators into the yard, but at the same time don't want to compromise what we use it for. I think chickens would solve the bug issue, although seperating the dogs from the chickens would mean keeping the dogs in their dog run all of the time which I just wouldn't feel right about. I'm also not sure that I want to constantly hose off the patio from their mess! I like the idea of introducing toads, lizards, and a safe snake (especially to keep away the mice). You mentioned birds as possible predators to crickets and spiders. Are there any birds other than chickens that would enjoy a feast on these bugs and, if so, how would I go about attracting them?
 
John Elliott
pollinator
Posts: 2306
77
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Most small seed eating songbirds also have a big appetite for bugs. If you hang a regular bird feeder you can get at a home store or garden center, you can attract all sorts of sparrows, cardinals, robins, meadowlarks, and more to stop by. I give up a few figs and strawberries to marauding songbirds, but on balance, it is a good deal.
 
Renate Howard
pollinator
Posts: 755
Location: zone 6b
9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If you put in a small water-feature pond it would attract frogs and toads. They eat tons of bugs. You can make it even better for toads by putting in some toad houses - little cubby holes in shady areas like a turned-up broken pot or a pile of stones with a "cave" inside. Water attracts lots of birds and even dragonflies which are also predators of insects.
 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 464
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
My immediate reaction while reading the op was that you have an excellent ecosystem. Those bugs are there because it is a clean, safe environment with actual food in good supply.

You have predators and recyclers in your garden already which is a fantastic sign.

Try building an insect hotel for these predators. That will hopefully concentrate them in one spot when they aren't hunting and reduce the likelihood of an accidental run in between them and your kids.

Over time, as the ecosystem becomes more complex, it will become more stable. The cricket population will drop etc.

For now, maybe you could advertise on Craigs list or something to see if there is a backyard chicken farmer who would lend you some chickens for a day. That's probably all that would be needed to cull the cricket population, and you get fertiliser in exchange.
 
Seth Wetmore
Posts: 158
Location: Some where in the universe in space and time.
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
As with any problem there are multiple sollutions. Education is the first idea I had when you claim to stop your children from going out side. Please take the time to learn about black widows and as you do so please teach your children. This is the first step to not fear the unknown. in California we have black widows every where. There is no " safe area" away from them. If it is dark, cool, and near anything like a wood pile you will find black widows. Please go learn about black widow venom and how to treat a bite. It is different from the normal way to deal with venoms.

Please do not be afraid. Fear is the mind killer. Fear stops rational thought.

If you feel that your only alternative is destruction remember they will be back, and in greater numbers.
Some temporary sollutions
1. Non toxic organic oils plant based. olive oil, peppermint oil, linseed oil, corn oil, etc.
2. clean and dust the areas often where kids interact.
3. long sleeved clothes,

As with all things danger is everywhere. Getting out of bed can be dangerous. So Look to the things that are more likely.
If I was to fear something Cars would be in the top three on my list. living a borring life would be number 2, And the top highest fear would be being trapped with no way to escape. So please do not trap your children, let them enjoy thier life, and keep them away from cars. Vehicles have the highest mortality rate only bested by cancer and heart attacks.
Check it out. time world Almanac. Have a great day Do not be affraid.
 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 464
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I totally agree with you Seth. And my wife would vehemently disagree

If I was in that situation, and one of our kids got bitten, went into anaphylaxis, and wound being helevact'd to hospital, or worse, then my life would be a living hell and I would wear the blame for the rest of my miserable life.

I'm sure there's a practical middle ground in there somewhere...
 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 464
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Andy Grove wrote:... You mentioned birds as possible predators to crickets and spiders. Are there any birds other than chickens that would enjoy a feast on these bugs and, if so, how would I go about attracting them?


Having somewhere safe for the birds to sit (away from cats, and with multiple escape routes) and observe your yard can help attract them too. Choose the right spot and you can observe them with your kids from inside and learn about the different birds in your area. Get some books, binoculars etc... make it a fun educational activity.
 
Seth Wetmore
Posts: 158
Location: Some where in the universe in space and time.
1
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks Nick. I understand the danger. I understand the fear. I have killed my share and more of the spiders. Fear can be understood and worked around. I fear many many things. Most of these things I can not control. Yet I do not stop going out and enjoying life due to fear. So what I have done in the past has worked for me. It may not work for others. Sometimes fear is impossible to overcome. The problem of the unknown is when we do not understand a thing we fear learning about it. We produce the fear. Why I have no clue. I have found for myself that learning about what I fear helps to ease the fear. I become more rational. Many creatures in natures web of life have self defense abilities. Many have offensive capabilities. Many plants have poison as a defense as well as offense. There are at least a dozen human diseases to be feared, a dozen animal diseases, bacteria, viruses, predators, meteorites, earth quakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, fugus, mold, parasites,. The sky could be falling. It never ends. Yet we made it to 7 billion humans and counting. There are things to fear and things to not fear. I am not against rational safeguards, but trying to control children is as trying to control chaos. The nature of chaos is inherently uncontroled. As a child I could not be controlled, I could only be guided. The guides I had as a child gave me the tools to interact with nature in as safe a manner as they knew. So my suggestion stays the same. Education. The teacher must do thier job the student must do thier job. Parents are the ultimate teacher of the children. The schools are a joke when it comes to training children. Children will interact with nature well beyond the control of the parents. With that I wish you a great day. interact with your children, play with them, take them and show them the universe happy, scary,etc. all of it. Go to forest, go to the beach, go into natur. the farther away from T.V. and useless electronic devices you go the more you learn.
 
Ryan White
Posts: 2
Location: Florida Zone 9a
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If you avoid pesticides, predators such as mud dauber wasps will appear as your system becomes more balanced, and go to work controlling the Black Widows for you. I would look into planting some trees and shrubs that will provide food and shelter to attract birds. As Renate suggested, adding a small pond would also be helpful. I would try to change the areas where you find the Black Widows so that they don't want to be there, and whenever possible, encourage other spiders that compete with Black Widows for food. As mentioned above, the other backyard life you identified is either harmless or beneficial.
 
Seth Wetmore
Posts: 158
Location: Some where in the universe in space and time.
1
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have had food poisoning many times more often than I have been bitten by black widows. Food born illnesses are far more dangerous around a household to a little, or big person. Education and training are how we solve cross contamination of food. I would like to think that people are wise enough to learn about a subject, and to deal with the subject rationaly. Education and training. Dealing with Black widows or other venomous critters has more to do with education.
I have little people in my life that I care a great deal for. I do my best to make sure they understand the critters that are dangerous and leave them to thier habitate. While we enjoy our habitate.
We keep our habitate free from them so we do not have to be concerned with them, yet they will always find a way in. So we control the ways they get in to minimize our risks.
Minimize the risks and enjoy life.
Have a great day.
 
Marco Banks
Pie
Posts: 341
Location: Los Angeles, CA
23
books chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees urban woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Nick Kitchener wrote:My immediate reaction while reading the op was that you have an excellent ecosystem. Those bugs are there because it is a clean, safe environment with actual food in good supply.

You have predators and recyclers in your garden already which is a fantastic sign.

Try building an insect hotel for these predators. That will hopefully concentrate them in one spot when they aren't hunting and reduce the likelihood of an accidental run in between them and your kids.

Over time, as the ecosystem becomes more complex, it will become more stable. The cricket population will drop etc.

For now, maybe you could advertise on Craigs list or something to see if there is a backyard chicken farmer who would lend you some chickens for a day. That's probably all that would be needed to cull the cricket population, and you get fertiliser in exchange.


Let me add my affirmation of Nick's thought's here:

What you are seeing is a good thing. The insect population may be a little out of balance, but as you add complexity to your garden, with a wide variety of plants, living roots growing in the soil throughout the year, generous amounts of compost and mulch, and food sources for the various life forms and biota that inhabit the entire biosphere, you'll see balance take place. It may sound odd, but it all starts with the soil biology, and then works its way upward. Healthy soil leads to healthy plants, which will attract a breadth of insects, beneficial and otherwise. Birds will frequent your yard more and more. So the focus needs to be on the entire web of life, not just those one or two bugs that are bugging you.

Habitat: lots of different plants, brush piles, bug hotels, heavy mulch, etc. Tall trees, low plants, flowering plants . . . variety is the key. Don't clean things up too much in the fall—insects need a place to over-winter.
A water source: a shallow birdbath with rocks in it for bees and other insects to drink from. Obviously, you don't want mosquitoes breeding out there, but you can flush out a birdbath with a hose, easily enough.
Food: Pollen producing plants.

I'm not a bit fan of black widows (or the nasty brown recluse spider that we have here), so I squash them when I see them. But don't indiscriminately start spraying insecticide or you'll wipe out all the beneficial insects you want to attract.

I used to only grow food producing plants, but now I've got a wider variety of flowers and creeping ornamental plants, and that's made a huge difference in attracting lady bugs, wasps, spiders, praying mantis', and other good critters. Good luck with your growing family of kiddos and buggy bugs.
 
steve bossie
Posts: 245
Location: Northern Maine (zone 3b-4a)
3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
i agree about limiting the kids outdoors. they need to be encouraged to explore nature. educating them is a better option. neem oil is a great cheap organic pesticide but you could also kill you good bugs if you're not careful where you put it. cedar, rosemary and citronella oil sprayed where these spiders hang will force them to go elsewhere as they don't like the smell. slugs hate them too! maybe spray some diluted essential oils combined with planting some trees /bushes and adding predator friendly hides would be a multi pronged approach and would be the best way to handle this problem. good luck!
 
  • Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic