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Hugelkultur, a breeding ground for pill bugs?

 
alex jackson
Posts: 32
Location: Italy
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We have a few hugelkultur beds around our site which are now around 2 years old. This summer 3 out of 4 of them are completely infested with pill bugs. So much so that every young plant we have transplanted in there has been devoured over night. The only way we have finally got on top of the problem is only to transplant more mature larger plants as they are more attracted to the younger leaves. We have found leaving onion stalks on the surface attracts them in great numbers also, this seems to keep them slightly sidetracked. We can also collect them up in the morning to get rid of. Has anybody else had similar problems? Luckily they have not spread to any of the non hugelkultur beds as yet.


http://permaital.blogspot.it/
 
John Elliott
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If there are too many, that must mean few predators around, right? I have a modest number of pill bugs, but the toads and lizards keep them in check. And if I get a lot under a board that I leave out in the garden, I can always turn it over as a buffet for the chickens.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Big Second to John's comment...too many one thing means a need for something else...

Look to creating habitat for the lizards, toads, and frogs....

 
Seth Peterson
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Location: Berkeley, CA
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Yea, bring the chickens was my first thought too. Or maybe quail, since they do less damage, do they eat pill bugs? As mentioned, Not enough predators, right? What else eats pill bugs?

It sounds like you have a very composts hugelbed. So, somehow your hugelbed is the perfect pill bug hill. Did you use logs, branches or wood chips? Or some combo of them? I'm thinking that if your hugelbeds has different types of wood, and various sizes, this will create many different niches to be filled by a variety of life, creating a balanced web. If the bed is all wood chips (for example) then it is a monoculture of sorts, only allowing for specific types of insects, this would be pill bug territory galore! So, increase the diversity of habitat in and around the bed, as mentioned before, sounds important.

Would a heavy watering drown them out? Like ants? This has worked for me in specific cases.

Or how about diatomaceous earth? I haven't tried it yet, but I just bought some, so I am about to. Curious if it works on these.

What about planting something they like better, somewhere else close by?

Or a trap - Loosely roll up a damp newspaper and tie it with string, placing it where bugs camp. During the night, they crawl inside, then dispose of them and the newspaper. Repeat until they are under control.

Or....
"I have a question regarding these pill bugs. We just moved into a new house (not knowing it was infested with these bugs). Our problem is not only are we finding some in the house but in the pool as well. At first I thought there were some kind of berries in the pool fropm a tree and when I started sweeping the pool, they turned out to be thousands of these pill bugs at the bottom of the pool. I'm not exaggerating of the amount. I couldn't believe how many were at the bottom of the pool. Is there anything I can do to keep them away and out of the pool? Also, are they attracted to fruit trees? We have orange and banana trees around the pool area. Please help I don't want my children and I to swim with a city of bugs."

So... The problem is the solution. Build mini-pools, I mean bury cups or buckets in the ground, and then place water and yeast or beer in the bottom, then cover with a rock, so no one steps in it, then check regularly to see how many creepy crawlies got in there.

BUT, these are all methods to treat the 'problem' not the cause. What is causing so much pill bugs? Good habitat and lack of predators. so, build predator habitat, with so many pill bugs, predators should be highly attracted. This is a longer term approach. I mean if you get rid of them, you decrease diversity and weaken your micro-ecosystem, if you attract predators you increase diversity and life, and build a more stable resilient system. Besides, pill bugs are very important as decomposers and I have heard they eat aphids (anyone?). I bet they bring in birds, hurray for the bottom of the food chain!

Seth Peterson, from the heart of Berkeley


 
Matt Carroll
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Hugelkultur beds tend to collapse internally as the wood rots down and from on top as the soil is consumed by the growing seasons and weather.

My guess based on this, is that it sounds like the rotten, woody innards of your beds have come within sniffing distance of the higher-level (insect) composters - pill bugs. Depending on your long term plans, it might be simplest to let things go as they are and make a new bed elsewhere. Or try to refurbish the bed with a thicker soil layer. Lots of other good ideas for near-term control in the thread too.

-Matt
 
alex jackson
Posts: 32
Location: Italy
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Thanks Guys for all the advice.
Yes the beds have sunken down a fair amount, so maybe the rotten wood is very close to the surface.
Lizards and frogs i have plenty as they have more than enough habitat,even living inside some of the hugel beds. I have even named some of the little guys as some have been living in there for the last year and we have got quite attached.
Something i did not mention was the hugel beds with the problem are the ones i have in the large polytunnel. The beds i have outside of it don't have the problem. Could it be the birds can not get to them when they climb to the surface?
Will try the water/beer traps,sounds a good idea. I have to say i am a firm believer that where there is imbalance there are problems and i agree i must have a lack of something if i have such a problem.
To bring the chickens in at this stage of the season would be too damaging to the rest of the plants i have growing in there although they will be aloud in at the end of the season to feast. For now planting only larger mature plants in them seems to be working and i am thankful of the little buggers for all the composting they are doing and if they eat aphids even better!!
 
Judith Browning
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In another thread there was a discussion about pill bugs eating plants where the OP tried coffee grounds around the plants and had some success. One of the replies in that thread suggested that pill bugs only eat decomposing vegetation so we thought possibly, that they only ate plants when there was not enough of their preferred food available and that that might be why the coffee grounds worked for this person. To me it might suggest using slightly undone compost as a top dressing.
I guess that wouldn't explain why they are worse for you in the hoop houses, though....

if I can find the thread I'll post the link.
 
Andre Lasle
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Location: Mille Lacs, MN
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When I first saw the "title" of this thread I figured I had written it.

I have the exact same problem on one of my Hugel Beds. Complete utter infestation of Pill Bugs.

I also have had an insurgence of Pill Bugs in my greenhouse in the last year.
Thus far, I have no GOOD solution. I've used many "symptom-treatments" such as killing them by attracting them to an area and then gathering them and throwing them away, but this is not a solution.

My suspicion, in my case, is something to do with the unnatural environment I've made in the case of my Hugel Bed and Greenhouse.
I am in Southern California where rain is incredibly scarce, and to grow anything in this bed (it is in year one), and of course in my covered greenhouse, is to irrigate.
I suspect the dry hot sunny climate mixed with frequent moisture provides an imbalance or niche that these bugs are proliferating in. Not confirmed, however.

I also think they came in my greenhouse when I attempted to slow evaporation by covering my raised beds with wood chips. Again, a perfect pill bug habitat.

I let my ducks hit my hugel bed and have a plethora of lizards and wild birds, and even some toads, but these pill bugs still reign and destroy any seedlings.
Not fun.

When I used to live in Minnesota I would ONLY see pill bugs under stumps or other complete-shade scenarios. Here I am finding them running wild.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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I have shared some views about these little guys that some found helpful...some didn't...some did not agree with at all. So perhaps this time I could frame the info a bit differently and add a few things that have come up as of late.

Observation, and Information agreed on, with consensus within the scientific community:

* We are not dealing with a bug...but...a crustacean type wee beasty (crab, lobster, crayfish, etc.)

* They have gills and very moisture dependant.

* They feed almost exclusively on "decaying" matter (predominantly botanical but not always) or plants that either presents as decaying, and/or near decompositions material with easily masticatable cell structure.

* Hugelkultur (mound gardens) are built of material they eat and that provide habitat.

* They can be successfully controlled with a balanced biome and natural predators.

When ever I am faced with an issue I try first to identify the "knows" that have clear consensus of data behind it. Then apply "just that information" to my observations to see if any aberrant factors presents...it usually does in some fashion. From there it is a matter of adjusting those elements within the biome.

I personally have never seen these animals eat anything that is "living." Now what seems to be coming to light is observations of them destroying "seedlings," which I will accept that something is occurring just by the presented quantity of claims, yet have not been able to reproduce these events myself, or have seen any type of video of them "directly and actively" feeding in this manner.

One recent suggestion that has strong merit is because seedlings are very tender (masticatable,) are near to the ground with decomp botanical matter, and may also be giving of these scents themselves do to proximity. Also within the anatomy of a seed the only living and viable portions are the embryo. Within the germination process, these other element (in close proximity to the young plant) are discarded and decay. This well may attract the over abundance in some gardens of Armadillidiidae to begin feeding on these portions of the germinating seedling, and in turn damage the living portions themselves...which in turn...starts the decay process that they typically feed on...This is a presented theory at the moment.

In any case...my personal and others shared experiences with me...have found that there is a lack of "appropriate predator to prey balances" and/or their population to match the "peak population" of the wee beastie they feed on. Additionally what I can share about the many gardens/biomes I have been part of in the past that present as "homeostatic," was WAY MORE toads, lizards, snakes, etc than one "thinks" (or some like to have.)

Toads...for just one example...usually average in observable populations when collected for count at least 5-10 toads per m². So for a ten foot by ten foot garden you should have atleast 5 to 10 toads depending on prey species concentration, and for a garden that is thirty feet by forty feet you should have (with an over abundance of "pill bugs") over 1000 toads in their different life stages. This is just the toads...now you have the salamanders that may be indigenous to a region, frogs, lizards, snakes, predatory insects...and so on...

In a healthing "permaculture" garden, they are typically "alive" with all sorts of little fellows...even if you don't see them. If you went out to our gardens at night, one HAD TO carry a torch or lamp as to avoid what was at ground level from getting hurt...(and the few extras I had that could hurt you!)

Just something to think about...
 
Dale Hodgins
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I have thousands of them but have had no problems. I just figured they were working for me, eating the coffee waste and other debris. They congregate in the shade of sheet compost.

Mine is a predator rich environment with snakes, lizards and salamanders. Most critters in the beds seem to be agents of decay. I'm going to keep feeding them and hope they don't turn on me.

As it stands currently, there has been no problems from this free workforce and they're not likely to become unionized (:
 
Cj Sloane
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:
* They have gills and very moisture dependant.


So... Diatamatious Earth when planting seedlings? Repeat after watering?
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Dale,

Thanks for sharing that...

This is kind of my point of observation. In the countless investigations I did at one time professionally, and now on and off all these years later, I yet once found any Armadillidiidae ssp here in the states "in the act" of eating "living plants." I know of countless folks like you that also don't seem to be troubled by them...yet...the "neighbor next door," insists its pill bugs. (I am not saying it isn't...just no evidence yet I have observed.) Now perhaps, as stated, they are damaging young plants ?? yet when I have tried to recreate these events in a lab setting I have to add so many pill bug to the enclosure that they finally trample the little plant over...then of course they eat it. For this to occur in nature, the inflicted biome would require an "extreme" and aberrant overpopulation of them...again...out of balance...prey to predator.

The positive side of this...you can get them in control naturally and they are very good for a garden to have them in...they are the little "garbage people" of the garden...cleaning up all the decay...

Hi CJ,

You must have been writing at the same time. DE does have an effect on them, it must be dry DE not wet or it will kind of solidify and they will walk over it. I am actually careful with DE and these little folks...I try "NOT" to kill them as much as I possibly can...because of the work they do and the predators need something to eat..."land lobsters" if you will in macro.

Regards,

j
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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