Insectary Plants and Beneficial Insects by Curlydock

My recent surge of interest in insectary plants and beneficial insects found me in the garden with my camera. I spent about an hour taking pictures of any insect I saw and noting the plant each insect was seemingly associated with.

I did this on September 8, 2007, in my small experimental urban organic garden located in Jefferson County, Kentucky, USA. These are a few of the pictures.

I am not expert at insect identification. If you think my guesses or any other data I give are not correct, please feel free to leave a comment with your own opinion.

To avoid the use of chemical poisons, I hope to eventually have enough of the right kind of insectary plants. The theory is that the right plants will attract the kinds of good insects that predate on the bad insects. Bad insects do bad things like chewing big holes in my broccoli leaves, for example.

I understand that one should not attempt to wipe out the bad bugs altogether. Enough of the bad bugs should exist to feed the good bugs so the good bugs will stay in the garden and not have to leave in search of a meal. While this is not mechanically efficient, an argument could be made that mechanical efficiency is not a sustainable way to relate to the environment.

One should seek the productive balance innate in stabilized diversity and then not sully that balance with pollution, poisons, and the exhaustion that comes from expectations of competitively efficient exponential growth. The correct balance can be productive enough to sustain the lives of farmers and those who depend on farmers for meals, were the world not obsessed with greed.

Since the good bugs burn a lot of energy in their hunt, they need the nectar and pollen of flowers to help sustain that energy. To that end, some plants are better than others at attracting good bugs. The shape of the blossom might help or hinder the access of a particular insect to the pollen and nectar the plant offers. Also, some plants can attract aphids or insects that are specific to that plant and will not harm garden plants but will provide meals for the good bugs. Not all plants bloom at the same time, so in a diversity at least one plant will always be supplying the good bugs with what they need. It is also possible that the wrong plant would attract bugs bad for the garden or host diseases also bad for the garden.

So, it can get complicated. I need to study hard to find the right combination of insectary plants to grow in or near my garden. On the bright side, the complexity of the study is deep enough to keep one interested for a whole lifetime. One need not study rocket science to keep from getting bored. How nature grows diversity will suffice.

bumblebee

Image 417 is perhaps a bumblebee. Some think it is, instead, a carpenter bee. They look a lot alike but I understand the abdomen of the carpenter bee is slick instead of hairy. This insect is beneficial because it pollinates flowers. The bee rests on the flower head of Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum). The bee was so still I thought it might be dead or asleep. Or drunk? When I finally nudged it, it moved sluggishly but it never flew or even buzzed all the time I was there.

image 498

Image 498 shows what seems to be a different type and much smaller bee. This one is on a marigold blossom.

image 398

Image 398 shows what I believe is a soldier beetle called Pennsylvania Leatherwing (Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus). Many say it is beneficial but at least one said this insect’s value may be exaggerated. Even if it does not eat bad insects, at least it seems to be a good pollinator of Garlic Chives, for there were a lot of these soldier beetles there.

image 490

Image 490 may be a Green Bottle Fly, I am not sure. Green Blow Flies are supposedly associated with decaying flesh, but there were a lot of these really interested in the Garlic Chives. Nothing smelled dead.

image 437

Image 437 may be what is called a “Question Mark” butterfly, but I am not sure. It rested close to corn and beans.

image 460

Image 460 shows a wasp that repeatedly returned for a drink of water from the little watering hole. Many wasps are beneficial because they predate on bad bugs.

The watering hole is made of an overturned garbage can lid. I keep it replenished with water from the rain barrel. I change the water at most after every couple of days to keep mosquitoes from breeding in it and to keep it from stagnating. I had hoped the watering hole and an adjacent shelter hole would attract a toad, but I have not seen a toad yet. I did see a blue-tailed lizard not too far from the water, but that was much earlier in the year.

image 378

Image 378 shows, I believe, the eggs of a Leaf Footed Bug or Stink Bug. The eggs were attached underneath a leaf of broccoli. I did not see any adults this day, but I have seen them before. They have hind legs that are flattened like a spatula or leaf. Some of them may be beneficial, sucking on caterpillars of bad bugs. But I suspect the ones around here are only interested in sucking juice from the broccoli.

image 379

Image 379 shows a moth caterpillar that might be an “Inch Worm”. It has been feasting on the broccoli and a bad type. I hope someday I see a beneficial insect feasting on it.

image 383

Image 383 is a young, I think, type of Harlequin Bug. They also eat the broccoli.

image 433

Image 433 is a Garden Spider, (perhaps Argiope aurantia). I understand that these spiders need a source of water. This one was about 4 feet from the watering hole and very near the corn and beans. I believe spiders are, on balance, beneficial.

In conclusion, many insects could be seen in one hour in my organic garden. Some were beneficial and some were not. Many pollinators were seen. Many destructive insects were seen. I would like to see a lot more beneficial predators. I recently transplanted some Golden Rod to my garden. I found it on a farm in an adjacent county. I have heard that Golden Rod is a good insectary plant. That it aggravates hay fever and allergies is a bad rap and is not true, from what I have read. I plan to introduce more selected flowers in the future. When I planted the Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum) I did it for food. I did not know it was an excellent insectary too, until I saw it in action.

Seedling Identification Revisited

by Curlydock

This is the start of my second attempt at seedling identification. This time I have a technique that should remove doubt about what sprouted.

Most of the unwanted volunteers from my previous effort turned out to be tomato seedlings. I fed a lot of tomatoes to the worms, so the seeds were still viable in the vermicompost.

I still want to keep the purported advantages of organic living soil so I still have not sterilized the potting medium. In fact, I am using the same pots I used before. This time, however, the seedling of interst is clearly flagged by a ring of newspaper around the seedling. Any sprout that is outside of that ring can be “weeded out”.

Day 6 Rapini

The ring of newspaper is the top rim of what I call a “tiny pot”. The tiny pots are made from 2-inch squares of newspaper wrapped around the end of a pencil. The small cylinder thus created stays intact when the end of it is crushed closed. The seeds are planted in the open end after the tiny pots are placed into the cells of an ice cube tray and moistened.

Sprouter Tray

To get one and only one seed in each tiny pot, I used a bamboo skewer moistened on the end. Small seeds adhere to the sharp end and larger seeds will adhere to the blunt end. Don’t stick the moist skewer into your packet of seeds. The moisture on the skewer is probably not good there. Sprinkle a few seeds from your main pack into another container and pick the seeds from the other container with the wet skewer. The smallest seeds may be repelled instead of attracted to the skewer at first, but they will soon give up their static charge and stick to it.

sprouter

The particular ice cube tray used was one with a five-by-twelve grid of cells. It makes very small round ice cubes. The tray is kept in a plastic shoe box with a lid to keep the tiny pots moist. I had to use a medicine dropper to remove excess moisture from the tiny pots. You want the tiny pots damp but not soggy. I would not have had to use the medicine dropper if I had drilled a small drainage hole in each of the ice cube tray cells.

Day 6 broccoli

The seeds are carfully selected and metered. Only one seed is planted per tiny pot. However, five seeds of the same type are plated in a row. That allows 12 different types of seed to be sprouted in one ice cube tray. Of the five seeds of one kind in any one row, only the largest or most vigorous sprout is selected to plant in the larger pots cotaining the medium of unsterilised vermicompost. The others are kept for a while in case the first one did not take.

Day 6 Chard

The sprout, tiny pot and all, is moved from the ice cube tray cell and planted into the larger containter of potting medium. Do this as soon as it is obvious the seed has sprouted. Leave enough of the tiny pot visible so it will serve as a flag saying “this is the one you planted”. Pull up anything else that comes along.

Tiny Pot

The tiny pots should decay and return to the soil eventually. The piece of paper they are made from is so small that the decaying paper should not significantly deplete the fertility of the potting medium.

Day 8 Seedlings by Curlydock

It is often difficult to know what is sprouting in the garden. Is it something I planted or a volunteer? I sometimes keep a volunteer, but not always.

broccoli seedling

As a winter project, I decided to germinate some things and keep track of them with a webcam. In future, I can look at the pictures to help me figure out what is in the garden.

broccoli seedling
I currently have 12 different seedlings growing in small pots in a southern window. If this works well, I may extend the project to include other garden plants and “weed” seedlings as well.

chard
These are my first pictures for this particular project. They are of the seedlings mature enough to display discernable details. The others are still too small.

radish seedling

If these pictures are of interst or use to you, please leave a comment to that effect. I am open to suggestions on how to do this better. I have some drawing talent and may someday include drawings of plants.

rapini
If you want to support my work, some of my art and photography is for sale in a gallery I just started.

My gallery is found at http://eulif.imagekind.com/bucolic .

Published in: on November 24, 2006 at 8:40 pm  Comments (30)