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.

Sourdough Starter as Ecological Model

By Curlydock

Ever wonder what your sourdough starter gets up to when you are not looking? I spied on mine with a web-cam for about a day. Now I know the shocking truth of its secret life and will show and tell all in this installment.

Why care

about this? There are several parallels between what happens when you feed your sourdough starter and what has happened on this very planet Earth when the human population began to explode.

In both cases, there is a population of living things in an environment that is limited in size and resources.

The sourdough starter is populated with yeast and bacteria in symbiosis. It needs flour for the population to grow and will consume it all if you do not replenish it. Then, there is a die off or crash in the population as a result of starvation, resource exhaustion and poisoning by the accumulation of waste material. Sound familiar?

Earth is populated with people, all the species that people depend upon, and many species relegated to “weed” category, thought of as expendable because we have not yet figured out how to exploit them. Ecologists and those who understand the need for organic farming methods are among the precious minority who value species diversity. As much as we like to think we can dominate nature, the real truth is that we are also symbiots. Our determination to dominate instead of live in harmony is driving the planet and all its populations into a dead-end.

The sourdough starter cannot grow out of it’s jar. (Well, it can but is not likely to find more flour if it does.) The human population cannot leave this planet in any significant numbers any time soon. (And, even if it does, how much organic coffee can we grow on the moon?)

Perhaps the sourdough starter can teach us something about mindless consumption and procreation. “But”, you may protest, “Unlike yeast, people have minds!” I will counter: “A person in a state of denial behaves automatically and just as if they do not have a mind.” Mindless consumers. Purchase what you don’t need. Throw the left-overs in the gutter. Make babies like the world was going out of style. Well, perhaps it is.

The sourdough starter needs flour. Unless you replenish it, the starter will consume all that is available.

The human population of Earth has developed a crippling dependance on oil and other limited resources. Even if we don’t run out of coal and oil, we cannot continue to use them because their use in this already over-populated planet is what is triggering global warming. So, discovering vast new supplies of cheap oil is no solution. In fact, it could aggravate the real problem. Irony.
Procedure

I mixed 54 g of flour with 103 g of water. To that I added 68 g of vigorous starter. Of that 225 g total mixture, I poured 122 g into a glass jar and loosely coverd with a plastic lid. The glass jar was placed in a temperature controlled chamber in front of a camera. The temperature was monitored and never significantly deviated from 79 deg. or 80 deg. F. For a period of about 12 hours, one picture was taken every 5 minutes, resulting in 150 images.

Results

I selected eight of the 150 images to put here. In each image, you will see that I have inserted a set of numbers at the top center. These numbers represent the duration, in hours and minutes, at the time the image was recorded. So, the first image is “00:00”:

00 hours 00 minutes

The next image is after 2 hours and 26 minutes have elapsed:

snapshot-20070105-140039.jpg

At 02:26 you see the normal layer of “hooch” forming. I did not know until I did this experiment that it first forms at the top of the starter. You also see the bubbles of gas forming in the starter, causing the starter to “rise” as it would when used to leaven bread dough. The hooch and gas are the waste products from the yeast and bacteia, the populations of which are beginning to grow rapidly.
At 03:16 the starter has risen a good bit. The hooch layer is
snapshot-20070105-145044.jpg

getting pushed to one corner as the center bulges.

At 03:26 there is another unexpected phenomenon.

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The corner where the hooch was is foaming violently. I say violently because this all took place on a time scale of 5 or10 minutes. This is after almost an hour and a half of liesurly, predictable rise in the starter volume and number of gas bubbles (correlate with population of micro-organisms). I watched this occure on the monitor, bemoaning the fact that all this excitement would be lost to posterity because I had decided to record only one image every 5 minutes. I would have needed a couple of images a second to capture all this short-term activity, which began suddenly and without warning and did not last long at all. I gripped the edge of my seat and practically left greasy nose-marks on my monitor, wondering what this portended for my little microbe-cosm.

At 03:46 the foam is leaving. Where did the hooch go?
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If you look closely you can see the hooch is now all the way at the bottom of the jar.

At 06:26 you see you can’t keep good hooch down.

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Now there are three distinct layers. Under the hooch is a layer of starter that seems to be inactive because there are no bubbles in it. You can’t see it in a few images, but I can tell you it was still very active. Small chunks and particles were seen both rising and falling in the hooch layer. Since the bottom layer was growing, it must be that more was falling than rising. Does this remind you of the economy and the extinction of the middle class?

At 07:01 you can see the first settling of the top layer.
snapshot-20070105-183612.jpg

This tells us that the yeast and bacteria are beginning to die off. They have used up their resource (flour) and are now starving and succumbing to the poisonous effects of their waste products. It looks like the peak occured a bit after six hours in this experiment.

At 14 hours and 30 minutes I ended the experiment.
snapshot-20070106-000205.jpg

The top layer is at its lowest level since its peak. Once it started falling, the fall was pretty monotonous. I could have let it run longer but it had been a long day and this felt very much like the end of history.

Conclusion

Can we take any macro lessons from this micro-biological model? There are some important differences. Our planet, unlike the starter jar that got only one charge of flour, is being re-charged daily with “free” energy from the sun.

The trouble is, we have not been living within the energy budget of the sun since technology allowed us to exploit oil and greed made it inevitable. The energy density of “black gold” cannot be matched by solar, wind, geothermal, etc. Nuclear has a waste problem and the likelihood of catastrophic accidents increases with time and the number of reactors in use.

We may be running out of time to reverse the toxic byproduct of burning fossil fuels: global warming. It may be too late. It could accelerate tenfold or more without warning (remember the foam and the inversion of the hooch layer happened catastrophically). Indeed, there may be evidence of such an acceleration now, see: “Global Warming Already Causing Extinctions, Scientists Say“, by Hannah Hoag for National Geographic News, Nov. 28, 2006.

These sudden accelerations and unpredictable changes can happen in non-linear systems that are under stress. A little push in a certain direction causes changes that themselves add to the push and you get exponential acceleration. The hooch layer suddenly inverts. The die-off caused by global warming or the loss of oil as an energy source could also happen more quickly than predicted by the most dire of doomsayers.

Here is a very good reference for those interested in reading more on the topic of ecosystems that experience overshoot and sudden extinction: “Overshoot in a Nutshell” by David M. Delany.