Home & Garden

Local gardening: An evening with garden pests

We’ve been enjoying stir-fry vegetables these evenings, a mixture of carrots, cabbage, and Red Russian kale, each given its own quick turn in the pan and then allowed a few minutes of co-mingling with garlic and ginger. The kale has been getting mighty holey, and last time I picked I started looking for the culprits. No one was visible from above but when I turned those leaves over I struck it rich.

A virtual trinity of pests was at work. Slugs have been horrible this year and they climb the plants to eat leaves. It’s very hard to pinch a slug in half; fortunately I’d taken scissors to cut the kale leaves and it was easy to remove the slugs and cut them in half. Harlequin bugs are in the true bug category but aren’t as quick to react as stink bugs; the poor things didn’t even have the sense to drop to the ground but remained in place, no doubt with their proboscis still inserted into the leaf removing fluids, until I pinched them flat.

In the fading sunlight, the larger Lepidoptera larvae were easy to spot and again not so mobile that I couldn’t grab them and pinch them in two, too. But then I noticed some very small objects, a slightly different shade of green from the blue-white undersides of the kale leaves. After a few adjustments of my bifocals came an “AH HA” moment – they were very small larvae and tended to be clustered close together.

I just squished and lightly rubbed those leaves between my hands and that was that. I worked about 60 plants in 10 or 15 minutes. Although there are undoubtedly survivors, it was almost time for supper, and I spent less time than if I’d mixed and sprayed an insecticide. Plus, even though it was after the bees had retired, there certainly was no collateral damage to other beneficials. As a bonus, a female adult imported cabbage looper depositing eggs was caught in the act and will lay eggs no more.

Last night’s pests were pretty easy pickings. No one was particularly mobile. Now when the Japanese beetles and stink bug populations build up, I’ll have to rev up my game. Japanese beetles like to tuck up their nasty little jointed-appendage legs and drop to the ground when people with malice in their hearts come near. Holding a small, handled bucket with soapy water in it under the areas you’re targeting will often result in their landing in the drink. Stink bugs like to fly so you just have to be quick. Often I find it more productive to smash the leaves they are feeding on between my hands than trying to catch and squish. Look up pictures of predatory stinkbugs – they have long beaks which they insert into other insects, inject a dissolving fluid, and then suck up the resulting soup. They’re on your team.

A garden filled with diversity attracts beneficial organisms, of which you can be a member. If you become a hand-picker of vegetable or flower pests, you probably won’t avoid all insecticide sprays, but I bet you’ll use fewer as you reduce the numbers of bad guys and protect and encourage carnivorous invertebrates.