Category Archives: Garden Stories

Swallowtails

Four black swallowtail caterpillars found their way into Joe’s bughouse a few weeks ago. We fed them from the plant we found them on and watched them grow and grow…and grow!

The biggest one made a chrysalis first followed by two more a few days later. Our teeny tiny guy ate his way steadily through the dill we’d stuffed the house with until, tired from all his munching, he joined the others and made a chrysalis.

A few days ago, the first chrysalis started to wiggle and wobble.

We’ve been watching it off and on, hoping to watch the beautiful swallowtail emerge. We never did get to see them make their chrysalis. We turned our back and poof! it was made.

The chrysalis went from bright green to a faded dull pea green as it shook and twitched.

And then…

Wibble, wobble, twitch
A butterfly breaking free
Emerges and flys

Regrowth

We came home from a long weekend and discovered something miraculous.

The kiwi had started to heal and regrow.

It had been ravaged by angry beetles for weeks, but it was coming back. Leaves were sprouting out, healing vines and kicking out the crunchy brown leaves.

The Japanese beetle’s 8-week reign of terror ended. Finally.

We were relieved that the pests had not done any lasting damage to the roots of the kiwi. It would have been depressing to have to cut out all that dead kiwi and start over again.

The grapes and hops are coming back as well, but it is the kiwi I am most impressed with. It had truly suffered and I had my doubts as to whether or not it would survive into next season.

I’ve never been more happy to be wrong.

The kiwi is coming back and we have a plan of attack for next year. A plan that will, with any luck, insure that the Japanese beetles lose the war.

The kiwi returns
To the homestead so bright, green
Leaves dance in the breeze

Ninja Bug

They creep up to the window
They climb up on the plants
They sit up on a green leaf
They watch the wasps and ants

We like these bright green ninjas
We love the way they work
We see them move so slowly
We watch their long arms jerk

When they’ve caught their target
They sink back down again
And munch the bug they’ve captured
Antennae, legs and skin

They’re really kind of scary
They move so soft and quick
If they were any bigger
I’d smash them with a stick!

In all seriousness, the praying mantis is an amazing insect and extremely useful in the garden. They are silent and efficient hunters and they prey mainly on common garden pests.

Most of the mantids we have found are in and around our rose bushes. There are–or were, a large population of Japanese beetles on these bushes. I think the mantids enjoyed a daily feast.


The Next Wave

Just when the Japanese beetle population starts to dwindle, the next wave of garden pests show up laying eggs on almost every available squash leaf.

Squash bugs.

While I detest squash bugs, I absolutely loathe Japanese beetles. In comparison…these aren’t so bad.

Every day, I eagerly go out to the garden to squish the eggs and vacuum the bugs that have emerged.

The process is more satisfying than drowning beetles. I think it is because I can squish all the eggs on a plant and vacuum most of the bugs.

This year, I am going to try applying neem oil to the leaves in order to deter more egg layers.

I have to be careful not to hit the squash flowers though. I want the bees to continue pollinating so we can have a good crop of watermelon, butternut and pattypan this year.

Squash bugs aren’t the worst
But are really annoying
Squish, vacuum, squish-squash

Wild

I took inventory a few days ago in my walk around the homestead.

The milkweed is still everywhere, but the beetles have started attacking it now that they’ve eaten everything else.

They seem to prefer the flowers to the leaves. Probably because they aren’t as thick and furry. I keep hoping the milkweed bugs will attack. No luck.

The prairie grasses are looking wonderful. The black-eyed Susans are back and flowing in the breeze. A variety of wild grasses blowing in the breeze.

The cattails are getting thicker. I think I’ll clip a few of these along with some black-eyed Susans and bring some wild prairie inside.

I did notice the Japanese beetles, but they are fewer in number and seem to be getting lazy. I can dispatch them easily at anytime of the day now.

I don’t know if these are new, but they are a lot shinier than the others I’ve killed.

They’ve finally started in on my oak trees and a few of the nut trees. I sure wish they’d attack the thistles instead.

As I walked back to the house, I noticed my lovely herb spiral.

The nasturtiums came back, as well as the bee balm. I planted more cilantro, thyme, basil, marigolds and a few salvia. It looks beautiful and the beetles have left it completely alone.

This year, it is more of a flower spiral with a few herbs sprinkled in and chocolate mint trying to take over.

I’m still not sure where the mint came from. I never would have planted mint in the spiral on purpose as it tends to take over.

I keep pulling it out and transplanting it to the swales. It can take over there with my blessing.

The landscape, so wild
Grasses dancing in the breeze
A tangled jungle

Operation JBE: Status

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication (JBE)
Date: June 30, 2017

Subject of Study:
Japanese beetles aka Revolting Beasts

Entomoligists:
– Joseph the Bug Hunter (JBH)
– Jacob the Bug Whacker (JBW)
– Issabella the Scout
– Cheyenne the Soldier
– Melissa (Mom)

Report:
Experiment #1: The beetles in the bug house were not as destructive as I thought they would be.
Status: Failed.

Experiment #2: The containers with dead beetles were slightly effective, but by the time we installed them around the perimeter, there were just too many beetles to combat.
Status: Failed.

Experiment #3: We tried a homemade essential oil spray: cedarwood oil with water. We sprayed one row of kiwi and, while there were fewer beetles the next day, there were again too many to combat.
Status: Failed.

Experiment #4: After seeing that they were leaving the chocolate mint completely alone, my niece had the idea of making a “potion” of mint and water. We pulled a bunch of mint and blended it up with water, strained it and loaded up a couple of spray bottles.

The troops were deployed. This time, we sprayed two of the rose bushes, leaving the third as our control.

Again, it worked slightly, but there were just too many to combat.
Status: Failed.

What do we do now? I’m at a loss. Further research will be needed to determine our next steps. Stay tuned.

The Final Experiment

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication (JBE)
Date: July 2, 2017

Subject of Study:
Japanese beetles aka &#%!@?s

Entomoligists:
– Joseph the Bug Hunter (JBH)
– Jacob the Bug Whacker (JBW)
– Melissa (Mom)

The Final Experiment

While I believe that one or all of the natural methods we tried would have worked to manage the onslaught of the beetles, I also believe that, by the time we tried them, it was too late and there were just too many to combat.

So, I am going to try organic Neem Oil in an effort to stop them from completely obliterating what is left of the vineyard, fedge and our young fruit trees in the swales.

We are also going to spread milky spore over the lawn to kill as many grubs as we can in the hope of hatching fewer beetles next year.

The potential problem with both of these methods is the cost.

Beetles are laying their eggs all over the 5 acres we own for the entire 8 weeks they are here. That means that next year Japanese beetle grubs will be waiting to emerge from the soil as a full-grown army of maniacal demons.   

If we wanted to cover the entire property, we would need a ton of milky spore to have a chance against such an enemy. 

Does this mean we won’t try it? Absolutely not. I will try everything withing my power to destroy my insect enemy, but we need to be vigilant and prepared with the other methods we have tried in order to stop–or at least better manage this blight.

They may have defeated us this year, but my team of entomologists will be back to fight the battle anew next year…armed with new knowledge and better weaponry.

Down but not yet out
We learn from all our failures
And come back swinging

Goji Growth

One pair of plants the Japanese beetles have not yet discovered are the goji berries we planted in the vineyard two years ago.

The vines are getting longer and starting to run on the ground, so we’ll be putting a row of wire up soon to make sure they have somewhere to ramble.

I’ve only ever had dried goji berries and the few puny ones that we got off the plant last year. They have a slightly bitter taste. Kind of like a cherry/cranberry/raisin combo. The boys and I like them, but we like a slightly sour berry.

The real benefit of these little pill shaped fruits is vitamins and nutrition they provide. The been shown to boost the immune system, improve brain activity and protect against cancer and heart disease.

They are packed with vitamin C, B2 and A and contain antioxidants like iron and selenium. In short, they are a superfood.

We’ve tried them out of hand. They’d probably be good in cereal or oatmeal too. Many people make a tea out of the berries. We may try that if we get enough this year. The plants are still pretty small, so we may just eat them off the vine again.

Small, delicate and wispy
Quietly growing vines
Leaves not brown and crispy
Flowers and leaves on a vine

Fruit oblong and rosy
Tasty and juicy too
Clumped together and cozy
A delicate, reddish hue

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication #2

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication (JBE)
Date: June 26, 2017

Subject of Study:
Japanese beetles aka Revolting Beasts

Entomoligists:
– Joseph the Bug Hunter (JBH)
– Jacob the Bug Whacker (JBW)
– Melissa (Mom)

Report on 1st Experiment:
The beetles in the bug house are not as destructive as we predicted. It is possible that we have disturbed their behavior patterns by taking them out of their natural environment.

But I suspect something more diabolical.

They are up to something. I just know it.

New Observations:
– With high winds in the early afternoon, subjects behaved as they do in early morning and twilight hours. They were hanging on tight to their green victims, but they did not flee when approached.
– They are moving onto the blackberry leaves in force. I find more congregating there everyday.
– There are no Japanese beetles on the blanket of mint growing on the vineyard floor. Is the scent too strong?

They are increasing in number and becoming more destructive by the day. We must figure out how to stop them before it’s too late.

Experiment #2:
In further studying natural methods of disposing of the revolting beasts, we have decided to strategically place containers of drowned beetles around the perimeter of the most attacked areas of the homestead.

Other beetle battlers have reported success with this method. Apparently, the smell of rotting beetle bodies deters others from coming into the area of destruction.

Results pending. (I’ll believe it when I see it.)

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication #1

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication (JBE)
Date: June 23, 2017

Entomoligists:
– Joseph
– Jacob
– Melissa

Subject of Study:
Japanese beetles aka Revolting Beasts

Appearance:
– Six legs
– Oval in shape, 1/3-1/2 inches
– Metallic green with coppery brown leaf covers
– Five patches of white hair on each side of the abdomen and 1 patch on the lower abdomen

Life cycle and Known Facts:
– Egg, grub, and adult stages.
– From early June to late July they emerge from the soil as pupa, become fully grown adults and begin their attack.
– They have an 8 week lifecycle during which they are laying eggs every day.
– The females live for a couple of weeks feeding on trees, shrubs and roses in the morning.
– They hide during mid-day and return to the desecrated plants in the afternoon.
– At this time, they carry out their true objective: they lay more eggs.
– They leave their scent on the leaves they eat as if to tell their cronies “this is a good spot”.

Observations:
– The beetles seem to be sleeping during twilight and the early morning hours.
– Cool rainy weather makes them lazy and depressed.
– In extreme winds, they have a tighter grip on the leaves they are desecrating.
– They are beginning to go after the early fruit as well as the bright green leaves.
– They love roses and are VERY fond of hardy kiwi and grape leaves.
– They are starting to attack blackberry, seaberry, aronia, cherry, blueberry and raspberry leaves.
– They seem to enjoy healthy plants as they are leaving the unhealthy ones alone.

Experiment #1:
– I caught four of the fiends and put them in my son’s bug house for observation.
– In this first experiment, we will make note of how long it takes 4 beetles to devour a leaf.

Results pending.