About Me

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I am a mother, a teacher, and a nature lover. I grew up on a mountain we called Owls' Knob in the Ozarks of Arkansas. The first seven years of my life were spent living in a log cabin, far from a store or streetlight, without electricity or running water and after twenty years of travel, I returned to the abondoned homestead. Now I live on a hill by a small lake and work at a public garden. These are stories about nature written from a women deeply influenced by place.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Inscets in the Garden

Squash Bug Nymphs
In the garden there are two types of insects: herbivores and carnivores.
In the garden (unlike the jungle) the herbivores are your enemies and the carnivores are your friends.
The cute little inch worm caterpillar, inching along the leaf , will devastate your garden but the wasp, who you so desperately wanted to die, is actually in the garden to eat that inch worm. The wasp is a friend to the garden. Spiders building webs among the rows of peas are welcome. While the lovely white butterfly frolicking from cabbage plant to broccoli plant is laying eggs which will hatch into hungry caterpillars.

Tomato hornworm
But it is not that easy; it is not black and white. The wasp will protect you plants but might sting you if are poking around the backside of a cabbage head. The caterpillars will eat the cabbage, metamorphose into a butterfly, and pollinate the blossoms on the apple tree. In one stage of its life it is your enemy, but in another is a friend. The relationship is complex; it is not cut and dry.
This year I tended the garden with vigor. I spent evenings picking caterpillars and eggs off cabbage and broccoli leaves. The red wasps and I learned to avoid each other directly. We were after the same insect and there were plenty for both of us. But alas, I hardly got a single cabbage from the patch.
Now I am checking the under side of zucchini leaves for squash bug eggs and squishing every squash bug I see. It is brutal. My hands are stained green and brown with insect blood. The stench of dead and crushed exoskeletons haunts me. I do not enjoy it. But it must be done if I want to feed my family. Distance helps the process. I have begun using an organic spray. I mix three tablespoons of dish soap into a gallon of water. I put the water in a spray bottle and attack the plants. The dish soap and water solution kills aphids and squash bugs. But what else does it kill? The spray is to be used sparingly, with caution. (To learn more about this natural insecticide visit my blog A Simply Natural Home.)

Ladybug Nymph
I have found my two favorite garden insects in the garden recently: the lady bug and the praying mantis. These are both carnivores and eat the other insects in the garden. I have also seen many different species of spiders and of course wasps. All of these insects prey upon the insects that chow down on my squash, corn, and tomatoes.
I picked the first tomato of the season a few days ago. I pick tomatoes as they begin to turn yellow and pink. I find that if I wait until they are red, something will have already taken the first bite. I let the tomato ripen in the fruit basket on the kitchen table. Today I picked it up to find a small hole in the top of the tomato. I looked down inside and saw a green caterpillar, eating away. I showed my son the tomato and my husband took some pictures (I will add them later). We passed the tomato back and forth as the caterpillar poked his head out and then retreated back inside to eat some more. My three year old was delighted by this game of peek-a-boo. I opened the tomato carefully and examined the home that caterpillar had made inside the fruit I had grown.
My husband took the caterpillar out of the tomato and laid it on the table. The tiny creature looked afraid, alone, and helpless, stranded on a vast empty table.
Somehow, in this context, I could not kill him. I claimed the good parts of the tomato. I cut off the spots that were half eaten and threw the pieces as well as the caterpillar into the compost. I dumped the compost in the pile. The caterpillar might survive, he might not. My husband exclaimed, "Kill the thief!" And I had to agree, he was a thief, but just a hungry one trying to eat what he believe were simply the free fruits of the earth. He did not know it was MY garden. So I could not bring myself to kill him. Not after seeing him so helpless on my table. Not after he played peek-a-boo with my son.  I just kept thinking of the lovely butterfly the caterpillar would become if I let him live.

Young Praying Mantis


  1. Ok, I lied...I guess we have a squash bug nymph...he is living on top of our tallest sunflower...he has been our friend. I wonder how long they take to turn to squash bugs because he has been chilling there for a month or so

  2. Interesting Leah, I feel like they are growing up and reproducing like crazy in our garden!