Saturday, October 18, 2008

Who Invited this Bug to Dinner?

A recent trip to the kitchen garden to harvest some veggies resulted in a quest to identify this bug. Quick little rascals they are, I squished one before I even wondered what kind of bug it was. I could see these devils were sucking the life out of my broccoli raab so a quick search and destroy mission seemed an appropriate response from a farmer’s daughter.

Annie the garden dog was pleased with my instinctive action and soon joined in the fun hunting down and pinching them in half (that was me, Annie just chewed them up and spit them out) When we stopped long enough to admire our bug carnage the thought occurred to me to take a picture of one of these pretty insects to share with you all.

When I came back to the garden with my camera I had a hard time finding another bug on the broccoli raab. After a detailed search I did find this baby or youth bug (a nymph). He or she is really quite lovely to look at. So colorful that Annie and I just starred and took pictures and wondered why God made this pest so loud. He sure didn’t blend with his surroundings of green.

Maybe that is why every time we tried to catch one they would seem to roll to the underside of the leaf…like that would do a better job of camouflaging. Annie and I are a couple of old garden gals and we were not fooled with their hide and seek method of survival.

Turns out this cute menace is a baby harlequin. It will take 4 to 9 weeks to reach maturity (old enough to mate and lay eggs). Northerners will be happy to know this is a Southern insect. Seems they snuck in from Mexico sometime after the civil war (seemed safe then) and have since spread from sea to shining sea.

Unchecked these guys (and gals) will destroy whole crops of vegetables in the crucifer family such as horseradish, broccoli raab, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, mustard, Brussels sprouts, turnip, kohlrabi and radish. In the absence of these favorite hosts, tomato, potato, eggplant, okra, bean, asparagus, beet, weeds, fruit trees and field crops may be eaten. I’m not so opposed to them eating weeds, perhaps I can now claim any weeds in my garden were allowed to grow as a trap for harlequin bugs (every gardener needs some kind of alibi).

The adult harlequin, Murgantia histrionica (I just try to remember margarita), which Annie and I have already “hand picked” so to speak are a yellow and black combination with red added in. They are basically a flat and shield shaped stink bug. When the wings are lying down it appears they have an “X” on their backs (Annie likes this easy to spot target).

The cycle of life (egg, nymph, adult) for the Harlequin is 50 to 80 days. During the winter they will hibernate in the garden and come back out ready to suck sap first thing in the spring.

Since I like to do things organically, ‘hand picking’ is an easy way to get rid of them. A great job for the kids or you can enlist a Jack Russell terror like Annie if you have one available (shoot, I will give you one on loan!) You will have to keep re-checking to get them all as they are good little hiders. Look for eggs on the underside and destroy those as well. Check too in the spring for those harlequins who dared to spend the winter sleeping in your garden.

Next step according to David Cook, entomologist working for Davidson County, TN is Pyrethrum and insecticidal soap. Mr. Cook also made the final ID on this beautiful bug (yes, I was perplexed at first). I sent the picture onto Mike Smith of Williamson County, he and I both thought it was the harlequin but David was kind enough to confirm.

David Cook also gave me to bug sites to share -
He also recommends this book and says, “This is one of the best reference books on insects”:Garden Insects of North America, Whitney Cranshaw Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-09561-2
Thanks David and Mike for your help!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Scout Takes the Prize

There comes a time in every gardeners life when disappointment has to be sucked up so as not to hurt family feelings.

This night blooming cerus plant has taken 7 years to make a bud. I raised this plant from a cutting. I have faithfully carted it in and out of the garage for 6 of those 7 years.

Every night I have checked for the incredible aroma to be followed by a gorgeous bloom that is worth the seven years of waiting (so I’ve been told).
Somebody should have explained all this to Scout, our black lab grandpuppy who came to visit with his family. Scout had been playing on the porch doing what puppies do, knocking over plants, dispersing rose cuttings, chewing up plastic water bottles. But, when I went out to check the night blooming cerus bud (did I
mention there was only one?)I couldn’t find it

Surely the evening light was playing tricks on me. No, I couldn’t find it anywhere – and then I found it…well, I found the little brown stub that use to hold the hope of a bloom. I don’t know where the bud went. I looked at Scout, he was guilty I could tell. (Note the puppy teeth marks on the leaf)

I walked back into the house and mumbled something like seven years…SEVEN YEARS… I now understand how Mr. Wilson felt when Dennis the Menace spoiled his party with all his gardening friends waiting for the night booming mock orchid to open in the pale moonlight.

Mr. Wilson waited 40 years for his plant to bud and the bloom opened and withered in a matter of seconds! I only waited seven years and hopefully there will be more buds next year.

Yes Scout took the prize, literally. But he did give me a great story and something to always remember him by!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Do You Have a Bumblebee Sleeping in Your Flower Bed?

This evening while I was wandering around the garden I noticed a lot of bumble bees. Some were gathering pollen, stuffing it into their baskets on their hind legs then moving on to the next flower. Other bumbles were just hanging under the flowers on the chaste tree blooms or cuddled-up in the center of the cosmos.

They looked like they were getting comfortable for a good night’s sleep. Is that possible that bumblebees sleep in the flowers? I started doing some checking and actually, even though it was almost dark, the females were still gathering food for everyone back at the ranch - baby bumblebees (larva), the queen, worker bees…

The males however don’t even have baskets built in for collecting pollen because they don’t have to worry about anyone but themselves. Once they leave the nest they don’t go back so their job is to feed themselves (pollinating plants as they go) and possibly when the time is right, get lucky and mate with a queen.

By early evening they find a flower to bed down in (or under). As they sleep their temperature drops so in the morning since they can’t get a jolt of java (like us), they have to wait for the sun to warm them back up or drink nectar; conveniently located in their bed, to get them energized once more so they can buzz back to work pollinating flowers and chasing queens.
Sometimes when bumblebees get soaked in the rain, they will look like they are napping but are just waiting for the sun to dry them off.

Do bumblebees sting? Yeah baby, it is not their first choice but when push comes to shove and you stumble over their nest (usually in the ground), they will sting many times over. Unlike honey bees that sting once and leave the stinger in you, the bumble can retract the stinger and keep on stinging.

Typically bumblebees are happy to just go about their business and are quite docile in nature. They will give a warning if you get too close by lifting up one of their middle legs as if they are saying. “Okay buddy - that is close enough, back off!”

Bumblebees play an important role in pollination. Without bumblebees, honey bees and other pollinators our food supply would be in jeopardy. Some species of bumblebees are being used in greenhouse growing operations to pollinate tomatoes and other food crops.

My grandson is quite taken with bumblebees, he sings a song about them that goes something like “I’m bringing home a baby bumblebee, won’t my mommy be so proud of me. The next verse is something about squashing the bumblebee; we will have to change that line!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Exotic Love Vine

In June I decided to plant some vines from seed so I could have something new and interesting blooming vertically in early fall when most perennials and summer annuals have grown tired and need to be put out of their misery (like me).

One such vine I planted was Mina Lobata or Exotic Love Vine from Rennee’s garden.

The description on the seed packet read:
“A rare and vigorous vine with distinctive fleur-de-lis shaped leaves and graceful sprays of entrancing blossoms bicolored in warm coral to creamy yellow”. With a description like that who wouldn’t buy this packet of seeds and plant them?

My friend Jodie saw these blooms and told me she had seem this vine growing in New England, near Boston in Celia Thaxter’s historic flower garden. Jodie recalled the name “Spanish Flag”. The garden guide told her this name was given because of the colors orange and yellow. I had not heard that before. I have heard it called “Firecracker” which again I’m sure refers to its colors.

Annie the garden dog doesn’t care what we call it - she likes this blooming vine because the hummingbirds and butterflies enjoy it so much. She can’t catch those flying critters on account of her short legs but she can dream!