When I start a new plant from seed for the first time, I don’t always know what will be a hit and what I’ll be bored with by this time in July. The Morelle de Balbis is a big hit. My last update was posted at the beginning of July and I think the plant has doubled in size since. It gets more interesting and beautiful by the day. Fruit is on the way!
Back when I bought the seeds I hesitated. I knew it was going to be large, unruly and difficult to place. I am so glad I went ahead anyways and even managed to get it planted, unlike some contenders that didn’t make it in this year.
It’s thorny and a bit scary, but I LOVE it! And so do the bees.
I haven’t noticed it to be quite the exaggerated horror film some are saying, but apparently Toronto is in the midst of a yellow jacket population explosion. The increase is thought to be the result of the combination of a cool, wet season, and the recently resolved garbage strike. All-in-all there’s just a lot more bugs in our gardens this summer, period.
Which is why, like Not Far From the Tree, I would also urge home owners to reconsider calling in an exterminator to destroy nests. Wasps may be a nuisance around the backyard barbecue, but they are also predatory insects that help to reduce the increased population in pesky plant eaters like aphids. Check out this fantastic series from Chair BriÃƒÂ¨re of a yellow jacket eating a cabbage worm.
Yesterday afternoon I happened upon this scene on the sidewalk. I’m not sure if the yellow jackets are doing us any favors by decreasing the cicada population (I love cicadas) but unfortunately like spiders, they aren’t very discriminating. Still, it was fascinating to watch them in action, if not a little bit gruesome.
Yesterday, while visiting a series of test gardens, I witnessed legions of these gold and black soldier beetles (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) aka Pennsylvania Leatherwing beetles squirming, frolicking and procreating up a storm all over a bed of ‘Tiger Eye Gold’ Rudbeckia.
As I moved around the beds I observed that they only inhabited the flowers that perfectly matched their body colours. Interesting tactic for safety since they are likely quite vulnerable during these frenzied acts reproducing the species. When not procreating, I’ve read that the adults eat pollen and specifically enjoy goldenrod. However, this was a HIGHLY cultivated property and there was nary a goldenrod in sight.
I found this daddy long legs (Phalangium opilio), a close spider relative but not an actual spider, sitting quietly on my cucumber plant the other day. I looked it up in my “Garden Bugs of Ontario” book (thanks again Chair!), and it turns out they go by another name, harvestmen. No idea of the origin but I am assuming that has something to do with the fact that they can shed a leg when under attack.
It’s not exactly the most effective form of pest prevention in the garden for a few reasons: 1. Praying mantids are not discerning and will eat any and all insects in the garden, including the beneficials you were hoping to keep around. 2. Baby mantids cannibalize each other as soon as they emerge so a percentage are lost that way. 3. The bulk of the hungry little critters that make it without being devoured by their brothers and sisters take off for greener pastures as soon as they get the chance. It’s not like you can put them on a microscopic leash and force them to eat up all the baddies in your garden.
I’ve done the praying mantis egg case thing before as a form of pest control in the garden and really don’t have a need for it. At least, not on the roof. I attract a lot of beneficials via companion planting and things are generally under control save the plants that are particularly susceptible. The community garden could probably use some help, but I’m being selfish here. I really didn’t buy this batch because I needed pest control, I bought it because I have a lifelong love of praying mantids and thought it would be fun to watch them hatch. About a thousand years ago, when I was in grade one, a teacher brought an egg case to school in a bucket and I remember how exciting it was to watch mantids in miniature form emerge from the casing. And then, unfortunately, proceed to cannibalize each other. Memories! That event sparked a domino effect in my little brain that lead to me combing the young science section of the local library for information on these fascinating insects, and keeping a few as pests for short periods of time. To this day, by habit, I still scan for the spongy egg casings on dead plant twigs whenever I’m out walking in a field.
Back to today. Under normal circumstances, one would simply hang the little egg case, still in the bag it came in, in a bush or plant in your garden and leave it. The babies will emerge on their own once the temperature is warm enough. But the last time I did this I missed the emergence and never did see a single mantis. This time I want to see it. As per the instructions on the package, I sealed the egg casing inside a white paper bag and tapped it to a south-facing window. Unfortunately, I did not have a white paper bag. Where do you get white paper bags and why do you need them? But then I remembered the former feminine hygiene disposal bags that I grabbed from an airport bathroom a few months back to use as gift bags for friends. Before you think it, they weren’t used!
And that’s where the egg casing is now — tucked inside a paper feminine hygiene bag and stuck to my office window with green painter’s tape. I’ll let you know how it goes and will provide a photo update when the happy day arrives. The hope is that it happens while I am here (I check obsessively) and can catch it BEFORE they eat too many of their siblings, which happens whether or not they are in a bag. Nature is sometimes cruel.