Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Learning About Bugs

Part of moving across country and changing zones has been the discovery of new and unknown bugs.  Not all the bugs are different.  I did recognize this cricket.

But some insects, like earwigs, I haven't had to deal with before.

Part of being a good gardener is learning about your plants and their natural surroundings.  This includes knowing what bugs are likely to eat your plants, or pollinate them.  Bugs can be a hindrance or a help and it's important to know which one.

Spiders are generally considered good bugs.  They don't eat plants and they do eat other bugs.  So when I see a spider I consider myself lucky.

Also fairly well known for being a good bug are bees.  Bees not only produce honey but they are a major player in pollination of food crops.  We can thank the bees for all the tomatoes, carrots, onions, lettuce, etc. we've eaten this summer.
Another new to me bug is this insect pictured below.  They're called shield or stink bugs.  They have glands between their legs that releases a foul smelling liquid to deter predators.
These insects are able to pierce plants with their mouth and suck up all the sap and juices.  In my case I think they were using the cilantro as a rest area between feeding on my tomatoes.  Despite the numbers of these bugs the damage was fairly insignificant.  Some yellow spots showed up on the surface of the tomatoes and below the flesh showed some shallow white spots.  I simply cut these out before use.  If there were very large numbers of these bugs the damage might have been more significant but so far there's no need to worry.
One thing that might have helped keep their numbers down was the fact that I planted a ring of marigolds around my tomatoes.  Other strong smelling herbs such as garlic and lavender will also deter a variety of bugs.

Another way to reduce the number of stink bugs on a particular plant is to use other plants as bait.  Stink bugs like millet and alfalfa.  If you were to plant millet in another location the bugs would be lured to those plants.  Thus you are sacrificing the millet for a tomato.  I have absolutely no use for millet so it sounds like a good trade to me.

Ultimately, I find the more I learn, the more comfortable I am with bugs.  My initial inclination may always be to zap them into oblivion but knowing a little more about them helps keep my impulses in check.


  1. Marguerite, I think you echo what most gardeners find...the more you know about bugs the more comfortable you become with them. Luckily the internet is a great resource for finding out about bugs, good and bad.

  2. There is such a giant world of insects in my garden, I think I will never learn about them all. As for stink bugs, UGH! UGH! UGH! I too would only notice one here and there in the past. But this year was a different story. They descended in huge numbers. I did nothing but wait, as I heard if you kill them, their scent will just bring more. Nature and her predators did seem to sort things out finally.

  3. Marguerite; I, too, have been learning about bugs this summer. We had a huge problem with Japanese Beetles in the roses and raspberries this year. Blech. Neighbors also had trouble with four-line bugs and potato beetles. (And, I already told you about the ookie bug dance I did when the earwig plopped into my hand.)
    I bought a book called Good Bug, Bad Bug this year and think it is a great addition to my gardening library. My one wish is that there would also be a section on innocuous bugs.

  4. Debbie - Considering that as a child I used to scream at the sight of a bug I've come a long way. Of course, wearing gloves also helps a lot.

    FloridaGirl - I can imagine you must have all sorts of interesting insects. I once visited Australia and realized just how many bugs warm climates play host to. I continously checked my bed for large spiders for years after that trip. Good to hear the stink bugs disapated on their own, I've done okay this year but you never know what the next year brings.

    Auntie K - Sounds like a good book, I'll have to look into that. Right now I'm doing a lot of google searches to try and identify things. Not always easy when you type in 'brown bug'!

  5. Ooh I LOVE millet flakes. (But in bags, growing in the garden it is bird food) ;>)

  6. Diana, that's actually along the lines of what I read. Stink bugs eat the millet but birds will also eat millet and eat the bugs along with it! I'll have to look for millet flakes the next time I'm at the grocery.

  7. I have been learning about bugs this spring when I needed to get rids aphids without using pesticides. Thanks to your informative post I learned about stink bugs. Maybe one day I will use it.