Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Grow Grub, Not Grubs

We found a problem in our garden this summer: the white grub. They are disgusting. Don't worry, I won't post any photos of the hundred or so we sifted out of one of our raised bed gardens but if you must see what they look like, Google it. They are beetle larvae, and I'm starting to think it was those really cool green Japanese beetles I kept seeing flying around the yard. My dad told stories of how as a kid he'd wrap fishing line around them and then had his very own living kite. Something with such a nice memory can't be that bad, right?

Here's the thing, while these grubs can do wonders for your compost by breaking down organic matter into beautiful nutrient rich soil, the growing grubs in your garden eat roots. Plants need roots for water, nutrients and to grow tasty food. So how do you get rid of these gross pests? I've read that adding Nematodes, or round worms, to a garden is a good solution for grubs and fleas. But wait, now I'm adding a potential parasite to my garden? No thank you. If you are lucky enough to have chickens, letting them forage in a garden plot before planting can help clean out the grubs as well, but for the rest of us, aside from using pesticides, it seems that sifting your soil and hand picking them out is the way to go if you have an organic garden. Luckily the only other pests we have had are a few snails that chew on our leafy veggies and our outdoor cat that likes to take a stroll through the garden from time to time.

A good strong spray of water to the plants helps keep them looking clean and pest free from above the ground so make sure to hand water once in a while even if you have an automated watering system. It also helps to water in the morning to prevent evaporation and ensure the soil doesn't stay too moist after dark, because snails will see that as an invitation.

Growing good grub is nice, but we can't do it alone. Let's not forget about the beneficial bugs that help our gardens. Bees are great for pollination, ladybugs will eat up aphids and other insects, and butterflies are nice to look at but also help with pollination (just watch out for hungry caterpillars). Though I'm not a huge fan of having wasps around the house, I know my peppers wouldn't have been as successful last summer if it weren't for their help with pollination and them hunting other pests. One or two isn't a pest problem, but if there were more I'd be scared of being stung just when watering the garden.

Since keeping bees is not allowed in Anaheim, we've been considering making some changes to the backyard to become a certified butterfly garden. The North American Butterfly Association requires 3 native caterpillar food plants, 3 butterfly nectar sources and no use of pesticides. You even get a garden sign to put up once you've completed the certification process. The National Wildlife Federation offers a certification for a wildlife habitat that requires food, water, cover and a place to raise young. In case you are wondering, they offer a sign for your garden too. We also let some of our broccoli go to seed this Spring and the bees have loved it. The yellow flowers add some color to the garden and provide a playground for our pollinating friends.

Our favorite underground helper is worms. Earthworms are pretty awesome. Since they eat organic matter like leaves, they break those down and in turn provide nutrients to the soil. Did you know that when earthworms travel underground they create tunnels that help aerate the ground and assist in drainage? I didn't either - thank you Wikipedia! The reason we love our earthworms is because they are a tell that our soil is good. After cleaning our boxes we took a shovel and turned the soil. The result was moving - literally. The worms moving around let us know that they wanted to be there. We had great moisture content, nutrients and a good pH level.

For more help with garden pests, consult your local Cooperative Extension which will be equipped to answer questions about specific problems in your area. Due to budget cuts, they also rely more and more on the community to recognize and report new invasive pests, so help yourself and fellow gardeners by keeping a lookout for new problems.

For California residents, here is a list of resource sites: Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR), Center for Invasive Species Research (CISR), and overall agriculture research from UC Davis. It is possible that your state has similar websites which offer free information.

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