It’s a bug’s life

As the garden explodes into life the local bug population seems to be doing the same!

The first to arrive this year was an army of little black aphids who started strutting their stuff in the chives about a month ago. I’ve never noticed them before simply because I haven’t been looking but as I eyeballed them closely, they continued on regardless sucking the life out of my chives.

Little black aphids holding fort at the base of potted chives

Getting up close and personal with an aphid

Chives and other plants from the Allium group such as onions and garlic attract aphids away from other plants in the garden so they become an isolated problem. I kept an eye on things and although my chives suffered a little, I didn’t treat them. The aphids have now moved on to their next work location so I’ll give the chives a trim and feed this weekend to encourage them back to good health.

The tops of my new carrots were annihilated a few weeks back  and after close inspection, Uncle Robot and I concluded that the damage had most likely been caused by a swamp wallaby who quietly snuck up from the park in the early hours the morning. The sweet new tips on one of the apple trees got a bit of a workout on the same day but as as we don’t have any Western Red Kangaroos in Sydney, which are about the only Australian macropod that can reach over 2 metres, the culprit was more likely a bird or a very hungry caterpillar. Not surprisingly, the damage was only a form of temporary pruning and all the plants have bounced back with a vengeance.

Recovering carrots

The valley below our house is always alive with birds but in Spring there’s a noticeable increase in activity. This morning I can hear the regular chortle of wattle birds as they make their way from tree to tree across the lower arc of the garden and in the background their song is accompanied by a familiar melody of the Australian bush.  I can distinguish at least a dozen other bird calls in the morning silence and it’s a sound that I will never tire of.

And I don’t mind the birds being around. They’re providing a service to my garden, eating a range of tiny insects, bugs and grubs, spiders, caterpillars, moths and butterflies. For the lucky pests that escape the beaks of death, they tend to make a B-line for the veggie patch where they shelter on the underside of plant leaves to deposit their eggs. A few days later appears the unmistakable work of a fat caterpillar in the shape of a chewed out hole or two.

Tell-tale signs of a very hungry caterpillar

Sit for a moment or two and observe your garden on a warm spring day and you’ll notice the movement of the white cabbage butterfly with it’s white wings and distinct black dot busily fluttering about the broccoli, kale and bok choi. They lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves and within no time at all, produce dozens of vivid green velvety caterpillars.

The velvety green caterpillar of the white cabbage butterfly

When left to their own devices, they’ll devour a phenomenal amount of leaf matter and double in size overnight.

A noticeable absence of mid level shrubs in the newly formed veggie garden means that there’s no cover or protection for the smaller birds like wrens, spotted pardalotes, finches and honeyeaters which would have the bug population sorted out in no time at all. So in the meantime, the best way to manage the problem is a quick daily inspection and a hand pick of any obvious offenders. The chooks enjoy the action, spying from the Chook Nook above and are always grateful for a special treat.

Millipede on broccoli

I’ve also seen a millipede or two scampering around the place. When disturbed, millipedes roll into a circle and they’re exterior is quite hard so they feel slightly weird to touch.  I took this shot of one sitting on top of a cut broccoli stem. Millipedes love to eat rotten plant material and looking at this stem, it would appear to be providing a perfect meal. I believe this millipede is a native and not a Portuguese Millipede which hitched an unwelcome ride to South Australian shores about 50 years ago.

Grub tunnelling on the truss tomatoes

The odd grub has also taken to tunnelling into a couple of my tomatoes and although I haven’t seen them in action,  I suspect it might also be the work of the same green caterpillars that have been attacking my Brassicas. The chooks will appreciate any damaged tomatoes and I’m going to trial some net fruit bags and larger netting over some of the taller tomato plants to see if I can reduce the regular tomato carnage.

So apart from hand picking the odd caterpillar and a bit of fauna safe netting here and there, what am I going to do to control pests in our Permaculture garden? Well the answer’s quite simple….absolutely nothing!

But I will be working to build up a garden starting with healthy, well fed soil which will provide the optimum environment and nutrients for healthy plants. I’ll be selecting seeds from the naturally strongest pest resistant plants so they will have the best chance of survival and success against predators and disease. I’ll be encouraging predators into the garden by providing a range of habitats like frog ponds and bird baths, bat boxes, logs, rocks and shrub cover. And I will be keeping well clear of pesticides to ensure we have a safe, healthy and chemical free environment for all that enter or live in our garden. This is the Permaculture way.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how things progress over time but I have no doubt that the predator pest balance will be self managed. What natural pest control methods do you use in your garden?

Although very sunny, the open canopy is not ideal for pest management in an urban Permaculture garden

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One response to “It’s a bug’s life

  1. Hi, thanks for the post – am having to deal with a bug problem myself at the moment. I would not encourage “natural selection” though – rathter, spray them with some organic repellants, or else you may end up consuming beautifully looking but highly toxic plants: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxE9sYatPAs.

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