Bugs: the gardener's friend

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Ladybug House
  • Ladybug House

My family is learning a lot about gardening this year. With so many people on a tight budget, we decided to start an organic, multi-family garden in our yard.

I'm happy to say that, despite the fact that all of us combined don't know much about gardening, we have a plot full of healthy plants and we're beginning to enjoy the fruits -- or vegetables, rather -- of our labor.

What I didn't expect to learn so much about, though, are bugs. And, as it turns out, some bugs are an organic gardener's best friend.

Ladybugs, for instance, like to nosh on all sorts of other bugs. Who knew? I mean, besides experienced organic gardeners and people who actually raise and sell ladybugs?

Once we learned this, my husband found a source for ladybugs online where, for $10, he not only bought a bunch of the prissy beetles, but he also bought them a temporary home. It's a little cardboard thing, but it's full of hay and hormones that are supposed to encourage them to breed. You can also attract them to your yard by planting marigolds, which is on my list of things to do this week. For next year, we're looking at building the ladies a house that won't melt in the rain.

We also learned that to combat Japanese Beetles, which are extremely destructive and likely gnawing on plants in your yard right this second, you can set traps and treat your yard with a bacteria called milky spore.

The traps are pretty cheap, around $7-8 at a gardening supply center, but you'll need more than one if you have a large yard. Bonus: They're easy to set up and very effective.

Japanese Beetle Trap
  • Japanese Beetle Trap

Saturday morning, our crepe myrtles were — literally — covered in Japanese Beetles. We did a quick Internet search, asked the Twitters and went straight to the pest control aisle for the solution. By Saturday afternoon, there were hundreds of beetles in the traps and none on the plants.

ProTip: Place the traps away from your plants. A friend of ours learned this lesson the hard way. Remember, the traps attract the bugs. Don't encourage them to snack on their way to meet their fate.

Milky spore, on the other hand, takes a little longer to work and it combats the beetles when they're still known as grubs. From what I've heard, it takes a couple of years to really make a difference, and it's most effective if you can talk your neighbors into spreading it on their yard, too.

Here's how it works: The grubs eat the bacteria, which kills them. As they decompose, they release more milky spore bacterium which continues the cycle of death until — bingo — no more Japanese Beetle swarms in your yard.

I've also learned that you want to squash Squash Bugs before they hatch. Turn over the leaves of your squash plants — all varieties — and look for brown spots. Now, squish them. Those brown spots are egg sacks. By squishing them, you're greatly reducing the number of bugs that will first attack your squash, then your tomatoes.

There are many more ways to incorporate garden friendly bugs into your organic garden, and you can read about some of them here.

Meanwhile, I promise to report back from the wilds of my yard as I discover more about how to grow a successful organic garden in Charlotte's thick red clay.

If you've got any organic gardening tips you'd like to share, please do so.

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