The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Today's Creation Gardening Lesson - Beneficial Predator Insects

The ladybug (ladybird) was named
for its resemblance to the Virgin Mary's cloak in early paintings.
The spots symbolize the Seven Sorrows and the Seven Joys.

It’s important to see that the population of predators always lags behind that of the prey (this is particularly true if a parasitoid is involved, as their lag time is actually a generation or two behind their host prey). If you put it on paper, it looks much like two undulating, wavy lines with the one representing the predators always hitting its peak slightly after the one representing the prey. In an undisturbed cycle, neither the population of predators nor that of prey will ever hit zero. This means that in order to sustain a healthy population of predators in the garden, one always has to have prey available. and it matters because … What does this cycle mean to a gardener or farmer? Well, all too often we take notice of a population of naughty pest insects (the prey) when their numbers hit the high point in the cycle. In the case of a pest outbreak, this also happens to be about the same time there are enough prey insects present to start luring in the beneficials. We do something to get rid of the pests just when our little natural army is beginning to work their magic. Whether we choose to eradicate the pests with a synthetic or a natural pesticide, we are inserting ourselves into the predator–prey cycle. It’s a place where, more often than not, we don’t belong. The biggest lesson here is to understand this natural cycle and be willing to take yourself out of it when the time comes.

Walliser, Jessica (2014-02-26). Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control (Kindle Locations 284-295). Timber Press. Kindle Edition. 

I grew up without fearing or loathing insects, because my mother was fond of catching them and showing us various features. She laughed at those who wanted to use insecticides, since most insects were beneficial and they eliminated the harmful ones.

School has a way of teaching things upside-down, as a book on rabbits points out. Everyone said, "Hawks keep the rabbit population down." That is nonsense. What do the hawks live on while rabbits are scarce? The truth is - rabbits keep the hawk population down. If the rabbit population crashes, the hawks and owls have less food and must move on or die.

Just as the microbes eat and are eaten, so are the insects busy eating food and becoming food. Not once do they think, "Am I having a fabulous life?" They simply carry out their duties in God's Creation and engage in a complex, almost infinite number of dependencies.

As Walliser said and experienced from her role as a professional gardener, the arrival of damaging insects in a large group is itself a signal for its predators to arrive, often somewhat later. My epiphany came from hearing bad advice from Dow scientists about cottony maple scale (an insect). Their solution did not work, but thousands of ladybugs showed up to devour the critters.

Scale insects are damaging, but sprays to kill them or mosquitoes will slaughter the ladybug population.


Sassy just asked to go outside, so she is sitting in the backyard looking over her domain.

Before I let her out, I looked over the Jackson Bird Spa area - between two trees. Most of the food is there, plus four (4) bird baths, which are simply plastics disks on the ground, kept full of water. All the baths were full of birds, and many more birds were crowded around waiting to get in.

Later, more baths will be placed under the aerial aqueduct - the soaker hose on the chain-link fence. A reader sent me beautiful wooden homemade suet feeders, and they are added to the food chain. There are about nine (9) suet feeders in the front and back yards.

Nothing attracts the right birds for less money and trouble than a suet feeder. However, it is better to hang big bags of suet (kidney fat) than to buy little squares of the overpriced store product. A flock of starlings will reduce that little square to nothing in a few trips.

Midland introduced me to spoiling the birds. I visited one house with a lilac bush hung with suet bags. The large, friendly bird feeder was constantly animated with birds flying in for some food. They had many places to rest, many options for eating suet.

The water and suet establish a place where birds want to make a home. Most of their food will be insects. The starling flocks will arrive, eat, and leave, remembering the Jackson Bird Spa with advantages, returning for more baths, more insects, more pampering.

Once the trees are pruned for their health and more sunlight, the spa will be expanded to handle a larger population.

Back to Beneficial Insects
Insects, as you already know, are not stationary. They move about the landscape by flying or crawling, scooting or jumping. But except for migrating species, they prefer not to travel far, especially if they don’t have to. When their basic needs—food, shelter, water, and reproduction—are being met, there isn’t much of a reason to leave. For predatory and parasitoidal insects, if the proper balance of plant-based nutrition and prey insects isn’t available, they will leave to find what’s missing (a process known as commuting). The larger the distance they have to travel, the smaller the chance of their return. If a predator leaves a pest-plagued area because it needs to access nectar, it is unlikely to return to that place, especially if it finds a new location with both ample amounts of nectar and additional prey. All those ladybugs in my tulip poplar tree were happy there because they had not only plenty of prey available to them but also a garden full of nectar and pollen. Though ladybug larvae primarily consume other insects, the adult beetles of many ladybug species need nectar and pollen to survive and reproduce.

Walliser, Jessica (2014-02-26). Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control (Kindle Locations 463-471). Timber Press. Kindle Edition. 

The summer of 2014 saw almost no damage to roses and other plants. Some seedlings were attacked and weakened as they started out. I continued with all the plants except borage, which became infested with cutworm and found itself traveling to the Springdale dump. Roses had no damaged at all and no disease except some blackspot late in the season (a malady I choose to treat with pruning, not sprays).

This year I am increasing the number of plants and the variety, aiming at hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. A constant supply of pollen, shade, shelter, and water will increase the amount of animal life the yard can maintain.

Slugs - you will be toad...food.


Warning - Slugs Will Be Toad
Here is one small example. Composting and mulching will benefit slugs, especially in wet areas, like the ground near the water faucet. So I had slugs there, plus toads who were eating the slugs. In short, I grew the slugs with mulching and water, and the toads moved in to feast on them. All I need to do this summer is provide some broken crockery for toad shelters.



The second shipment of peas is coming, 900 seeds. When they grow up and bloom, the flowers and pod will arrive behind the first planting. Continuous blooming is not a problem with peas, if there are pea-pickers around. Continuous blooming means pollen for more insects.

Many pole beans overgrew their bounds and became true seed pods. Our helper's children loved picking them, opening them up, and saving the seed. The vines went into compost and many beans that fell off the vines became part of the soil.

Norma Boeckler has many examples of Creation art.