The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence

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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Phenology - Your Life Depends on It

The Big-Eyed Insect is a big-eyed insect.
Many beneficial insects listed on this link are family visitors to a toxin-free yard.


FOR FURTHER PROOF of how tightly connected insects and plants are, we can look to the stunning science of phenology. It turns out that life is more predictable than you might think (well, at least plant and insect life). The study of phenology examines recurring plant and animal life-cycle events and their connection to the weather. Phenological events like the blooming of a maple tree, a songbird’s spring arrival, the migration of a monarch, and the egg hatch of eastern tent caterpillars are tied to environmental conditions, as nearly all natural phenomena are. Most gardeners have witnessed earlier bud break or faster flowering when the weather is warm, and we know that many insects show up earlier under those same conditions. Both plant and insect development are intimately connected to temperature. This is because plants and insects don’t use clocks but instead use the conditions of their environment to keep time. The scientists who study the natural sequence of these events have discovered that phenological events track time with amazing predictability and accuracy. 

Daniel Herms has been interested in phenology since the 1980s, when he began to monitor flower and insect phenology as a tool to predict pest insect activity. He points out that many phenological events in the plant world correspond with the appearance of particular insects. For example, in Ohio black vine weevil adults emerge just a few days after the American yellowwood tree reaches full bloom, the eggs of eastern tent caterpillars hatch just as the first forsythia flower opens, and greater peach tree borers emerge as adults when the northern catalpa tree begins to flower. Interestingly, the phenological sequence in one region often shows few deviations from that in nearby regions containing the same plant and insect species; and the phenological order remains the same even when weather conditions differ. In warmer springs, phenological events may be advanced by a few weeks, but they still happen in the same chronological order. 

All these indicators serve as a sort of biological calendar that humans were once intimately connected with. “I think of phenology as the foundational science of human existence,” says Herms, “because it’s the foundation of agriculture. Agriculture is so tied to the rhythm of nature, as are our own lives, even though we don’t think about it so much anymore. Older civilizations were obsessed with phenology because they couldn’t survive without these predictors. They couldn’t just reach for their cell phone; instead, they used a natural succession of events to track the passage of time and predict what would come next.”

Walliser, Jessica (2014-02-26). Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control (Kindle Locations 1642-1662). Timber Press. Kindle Edition. 

Bumble Bees, Leaf-Cutter Bees, Wasps, and Hornets always elicit my gardening experience -
"I have not been stung in 40 years around them - not once."
An intricate relationship between plants, soil organisms, birds, and insects reveals the hand of the Creator. We tend to think in linear fashion, as if the relationship is merely plant to soil, and that is complicated enough to require a book - Teaming with Microbes, one of my favorite books.

But that plant-soil relationship is bound together with the plant-soil-insect web, which is already far beyond me - without adding birds and other creatures. Add the weather to that, for phenology.

For the first time this summer a grasshopper jumped from the rustic fence. They are having a big party now with a rich supply of grass, weeds, and fruiting plants. We pulled through one restaurant which had bushes on the left side of the driveway where the drive-through window was located. I opened the driver's window before we got to the bushes - and found grasshoppers galore leaping onto the car for a free ride. I told the sales associate they had a problem.

Every day I look for insects on the ground and among the plants. Before I never sprayed insecticide in the garden. Now I look for the beneficial insects that make sprays unnecessary.

Plants have their favorite bugs, and bugs have their favorite food. There is not a one-on-one relationship, as if Monarch Butterflies can only lay eggs on Milkweed, but a close and overlapping relationship. Monarchs like Butterfly Weed and a few other plants. In the past, Milkweed alone was so common that no one wondered about the fate of the Monarch. Now Milkweed is rare and more likely removed rather than promoted. So the Monarch fan club is anxious to have those plants the butterfly requires.

When someone plants for Monarchs, the other butterflies get noticed and fed as well. My Butterfly Bushes were feeding one tiny butterfly, which I could not identify, and our garden is seeing more varieties all the time.

Good pollinating plants feed the pollinating creatures, so a cluster of creatures enjoy a garden planted for one particular butterfly or bird.



Bespoke
Mrs. Ichabod and I were discussing her grandfather the tailor, and how expensive bespoke - individually sewn - suits are. Her grandfather knew how to make one suit for a man's entire life, with tucks sewn in as the man matured. That suit was his only one and he was buried in it. Her grandfather promised he could make any man look like a gentleman in one of his suits.

Each creature is bespoke - designed and programmed by the Creator - to carry out certain tasks, each task related to other creatures and the weather. The ladybug will eat pests as adults and as larvae, but other beneficial insects sip nectar and enjoy pollen while only the babies devour pests. For this to work, the plant has to send out chemical signals that it is under attack, as my John Paul II and Peace roses did early in the spring. The signal went out - I did nothing - and various beneficial insects laid their eggs near the aphids and wiped out the aphid population.

Now the beneficial insects are established in the yard with food and shelter for the future. I help them by leaving their food alone, and they help me by eliminating the pests with gusto.



Some see Rudbeckia flowers; I see beneficial insect havens.
They are related to sunflowers, which are the aircraft carriers
of beneficial insects.