For the past couple of weeks, I have been guilty of neglecting both my garden and blog. To some extent, my diminished interest can be blamed on the hornets, which have their now-mammoth nest near my roof garden. My lack of attention has cost me dearly. A host of mealy bugs, aphids and ants have made my brinjal plant their home. The basil has also been affected by a few black aphids.
This post is about few of the creepy crawlies that have come uninvited to my garden, at different times.
While ants in the garden can be useful -- they decompose organic matter -- occasionally they tend to eat the plant. Ants may also cultivate or "farm" other pests like aphids and mealybugs. There was a short period, when all my ladies fingers were being devoured by ants. Diatomaceous earth (microscopic fossils of algae like, water plants) is supposed to be the best all-natural ant killer. But I couldn't find this miracle powder and so settled for the traditional, cure-all Neem oil spray. When that didn't work, I tried a thick paste of turmeric and soap. This helped marginally, but the paste had to be applied twice a day. And I didn't want to be overdosing on either soap or turmeric. Finally, after a couple of weeks, the ants did get fed up, quite literally, with my ladies finger and their numbers began dwindling. I think the ants actually quit because their voracious appetites could no longer be satisfied.
|Ants Feeding on Immature Lady's Finger Pods|
Aphids and Mealybugs
Aphids are also called plant lice. Both aphids and mealybugs suck the plant sap and can carry a host of plant diseases. The aphids on my brinjal had been unnoticed, because they were feasting from the underside of the leaves. It was only when I detected ants on my plant, that I uncovered a huge colony of aphids. Ants act as guardians of both aphids and mealybugs as they benefit from the honeydew (sweet secretions) that they secrete.
|Pale Green Aphids and White Mealybugs on the Leaf Underside|
While a butterfly is welcome in gardens, their predecessor, the caterpillar isn't. Here's a hungry baby caterpillar. Yeah! Caterpillars are ALWAYS hungry.
|A Banished Caterpillar|
These look like threads fused into leaves. They are actually larvae of various insects like beetles, moths and even wasps. The larvae tunnel their way through the plant tissue and live within the leaf. So far, simply removing the affected leaves is all I've had to do to keep them in check.
|Leafminer on a Tulsi Leaf|
Set a bug to catch a bug. Lady birds are natural predators of aphids and many other plant pests. I have spotted a couple of ladybirds on my brinjal plant. How they have sensed that my plant is in trouble I do not know. But I feel reassured to know that I'm not alone in my fight against the aphids.
|Ladybird: Hunting Pests|
Now here is a creepy crawly that clearly isn't a pest. An indicator of healthy soil, earthworms are farmers' friends. I love finding them in my garden soil. The fatter they are, the more delighted I am. Not only do these worms aerate the soil, their castings act as natural fertilizer.
|A Glistening Earthworm|
Since harsh chemical insecticides are a no-no in my garden, I rely on natural pest control. Most of these are painfully slow to act. The Penguin Book of Gardening in India by Meera Uberoi has plenty of "Indian recipes" for driving away pests. Usually they call for turmeric, neem oil, soap solution (not detergent) and tobacco leaves (cigarettes will suffice if you can't find the leaves). There are some offbeat recipes too, like the one for snails. Apparently snails enjoy beer as much as many humans. So snails are to be trapped in bottles that have beer in them! But having tried some of these home remedies, I believe the best remedy is Prevention. A healthy plant is less likely to fall prey to pests.