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Bugs: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly!

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Western red fruit fly. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons Western red fruit fly. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

It is well into the summer-like weather, and with it comes the hatching of a lot of not-so-friendly insects that cut into our enjoyment of the great outdoors. SWAT!  

Let’s start with those pesky mosquitos.  Although they do not harm our landscapes much, they are irritating companions in the garden or on the deck at dinner. Mosquitos hatch and multiply in standing water pockets. Try to water your lawn early in the morning, not late at night, empty bird baths and cattle troughs often to fill with fresh water and, if you have a rain barrel for conservation, make sure it has a tight mesh screen over your openings.  

Bacillus thuringiensis, commonly called simply BT is a certified organic, naturally occurring bacterial agent effective against many pests. If you have creeks, ponds or ditches of water, these slow release bricks or floating donuts of BT israelensis are placed into the standing water to kill the critters as soon as they hatch. BT israelensis also helps keep down the black fly and fungus gnat populations in your yard, and can be sprayed on lawns and tall grass areas before a big BBQ.

BT has an extended family of biological controls that are ugly bug specific without harming good bugs like pollinating bees. The other member of the BT family is BT kurstaki—for lots of those ugly tent caterpillars, leaf rollers, cabbage worms and even the spruce and pine budworms.  Because these critters must ingest the BT in order to die, drenching the tree/shrub/plant is necessary. Adding a powdered spreader-sticking agent to the spray reduces run off and is very helpful for longer, more complete coverage.

There is never anything more gross than biting into a beautiful, red cherry and spitting out a wormy maggot. Now is the time, as the cherries are still green and pea-size, to get out there and give them (and you) an organic shield against the fruit moth that flies in and lays its eggs and then develops into a worm. Cherry orchards have researched this problem for years, and thank heavens they found an alternative to malathion and diazanon with a Certified Organic bacteria Spinosad in the soil of a rum distillery that is effective and yet safe. Because of its organic nature, weekly spraying while the moths are out is recommended; hang a yellow sticky trap in your trees and look for small flies with stripes on their wings. This is toxic to bees when wet, but relatively safe for them once it dries. Therefore, it should be used in late evening when pollinators are not out. Remember, if you don’t get ahead of this problem, those cherries that fall to the ground will release the maggots into your soil and then the ground under your cherries will become a new “home” for these critters to spend the winter and begin the ugly cycle next spring.  

If you have had many years of these maggots, as we did after moving into our house, we found that a well timed application of organic, beneficial nematodes sprayed into moist soil in mid-May and again in September stops their life cycle in your soil. Nematodes are extremely safe, and humans and animals can roam the lawn freely after drenching. Beneficial nematodes also kill fleas that effect your pets, cutworms and webworms that affect your radishes, carrots and potatoes and even weevils that chew up your rhododendrons. 

The good news is these are non-toxic, effective and safe with well timed and sometimes repeated use. The bad news is we all must be a lot more patient and shed the 24-hour “Roundup Ready” mentality to create the most healthy growing and home habitat.  

Since many of these more organic biological approaches to bug control do not kill rapidly, users may incorrectly assume that it is ineffective a day or two after treatment. You need to look at this “attack” as a long term ground game, because most insects eat little or nothing before they die and still remain curled in the leaf etc. and the damage remains. In three to four weeks a hard water spray, light pruning, and burning or off-site dumpster cleanup of leafs and branches can shape up and regenerate new foliage of a bugged tree.     

Nancy Hastings grew up on a 300+ acre farm and now is co-owner of All Seasons Garden & Floral in Sandpoint,  She and her husband John have been cultivating community gardens and growing for 16 years in North Idaho.  You can reach them with garden questions or sign up for classes at [email protected]

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Nancy Hastings Nancy Hastings grew up on a 300+ acre farm and is co-owner of All Seasons Garden and Floral in Sandpoint, She and her husband John have been cultivating community gardens and growing for 15 years in North Idaho. You can reach them with garden questions or sign up for classes atllseasonsgardenandfloral(at)gmail.com.

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