Stop bugging me!

Opinion: Columns

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

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My "big backyard" spreads across many topics, but lately it has become literal and green.

Enter the season of pests.

Being a progressive-leaning tree hugger who won't annihilate pesky plant-eaters with anything unfriendly to planet earth, I'm left with the slow and steady practice of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which requires work, repetition and patience.

So when pests return to my heirloom vegetable garden this year, they will meet their maker with a tried-and-true process that is effective while minimizing risks to people, pets and pollinators.

Often on my leaves now I find a few holes here and there.

I can live with that.

Also, because of the flowers I planted, beneficial bugs such as ladybugs, parasitic wasps and others fly in to eat those pesky Tomato Hornworms, aphids and so on.

My first brush with a Tomato Hornworm came last summer when I was pruning my heirloom tomato vines by touch (I have impaired vision). I screamed and suspect the entire neighborhood heard me.

The creepy, "camouflaged," crop-killing, red-eyed, green-bodied caterpillar was defoliating my plant babies — the ones I grew from seed under lights in my basement, nurtured in a cold frame earlier in the season, from which I now expected to yield the fruits of my labor — initially causing me to be crestfallen.

Listen, the picture I took is gross, but this gardener's YouTube video is grosser — and educational:

After "It" (yes, a blatant allusion to Stephen King), I decided to switch up how and where I would be growing my vegetables this year.

Currently, about 80 percent of our seedlings were transplanted in a store-bought soil-less mix, or a mixture of organic top soil and potting mix (yes, it was pricey) and planted in all kinds of above-ground growing-containers, including felt bags I purchased from a well-known gardening retailer.

So everything this year is a big experiment, and with the bucks I spent, I really hoped growing vegetables in containers would work better than last year's in-ground plantings did.

But in June, some bad news came before the good: our young tomato, squash and pumpkin plants did suffer an attack. Yeah, black aphids. Just yuck.

I turned to a few more sources for answers and learned how to eventually eradicate them. Then my sporting spouse went after the aphids (see photo).

Tired of these garden pests yet?

Well, unfortunately I'm not. The growing season is in full swing, and in the heat of it our "urban farm" will be one of 14 gardens in Oak Park on Sugar Beet Cooperative's Edible Garden Tour on Saturday, July 27.

So we are in full IPM mode and ready to do it all again, but really hoping the new ecosystem we are creating this year will fight this one for us.

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Todd Bannor from Oak Park  

Posted: July 17th, 2013 10:09 PM

The caterpillar in the photo is actually a tobacco hornworm, as it has diagonal lines on its side. Tomato hornworms have V shaped markings. Both feed on plants in the family Solanaceae, which includes both tomatoes and tobacco, so as either insect can be found on either plant they're commonly confused. As for aphids, if you plant lots of native flowers, you'll attract hover flies, whose larva are voracious aphid eaters and can wipe out an aphid infestation.

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