Stop bugging me!

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Nature blogger

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

Enter the season of pests.

But, with me 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 are a few holes here and there.

I can live with that.

Also, because of the flowers that I have 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 screamed, and suspect the entire neighborhood heard me.

The creepy, "camouflaged," crop-killing, red-eyed and green-bodied caterpillar was defoliating my plant babies -- the ones I had grown from seed under lights in my basement, nurtured in a cold frame earlier in the season, and now was expecting to yield the fruits of my labor -- and 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, that is a blatant homage 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-know gardening retailer.

So, everything this year is a big experiment, and with the bucks I spent, I really hope growing vegetables in containers works 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. aphids. Just yuck.

I turned to a few more sources to research and learn how to eventually eradicate them.

Meanwhile, my sporting spouse did this.

Tired of these garden pests yet?

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

So, we are in 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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