Pest In Show

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Nature blogger

Well, it's over now, what I have been building toward since the end of March.

That's when my spouse Kevin and I began our run of heirloom veggie seeds, first in the dark germinating in peat pellets, then growing as seedlings under adjustable fluorescent lights in our basement.

But how I got here, really was me doing a hand-to-paper garden plan that by the end of July paid off.

So, Saturday, July 27, into my small, urban farm plowed about 75 local gardeners, with kids and bikes in tow, to learn more about, and see my zany approach to using re-purposed old objects for my organic container gardening.

Almost all of the cool edible gardens on this tour were supported by a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener from the Chicago Unit. The MG in my yard was me. But, as a perk, on the patio was Oak Park Beekeeper Debbie Becker, who is also an MG. She was busy educating kids and adults about the bees she keeps in her backyard, as well as elsewhere, and serving up flights of honey,

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. that day, there was a lot of talk about whether ramping up biodiversity in a home garden is worth it.

For me, it is.

Having done that is making a difference in my back and front yard ecosystems. As of now, we are all -- bees, butterflies, beneficial insects, birds and us --- co-existing.

But, I plan to tweak the native roll call next year, in that more of the flowers I will plant in my "urban meadow" will not only help keep the bees buzzing in, and beneficial insects fat and happy, but will also hopefully pull in more butterflies.

I haven't seen a lot of those beautiful and fragile creatures in my backyard yet. Fewer butterflies, means fewer birds, means...I think you get the picture.

Without a doubt, the star of my demonstration garden party was a tomato hornworm who no longer looks like this.

This voraciously hungry garden pest crawled up an Earthbox container, and started feeding on my black cherry tomato vines.

It was his intent to steal my show.

Instead, because I have included a variety of native plants in my garden to bump up the biodiversity in my backyard's ecosystem, that Hornworm became the show stopper, and for a parasitic wasp, the perfect dinner.

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