Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Caterpillars, Bugs, & Slugs!

The garden looks like a real garden this year!  Like, with actual food growing!  Very exciting.  However, with all this fantastic growth, I'm entering all new territory in the world of gardening. I have to be out in the garden a lot more often and I'm constantly having to look up and identify bugs and how to deal with them sans chemicals, and having to identify other problems like nutrient deficiencies.  The raised beds that have my friend Duane's magical compost are doing wonderfully, and I fertilize them a bit here and there just to encourage more lush growth. The other pots and beds, which do not have that magical compost have given me some trouble.  Here are some pictures of how the garden is looking now. We have eggplant, jalapenos, sweet red peppers, green bell peppers, tomatoes, and basil growing (and okra and beans, which are kind of behind). So far, only a few cherry tomatoes and basil have been ready to harvest, but the others are growing fast!  I have to go out to the garden daily now to keep an eye on bugs and make sure I'm there to pick the veggies as soon as they're ready.

                  Eggplant                                                    Sweet red peppers

                        Green bell peppers                                 The short ones are okra

Garden troubles:

Nitrogen Deficiency   The beds without magical compost have had a major lack of nitrogen (and probably other nutrients, too).  I suspect that this is because we used store-bought compost which probably came from some god-knows-where giant farm and the manure that was composted is actually sterile because the animals it came from were not well cared for. Anywho, the soil is not so wonderful, so the plant growth was significantly stunted and the leaves were all yellowy.  Also, my bean leaves were developing weird brown spots, which I initially thought was some kind of bacterial or fungal thing, but turned out to just be another sign of too little nitrogen.  I was super discouraged and had sort of lost hope for these guys, but I began a serious fertilizing regimen anyway.  I started dousing them with liquid fish emulsion and liquid seaweed, the gold standards of organic fertilizers, and they seem to have made a miraculous recovery!  Their leaves are now a lovely dark green and they are showing rapid new growth. The beans are dropping their brown spotted leaves and also have new growth.  Hooray!  It feels really good to have nursed these guys back to health.  I'll keep up with the fertilizing regimen, since I know they need those nutrients and are not getting them from the soil. 

Bugs  This part of gardening sucks.  I've poured so much time and energy into getting healthy, productive plants and now all these bugs think they can just come along and eat my veggies!  How rude!  Plus, in many cases, the best way to deal with them is to pick them off by hand, which I do not love.  But, I have to save my veggies. The bugs in the pictures below are the most obnoxious. They're called leaf-footed bugs, but here in Alabama we call them stink bugs. I HATE THEM. The ones on the left are adult bugs. The red ones on the right are the same type of bug in the nymph stage. They cluster together on the tomatoes, stick in their needle-like mouth thingy, and suck out the juice of the fruit. This sucking damages the fruit and stops it from growing.  These guys are super difficult to control organically, so I've been out there several times a day lately, spraying them with soapy water and flicking them away.  Today, I plan on going out with a cup full of soapy water to capture them (the big ones fly).  I'm super frustrated with these stupid stink bugs and I really hope I can get them under control.

Caterpillars  Caterpillars are kind of cute, but they eat my plants. They love to munch on the leaves and hide out on the under side of leaves, in the shade.  Luckily, they've been relatively easy to deal with. I just pick them off, which isn't so bad, and put them safely on the ground in another part of the yard. I don't like to kill things unnecessarily.  The caterpillars seem to be worse after a big rain, but generally they haven't caused too much of a problem.  And thank goodness I don't have those monster-sized green glob looking caterpillars that are like a scary real-life version of a cartoon bug. Mine are small and friendly looking, but still unwelcome in the garden.

Slugs  I really only had a problem with slugs for a little while. I never actually saw them, but I knew (thanks to the internet) that they were there. They come out at night and munch the leaves (very irregularly, not in holes like caterpillars), and can be easily controlled by placing a cup full of beer in the garden!  I was all ready to put some beer in an old yogurt cup and place it in the garden with the rim at soil level, but I never had to.  I noticed after a big rain that there wasn't any new damage being done to leaves, so I guess they went away....or drowned in our torrential Alabama rain.

Aphids These are tiny little black bugs that generally congregate in large numbers on the underside of leaves, which they like to munch on. I noticed them on my okra plants and immediately went out to spray them with soapy water.  Then we had seven inches of rain in one night. Uh, that's a ton of rain (we also had a minor roof leak that night, so that was lovely).  Haven't seen the aphids since.

I've also had to learn to leave the good bugs alone. Spiders and ladybugs are friendly in the garden.  I never thought I'd be glad to see spiders!  And I've developed a whole new level of appreciation for being able to go out and buy food at the store, and especially at the farmer's market. I can't imagine what it would feel like to know that if it didn't rain or if stink bugs ate all my tomatoes, I might not be able to make ends meet. But that's what it's like for farmers, I suppose. And doing it organically is really hard work (I'm certainly more aware of that now), and requires a whole world of knowledge about everything from soil chemistry to entomology to weather patterns. It also requires careful planning and management. When I get ready to plant a fall/winter garden, I'll have to find out which plants can be planted where tomatoes were, which ones shouldn't be planted in the same place as beans, etc. This kind of planning is important in organic gardening/farming because it's the natural means of discouraging pests and plant sickness.

I think it's important to support our small organic farms whenever we can, and to understand that there is good reason that organic produce, even direct from the farmer, is often more expensive.  Buying from the farmer is best for everybody: best for the farmer (who we need to stick around so that we'll keep having good food), and best for us because we can ask the farmer about his/her practices and feel confident that we are making a healthy food choice.

Maybe next year I can grow enough food to share with friends and family!  If the stink bugs don't eat it all.


  1. Great post! I love that I'm learning from your issues before I encounter my own someday. And if you get those huge green caterpillars, don't worry! They are tobacco/tomato hornworms and are harmless to touch. They actually feel like velvet. Ah, the joys of being a biologist...