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The Good, the Bad, the Hungry

Syrphid fly captured by a Common House Spider

Brynn ponders the size of that garden spider

It’s summertime and the garden is getting crowded. Pollinators are everywhere, rushing in a nectar collecting frenzy from bloom to bloom. Bees, syrphid flies, butterflies, moths, and more, crowd the flowers planted to attract them into the vegetable garden. Now that the tomatoes, peppers, beans and cucurbits have begun to bloom pollinators are in place to do their job. But life isn’t always easy or safe for a pollinator. Or for a plant for that matter. For example, that beneficial syrphid fly, also called a hoverfly, became lunch for what might be a Common House Spider. Not that we blame or dislike the spider for its eating habits; many more less likable insects will be eaten by the helpful spiders in the garden before summer is over.  Soon the orb web spinning garden spiders, Argiope aurantia, will be surprising us each morning with their beautiful overnight creations.

Earwig on Shasta daisy

Ladybug on fennel

Soldier beetle on fava beans

A less likeable garden inhabitant is in residence right now in huge numbers. This Shasta daisy, Leucanthemum x superbum, will soon be minus its pretty yellow center.  Earwigs, Forficula auricularia, can be a problem in the garden as anyone who grows artichokes or likes to pick a bouquet of dahlias will tell you. Nocturnal insects, earwigs will hide in between the petals or bracts and come out running when they are set down on your kitchen counter. Luckily for those of us in Central California, once summer really arrives the earwig population is drastically reduced. Temperatures considerably above the favored 75F are inhospitable to their otherwise amazing proliferation. Meanwhile, keeping hiding places like empty pots or stacks of wood away from areas where seedlings are coming up is a good idea. Earwigs won’t take down a large plant but they will destroy newly emerging plants. A common organic protection is a sprinkle of diatomaceous earth on the little leaves. Earwigs will avoid it and the plant will have a chance to get large enough to be unappealing to the scavengers. Because that is what earwigs are, for the most part, feeding on dead plant materials. So although they may look scary with their pincers and can startle the unprepared gardener, they really aren’t going to do much more than spoil some daisies as long as they are kept away from those seedlings.

Beneficial insects other than the regular pollinators include the always popular ladybug, coccinella septempunctata, and the soldier beetle, or leatherwing beetle, which is in the Cantharidae family of insects. Both of these are voracious aphid eaters and all gardeners should be happy to see them in the garden. Earlier this spring several gardeners, including myself, noticed larger than average numbers of soldier beetles in their gardens. One can only hope that this will correlate with low numbers of aphids this year.

From arachnid to beetle, pollinator to scavenger, you aren’t the only one benefiting from the abundance of your garden.

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