Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pests: Fake and Real

The dandelion is more than an obnoxious weed; it is, rather, an important wildflower, and not a pest at all. It is one of the first to bloom providing a much needed food source for the honey bees and other native pollinators. It is also one of the last to bloom as the season ends and winter is knocking on the front door. It is the last meal many pollinators have.

The honey bees have been loosing for the last couple years to a mysterious disease called Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD for short. Researchers still don't know what is causing this fatal disease which has wiped out countless hives. It could be the result of a mulitude factors including chemical sprays, a new invasive mite or fungus, or any combination of environmental factors.

At the same time, researchers have noticed a noticeable decline in native pollinators, mason bees for example and other pollinating insects. All of these pollinators are responsible for much of the food we eat. Some suggest that as much as every third bite of food we eat is the result of pollinators like the honey bees and native bees.

This has been a long hard winter for the honey bees in northwestern Pennsylvania, according to Charles Vorisek, the president of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Beekeepers Association. In a recent email (May 7), he told me that the thirty member association has lost 66 percent of the hives. That means that out of 471 hives, only 161 survived. Vorisek called that pitiful. And he is right, that is a serious drop and should concern home gardeners, larger farms and homeowners.

The pollinators are needed for many home vegetable crops particularly the vines such as cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and melons. The pollinators also help boost yields with carrots, broccoli, onions and they are needed for seed savers for such vegetables as leafy greens and lettuce. Tomatoes and peppers do much better when they are also pollinated by the bees.

According to the USDA, the dandelion is one of the healthiest foods around. It can be used in a variety of ways. Some prefer the roots, others the leaves, and some the flowers. It can be used in salads, soups and stews, brewed as a coffee or a tea, used to make wine or a rustic beer. For more on the health benefits of the dandelion, see this link. For more information on recipes, click this link.

Dandelions, as an early spring flower, are important for the pollinators like the honey bee and native bees. They are more important than a neatly manicured lawn which doesn't do much for the food we all eat. Some sprays and chemicals used in dandelion control are deadly to all insects good and bad; there is no reason for a scorched earth policy against this ancient herb/wildflower. Besides chemical sprays are a waste of money; guess what will return next year minus the insects?

Certainly, the dandelion grows where it shouldn't and where it is not wanted. There are natural controls, organic and natural sprays, and hand digging. Sometimes, mowing the lawn before the dandelion goes to seed helps, but the wildflower does have an ability to escape the mower blades, although frequent mowing does help. It helps to remove the seed heads before the seeds start to spread; cut the dandelion as it goes to seed. Those seeds go everywhere, ask any kid or remember when.

There is just no reason to kill everything just because of an early yellow flower. The dandelion is an imaginary pest, it is a good plant when under control.

Mosquito's :the Real Summer Pest

The ancient mosquito is probably summer's worst pest and a dangerous insect. They can transmit any number of very serious diseases, some of which can be fatal, to humans, pets and wildlife.

One of the first steps in getting rid of these things is to eliminate standing water in pots, pails, old tires, anything that holds water. The mosquito, and there are hundreds of different species, all need water to breed.

Other actions to take include planting plants which help to repel the mosquito. Click the above mosquito link for more plant information.

Okra - a pod with a dandelion-like reputation.

While not considered a pest but regarded as not edible by some and a highly regarded vegetable by others, it is a good garden plant. Okra can be used as a defensive garden weapon against the dreaded Japanese Beetle, click the okra link for more information.

I plant three every year. It is an attractive plant and besides I like it in stewed tomatoes and other dishes. They aren't even in the cold frame just yet. It has been miserable cold, windy and too rainy.


Some animals in the garden area are good, like the turtle pictured above. Snakes, toads, frogs and birds are also good. But then there are others which can be pests.
Unwanted animals from cats to possum's also like to tromp through vegetable and flower garden's; some can cause a lot of destruction. Read about my solution, which I sort of stumbled upon and had some fun writing. How to Keep Wildlife Out of the Garden.

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