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The Ugliness of Organic Gardening

So it's been a long while since I've blogged. I am a victim of the COVID vortex. I was lucky not to have been a true victim (thank God for the vaccination--I have a 91 year old living with me, no way could I NOT get it). But the vortex of COVID is/was far and wide, and, being in education it impacted my day to days greatly. I am just on the downside of a much needed vacation to regroup and get ready for the next round so now feels like a good time to get back into the "habit" of blogging.

While there is tons of beauty in my garden. There is also some ugly. Dedicating yourself to organic gardening leaves you open to the ugly. It's okay. It's expected, and, in the grande scheme of things, healthy beauty will always outweigh the other option... chemicals. So the Japanese Beetles have arrived. Thankfully, they are not in the numbers I have witnessed in past thanks to increasing my soil's health (using nematodes), inviting more pollinators and birds into my garden, and manually trying to contol the beetles.

I get some sense of satisfaction by way of the manual control. Flicking beetles into a container of hot soapy water, while somewhat sadistic, is oddly satisfying. Today, I caught a couple of dozen beetles making their home in my zinnias and dahlias. I've been forced to get organza bags to protect my dahlia blooms until the beetle population is more manageable. I've thought of using traps, but everything I've read says that it's like putting a neon sign in your yard inviting the beetles in... "Free Food Here".

Let's take a closer look at the ugly:

While the damage is ugly... I actually think the Japenese beetles are rather attractive--they're a lovely shade of iridescent green and bronze. See those lovely chew holes...UGH... they can skeletalize a leaf in a day (I checked this particular zinnia yesterday and it had no damage). They evidently do put up a flare when they find a good watering hole... this fella had a whole gang with him when I stumbled upon them--think entomologic orgy...GROSS! If you look to the left of the photo, beneath the chewed leaf, you can see some black spots... This is beetle feces... see you didn't think it could get more gross... but it did.

Let's get an overall picture of the damage (mind you... this happened in ONE day):

Pretty zinnia... ugly leaves. Thankfully when I use zinnias for arrangements, I typically will defoliate the stem anyway. So what are some things you can do to control the Japanese beetle population?

  1. Manually - put a couple of squirts of liquid dish detergent in a jar and add water. Gently shake the flower/stem over the jar and watch your victims fall to their untimely death. The detergent serves as a surfactant and keeps them from climbing out of your soapy hot tub.

  2. Nematodes - I purchased mine from Gardens Alive a few years ago. If I recall correctly... I used a sprayer--mixed the nematodes with water and sprayed over the lawn. Google it... and do your research. Only certain types of nematodes will destroy Japanese beetle larvae.

  3. Neem Oil - Spray affected plants with neem oil (pyrethrin) at the first sign of beetle damage. Pyrethrin-based insecticides are a relatively safe and effective way to control these villains of the garden.

While seeing some damage and/or beetles might flip you into war mode--don't panic. Be careful of a chemical overreaction; you don't want to jeopardize your good bugs--pollinators.

Good luck with your insect battles. Check back for more gardening updates--We have a lot of catching up to do! Happy Gardening from Bumbling Gardener.

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