Bevy of Bugs

In this post we'll discuss beneficial bugs, and petulant pests. I will be sharing 3 of the peskiest pests I've dealt with in my garden over the years and talk about their natural predators: the beautiful beneficial bugs and awesome arthropods that do a garden good...organically.


4/2/20224 min read

Over the years I've run into a lot of bugs in my garden. Some look creepy, others look like alien lifeforms (baby ladybird beetles, take me to your leader), some sound scary and still others seem mostly benign...but are not.

In last week’s post, I talked about the importance of pollinators and how much I love bumbly bee butts buzzing around my yard pollinating ALL THE THINGS. In that post, I mentioned how the best and most helpful gardener is one who ditches the use of insecticides - for even the 'organic' ones can kill beneficial bugs, bacteria and fungi in your garden. The most environmentally sustainable and pollinator saavy gardener will try their very best to encourage these very same favorable garden inhabitants and use them to their advantage. Let's talk about some of the pests a gardener might encounter (and be tempted to nuke from orbit due to the potential damage done to their precious plant progenies) and their natural predators.

  • PEST: Up first, is a minuscule sketchy little monster known as a Flea Beetle. A pest so tiny you might never notice them, until your sweet young plants (like broccoli, tomatoes, kale, cabbage, peppers and eggplants) are so riddled with teeny tiny buckshot holes that they can't thrive. They are a member of the leaf beetle (Chrysomelidae) family that springs off - like the fleas they are named for - whenever disturbed. So jumpy are they, that it's very hard to even notice them...but you will definitely notice the destruction they leave behind.

    • PREDATOR: Introducing, the Braconid Wasp whose larval stage babies will feed on the Flea Beetle, and as a bonus the adult wasps are good pollinators. To encourage these wasps to visit your yard or garden (they are completely harmless and don't sting) plant flowers such as yarrow, marigolds, and poppies or herbs like caraway, fennel and coriander.

    • Other options: Some suggest spraying a mix of rubbing alcohol, water and dish soap on plants, or dusting with talc or diatomaceous earth. The spray did not seem to work at all, but the diatomaceous earth, and vigilantly checking my wee seedlings for damage did help some. Also, you can plant "trap" plants like radishes to lure them away from more important plants that rely more on their foliage. Certain companion plants will deter Flea Beetles when planted with your crops like thyme, catnip and mint - but beware of the mint family as it spreads like wildfire.

  • PEST: Next up, the also small, but not easy to miss, often multicolored, sap sucking Aphid. These plant serial killers - of which there are over 5000 different species within the family Aphididae - are frequently called greenfly or blackfly and come in lots of different colors when consuming the saps of different plants. And how the heck do they seem to multiply so quickly?!? Well, it's through what scientists call 'telescopic development' where females give live birth to female nymphs who are already pregnant without involving males at all. I mean, I'm impressed (you go girl!) but not on my plants, okay? These little sap vampires use mouth needles to puncture into your seedlings and congregate at the point of newest growth for the freshest sap. Look to the underside of leaves, and for yellowing or curled leaves as an indication of infestation.

    • PREDATOR: Ladybugs, or Ladybird Beetles, aren't just a sign of good luck - they are in fact the single most effective critter at aphid murder that you can have visit your garden. A few other contract killers for aphids are: Lacewing larvae, hoverfly larvae, soldier beetles and parasitic wasps. Make sure you know what ladybug (and lacewing and hoverfly) larvae look like (photo below) because if you don’t, they may startle you - crawling around looking like a tiny visitor from outer space! Regard them with the same affinity as their adult parents for they devour those vicious aphids like they're at a half price buffet!

    • Other options: High pressure water hoses will sometimes knock many of them off, but they may just lay more eggs in the soil. A spray made of water and VERY diluted dish soap can also work by stopping the aphid’s ability to 'breath' through their exoskeleton.

  • PEST: My most despised foe by far is the Wireworm, or the larvae of the Click Beetle, seen below as a bright orange crusty looking worm. They are gross, and in numbers can completely annihilate all your fragile seedlings in a matter of a few days to a week. These mofos live in the soil and feed on seeds, roots, crowns and stalks of a variety of plants - but I have found they are most destructive to my young seedlings, eating a hole through their stalk just under the surface of the soil, which completely severs the plant from its root structure. A telltale sign is when a perfectly healthy seedling turns wilted overnight for no other apparent reason. They move so slowly, that digging down will frequently procure the guilty party for you to smash in revenge (no? just me? ok then...) but the damage is done, your sweet seedling will lay limp in your hands, unable to be saved. They can remain dormant in soil for as many as 7 years, and they will inhabit undisturbed, weed filled or fallow soil much more frequently.

    • PREDATOR: It took me several years to discover that wireworms do in fact have a natural predator, whereas previous research indicated that NOTHING could stop them - not parasitic wasps, not nematodes, not insecticides (yes, I was that desperate once). Enter, the Stiletto Fly and its larvae! These white, almost translucent, wiggly worm-like larvae look a lot like the click beetle larvae but are longer, thinner, and a different color. They live in the soil also, and hunt down wireworms just under the surface.

    • Other options: For years now, every spring, I buy the biggest bag of cheap russet potatoes available, and I prep my garden beds by cutting them into roughly 3" chunks, stabbing a stick through them and burying 3 or 4 in each bed, just a few inches under the surface of the soil. Every 3 days I check my "traps" and dispose of the unwanted plant assassins.

There are, of course, MANY more pests, and MANY more valuable insects and it also depends on where you live. Many people online have guides such as mine that are region specific - check them out and become insect informed!