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Meet the Neighbors

May 21, 2009

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Weve had a problem with snails in the garden, eating the tender shoots.

We've had a problem with snails in the garden, eating the tender shoots.

I participate on an organic gardening web site called Dirt Doctor.com run by Howard Garrett out of Dallas, Texas. A long-time landscape architect, he took to the moral high ground of organic gardening when he became a father and saw all of the stuff that his toddling daughter, Logan, was trying to put in her mouth. Toxic garden chemicals were not what he wanted in his daughter’s life. Howard’s organic program dove-tails perfectly with my environmentalist and interpretive naturalist backgrounds–the impulse to explain things is strong when you spent years wearing the Smokey the Bear hat and talking to thousands of park visitors over the years. The dedication to organic gardening is a no-brainer, especially if you habitually read labels.

These ants spend hours in this position. I havent figured out why or what type of ant.

These ants spend hours in this position. I haven't figured out why or what type of ant.

I started uploading some of my photos and sharing information about them on the Dirt Doctor site. A few have ended up in the library of images. My shots of flowers and bugs really close up may not interest everyone, but sometimes during web searches I’ve landed on blogs where images where shared even if the anticipated audience is minute.

For most of these I’ve used digital cameras. I started out with small inexpensive cameras because I mainly used them for email to an engineer friend regarding work I was doing on the house. Nothing for posterity, just email sent to inquire about how to wire a fixture or build something for the garden, etc. Over time I’ve picked up better cameras and the one that most of these were taken with is a small Nikon 5.1 megapixel Coolpix that I bought a few years ago. I use a larger Canon EOS 5 also, but for the really close shots, the Nikon has the Canon beat.

Snails in a chaser of beer. They eat my bean sprouts right down into the ground if they arent distracted somehow.

Snails in a chaser of beer. They eat my bean sprouts right down into the ground if they aren't distracted somehow.

Some of the photos are “before and after” shots documenting experiments or tried-and-true techniques I want to share with others at the group. For example, after taking the closeup of the snail above, I took this the next morning. This is one of several bowls and shallow containers of beer I put around the garden. Every year a different pest seems to flourish; this seems to be the year of the gastropod.

The eyespots are actually kind of cute, but these guys can do a lot of damage fast.

The eyespots are actually kind of cute, but these guys can do a lot of damage fast.

As intriguing as they look, Tobacco hornworms and their close pals Tomato hornworms are the Attila the Hun of garden pests, huge, powerful by insect standards, and fast moving like no other caterpillar you’ve ever seen. They’ll take out an entire plant in the course of a few hours if you don’t catch them. Their appetites are voracious, and if you don’t actually see them on the plant they’re eating (because they match in color perfectly), you might notice on the ground the little shiny extruded ingots of plant they have pooped out behind them as they devour your garden. Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, just about anything in the nightshade  family they really love, is in trouble when they come to town.  

The pupa stage of the Tobacco horn worm has this distinctive large size and curly tail.

The pupa stage of the Tobacco horn worm has this distinctive large size and curly tail.

This is what they look like in the garden over the winter. I don’t like to kill them because they are the larval and pupa stage of the sphinx moth, an important pollinator, so I take the caterpillars or the pupas over to the woods across the road and leave them there. When they’re moths they can come back and pollinate, and I’ll try to keep them at bay by physically removing them. They do glow in a black light, if you have one handy and want to step out to the garden after dark.

Come back next week for the exciting dramatic photos of a ladybug larva devouring mealy bugs on the underside of eggplant leaves!

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