Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sex and Magic in the Garden

Dear Readers,

Every year, right about now, the ancient plum off my back porch gets infested with about a zillion black aphids. They last through the summer and create a nice cooling mist beneath the plums leafy boughs. Aphids are actually beneficial to fruit trees, as long as their populations are moderate. The honey dew they excrete feeds nitrogen fixing soil bacteria and increases the bio-available nitrogen for the tree.

This year, however, the aphids have been reproducing way out of bounds. Now, just in case you imagine that this is the magical sex I mention in my headline, you better think again. Aphids can be born pregnant, and can pop out pregnant offspring, and can reproduce like crazy all without the benefit of any magical sex. Their story is more about magical asexual reproduction. Not that they don’t also reproduce the more normal way too. Dang buggers anyway.

I had been thinking I was going to have to come up with a plan to reduce the aphid population on that tree. You can tell the plum is stressed. The leaves are starting to curl, the young tip growth is starting to droop, and it is not greening up the way it should. I was thinking a nice stiff stream of water might help somewhat, and if that didn’t help enough maybe a dose of insecticidal soap with tobacco tea. However, about the time I was deciding what I ought to do – I ended up on crutches.

Here I am recovering from a terrible accident – and now on top of the slow brain and the battered shoulder I am hobbling around on crutches. Definitely slows an old broad down. And as if that all was not quite enough, now I have the dang flue too.

A little while ago I drug my fevered self up out of bed - battered shoulder, crutches and all, and headed outside with a big water bottle to check on my seedlings. Once I hit the back porch a herd of hungry cats gave me the evil eye, so I slowed down and fed them. (Not that I was moving all that fast to begin with.) My cats and the neighbors, they all eat both places. Heck, they probably all eat as many places as they can find folks bullied into feeding them by those evil eyes.

As I turned around to retrieve my water bottle an amazing site met my eyes. My infested plum tree is totally animated by an orgy of soldier beetles. It is totally astounding. I have never seen so many beetles of any kind all in one place at one time. And these are the blessed soldier beetles whose larva live in the soil and devour baby slugs. Blessed soldier beetles hoisting gobs of gooey aphids aloft in their powerful mandibles while the rest of their bodies are involved with the act of copulation. Solider beetles clinging and groping and prodding in piles of bugs 4 – 6 deep. The tree itself has a halo of flying solider beetles. It is totally intense. Nearly every leaf of that tree boasts beetles, with more coming in to contribute to the carnage and the copulation by the minute.

As I have mentioned, maybe even a few times, I have been doing some research on beneficial insects, for an article I am supposed to be writing right now. Tomorrow is my deadline in fact. Wish me luck with this dang fever. I have also been doing a lot of research into slug carnivores. Slugs are my main nemesis. I hate the slimy plant decimating creatures. I have been reading about attracting solider beetles to my yard, and now, like magic, with no effort on my part, I have more solider beetles than I ever dreamed possible.

I hope next year I have less slugs than I ever imagined . . .

Wishing you sex and magic in the garden . . .

(As for myself, I am taking this dang fever and tucking it back into bed.)


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