November 25, 2009

Of course, this created a slightly elevated garden area, which drains better, but which still stands a couple of inches above the surrounding lawn. I feel that tilling the soil in the fall, helps drain the soil next spring, when I will re-till it before planting. Tilling wet clay soil often creates soil clumps that then dry like concrete. This double tilling works for me – but only if I do it!

We and I hope, you, like to feed birds. Of course, the occasional unwanted sparrow, starling, cow bird, and blue jay dine there, but infrequently.  The pleasure of seeing the winter birds – juncos, woodpeckers, chickadees, and nut hatches, meeting for lunch with year-round birds like mourning doves, and cardinals, just makes sitting at this desk, and looking out the window at the four birdfeeders worth more to me, than the cost and time of refilling the feeders.

Chopped suet, raw hamburger, nuts of any kind, grain based foods like cereal, bread crumbs, and stale baked products are welcome treats, as would be a spoon or so of inexpensive peanut butter – which often tastes to me like expensive peanut butter! Of course, there are fewer seeds available to them in winter, and the insects they like to help us eliminate, are not still flying around, because most of them have sought a secure place to hibernate or develop into the next generation of warm weather bugs. I would like to talk about two interesting but completely different insect life styles: the multicolored asiatic lady bug, and the aphid.

We have long adored the orange colored, black spotted lady bird beetles, the larva of which is a notorious eliminator of evil aphids and other garden enemy insects.  The Department of Agriculture, somehow, found that the multicolored asiatic lady bug was capable of eating an aphid that was bothering Georgia peach production, and imported them to be released in the Georgia peach country. They seemed to disappear for a few years, but reappeared and multiplied as they moved toward the upper mid-west.

Unfortunately for us, the D. of A. forgot to import any of the natural enemies, the eaters of multicolored Asiatic lady bugs, and they thrived.  Recently, our  variable spring and summer weather has slowed the production of the MCALB for a few years, but now I find them exuberantly back.  Where they originated, they apparently wintered in holes in cliffs.  Here, the closest thing to a cliff seems to be our houses, and the upper  stories of  light colored homes are a favorite winter resort, just like Florida or Arizona are to some of our friends.

My bedroom ceiling is white, and I have awakened in the dead of night, turned on the light, and discovered multiple MACL bugs hunting for a winter resting place! I had sort of forgotten that, years ago, I had found that Bayer Multiple Insect Killer, available at good gardening centers, killed MCALBugs quickly on the outside of my porch screens, and by spraying it around all the openings of my house, kept them from entering those I had sprayed for that season.  But I don’t want to spray my bedroom ceiling – so I have given them a one year reprieve, but next fall, I am going back on the offensive against MCAL bugs and spraying ventilators, windows that leak cold air, old concrete foundations, and light fixtures!

Aphids are a tiny, sap-sucking insect that can’t fly and isn’t fast moving, but there are almost as many varieties as there are crops. There are aphids that attack roots, stems, and leaves of different plants.  They weaken whatever they suck the sap from. They can carry existing disease or virus from plant to plant. When they suck sap from our plants, they poop a sweetened liquid that ants just love to gather, and take back to their nest to feed other ants. Ants have been seen to herd aphids, moving their aphid herds to fresh pastures when they think it is needed.

Aphid females have the ability to reproduce young aphids without ever having met a virile male aphid, and when the mood hits, they apply the proper pressure, and a tiny aphid appears, ready to suck more sap from our plants limited supply. BUT – in the fall, as the weather starts to turn cold, a really smart aphid speaks out, saying, “We are soft bodied people, and largely composed of liquids; I believe freezing weather is soon to arrive here in the Midwest, and we will freeze and burst to death. I think the only way we can survive is for some of us to become male aphids, and we can then, together, produce eggs, which will not freeze, but next spring those eggs will hatch out a new generation of female aphids to carry on our assigned tasks!” Enough always become males, and next year, another generation is produced, to live and suck – until the cold weather approaches!  If Walt Disney were alive, I would write him about this as a possible movie – but he died.  I am only telling you.  .  .  .  good gardening

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