Gardening Without Bug Killers
By Gina Dostler
Bob Allen, aka Bug Bob, is right at home watching little creatures creep and crawl and fly all around. Even on his face. For those who swat flies, spray repellent and light citronella candles to ward of insects, these six legged, crustacean-related species are pests. Yet their species, estimated at 3 million, dwarfs our own. It really is an insect’s world. Allen, a renowned Orange County biologist and author who specializes in botany and entomology, gives a few pointers on getting rid of the peskiest of the lot and saving the rest for your garden.
Q: You say bugs rule the world.
A: Yep. Statistically speaking, they do. Sixty percent of all life on earth is an insect. If you take a pie chart and calculate all the species into percentages, mammals (that’s us) round out to 0%. That’s right. We don’t even make a tiny sliver on a pie chart. That’s what I mean by bugs truly do rule the world.
Q: Wow. That’s a lot of bugs. You’d think we’d be covered in them.
A: Well, very few get in your face. They really don’t care about humans or any other animal for that matter. They go about their own life in their insect world. Yet there is one that is considered the most dangerous animal and there are 22 species of them. And it’s the female of the species that creates the horrible itchy welts after she has had her fill.
Q: You’re not talking about mosquitoes are you?
A: Right! It’s the female, not the male that juices your blood into her body. When they are very young mosquitoes feed on nectar. After they have mated the males continue to feed on the nectar but the female, well she gets the calling for blood. That’s the reason mosquitoes are the most dangerous of animals is because they spread viruses or bacteria through their bites. It’s the carbon dioxide emitted from our skin that she senses and then strikes. Most of us build immunity to the pathogens transferred via her feeding, but some like the very young or very old can become sick.
Q: Well, I get sick just looking at a fly land on my food.
A: Most flies are beneficial pollinators and stick to nectar. Filth flies are the ones you are talking about. Those are the flies that buzz in and out of your face and food searching for the perfect moment to grab a snack. Locally we have a half dozen species of filth flies that live in garbage or poop, i.e., doggie doo – the two most common places for them to take residence. And they spread bacteria via their landings. Also, if you have pigeons around, there is a certain type of fly that feeds on bird poop. Those are the kind you see hovering around in circles in a shaded area. So consider if you see one pigeon about, you probably have 50 and those flies will lay eggs in their poop.
Q: So the problem arises, killing these no-good bugs with pesticides has a detrimental effect on other bugs and wildlife. What can we do?
A: Many bugs help pollinate plants. Fruits and vegetables require pollination and insects are part of that cycle. If we start spraying pesticides, we kill off not only the bugs, but the way to pollinate our food. Moths, butterflies, and bees are also big contributors to making a garden grow by drinking the nectar of the flowers and carrying the pollens to the next flower. Kill those insects off, and we eventually will have nothing to eat. Mosquitoes and flies can be rid of without spraying pesticides, thereby avoid killing off other insects as well as poisoning ourselves. To have a healthy yard and home, don’t use pesticides.
Q: No bugs, no pesticide. Go on…
A: First, mosquitoes. It’s so easy. Mosquitoes need water for their eggs. Even a ¼” of water is sufficient. So go around the house outside and any standing water in buckets, pots, leaking sprinklers simply dump the water, fix the sprinkler. For collecting rain water for your plants without breeding mosquitoes, simply get a roll of window screen from any local hardware store and place over a bucket and secure with a bungy cord. Female mosquitoes need standing water to lay her egg. The screen keeps her out.
A: Yes. If you have a bird bath, dump the water out twice a week and replace with fresh water. Or place a motion device that moves the water in it. Mosquitoes will not lay eggs in moving water. Clean the gutters, both in front of the house and roof gutters. Broom away the water standing in the gutter off the streets; and removed clogged leaves from the roof gutter. Both can breed mosquitoes. Dirty spas, swimming pools, fountains and ponds are all prime areas for mosquitoes. The water needs to be moving continuously; at least during the dawn and the dusk when the mosquitoes are active so can’t deposit her eggs. If you have mosquitoes, there is standing water somewhere.
Q: So what if I am proactive with the water my neighbor isn’t. What else can I do about mosquitoes?
A: Ok, mosquitoes are weak flyers. Place a box fan and turn on low. The air movement keeps those pesky biters away. Even a ceiling fan does the job.
Q: Aren’t there any plants that can ward off bugs?
A: There may be some, though none are considered truly effective.
Q: Keeping other insects around is good in many ways besides pollinating, yes?
A: It’s the cycle of life. Gardens with plenty of insects bring in the songbirds which love moths and other insects such as grasshoppers. Those caterpillars that are eating up some of your plants; they turn into moths or butterflies. So what if they eat a few of your plants. Better a few leaves gone and a garden full of birds versus killing off our planet with poisons. Give credit to beautiful bugs such as the Ladybird beetles (ladybugs) that love the aphids munching up your roses. A tip for releasing ladybugs in your garden: do it when it is dark and cold, either late at night or pre-dawn. When they wake up in the morning they want breakfast and will feast in your garden much to your delight. If you release them during the day, they’ll just fly away. Visit www.ocvcd.org/annex for a list of other cool critters.
Q: Where can I find your latest book, Wildflowers of Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains?
A: The Laguna Canyon Foundation, The See and Sage Audubon Society in Irvine, and at www.occnps.org. It’s not only about wildflowers but also about many insects that live on those plants and how the plants rely on their presence.
Robert L. “Bob” Allen, M.S.
Orange County Vector Control District
13001 Garden Grove Boulevard
Garden Grove, CA 92843
OFF: (714) 971-2421 x111
FAX: (714) 971-3940