THE WONDERFUL BROWN BOX
by Barbara Harrington
I WAS SO EXCITED when the FedEx truck pulled up in front of my house. I knew exactly what would be in that brown box as I had been notified the day before that it had been shipped overnight. Overnight shipping was mandatory in this case because what I had ordered was alive! I was ready and waiting since the box had to be dealt with right away! What was in that box — saviors for my ageratum, catmint, marigolds and one of my black-eye Susan vines – a special blend of predatory mites. Although these were not the only plants affected, they were the ones that would be dead within a couple of weeks without help. These special ‘soldier mites’ arriving in my box are here to devour the terrible spider mites that are killing my plants.
I began using these good bugs in my garden last year and feel they have been very successful in the control of the spider mites attacking my garden. In the past, I would have to spray the affected plants over and over to keep them alive. Surely these little ‘soldier bugs’ are better for the environment than the chemical sprays I’ve used in the past.
WHAT ARE SPIDER MITES AND WHAT DO THEY DO?
They are not insects but are classified as arachnids because of their two main body parts and eight legs. They use piercing-sucking mouthparts to feed on the underside of leaves. This causes the plant to look dull and unhealthy. Stippling and a yellowed discoloration of the leaves is common, and the overall vitality of the plant is affected. There may also be webbing. Curling of leaves on tomato plants is common. The mites love extreme heat and dry weather. If not treated in some way, the plant is not likely to survive.
There are many species of the mites, but the two-spotted is the most common.
Methods of control, other than the one I’ve chosen, include knocking them off with a heavy stream of water or spraying with insecticidal soap, horticultural oils, chemical insecticides or miticides. Although these are recommended methods they have not worked for me. I very much hate to bring out the chemicals as I have many good beneficials already.
Photo – NaturesGoodGuys
Why Use Beneficial Insects*
- Chemical pesticides – the first and most obvious benefit to using these insects is not having to resort to chemical pesticides. The non-toxic approach allows you to grow plants organically. You won’t have to worry the next time you take a bite out of your home-grown fruit or vegetable.
- Good bugs – keep in mind that chemical pesticides don’t only wipe out the bad bugs. They are just as deadly to the beneficial insects. This is bad for the long-term maintenance of your garden, as there won’t be a population of natural predators to feed on the pests. Pesticide may be effective at wiping out the first wave of pests, but the same cannot be said for the second wave.
- Cost saver – beneficial bugs (such as praying mantis) are there to stay if you are able to build an environment for them to thrive in. You might not even have to spend money if the beneficial insects are native to your area.
- Resistance – a number of insects are starting to show greater resistance to chemical pesticides. According to the Pesticide Action Network, between 500 and 1,000 insect and weed species have developed resistance to pesticide since 1945. There is nothing much a pest can do if it is getting eaten by a predator though.
This photo was recently taken in my garden – you can see the damaged leaves lower on the stems – you can see the newer leaves that have come out and are not affected since the good bugs have done their job.
Before You Introduce Beneficial Insects*
As you can see, there are many benefits to introducing the bug predators, but before you do anything, here are some important things to consider.
- Regulations & permits – you may potentially need a permit if you are importing certain species of insects. (not an issue with the common ones we are likely to purchase for the home garden)
- Neighbors – have the courtesy to tell and educate your neighbors on introducing beneficial insects. The last thing you want is for your neighbors to be spraying chemical pesticide all over the place, which in turn, could easily have a knock-on effect on your garden. Who knows? Your neighbors may also be willing to share the cost of investing in these beneficial insects.
- Optimal environment – make sure the climate and vegetation provides a suitable habitat for the beneficial insects. What’s also important is to make sure there is a low to medium population of the targeted pest in your garden. Otherwise, the insects may leave for an area with a more reliable source of food.
There may be many places to get the good bugs, but I have ordered mine online from Natures Good Guys. They are a family owned company located in Medford Oregon in business since 1986.They sell many kinds of beneficial insects which are guaranteed to be delivered live and in good condition. My attack mites arrive in medicine type bottles in a bubble package with ice packs, then in that sturdy brown box. They must be released within 24 hours! There are temperature and humidity requirements to check before ordering.
My target pest is the spider mite – I believe mine are the two-spotted spider mites so I order Phytoseilus persimilis, which consumes all stages of this particular mite. These prefer a temperature range of 43-90 degrees and humidity range of 60-90%. Just in case I am wrong in my diagnosis, I also order their Special Blend that targets many species of mites. You can order from 500 to 25,000 mites per bottle. I order 2 bottles, each containing 1,000. Good Guys recommends releasing bi-weekly 3-4 times until mites are under control. I have not had to use that often – once last year and two times this year. I try to spot the problem quickly so the whole garden is not infested.
This approach has truly worked in my garden. I have a magnifying photography loop with which I can clearly see the tiny mites, and its rewarding to see them disappear. If you have tried the other suggested methods without success, as I had, give natures good guys a try.
organiclesson.com —Sam Choan
University of Minnesota Extension
my personal experience as a long time gardener