Sow There!: A view of the garden in slow motion, 6-7-18

The fun is over when the kale hits the bucket. (Photo by Heather Hacking)
The fun is over when the kale hits the bucket. (Photo by Heather Hacking)
PUBLISHED: June 7, 2018 at 6:58 pm

I’m convinced that if we could view the world in slow motion, what we could learn would be without limit. We seldom give ourselves time to linger with eyes wide open, but when we do, colors grow brighter and we can learn more about the space within our reach.This week I’ve been mesmerized by the insects in my raised bed. Of course, I have spotted the creepy-crawlies many times before — the gray, black, green or red buggers that make our food crops pock-marked and sticky. The bugs likely don’t notice me at all. They keep munching as my shadow comes and goes.

I had intended to yank the kale weeks ago, but became sidetracked. (It was hot and doing any work outside fell lower on my to-do list). By the time I looked again, the aphid population had grown about tenfold.

Then things became interesting.

Ladybugs arrived, their broad red, folded wings a sharp contrast to the sun-scorched green of the remaining kale.

Ladybugs (more accurately known as lady beetles) love to eat aphids, and for some reason I did not want to deprive them of their feast at my garden version of the Home Town Buffet. More ladybugs arrived, as well as those black and bright orange bugs that breed in dry leaves.

As I spent more time watching I noticed the amber-colored specks on the back side of the leaves, eggs of unknown origin. I also found silver clusters, arranged like a piece of jewelry — too small to view without a magnifying glasses.

I’m certainly no entomologist, but I felt a certain kinship with bug watchers. I imagined Charles Darwin, sitting on a rock on the Galapagos, silent and breathless as he watched flightless beetles. What a luxury to have so many minutes to string together, that time spent watching nature would lead to evolutionary theories.

But my fun had to end. I had other things to do, don’t you know.

When you look closely, there's quite a lot to fill your eyes in some failing kale. (Photo by Heather Hacking)
When you look closely, there’s quite a lot to fill your eyes in some failing kale. (Photo by Heather Hacking)

Bug control

Spraying soapy water really does work for bug control. After a good squirt, you return to a blackened bug boneyard. The Colorado State University extension theorizes that the suds damage insect cell membranes, and remove the protective wax from their bodies. This works with soft-bodied bugs including aphids, mealybugs and spider mites.

Ladybugs, lacewings and bees should be OK, the smart folks at Colorado State say. Yet, I still wouldn’t want to douse the bodies of my beneficial insect friends.

In the end, if the bugs get too bad, and you repeatedly spray with diluted soapy water, you can cause damage to the plants, the wise folks at the extension continue. This is especially true for garden stalwarts like tomatoes and Portulaca. If you try this at home, wash off the plant with water within a few hours after giving aphids a soapy squirt. The Colorado State website also reminds us to use just a dollop of soap in our squirt bottle (one or two teaspoons per pint), and stay away from harsher soaps like what we use for laundry.

By the time I had watched, waited and watched some more, the kale was so infested it would have taken a Costco-sized jug of soap to keep the critters under control. Rather than wait for an army of ladybugs, I filled my 10-gallon bucket with soapy water, clipped the kale at the roots and dunked large branches into the suds. Maybe next year I’ll have the time to sit by the raised bed and discover what would have become of those silver, jewel-like eggs that had been a sweet diversion.

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