Cycles of things that eat our veggies and things that eat them

I’ve learned a new set of rhythms to our garden over the last couple of years. The local rhythms or predtor and prey cycles

As soon as the hot weather arrives, Spider Mites start to infest, first the Blackberry Nightshades that I now keep for just this purpose. Then they infest the poor Pepino in the back yard.

Over the last couple of years I’ve considered pulling out this poor Pepino, so sickly looking and infested does it get but it springs back valiantly after support arrives. That plant is now an essential part of the ecology of Ligaya Garden and has become a key indicator ot the time of yeas, as perceived by some pest species and the predators that follow.

Spider Mites are a pest of the early hot weather.
Spider Mites are a pest of the early hot weather.

I know now that If I don’t panic and wait for a month, the cavalry will arrive and Ladybird Beetles will appear on the Pepino, feasting on the Mites. Strangely though, they don’t attack the populations on the Nightshades. The arrival of the shiny little black dots that are Ladybird Beetles is a sign that it’s time to remove the infested Nightshades and greatly reduce the Mite population, apparently without reducing their predators. Later, I find these beetles on out summer beans and tomatoes.

Whitefly prefer the warmth but a few can be found in the garden all year.
Whitefly prefer the warmth but a few can be found in the garden all year.

Whitefly appear at almost the same time as the Mites and a couple of weeks later, Hoverflies appear. Unfortunately, in the aquaponics, the Whitefly hit hard and fast and need a little manual control. Those in the front garden are left alone, beyond the occasional blast with a jet of water when I am hand watering (I just can’t resist). Once the hoverflies are there. I know to back off on the manual control.

Hoverfly larvae make short work of Aphids and Whitefly.
Hoverfly larvae make short work of Aphids and Whitefly.

The Whitefly are the dinner for the Hoverflies who are then ready for the inevitable arrival of Aphids.

Uroleucon, the Lettuce Aphid ae with us mostly in  late Winter and Spring.
Uroleucon, the Lettuce Aphid ae with us mostly in late Winter and Spring.

Aphids aren’t all that bad either. I’m not sure on which plants they overwinter, but by the time of the arrival of the Aphids, tiny predatory wasps are only a little behind, supported by Ladybirds.

Year round, we have a host of tiny spiders, though the presence of individual species varies from season to season, there are always representatives present. From little things the size of a full stop with tiny webs spun between the Kale leaves to the Colonus jumping spiders in their many colours and forms – I’ve seen six different markings here but my favourite are the tan ones that live by the rain tanks, they have markings on their abdomen that look like smiley faces.

No, I didn't draw the markings on - they really do have smiley faces!
No, I didn’t draw the markings on – they really do have smiley faces!
Woodlouse spiders do a great service throughout the year keeping Slaters under control.
Woodlouse spiders do a great service throughout the year keeping Slaters under control.

The oddest looking spiders are the flesh coloured Woodlouse spiders that live in small webbed tunnels beneath pavers and pots. Their colour, position and way of holding themselves remind me creepily of face huggers from that Alien movie. They used to freak me out until I found that one of their main prey is Slaters, of which we have more than enough to share.

This year, I’ve seen for the first time, Beeflys. They look kind of like a huge, hairy mosquito. They are nectar feeders in their adult stage and parasitoid in their younger stage. Unfortunately, for me they don’t just parasitise pest species alone but may make beneficial bees and insects their hosts.

Our first Bee Fly sighting!
Our first Bee Fly sighting!

I’ve also seen a Robber Fly in the garden this year, also for the first time. At first, I thought it was a type of Bee Fly, as both are amazing aerial acrobats but on closer inspection when it landed, I saw that this one was holding a fly captive. Robber Flies are agile hunters and catch their prey in flight!

A Robber Fly with its dinner.
A Robber Fly with its dinner.

Both Bee Flies and Robber Flies appear mid- season, when prey is already plenty. I would so like to know where all of these garden protectors overwinter so that I can protect their host plants and leave a few if they are weeds or seasonal. I know that the Yellow Admiral Butterfly lays its eggs on Nettles and its caterpillars hatch and eat them. I’m wondering where they live in their dormant season? Nettles disappear completely around this way at the start of the hot weather.

A Robber Fly with its dinner.
Yellow Admiral caterpillars eat Nettles.

Barring the spiders, none of these predators persist all year and that’s the lesson. They either transform, lay eggs and die or go dormant, I’m not sure which, but when they are needed , here they are!

It is that lack of understanding of natural cycles that cause many gardeners to rush for expensive and dangerous poisons. Even ‘organic’ methods don’t discriminate in their targets. However a brand of insecticide works, it kills insects – friend and foe.

I was the same. I used to freak out when the Spider Mites arrived, used to do my best to eliminate every Aphid and squash every Slug. Now I do very little. Of course, I’ll squish any pest that comes within arm’s reach but I very rarely spray, even water. The litre of home made White Oil I posted about making last year is still going!

I do a little preventative work though. I’m using grease bands to stop the Pear Slug from climbing the trunk of the Pear tree and the Ants from climbing to farm the Cottony Scale in the Orange tree. Oil traps keep Earwig numbers down in the bioponics before they get too numerous. That’s about all.

Some pests, such as Slugs and Snails are around all year and their lives are quite prrdictable – so predictable in fact that I include them whenever I am thinking of our chicken’s dietary needs. Earwigs, too are with us all year, though their numbers soar in early Summer but I know the timing and prepare for them with nightly squishing jaunts and oil traps.

If all predators were around all year, and their prey seasonal, what would they eat? Would they simply destroy populations and die or would they adapt and change diet with the season?

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