Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Those Silly Muffets

“Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet. Eating her curds & whey.” Good grief, it’s no wonder there were problems with the Muffet family; do you realize how uncomfortable those tuffets can be?

“Along came a spider. Who sat down beside her. And frightened Miss Muffet away!” Miss Muffet obviously hadn’t been schooled about beneficial insects, including spiders.

Of all insect species, over 97% of those usually seen in the home landscape are either beneficial or are “innocent bystanders.”

There are two categories: predators and parasitoids. Both can effectively control insect and mite pests in your home landscape.

  • Predators kill and feed on prey. They are generally larger than their prey.

  • Parasitoids are typically smaller than their hosts and lay eggs on or within them. When the eggs hatch into larvae, these larvae develop and feed on these host insects, causing their death.

If you’d like to attract “friendly/beneficial” insects, these plant families will usually do the most for you:

1. The Apicaceae - carrot family.
2. The Asteraceae daisy family.
3. The Fabaceae - bean family.
4. The Brassicaceae - mustard family.

About 90% of all flowering plants need help to move pollen from flower to flower for the production of fruits and seeds. Most pollinators, about 200,000 species, are beneficial insects such as bees, flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, and moths.

Insect pollination is critical for the production of alfalfa, almonds, apples, blackberries, blueberries, canola, cherries, cranberries, pears, plums, squash, sunflowers, tomatoes, and watermelons. In the U.S, honey and native bee pollination accounts for approximately $19 billion worth of crop production.

Following are suggestions to attract those beneficial native pollinators:
· Native plants are four times more attractive to native pollinators.
· Avoid horticultural plants bred as “doubles” that provide little or no pollen & nectar.
· Choose several colors & shapes of flowers to accommodate different species.
· Provide a succession of blooming plants throughout the growing season.
· Plant flowers in clumps.
· Plant host plants to feed caterpillars as well as nectar plants for adult butterflies.
· Choose non-chemical solutions to insect and plant problems.
· Provide nesting habitat for bees such as bare ground, wood and dried plant stems.
· Practice peaceful coexistence. Bees sometimes choose to nest in inconvenient places.

Rather than exterminating them, think of it as an opportunity to see & learn about them.

With this little bit of insect education, our Miss Muffet poem will say: “Along came a spider and sat down beside her and the spider was invited to stay!”

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