First things first: I don’t have tomato hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculata) in my own garden. What you see above is a photo that I took a few weekends ago of a Tobacco Hornworm (Manduca sexta) fatting itself up on my tomatoes. The caterpillars of these two distinct species of moth look very much alike and are easily confused. For reference, the tomato hornworm has v-shaped markings down its sides and a dark black/brown “horn” protruding out the back, while the tobacco hornworm [seen above] has diagonal strikes down its sides and a bright red “horn.”
Despite this distinction I decided to post under the name tomato hornworm because it is the most commonly known of the two.
Over the last few years, gardening friends have been warning me about a garden scourge the seems to be new(ish) to my area. The lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii) is a pretty red and black beetle that defoliates just about anything in the Lily family, but seems to focus on Asiatics, Fritillaria, Soloman’s Seal, as well as any Lilium.
While the adult is beautifully bright scarlet, also making it very easy to spot, its progeny is a thing of nightmares. It’s a horrible thick blob of a thing that covers itself in its own excrement as a defence against predators and proceeds to eat emerging lily foliage to the ground. Now, I’m not at all squeamish when it comes to creepy crawlies of all types and I have a genuine curiosity about any creature that lives in my garden. As an organic gardener I am definitely not above squishing unwanted pests with my bare hands — it may not be pleasant, but its the safest (and sometimes quickest) method of pest control. But there is just something about a creature that instinctually slathers itself in its own body waste that commands a slow clap and a bow. Well done, lily beetle. Well done. I’ll be coming for you with gloves on, thank-you-very-much.
Perhaps it is the cold weather that brings them indoors in droves or a last push to procreate before the end times come, but the fruit flies are taking over my kitchen right now as they do every single fall. They are everywhere. They settle on anything that doesn’t move (edible or not) and alight like a cloud of horrible little monsters when the cupboards are opened or a light wind disturbs them.
I invoke the spirit of my grandmother and shake my fist at no one. “I cast yee out foul things! Satan, I rebuke you!”
Not surprisingly, it doesn’t work. What does work is a homemade system invented by Davin that we call “The Carrousel”. Its name is inspired by the classic Sci-Fi film from 1976, Logan’s Run. In the film, citizens of a Utopian/dystopian future who are over a certain age are entered into a death machine called the Carrousel under the guise of reincarnation/rebirth or “renewal.”
In our version of The Carrousel, fruit flies are lured into a jar of no return via a funnel system that leads to an intoxicating lake of old red wine. To make your own simply:
We are excited about hosting a wild bee nesting box in our new garden as a part of a study on wild bee populations in urban habitats that is being conducted by Scott McIvor through the Packer Collection (PCYU) at York University. You can see how the nestboxes are constructed here.
We can’t wait to see if any bees take up residence in the little paper cells. In his enthusiasm, Davin started checking hours after the PVC box was installed. Needless to say there are no bees yet but I did see one resting on our compost bin and another came out of a hole in the ground as I was digging up sod. We are also curious to see how general insect populations change as we introduce more diversity to what is currently a plantless yard.
Scott is also tracking cavity nesting bee populations on green roofs. If you have a green roof and would like to be involved you can get in touch via TO Bees.
Last week we found an adult praying mantis hanging out on the raspberry bushes I’ve got growing in a massive planter box on the roof. I’d like to think it is the offspring of one of the baby mantids I hatched and released last spring but that’s highly unlikely since mantids don’t tend to stick around that long and we didn’t see any egg casings nearby.
More here about mantids in the garden and hatching an egg case (aka ootheca).