Every summer has its own unique set of pest problems. Sometimes I get so focused on the pests which are causing problems this season that I don’t think about the pests that are not causing problems this year. Last year the Japanese beetles were a plague, this year I see the occasional beetle but they are not a problem, not even worth the bother of setting out traps. My best guess is that the heavy late spring rains drowned most of the larva. This happened in 2008 when we got seven inches of rain in one day. The beetle population was suppressed in 2008 and the following year, then returned with a vengeance in 2010. So it’s likely that next year will see more beetles than this summer but it will probably take two years for them to return to their normal levels.A few days ago I realized that there has been no mole activity in the yard and garden for some time. In 2008 and 2009 they were a real problem in the garden, then last year I saw fewer mole tunnels. Now there aren’t any signs of mole activity. Maybe it’s the black snake that I see around here on occasion. Last year I came across a black snake that was about six feet long, sunning itself in one of the vegetable beds that hadn’t been planted. A few weeks later I almost tripped over it walking out the back door.
This year I’ve had encounters with a smaller snake, about four feet long, that looks like the same species. It made a move toward the chicken coop in June that I talked about in an earlier post - http://gardenvariety-hoosier.blogspot.com/2011/05/chickens-and-snakes.html. I’ve also come across this snake in the pole barn and one of the minibarns, both of which have mice. It gets around. So have these snakes been the nemesis of the moles around here? I really can’t come up with a better explanation. They are welcome to make themselves at home in the yard, along with the many toads.
The new problem this year is bacterial wilt. It has killed two squash plants and the Diva cucumber plant. The weather certainly must be a factor, with cool rainy days alternating with very hot days in June. This is just a pathogen that I have no control over, other than to make sure the plants have adequate spacing to allow for a free flow of air.
The hot weather makes some insects more aggressive. I was stung twice last week. I was stung walking into the minibarn, where paper wasps get in and build nests. These wasps are usually not aggressive. The next day I was stung on the ankle while cutting out saplings on the banks of the pond. This one really hurt, bad enough to swell up the ankle a little. I never saw it. The wasps are welcome too, since many are parasitic to insect pests in the garden. They usually find tomato hornworms before I do and lay eggs on the caterpillar. The caterpillar becomes a zombie and stops feeding. I leave it alone so it can hatch more wasps.
Last summer I was sitting on the deck when a cicada killer, which is a very large wasp, intercepted a horsefly a few feet away. I watched as the cicada killer set on the fly on the deck floor and cut off the fly’s abdomen and wings, which took only a few seconds, then flew off with the rest of it’s meal, leaving the discarded body parts on the deck. Insects are gruesome killers.The dragonflies are back in numbers after being scarce in June. I can now watch a variety of species darting over and around the pond, catching insects all day long. Another insect friend.