Friday, July 13, 2012

A peak at natural pest management in our garden!

Hello gardening folks! I hope everyone is having a great summer thus far!!
If you've been by the garden lately, you may have noticed a pile of wooden shipping pallets that we have stacked near the back fence, near the compost bins and organizational plots. What we have in mind is to actually use these pallets as a way to encourage beneficial organisms, such as parasitic and predatory insects that target those which we gardeners label as "pests".

This "Insect Hotel" or "Wildlife Tower", as they are typically called, provide insects with shelter and a place to safely lay their eggs. They can also serve as feeding places for insects, amphibians, reptiles and small mammals, providing them with nesting materials as well.  
The whole purpose of installing the Insect Hotel is to attract beneficial insects (which far outnumber the "pests") and to also increase biodiversity in our garden. 
Pictured above is a small model of an Insect Hotel that we currently have in the garden. Although this one also needs more of its spaces filled, insects love the small holes and crevices that they can burrow and nest in.

 Some great materials for filling out the wildlife tower include: 

  • Dead plant stalks, fallen bark, twigs, pine cones;
  • Old wood or wood with holes drilled in it;
  • Bundles of thick bamboo with holes drilled in each compartment;
  • Bundled twigs 
  • Egg cartons, small pots, or containers stuffed with straw;
  • Piles of sticks, leaves, and rocks; and
  • any other sort of weather-proof material which can create dark nooks and crannies in the gaps of the pallets 

The Insect Hotel will be a project that can be continually worked on up until winter, when it will hopefully then be fully functional and inhabited. Then, when Springtime rolls around, the many beneficial critters that have hibernated will come out and go right to work since they have all the resources they should need--right there in our garden!
One cool thing I happened to find near the empty stack of pallets was an eggplant with all these spiky little guys on 'em:

It turns out that these critters are actually caterpillars which have been parasitized by some sort of fly or wasp that lays its eggs on their backs. There were at least 20 parasitized caterpillars on this one Eggplant alone--with roughly half of them still crawling around on the leaves, like the one pictured above. Once the babies leave their egg casings, the host caterpillar is found on or around the plant (dead) like this one:

I hope the idea of attracting more insects to the garden does not freak anyone out! I find the nature of these things quite fascinating and hope that others will find it just as interesting, too.

On a similar note, we have some other natural predators that frequent the garden as well! This includes our neighbor's Guinea fowl, which make their rounds of the garden at least once daily. While they may take an occasional peck at plants, they much more prefer to eat insects and seeds. These guys have been hailed as the "Ultimate Low-Cost, Chemical-Free Pest Control" for the garden, although you may want to keep an eye on them if you happen to be in the garden when they drop in because they sometimes get to pecking fruits or kicking up the compost.

This regularly visiting family of Guinea fowl has five large chicks and a monogamous adult pair. Please do not startle them or shoo them away from doing their pest-management duties in the garden! These really are some quirky and helpful birds that are just plain fun to watch too, lemme tell ya!

Although the garden is already recognized as a Certified wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, we hope to further increase the garden's biodiversity this coming year, as well as focus more on spreading these sorts of Integrated Pest Management knowledge and techniques to visitors, volunteers, and members of the garden.
Looking forward, we hope to hold a Garden Stewardship and a Pest Identification class, in addition to the ongoing Insect Hotel project that we've only got started so far.

Feel free to express any and all ideas that you have for contributing to our educational/outreach efforts, events, and/or projects for the garden or even on-campus!
Please also let us know what topics or classes that you'd find interesting for this coming semester! Email us at or talk to us about it on a workday!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Work for the UT Micro Farm this Fall

Want to work for the UT Micro Farm? If you're a UT student, you can! See the job posting HERE