This weekend, I began cleaning up the vegetable garden. I was lucky enough to stumble across some neat organic garden insect control – my lady beetles (ladybugs) tackling the white fly invasion.
The green beans started off so promising this year. They’re one of the few crops I can grow in my raised bed vegetable garden without worrying about insects, fungus, and every other catastrophe known to organic gardeners. Until this year, that is, when an invasion of cucumber beetle nymphs and white fly threatened to kill every last bean plant.
Well, it is September, and I’ve canned at least 16 pints of green beans this year, more than enough for us over the winter. I have another batch in the refrigerator waiting to be canned, and I figured that what the heck, I could give the white fly a break and just let it eat. Maybe the winter cold would kill them, maybe not, but I’m not going to spray pesticides around just to eke out a few more weeks of green beans.
This weekend, the spindly, skeletal green bean leaves depressed me, as did the weeds in the potato beds and the spent sunflower heads. I decided to tackle some much-needed vegetable garden cleanup. I began pulling weeds, dead plants, and half-dead green bean plants, picking off the last of the green beans and tossing them into a bowl I’d brought out to the garden just for the occasion.
As I dumped the remains of the oldest bean patch into the wheelbarrow, a leaf flipped over. I noticed something neat happening here:
If you look closely at the picture, you can see tiny white spots near the two spotted insects. The white spots are white fly eggs, and the two orange insects with black spots are ladybugs, also called lady beetles. I’d caught two ladybugs munching on the white fly eggs.
I’d noticed a large number of ladybugs among my green bean plants this year, but I hadn’t put two and two together and connected the crowd of ladybugs with the white fly. Of course – the white fly eggs are like an all-you-can-eat banquet for the ladybugs. No wonder I’d seen so many!
It was an interesting moment in the organic garden. It’s funny, but when you leave nature alone, she tends to balance herself out. Although my bean plants look dreadful, it really is the end of the season, and I wouldn’t get more out of them anyway. The ladybugs have a nice feast just in time burrow into a nice, warm spot to while away the winter months. And my garden gets cleaned of white fly eggs before they can hatch and do more damage to the remainder of the garden.
An organic garden is a fascinating space. Insects tend to control other insects if you give them half a chance and provide them with a habitat that attracts them. I’m glad I didn’t reach for the pesticides when I saw those pesky white flies a few weeks ago.
Other organic remedies for white fly control would have been just as good, such as sticky traps. These are yellow cardboard slices with glue on the sides. They attack by a stick to the garden bed. White flies are attracted to the yellow cardboard, fly into it, and get stuck there by the glue. It’s a good organic remedy when you don’t want to use any sprays. Unfortunately, you can also catch helpful bugs on such cards, but they will catch quite a bit of what you want to catch such as white flies. It’s a good organic method of controlling white flies.
As for the bean patch, I have a few left to harvest, and then it’s on to canning. I started to pick beans this morning but I was distracted by the cats. Today, Shy Boy “helped” by digging up some bean plants. Unfortunately, he dug up the only healthy ones left in the garden…but what can I say? One insect pest or one feline pest in the organic garden, it is fall, after all..and how many beans can two people eat in one winter?
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.