We are outnumbered, you know that don’t you? There are far more insects than people. Far more, way more, lots more than we can really fathom.
I read once that for every pound of people on this earth, there are 70 pounds of insects*. And insects don’t weigh that much individually. So there must be a lot of them out there.
Out there, where we all garden. Bugs, insects, and for sake of completeness, let’s include spiders, too.
We all know that sooner rather than later, as gardeners, we are going to encounter a bug, an insect, a spider, some kind of creepy crawly icky something or other in our garden. And we’ll never get anything done if we scream, drop our pruners and run back inside when we do see something crawling towards us.
If we are to enjoy gardening and have a happy gardening life, we have to learn to co-exist with the bugs, get over any fear we have of them, and embrace them as part of the outdoor experience.
Do you embrace the bugs as part of the whole gardening experience? If not, here are some ways to do so.
1. Learn about them. As a gardener, you need to know which insects are ‘good’ insects and which are ‘bad’ insects. Bad insects are generally those that eat our plants. Good insects are those that eat bad insects. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? If you learn about something, you will fear it less.
2. Respect them. You should learn which insects and spiders can also go after you. Pictured above is a cicada killer attacking a cicada, the best bug picture I’ve ever taken. Normally, a cicada killer won’t bother people, which is why I was brave enough to take that picture. But as my sister can tell you, if it gets up under your skirt, even a cicada killer, a large wasp, will sting a person out of fear. Other wasps, like paper wasps, as I can tell you, will sting if you get too close to their nest.
3. Kill with caution. Yes, at times you will have to kill insects. I’m not talking about stepping on every beetle that crosses your path. On the contrary, in most cases, just let the insects “be”. I’m talking about killing a nest of German yellow jackets because they are nesting under the eave of the house. Insects can turn more aggresive if threatened, so just be careful.
4. Learn which insects and spiders are venomous. Every part of the world has poisonous bugs and spiders. In my area, it’s good to know what the brown recluse spider looks like, though you aren’t likely to encounter one out in the open. And we are just north of where the black widow spiders live, so it’s good to know what those look like, too, just in case one gets lost and comes too far north.
5. Get used to seeing insects so you don’t freak out when you do see them. I recommend looking at pictures of bugs and spiders online, reading a good entomology book with pictures, or maybe even attending a bug festival like the Bug Bowl held at Purdue University each spring.
6. Finally, learn to touch insects. Sometimes the best way to control insects in the garden, like Japenese beetles, is to pick them off the plant and drop them in a bucket of soapy water to drown them. And bagworms are best controlled by pulling them off the plants, yes with your hand, and tossing them in the trash. And when you really get used to touching bugs, you can pick tomato hornworms off your tomato plants.
So stop letting the insects and spiders in your garden ‘bug’ you. Learn to embrace them as part of the gardening experience and you will have a happier life.
*from Flies in the Face of Fashion, Mites Make Right, and Other Bugdacious Tales by Tom Turpin.
Don’t forget to also embrace weeding.
(I’m Carol and I approve this message. Oops, dang, where did that come from? Oh, yeah, all those political commercials. A constant stream of them. Not just on TV, on radio, too. Our primary election can not not get over soon enough for me.)
Personally, I feel safer in a garden with insect activity…there can’t be too much poison floating around with all that fauna! And the older I get the less the bugs bug me…well except the earwigs that like to eat my baby plants.
Carol, I’ve embraced weeding. Not so sure about the bugs. Live and let live is a good motto where bugs are concerned. I won’t run, but neither will I pet one. Good post…we should be aware of what will harm us. By the way, I’m weeding 10 min. a day, but the weeds are growing 20 min. a day!
Good advice, Carol. I live and let live too, except those wasps nesting under the eaves. I let spiders alone also, though they creep me out. But I will never page through a book of spider photos for fun. Sorry.
I generally don’t mind the bugs if they don’t crawl on me. Except for lady bugs they can take a ride on my shirt if they want too.
The bugs I can’t stand are wasps and yellow jackets. I dislike these little buggers. I know they have their place but do they have to be in my shed.
All good advice, but I don’t think I will be picking up any bugs. I will leave that to Sam, Sophie and Seth. (Unless it is a firefly or ladybug.)
Lisa at Greenbow says
You are oh so right about the amount of insects in the garden. I once thought I would try to take a picture of every insect in the garden. Ha… Just too numerous. I do find them facinating to watch. I don’t like touching them though. My skin crawls, even though I know the ones I would touch wouldn’t be able to hurt me.
Great post, as always, Carol. But I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point where I can pick up a horny tomato worm with my hands–my skin is crawling as I type this!
By the way, thanks again for sponsoring the hoedown on Saturday; I visited many of the participants’ sites and had a lot of fun as well as learning something about hoes.
I generally don’t mind the bugs. The aphids are a pain but the lady bugs take care of them for me. My wife hates the wasps but they are another beneficial predatory insect. They mostly ignore you. Some wasps like to get those nasty little hornworms. They lay their eggs in the hornworms then the hornworms explode later with wasp larvae. It’s kind of gross but anything that gets a hornworm is welcome in my garden!
Robin's Nesting Place says
I enjoy seeing most insects in the garden, and I also pick the Japanese beetles and bagworms off by hand.
Usually the bees don’t bother me, but the other day I was near the arborvitae and a bee flew out at me. I wasn’t expecting to see one that early and let out a little scream, just as my neighbor happened to drive by. He walked over and asked me if I was OK, because he thought he heard me scream. That was embarrassing!
Good advice on getting to know bugs! I have trouble with that some of them do freak me out. My daughter is fascinated by them.
Yes, I embrace insects–the bad ones, generally, between my forefinger and my thumb!
I constantly squish grubs barehanded and I leave all my paperwasp nests up because they feast on webworms (and discourage door-to-door salesmen). I have a horror of roaches but leave them in the compost pile because the lizards feast on them.
I’m friends with spiders (if I find them in the house I set them free outdoors) but I feed pill bugs to the goldfish.
I also like snakes, toads, and frogs.
True confession: I am more afraid of dogs than I am of any kind of insect or spider–or snake, even. But none of them make me scream. Only a popping balloon or other sudden loud noise makes me scream. Well, it’s more like a yell. Um. Let’s just say involuntary vocalization and leave it at that.
This is a good post but no matter what true bugs like aphids give me the creeps, I cannot touch their soft little squishy bodies! I respect most creatures and welcome them into the garden and escort them kindly outside of my house.
Great post, Carol – I think it might also help to hang out with someone who LOVES bugs. Since I’ve been working with my co-worker/boss Gail I’ve caught some of her ‘bug’ for bugs and am much less squeamish around them than I used to be.
Rusty in Miami says
Excellent post, in my garden all bugs are welcome even the bad ones. The law of nature works best when everyone is welcome.
We have wolf spiders at our house! They are so big and scare the beejeebees out of me! AND one of them (or some other spider) managed to bite me on my knee last summer – swelled up bigger than a golf ball. 🙁 Ants and wolf spiders – they are my enemy #1 – I don’t mind the others so much….
Nancy J. Bond says
I’m not sure about embracing them, as such, but I can certainly tolerate them. 🙂
Robin (Bumblebee) says
First I have to embrace weeding. Now I have to embrace bugs. Please, please, please don’t write a post urging me to embrace snakes!
Robin at Bumblebee
I guess I’ve always been fascinated with insects. My mom told me that when I was about a year old and we lived in Okinawa (dad stationed there), I used to play with some kind of bee they called “tickle bees.” The first time she saw me petting one, she freaked out, but someone told her they were harmless so I was free to indulge my curiosity. My daughter must carry the same sort of gene. She won’t let anyone kill a spider. If she finds one inside the house, she traps it with a jar and carries it outside.
Carol Michel says
Leslie, Right on, and we are fortunate to not have earwigs around here.
Beckie, That’s funny, your weeds are growing faster than you can weed them. Don’t we all feel that way sometimes.
Pam/Digging, I’m with you on the spiders. I don’t like them and I prefer when a garden blogger posts a picture of a spider that they put it at the bottom of their post and warn us before we page down to see it.
Curtis, I know what you mean about the paper wasps and yellow jackets, from personal experience.
Kathy, Yeah, where did they get that willingness to pick up bugs?!
Lisa at Greenbow, It does take some practice to be able to touch bugs without your skin crawling…
Rose, I’m glad you enjoyed the hoe down, I did, too. On the hornworms, I still have to wear gloves.
Dave, Yes, I like to see a hornworm covered up with wasp eggs!
Robin’s Nesting Place, It sounds like you have some nice neighbors!
Karen, You should continue to encourage your daughter to study bugs. Maybe she’ll become an entomologist.
MSS @ Zathan Gardens, Wow, you are my hero. I don’t like snakes or spiders, the rest are okay, but I’d prefer not to run into roaches, especially inside.
Kathy, Good thing there aren’t a lot of dog pests in the garden!
Gail, Yes, “squishy” bugs are kind of gross and take some getting used to.
Kris at Blithewold, True, true, true. I had an entomology professor at Purdue who was so enthusiastic about insects that it was hard not to like the bugs by the end of the class.
Rusty in Miama, That is very profound!
SuzyQ, My sister has great big wolf spiders at her house, too. I’ve posted about them and it is still one of the most read posts on my blog, with lots of “Google” hits for the search term ‘big spiders’.
Nancy J. Bond, As long as they don’t keep you from gardening, right?
Robin (Bumblebee), Never fear, you find an “embrace snakes” on this blog. I don’t care for them.
Walk2Write, I think we do learn a lot from our parents on how to handle insects… to scream and run or accept them a part of life.
Thanks all for the comments and additional thoughts on insects!
Carol, May Dreams Gardens
Mr. McGregor's Daughter says
I wish I could get my daughter to accept bugs, much less embrace them. She will avoid going outside if she thinks there will be bugs around. She runs screaming from butterflies. Do you think she needs professional help? :^) I refuse to kill spiders in the house if they stay up in the corner of the ceiling. I like seeing them in the garden, as I know they eat lots of bad bugs. I’m pretty much live & let live except for Earwigs & Columbine sawfly larva. Squish, smash!
I’ve never had the guts to pick most insects off by hand. I can handle the worms, but everything else…
I don’t know how people can pinch aphids off of their plants. Somebody suggested to me to try the sticky side of some tape, which I haven’t tested yet, but that might be an alternative.
In the past, I’ve always wussed out and gone to the local nursery that sells live ladybugs, nematodes, and praying mantis eggs. 😉
On second thought, I take back what I said about the worms. I’ll poke them with sticks, but with a few exceptions, I don’t wanna touch them. Now I’m thinking about those big webs of worms in the trees. Ugh.
The bugs in Scotland are probably a very different bunch from yours – and no venomous spiders, thankfully! – but the feeling like I can’t set up a veg patch in Slugsville, Edinburgh without killing the slugs and snails gets to me; I wouldn’t kill a cat because it used a garden as a toilet, so why kill a slug just because you set them up a snackbar?! I’m trying copper tape and gravel this year, and hopefully the snails will leave some of the veg for me!