Bugs in the Garden

Bugs in the Garden

Part of Ep. 303 Kids and Gardening

Create a learning environment for children.  Phil Pellitteri, UW-Extension entomologist, focuses on giving children the opportunity to discover how bugs interact with the plants in the garden.

Premiere date: Jul 31, 1995

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Girl:

What do you get when you take toy furniture and fill it up with pretty plants? A flower bed. A garden can be a magic place where elves and fairies live and sleep. You can create a flower bed for them by taking a toy bed and planting flowers in it.

 

Shelley Ryan:

A lot of us adults spend a lot of time and effort trying to keep bugs out of the garden. But that may not necessarily be what you want to do with kids. I'm with UW-Extension Entomologist Phil Pellitteri. Phil, you've got quite a gorgeous creature on your hand. I can see where kids would be fascinated with this. It's beautiful. What is it?

 

Phil Pellitteri:

This is a tomato horn worm, Shelley. We find this, when we're lucky, on our tomato plants. It'll grow up to be a hawk moth, which is a species of moth that reminds people of hummingbirds because at dusk, it'll be feeding on your flowers. It flies very fast, a very interesting creature.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Is this going to nuke my tomato plants?

 

Phil Pellitteri:

Well, this caterpillar will eat two to three times its weight a day in food, but you know, when you only have one caterpillar on your tomatoes, it really isn't that significant. I think it's an example of if kids can watch something like this, they get a better appreciation for really what's going on out there. Even if insects are feeding on your plants, it's not necessarily all bad.

 

Shelley Ryan:

What about something liek the aphids, though? I usually run out there and try to get rid of them.

 

Phil Pellitteri:

This is another one that's fun for the kids to watch. This is goldenrod. The red aphid that's on there, you notice there might be as many as a hundred individuals, but the plant really isn't suffering much. One of the things we'll observe, and we even see a little bit of it going on there, is some of these have parasites on them. They're starting to get to be some beneficial insects. I think again, if children observe this over the season, they'll get a better idea of what really goes on in nature.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Aphids attract some beneficials. Are there other things happening in the garden?

 

Phil Pellitteri:

Well, we've got one going on here, where there's quite a few ants crawling on this goldrenrod, for the same reason. They're milking the aphids.

 

Shelley Ryan:

They're attracted to these?

 

Phil Pellitteri:

The aphids are giving off a sugary water substance we call honeydew, and the ants are exploiting that. In fact, they're also protecting the aphids at the same time. Depending on the species, they'll even take the aphids down their burrows during the winter and them bring them back in the spring.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So they're really acting like farmers then. They're taking the "cows" in for the winter.

 

Phil Pellitteri:

Very much so.

 

Shelley Ryan:

You said something else happens with goldenrod, so that's a good plant to have.

 

Phil Pellitteri:

Another example of what insects can do, and the kids can watch, this tumor-like growth is a gall. There was a fly that stung this earlier in the season. Inside this, if we were to cut it open, is a little maggot. It looks really like a gross distortion of the plant and very serious. But to be honest, it's cosmetic. The plant will survive just fine. If I were to take this in during the winter, next spring, a picture wing fly will come on out.

 

Shelley Ryan:

I get the feeling then, that you're telling me I should not be afraid to attract some of these critters for the sake of kids being able to watch them.

Phil Pellitteri:

I think kids can have a wonderful time. They like insects to begin with, when they're younger. They get a better appreciation for what insects are about. Doing things like putting boards out in the garden is a pretty good way of seeing what's crawling around at night. Many of the predatious insects are foraging at night, and they'll hide under things like boards. So if you put a board out in the garden, and lift it up the next morning, you'll see all kinds of wondrous insects.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Are there any particular plants or flowers? Obviously, goldenrod works? Anything else I could plant to encourage bugs?

 

Phil Pellitteri:

Of any plant I could think of, it's cabbage, especially in late summer. The white butterflies, or what we call imported cabbage worm will show up, and little green worms will be there. There'll be other insects. In the flowering plant group, I think roses is probably one of my favorites, because I can come up with a hundred different insects that will show up. So if kids have a rose bush just to watch and observe, over the season, they'll see quite a bit of insect activity.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Do we have to worry about kids becoming afraid of bugs, or being hurt by them?

 

Phil Pellitteri:

There are a few insects, if you handle them, you might get bit. So I think really, what we want the kids to do is sit and observe. You can get a half-inch away from a bumble bee when it's feeding on a flower and it's not going to bother you. So that's what we're really about, to give them an idea. Then once you become comfortable and know the insect a little better, you'll be able to sort through wich ones you can handle and which ones you can't.

 

Shelley Ryan:

You're saying most of these aren't going to devastate our garden.

 

Phil Pellitteri:

Well, you know, in the scheme of things, probably 5% or less of the insects that are out there are pests. So that other 95% really does deserve to be understood a little bit better, rather than going out and getting an insecticide to kill them.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So for the sake of some of the kids, us adults might have to control some of our own phobias about insects then.

 

Phil Pellitteri:

Well, it might teach us to appreciate them a little bit better, too.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay, great. Thanks, Phil. So consider sacrificing a couple plants in your yard for the sake of the bugs.

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