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Great Golden Digger Wasp

The happiest sound in the garden, I think, is the lusty and industrious buzzing of the bees.  Strolling among the raspberries, I’m picking off destructive beetles as I go, and gathering a teeming bowl full of luscious, juicy, sweet, fat red berries.  And I’m accompanied by this animated concert that drowns out the birdsong.

There is such a variety of bees, hornets and wasps – I know I can’t identify most of them, but can recognize some families, like the fluffy black and yellow bumble bees that come in all shapes and sizes.  Others range from the large amber and black ‘Great Golden Digger’ wasp to the tiny black Mason bees.

One wasp in particular was fun to watch this morning:   It had bright yellow legs and a large striped abdomen of mahogany & yellow and was intently working on a soft, gooey yellow mass – like rolling it into a ball or something.  It was clinging to the raspberry leaf, working on this glob of jelly with its front legs and jaws – rolling, packing, patting.  I stood and watched, wishing I had my camera, when suddenly it took the glob up in its mouth and flew away with it.  I learned later that I had witnessed a paper wasp preparing food to take back to the nest.  This species will ‘pre-chew’ a caterpillar to feed to the larvae.  I found it fascinating!

I hope we all know that bees and wasps are essential for fruitful plant life through pollination, and that their presence means good things for the garden.  But they are helpful in other ways, too.  Almost every pest insect species has at least one wasp species that preys upon it or parasitzes it, making wasps critically important in natural pest control.  Sadly, for some of my friends the sound of bees buzzing in the garden is a warning, as they are deathly allergic to bee stings, and picking berries requires great vigilance.  I’m glad they take extra care when they’re harvesting with me.  But for me, it’s a happy sound, and I don’t give a bee’s presence on the fruit a second thought  -I’m glad to share the bounty with them.  Besides, they’re always gracious and give me plenty of room when I gently go after a berry they’ve had their eye on.

When I’m elbow deep in dispatching Goldsmith Rose Chafers which have decimated  the roses or have turned a pristine iris patch into brown rags overnight, or I’m pulling up the wilted summer squash plants that have succumbed to the Squash Vine Borer, and the battle seems endless and impossible, it’s good for me to remember that not all bugs are evil.  I love the little lady bugs, feeding on aphids by the thousands.  I love the cheery presence of the butterflies, flitting like sparks of light in the sunshine among the flowers.  So, while I’m “bugged” by bugs, I know some bugs are beneficial.

Great Swallowtail on the verbena bonarensis

Great Swallowtail on the verbena bonarensis

Great Spangled Fritillary on the echinacea

Great Spangled Fritillary on the echinacea

My beloved JR and I have been distressed lately by a seemingly insurmountable burden.  It is evident there are certain changes we need to make in our lives and we cannot seem to find our way through to the other side.  The “right” choices are not coming clear.  It is easy for me to get focused on the impossible “enemy”, and lose sight of the whole picture.

How like a complex garden is my soul!  It is not all black or white, good or bad.  One comes mixed with the other.

Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect way in you, so that you may be complete, and lack nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested,may be found to result in praise a glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  (I Peter 1:6-7)

“…we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  (Romans 5:3-5)

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”  (I Peter 5:10)

monarch chrysallis late stagemonarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly emerging from chrysallis

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Japanese Beetle on my raspberries

Well, they’ve arrived.  The Japanese beetles, right on schedule.  Now, the trick with these guys is to go after them when they’re sluggish, before the sun gets hot or in the cool of the evening.  Warmed up by the heat of the sun they are very feisty and quick,  and able to out maneuver you.

Everybody has their favorite garden tool — the one you always take with you, and can’t really go about gardening your way without it.  Mine is my little weeding fork.  And my trusty ‘bug bucket’, which is actually a gallon milk jug cut down on one side, leaving the jug handle intact.  About the middle of July I begin taking this with me into the garden each morning, making my rounds.  I pick the few remaining lily beetles, and the one or two plump potato bugs and any of their larvae I see — IMG_0277plop! into the jug.  Here is my jug this morning, sitting on the potting bench behind the barn.

A little squeeze of dish soap and filled half full with sudsy water, the beetles can’t climb out of the soap film and are doomed. However slugs, I’ve found, manage to slink  out of the soapy water and make their way up and over the side when I’m not looking.  Yuck.  If I expect to be working in the flower beds where I’ll find nests of these guys hiding around the daylilies, for example, I toss a dash of vinegar or lemon juice into the soapy water, and this neutralizes the slugs and they drown.  OK, speaking of slugs – UGH! ICK! YUCK! – another handy tool for dealing with these slimy critters is an old teaspoon.  I keep this tucked into my pocket, and I much prefer scooping these little amorphous squishy things with the cold spoon and dropping them (they slide right off, with just a little help) into the bucket rather than touching them. (Did I say ICK!??)  It works like a charm.

beetle collageAnyway, the beetles.  I know I’ll find them on my roses and in the raspberry patch.  So, as I stroll through the gardens in the morning, I keep my eyes out for them, usually in orgies of two or more, reveling in the rosebuds and newly ripening berries.  Like most insects, they are going after the sweet, juicy reproductive parts, though they do plenty of damage to the leaves as well.   Some go gently – I position the jug underneath and merely touch the leaf – they fall into oblivion.  Some go with a valiant struggle — they flail about and cling harder, to the leaf, or to each other, whatever is at hand.  Here, I usually win.  Some try to escape, but the thing about Jap beetles is, they tend to drop down before they take wing and fly off.  Some insects, like cucumber beetles, fly straight up and are nearly impossible to trick into the bucket.  But Japanese beetles drop down, and if you have your bucket just right, they’ll drop, try to take off, but bump into the tall side of the jug and plop instead into their soapy grave.

So, why do I do this?  Since I choose not to spray generic bug-killer on my plants, hand-picking is part of my routine. Day after day,  about one hour out of each glorious day,  I go about the irises, roses, lilies, raspberries, asparagus, dropping bugs into my jug of soapy water.  I’ve seen what one bug can do in short order – stripping a leaf bare overnight.  So, I take notice of all the dead bugs I dispense everyday, and add up all the leaves I saved!  I feel pretty saucy, ridding my precious raspberries of these pernicious ravagers, and I saunter away, swinging my jug, and fling the murky contents out among the pine needles behind the garden shed; and then I look up, into the birch tree, and there, on every curling leaf, clusters of mating bugs, up, up as far as I can see.  There’s no end to it.  So, why do I do this?  Well, the birch tree looks impossible, and I can’t rid the universe of bugs, but maybe I will have enough berries for savoring in the sunshine as my bare feet burrow into the cool grass between the rows and the sweet warm flavor of a ripe berry bursts on my tongue; for every breakfast;  for jam in December, when the hours spent tending my little garden have been long forgotten.  I trust that God, too, knowing all of me, is patiently tending the garden of my soul, one small bug at a time.  And that the endless chore that is my heart doesn’t diminish His eternal delight.  In that I keep my hope.

IMG_0286

There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that God, who started this great work in you, will keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.  (Phil 1:6, from The Message)

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red lily beetle 1

In my flower beds it happens exactly the same way every year, like an advancing army from the old movies.   First, in the early spring, it’s the hatching red lily beetles, which I pluck off by hand, one at a time.  Then, just as that invasion is winding down, the ravaging iris bud fly worms advance and I swoop in and dispatch them to a plastic zip-lock baggie in the trash, never even having to lay eyes on the actual critters anymore.  I know where they are hiding!  Next, the icky, sticky gold bugs (maybe they’re actually rose chafers) arrive in hoards and maraud and plunder, destroying what’s left of the blooming iris and infesting the raspberry patch – these I sweep into oblivion, into my sudsy ‘bug bucket’ (I’ll tell you about this in an upcoming post, I promise!), and do the same with the japanese beetles which follow in close order as the straggling few gold bugs who remain are waning in their old age.  The japanese beetles bury their little heads into the rose buds, you can almost see happy little hineys wiggling as they work their way in. *Plop* into the trusty bug bucket they go, as I make my daily rounds. In this way I control insects in my organic perennial gardens.

I first discovered the red lily beetle quite by accident, and was calling it “that little scarlet lily beetle” before I knew what it was. My lilies – both the glowing asiatics and the fragrant orientals, as well as the big patch of tiger lilies – had been growing strong, healthy and abundantly for years. Then, I was given a glorious Madonna Lily for my birthday one year, and cheerily planted in among the others. The following season in early spring I began to notice something terribly wrong with the leaves on several of my established lilies. ‘Drought’ I thought, or, maybe, ‘too much water’. Or perhaps ‘not enough fertilizer’ or maybe ‘too much fertilizer’.  At any rate, I had a poor display of lilies, and the following year it was even worse – by the fall, some of my beautiful plants had became completely denuded!  In danger of losing my treasured lilies, the next year I really began to pay attention.  At the first sign of a leaf in distress, I looked closer.  I couldn’t see anything.  I looked closer still.  I turned the leaf over, and there hiding underneath I found a smeary, slimy mass of black goo, right where the green of the leaf was disappearing into thin brown paper.  What??

scarlet beetle larvae

Destruction on a lily leaf.  What's with the black globs!!?

Destruction on a lily leaf. What’s with the black globs!!?

I took the leaf off, and dipped it into my bucket of water, and swished it around a little.  The black goo washed away, and there was a teeny tiny little brown grub.  Ugh!  I found more leaves, then more, all with the icky globs, some grubs of different sizes.  I had no idea what I was dealing with, but I knew they were destroying my lilies – so, the bug lady that I am, I set up my laboratory on the kitchen counter and kept the grubs fed and happy until they demolished all the leaves I could give them and ended up in the soil at the bottom of the jar.  Two weeks later, there he was, a little scarlet beetle crawling around and around inside the glass.  Aha!

garden journal

From my garden journal

Now I had something to google – my little scarlet lily beetle – and voila! there was his name (Lilioceris lilii), life story and history of invasion of New England lily gardens, first coming in on lilies from Asia in the 1990’s.  Apparently my Birthday lily brought me some unwelcome guests. And, as it turns out, the black icky goo is the larva’s own excrement (a ‘fecal shield’) to protect it from predators, and from squeamish gardeners.  Knowing what I was looking for, I began to find the little red adult beetles, and would pick them off and give a good squish. If I missed, I found they dropped to the ground and disappeared into the soil.  Giving the soil a little dusting usually will make them stir, and I have to be pretty quick and pretty careful, but they are doomed.   I found, too, that nearly all the lily patches were infested, totally, making an icky, icky mess of their leaves.  I observed that neat little lines of tiny florescent orange eggs were the first sign, and while feeding on the leaves these would grow rapidly into the brown slugs that eventually eat their fill and drop to the ground to become bright orange pupae, and emerge as adults, ready to start the cycle over again.  I found that the simplest thing was to remove the entire blemished leaf, larvae and all, and seal them up in the trash.  I’ve been diligently doing this for the last four years – daily inspecting  every lily patch, squishing all adults and destroying all infested leaves, and this year (!) by jove, I think I’ve got it!!  I know, it only takes overlooking just two, and the whole thing starts over again.  But I am determined and formidable when it comes to battling the bugs in my garden!

Standing there among my lilies, bent over from the waist, peering at the underside of every stalk and leaf to to find and nab the tiny beasties before they can grow up and make more, I find myself pondering another invader that is as unwelcome and full of messiness as these little bugs.  This is an invasion of my peace of mind and disruption of a dear friendship.

Recently, something happened that has left me confused, angry, sad and leaning on prayer.  Dear, dear friends, long-time friends that we have shared secrets and hardships and travels together with, heard something that my beloved JR said in a public meeting, and are convinced that it was a betrayal and a slur on our relationship.  I don’t want to go into the details here, but maybe you know the feeling.  The feeling of being completely misheard, misunderstood, accused, judged and condemned.  I am bewildered why they would believe this —  first of all, haven’t they known us better than this?  Wouldn’t they want to give the benefit of doubt, check it out and hear what JR has to say about it? What is really going on underneath, that they are suddenly so devastated and unreachable?

I think of my bugs.  I go after them with care and with diligence. I want to eradicate the source of the destruction, to save my lilies.  Aren’t my friends more precious than flowers in my garden?  Well, of course they are.  But how do I go about bringing this kind of bug into the light without provoking further?  How do I reach into the ucky messiness, which may get worse before it gets better?

We are off this morning to have breakfast with our friends — they are willing to talk with us about this.  Please pray for loving patience and grace, for open hearts and minds for all of us, for the power of the Holy Spirit to reveal Truth, and for authentic reconciliation.  It takes only two little ugly grubs, not dealt with, to start the whole mess over again next season.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”  Matthew 5:23-24

red lily 3

red star gazer lily

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I just want to be clear – I have nothing against bugs for the most part.  In fact I generally find insects very fascinating and typically have my little bug lab going on my kitchen counter all summer long.  Beloved JR says he doesn’t mind, really.

I guess I come by this this interest naturally – my grandmother was an entomologist, even discovering a new species of colembolla, which was named after her.  She got married before she finished her doctoral thesis, though, which, in those days, in 1915, was the end of that.  I will probably write more of her another time – she was a spritely character.

So, bugs.  I watch them.  I watch them hatch, I watch them eat, I watch them poop, I watch them mate, I watch them lay eggs.  I also squish them, when necessary.  I carry my ‘bug bucket’ with me into the garden (maybe another post on this, too, one of my can’t-go-without garden tools) and don’t hesitate to handpick any manner of bug that is abusing my perennials.

EXCEPT Tomato Hornworms.     I HATE Tomato Hornworms.

These grotesque creatures are the most camouflaged creepy insect, and you never, NEVER see them before you almost touch them.  Enough to make you jump right out of your skin.

I’ve learned to look for the signs, like de-nuded branches and half-nibbled baby green tomatoes and the tell-tale little black droppings on the leaves below.  I’ve learned to search assiduously – before I begin picking the fruit, so as not to be surprised.  When I find the critters, hiding in plain sight along a little leafy branch, I can’t bear to touch the icky things – besides, they cling tenaciously to the branch and it becomes a tug-of-war.  So, I pull out my handy garden nippers, hold the bug bucket underneath, and just snip off enough of the branch so that the whole thing – worm, twig and all – drops Plunk! into the sudsy water.  Easy-peasy.

Unless, after harvesting at least half a dozen juvenile-sized hornworms, and double-searching to make certain you haven’t overlooked any, you begin to pick the ripened tomatoes – even popping a plump red cherry one in your mouth, warm & juicy & delicious like nothing but a fresh ripe tomato can be – when POP! There is the Mother-of-all-hornworms right at your nose!  *** S H R I E K ***

When I finally caught my breath, I was able to comprehend that there was no way this huge hornworm and the branch on which she(?) was hiding would even fit in my little bucket.  It would require a different sort of mega-method.  And I couldn’t even bring myself to imagine what that might be, I was still trying to keep my stomach from turning inside out.

That’s when I called over my personal handy Hero.  To my knowledge he has never worn a cape, but my beloved JR obliges me by dispatching troublesome little rodentia and slimey rotting watermelon with equal chivalry, and he was willing to help out this damsel in distress.

I was handing him my clippers to remove the whole branch, when he suddenly reached in and took hold of that revolting monster with his bare hand.  I. FREAKED. OUT.  By the time I quit flapping around and had stopped hyper-ventilating I was half-way across the yard and JR had already successfully wrestled the beast into oblivion.  I’m so thankful he wasn’t laughing, because non-violent, peace-loving me might have punched him one.  What he did was, he came over to where I was twitching and emitting rapid little squeaks, and wrapped his big arms around me and said, “I’m sorry.  Next time I’ll warn you to look away first.”

It took a few moments to calm down.  Quite a few.  This morning, warily cleaning out under the overgrown daylilies, I actually picked up a slimy slug with my fingers and deposited him into the trusty bug pot.  And I gently remembered yesterday, and JR, and I smiled; and I thought of how God looks on my irrational fears, and His arms are always there too.  But I haven’t been back to the tomato patch.  Maybe I don’t even need to put up any more sauce this year anyway.

“Do not be afraid of sudden fear…For the Lord will be your confidence.” (Prov.3:25)

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Here’s one thing true about myself:  I’m a Home-body and an Introvert.  I prefer to sit on the edges and watch rather than get in the mix, and I’ve known that since the first grade.  I discovered that children can be sort of mean to each other, and I guess I got enough of that at home.

Watching, I’ve learned, is a fascinating occupation 🙂   But there’s a degree of invisibility about it, too, which doesn’t seem to belong to a child of God.  I’ve struggled with that.  Thinking of Palm Sunday coming right up, I’m offering here an entry from something I wrote two years ago.  This is a lot of disclosure for me, but it’s also a step out into the playground of the world  🙂

Just this morning I’m getting a glimpse into why I might enjoy spending so much time alone.  Maybe because there have been so MANY people around lately.  Both extra bedrooms seem to have been in constant turn-over since we got home from our intense week in close quarters with the crew on the boat.  A few hours with myself, and I begin questioning all the feelings surging inside…

Since ever I can remember, I’ve been acutely (painfully) aware of subtleties of other’s fleeting (unconscious) communications:  eyebrows, twitch, glance, tiny face muscle.. nothing I could catalog, but as plain as reading a book.  And nothing I’m conscious of either, til recently (relatively).  I watch others with interest:  tell stories, laugh, joke, share understanding and language, something common and bonding.  This was most intense on the boat with everyone living under each others noses, always in the same room; and then with company here.  Well, family here.  Lots of laughter.  Like I said to JR, ‘a real junior-high experience for me’.  Not quite fitting in; watching from the sidelines; tentative forays into the unfolding mix; awkward; tolerated more than enjoyed; not really much to contribute; like in a foreign country; not my native culture or language…  At the end of the day, I feel alone, lonely, aware of not really being liked — in that jr.-hi way.  sigh.

This morning I read in my simple book of devotions: Jesus riding on a young colt, the foal of a donkey.  Insignificant beast.  And I see the rightness and joy of being peripheral.  Just for me, just now in my life.  It’s OK.  Jesus, may You teach me the simple quiet joy of contentment with the person I am —  awkward and unimportant as if it were a Gift from You; no need to be ashamed, hide, or try to be like someone else.  So- I don’t have anything clever to add to the laughter.  Nothing profound to add to the conversation.  My presence can be sincere and accepting, just as I am, just being there.  Being “liked” is so CLEARLY the wrong measure for me.  Help me to see Your eyes, for I know I find eternal delight there…

What pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy …. That is my only treasure…     Ste. Therese of Lisieux

Jesus entry into Jerusalem

what pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy …. That is my only treasure…

what pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy …. That is my only treasure…

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