Skip to content

New Recruits

July 3, 2011

Because I am an incorrigible overplanter and have none of the unsentimental discipline of a good editor, my garden is profoundly jungular. In my garden, a plant will overspill its container like paunch fighting a belt. Dense thickets of stems and branches tax my smallest pots. There are no restrictions on numbers of containers or relative proportions of plants size to container size. I love this chaos. And yet, this is the chaos that brings the marauders. Legions of aphids, thrips, and whiteflies. The poor ventilation makes it easy for these things to colonize, breed exponentially, and, once established, suck the life force out of everything you love.

While I think my capacity to thin out defenseless seedlings has improved, it’s by and large the same chaotic riot as last year. More riotous, really, since an ever-growing portion of the plant life up there has come from Wave Hill’s compost pile. This has been a great boon for my collection (ficus, brugmansia, colocasia, etc), but also for my insect population. Insects aren’t necessarily a problem if one’s plants are healthy enough to withstand a little leaf noshing. A chew hole here and there doesn’t really keep me up at night, either. But there’s something about aphids that chills me to the bone. They literally do drain the life force out of a plant by tapping, vampire-like, into the nutrient-bearing tissues of the newest, softest growth. To see a cluster of aphids sitting eerily still atop your zinnias is to know frustration, anxiety, and a burning desire for retribution.

To this end, I purchased 1500 ladybugs to feast upon my scourge. It turns out that ladybugs are cruel, blood-thirsty creatures, capable of mowing down up to 50 aphids a day. It should be said that my insect problem is not especially advanced, and that showering a horde of mercenaries on one’s garden is not the only way to manage one. But the truth is that when I saw the little mesh package of ladybugs in the garden center, yearning for their freedom, I couldn’t help myself. So last night at dusk, after wetting down the garden (for maximum ladybug retention), I loosed them on the plants. I was interested to see if they had fled during the night, but there was no need for concern – we’re lousy with them. In fact, from the instant I stepped out onto the roof this morning I seemed to have at least one or two on me at all times. Hopefully they were combing me for aphids.

Keep it up, ladies.

Good work, ladies.

Ladybugs denuding celosia of aphids

Insect Maneuvers

June 15, 2011

I spotted this guy flirting with the Cat Mint and then, fickle bee, the Cornflower.  We were pretty well kept in bees last year, and I’m anxious to revive our reputation as lunching grounds for rooftop pollinators.

Bee in the Nepeta

Bee piloting through the Nepeta

Bee in the Bachelor's Buttons

Bee in the Bachelor's Buttons

A caterpillar (inch worm?) devastates an unripe tomato last summer

A caterpillar (inch worm?) devastates an unripe tomato last summer

Insects come and go on the roof but their presence always confuddles me.  The sight of them on a hot rooftop in Bushwick, particularly the caterpillars, suggests a talent for mobility and a perseverance in the face of adversity that I am too profoundly envious of to properly understand.  How do they know we have plants?  Do their eggs lurk in the soil? Did they drop from the scabbed feet of the pigeons our neighbour keeps on his roof? Do they just drag themselves up the sides of the building?  It’s all too much to compute, so I just admire the bees and pitch the caterpillars off the roof (if they’re foolish enough to be caught mowing down my dill).