Pests, Predators and Observations

The morning started with bird calls.

The magpies were the first birds I heard. It was around 4am. This time of the year, in this part of the world, we get some lovely morning light. One of my first tasks was to water the garden. Kind of a gentle way to ease into the day and take things in.

We are at the tail end of Kambarang – The Season of Birth. This is according to our local indigenous knowledge and calendar. We have had warmer weather, but also this year some light rain showers.

As I water the garden I take note of what is going on around me. There is a bunch of stuff to take in. The tomato plants are growing up through the lambs quarters and some are already flowering, their stocky nature hinting that perhaps they will provide some large tomatoes this year.

The potatoes, planted around mid September, are flowering and looking healthy. The past week having sustained small holes in their leaves as the Twenty-eight Spotted beetles take a hold. I have not bothered to take pre-emptive measures. The odd beetle gets squashed if close and visible, otherwise I let them be – they are so far not bothering the tomatoes!

The other morning whilst watering the garden I thought I heard the whistling wings of a Crested Pigeon. This morning I saw one perched on the neighbour’s TV antenna. It appeared to be alone and shortly after flew off, over my head and flew in an arc as it climbed further up the hillside to another garden. This is a first for our garden bird records. The other morning I heard and then saw Ring-necked Parrots over at the park. These are not all that common around town either, we are instead populated by Red-capped Parrots.

Crested Pigeon – Ocyphaps lophotes

Other birds were sweeping through the garden in waves of foraging and flying. Silvereyes were flitting about as were some female Splendid Wrens. A Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike made a brief aerial appearance. Laughing Turtledoves are growing in numbers in the area. Several years ago they were quite rare here. Being an introduced species from Africa they have settle in well. Though I grew up surrounded by them in Perth, since their introduction in 1889 they have expanded out of the metropolitan area and have ranged widely inland and along the coast both north and south and extending along the eastern coastal areas.

With a little dew covering the plants from the previous night, the snails and slugs were out still. I collected up the snails I found and put them into a holding area. Despite putting out pellets the other week – slugs and snails are still prolific. This I do not mind. The pellets helped the seeds germinate and grow. Now that they are underway I do not need to police the germinating seeds and can instead just pluck snails when sighted. [See below for further information on snail pellets.]

Some weeks ago as I was driving the Little Fellas back home from an activity we caught in the car headlights patches of Diamond-backed Moths. They were emerging and filling the night air with their tiny silvery white bodies. Over the following week they never let up around the garden. They were everywhere and on everything. Most of the brassicas in the garden at this point are seeding plants which I have let mature so we can collect fresh seeds for next season. So there was not a great deal of damage to be done. It wasn’t long after the moths turned up that the wasps made their appearance.

Diadegma semiclausum are tiny parasitoid wasps that most gardeners have probably never noticed. They are busy flying in amongst the plants and unless you have sharp observation skills you wouldn’t know they were there at all. They are somewhere around 5-7 mm in length though appear smaller given their tiny, yet lengthy antennae. The thing about Diadegma wasps is that they lay their eggs into the developing larvae of Diamondback Moths and Cabbage Moths.

Diadegma semiclausum

The female Diadegma wasp is capable of laying up to 800 eggs in a short, potential lifespan of 25 days. This is provided that a suitable sugar source is available. In our garden there is an abundance of flowering plants. Why? Because I allow several healthy plants to go to seed so that we have our own seed supply. For Diadegma wasps that find themselves in a garden without a reliable source of honey or nectar, adult wasps will only survive 3-4 days.

Diadegma wasps are active in the 12-34°C temperature range but will thrive in temperatures of around 25°C and will typically take about 16 days to go from egg to adult. This can more than double if temperatures are lowered to around the 15°C mark.

I used to use Dipel on brassicas and tomatoes – especially as seedlings – to protect them from caterpillars. Dipel is a mix of quartz dust and Bacillus thuringiensis which is a naturally occurring, soil-borne bacteria. It has been in use as a natural insect control since the 1950s. Bt as it is otherwise known as, is made up of a protein crystal contained within a spore. The powder is mixed with water and sprayed on to plants. The protein crystal is ingested by pests such as caterpillars as they eat the plant leaves and it is toxic to their system resulting in death. I have not used Dipel much in the last couple of years. Mainly out of concern for other beneficial creatures that it may also harm and also because such pests are also a food source for Diadegma wasps. This builds up the biodiversity of the garden rather than limiting it.

After watering the garden I then did a bit of tidying up and stacking up bags of green waste for composting. Grasses are starting to seed around the house so I have been endeavoring to keep them cut so that seeds are not spread into areas I don’t want them.

Over recent days, Red-tailed Black Cockatoos have been seen and heard nearer the top of the mount. They are only in small numbers of 5 – 8 or so. I have also noticed that the magpies are building a new nest, higher in the gum. I am not sure what has happened to the other nest or the young for that matter. I saw a magpie fly from our back deck area and across to the park to where the new nest is. It was unusual for a magpie to have been under the verandah. I eventually came to discover it must have been pulling coconut fibre from some of the hanging baskets. This led me to investigate why they would be needing it. Another nest? Yep.

After making a mental note of some up and coming projects I determined that I will be inundated with more green ‘waste’ in the months ahead. The composting project will become a priority very quickly. Given the limited available time I have at the moment I decided to take stock of what projects and tasks lay ahead and to plan out the solutions in a more coherent manner.

After a sunny morning and quite a bit of early heat, by about 9:30 am the cicadas were starting to get going and were rather loud. Shortly afterwards it clouded over and became to rain lightly before building up to a fairly persistent rain shower around lunchtime. Wilder weather is forecast for tonight and tomorrow.

Footnote: The snail pellets I use are a brand called Multiguard. They are made from Fe-EDTA, a form of iron salts which breaks down to iron chelate and is used specifically to target molluscs. Hence their effectiveness on snails and slugs in a garden environment without being detrimental to household pets, fish, frogs and birds.

Regional Institute Fe-EDTA information

Further information:

Dept. Of Agriculture

Parasitoid Wasps – Wikipedia

Biological Services

Laughing Dove – Wikipedia

Fe-EDTA Safety Data Sheet

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