— Nan Sterman
How often a gardener sends me a photo, asking me if the bug in the picture is a “good bug” or a “bad bug.” Most people assume every bug is bad but the truth is, most of the insects in our gardens are “good,” or at least, they aren’t “bad.”
In my garden, this is an especially buggy time of year. Monarchs, gulf fritillaries, and swallowtail butterflies flit around the garden in search of nectar and places to deposit their eggs. I often find the emerald green monarch chrysalises – one of the states in between caterpillar and butterfly – hanging from odd spots like the underside of a low tree branch or the arm of a chair.
Bees may be in trouble but you wouldn’t know that in my garden. The place is abuzz with European honeybees (you know those bees are not natives, right?), and big black bumble bees almost as big as humming birds.
I’m even happy to see houseflies. Not in my house of course, but as we learned while shooting our beneficial insect episode of A Growing Passion, even house flies play an important role in pollinating flowers, vegetable flowers in particular. Who knew!
I loved exploring the world of beneficial insects to learn about the “good guys,” what makes them good, how to encourage their presence in our gardens, and much more.
We started out UC Riverside, where we visited with renowned researcher Mark Hoddle, whose team searches out natural predators of some of our biggest insect pests, including the Asian Citrus Psyllid. This tiny bug bares the blame for spreading the bacteria that causes citrus greening disease referred to as HLB. HLB has already taken out the citrus industry and backyard citrus in Florida. Hoddle and the California Department of Food and Agriculture are going to great lengths to ensure we don’t suffer the same fate.
We headed to Rincon-Vitova Insectaries in Riverside, California. An insectary
is basically a bug farm, but it doesn’t look like any farm I’d ever seen before. We toured the facility to see how they raise the beneficials we can buy and release in our gardens.
At Sakata Seed in Watsonville, we watch flies hard at work pollinating radish plants grown for their seed crop. For that segment, our brave cameraman Michael Gerdes got into the fly cages and shot the flies eye-to-eye, as they attempted to pollinate both him and his camera.
At The Butterfly Farms in Vista, California, they subscribe to the philosophy that people are willing to conserve what they know and is familiar to them. So, they created a facility to introduce toddlers with their parents to the magic of butterflies and blooms.
We also visited the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The day
we were there, 10, 11, and 12 year old “citizen scientists” in the Nature Navigators program were in the pollinator garden counting pollinators. The data they collected was uploaded to The Great Sunflower Project out of San Francisco, which is amassing pollinator data across the US.
The young people were so incredibly patient as they sat and observed the same four flowers for 15 minutes, noting every pollinator that visited the flowers.
And by the way, if you haven’t seen the Museum’s nature gardens, it’s time for a visit. The pollinator garden is just one part of a diverse and truly spectacular garden – an oasis right in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, bugs and all.