Saturday, September 7, 2013

TRAP CROP – Ants and Aphids

First Sunflower for the season!

What is a trap crop, you might ask. This is a crop (plants) that you plant that deliberately attract certain insects. The idea is that these crops will then keep the insects away from your other plants.

I do not think there is a gardener in this world that did not have to deal with aphids at some stage or the other. The problem with the aphids is that they come with ants, the ants actually “farm” with these aphids. The ants will even take the aphid eggs into their nest during winter and look after them and when spring comes around they bring them out and put them on your plants. 

An old photo, but I still love it...

I am not sure whether ants has somehow worked out that aphids like Sunflowers better than anything else of whether the ants prefer the “nectar” the aphids secrete when living on/off Sunflowers best. The ants put the aphids on your plants to feed, then they stimulate (stroke) the aphids, which then secretes a sweet (they say) nectar like liquid. Me and the ants again, but the more I look at them the more I realize exactly how smart they really are.

I am planting Sunflowers everywhere and the firsts ones are starting to flower. They are already full of ants and aphids and all the other plants are happy and aphid free. The Sunflowers, by the way, are not that much effected as long as it is not completely overrun by ants and aphids, so you have to plant a lot. 

Now there is a bit of a new problem, the “mousies”, as Sabrina calls the Squirrels, have discovered the Sunflowers seeds and are taking them out as fast as I can put them in. they dig the seeds out and leave the shell and a nice little hole as evidence. This simply means that planting them (Sunflowers) and the peanuts (let’s not even talk about the peanuts I planted!) directly into the ground does not work, so I will have to raise them in trays until they are no longer seeds but plants.

"Mousie" the Squirrel (also know as seed thief), trying to hide behind the onions.

In perma culture they say that you should always have at least 3 reasons why you do sometime/plants something somewhere, in the case of the sunflowers there is not that much to eat (there are the seeds, which are very nice, but quite a job to get open and cleaned) so food is not really a good reason in this case. I do believe that aesthetics is as good a reason as any to plant something. The sunflower also grows very well with Tomatoes, the tomato can and do use the Sunflower stalk as a support and obviously it work well as a trap crop. There are many other trap crops, I am just using the Sunflower as example.

Tomato using a Sunflower as support, can you imagine how colourful this will be once the flower is yellow and the tomatoes red!

The idea of adding something to solve a problem , instead of removing/destroying something, also comes to play, you cannot remove all the ants and aphids, that is simply impossible, unless you are willing to go the poison route ( I am not willing) so you give them what they want, and they leave you and yours alone...

I have my three very good reasons to plants lots of these beautiful sunny smiley plants. They can also, to a lesser extent, provide some shade for other plants and they do not only attract ants and their aphid farms, they also attract other useful insects like Bees and Butterflies.

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