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St. Patrick’s Day, March 15, was special, not necessarily for the wearing ‘o the green, but rather for the appearance of a carpet of nigella (love in a mist) seedlings that had self-sown last fall, sprouted in the early autumn and lay, green and vigorous, beneath roughly 3 feet of snow in the garden. Now I need to see some small flying and crawling critters, and I will know that the garden believes that it is spring.

All of which still has me thinking of insects, something gardeners have been doing since roughly 2500 B.C., when the ancient Sumerians (the southern bits of Kuwait and Iraq) controlled insects and lice with sulfur. By 324 B.C., the Chinese introduced ants in citrus trees to manage caterpillars and large boring insects. For centuries various chemical and biological efforts were made to manage or control insects. Things went a bit off the rails when in 1476 an archbishop in Berne, Switzerland, excommunicated the cutworms that had been brought to his court and ordered banishment. Nine years later the high vicar of Valence (France) commanded some offending caterpillars to appear before him. They were also banished.

In the 1800s, efforts moved from the ecclesiastical to scientific and biological control as well as selective use of chemical insecticides. Research and discoveries continued into the 20th century. In the early 1950s, it was noted that insects were becoming resistant to many of the chemicals. It was Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring,” in 1962 that discussed the dangers of overuse of DDT that brought about the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969 and the banning of DDT in 1972. Easy access to a growing selection of insecticides became overuse with its attendant environmental problems.

What was obvious around us — that there were natural, effective and balanced controls in the environment — morphed from observation to implementation. The goal in our gardens should be practices so gardeners and their gardens become partners with nature. This is called integrated pest management and it is a holistic view that asks the gardener how much damage can be tolerated, hopefully below the economic injury level. My personal philosophy is that everyone gets a seat at the table — but let’s not eat the table.

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For example, in our garden we have leaf cutter bees that decorate the leaves of several of the rose bushes with little paper punch circles. I am happy, the bees are happy and the rose doesn’t care. One of the plum trees had a branch or two with aphids. Water from the hose didn’t remove them, so I very carefully sprayed only the affected leaves with insecticide. Carefully. I did not want the insecticide any other place.

Use this time to ask the Web questions about insect pests that might appear in your garden. Learn their life-cycle, study their pictures, welcome the beneficials and recognize potential pests. Remember that birds in the garden are not only a joy, they make a meal of the insects. All without overuse of chemicals.

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Cathie Draine is a South Dakota Cooperative Extension Master Gardener and a member of the Garden Writers Association. She lives and gardens in Whispering Pines. Contact her at blackhillsgarden.com.

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