As a seasoned gardener I’m not shocked by much, so I was pretty alarmed when I encountered an unpleasant pest in the school garden last Friday.
I was working on weeding a row along the fence where the garden meets the concrete playground (and where the Bermuda grass creeps up from the field behind the school). A few feet away was an undisturbed area thick with bark chip mulch. To better reach the corner, I had to move a wine half barrel out of the way. When I tipped over, I was in for a very unpleasant surprise!
A throng of cockroaches scurried in all directions. I scurried in just one: far, far away from that corner of the garden!
Normally, I am not squeamish about garden bugs. I nurture beneficial insects, I observe insect habits, and I love all beetles, good or bad. I typically know the insects I find and understand the roles they play. I maintain a peaceful co-existence and I encourage kids to respectfully handle insect life for investigation. And I am adamant about my catch and release policy.
But in all my years of gardening, never have I ever seen a single cockroach pest.
Because cockroaches are such a nuisance if they get in the school buildings, my first thought was to eradicate them immediately. For safety reasons, however, schools don’t keep chemical insecticides on campus. After doing a little research, I was relieved I didn’t run for the Raid.
According to University of California Integrated Pest Management, my cockroach visitors were probably Turkestan. Unlike their warm-weather cousins, Turkestan Cockroaches prefer cooler climates and live near compost piles, in potted plants, under leaf litter, and between cracks of poured concrete. They are often confused with the more common Oriental or American indoor roaches. Instead of needlessly spraying, I picked up some Diatomaceous Earth (DE) and sticky traps from the hardware store.
By the time I returned to the garden on Monday, the temperature had dropped below the typical comfort zone for this pest. There were only a few little roaches left hiding under the overturned barrel. I rolled it back and forth a few times to scare them off and then placed the sticky trap nearby under an irrigation valve box to protect it from the elements and keep it out of sight. I will dig in some DE before planting in that area, but I don’t expect my Turkestan friends to return any time soon.
Cockroaches have a bad reputation, but from an evolutionary standpoint, they are actually extremely resilient creatures! Sometimes learning more can reduce the very visceral reaction we have to these creepy crawlies. I found some very interesting facts at Pest World for Kids.
Although cockroaches are considered vectors (able to transmit disease) for allergens and contribute to asthma, they actually do less physical damage than their close relatives the termites, who burrow in dry wood.
To prevent termite infestations, keep wood planters (like wine barrels) well watered. To conserve resources over the summer, it’s best to empty the barrels out completely so they don’t make a hospitable home for termites. To keep them in check, encourage salamanders and birds that predate on these destructive pests.
The final member of the Blattodea family to which cockroaches and termites belong is the mantis. Mantises, especially the famed Praying Mantis, are elusive enough that spotting one in the garden provides a rare treat! At the Pueblo Vista Culinary Garden, we usually find at least one in the fall. Last year, I caught one on camera while it was devouring a honeybee.
Hopefully being armed with a little more information, you won’t bug out if you ever happen upon these Arthropod creatures in the school garden.