For those of us who prefer to garden organically and control insect pests naturally there is a fun and effective control method that can be used year after year with no harm to the environment. “What is this wonder chemical or device?” you ask. Well it is simple; it is a wonder bug. Praying mantises!!
Every year we release a thousand or more baby mantises that we hatch in a sunny window in the spring. See the photo to the right to see how cute these babies are. The babies can be found on Ebay or some local bird or garden shops. We also get them at JJ Cardinal’s Wild Bird & Nature Store in Grand Blanc, MI, which also carries bird feeding supplies, mason bees, and a wide variety of neat and unusual stuff. We usually buy ours (anywhere from 20-30 egg cases) during the winter and put them in our refrigerator in a zip-top freezer bag. Yeah, I know it sounds gross but just stick them in an out of the way place, don’t forget that they are there and you will be fine. Leave them in the fridge until spring when the ground is dryer and there is some foliage growing to provide hiding places for the hatchlings, who are vulnerable when small.
Once you are ready, the hatching procedure is pretty simple. Place 4-6 cases in a Gladware or Ziplock container with some very small holes poked into the lid for air. The holes should be tiny and abundant rather than large and few or your bugs will escape into your home. Seal the lid securely and place the container(s) into a sunny window and check twice daily. When you see little bugs in a container, take it outside to some foliage and place the container in the foliage with the lid open; leaving it for an hour or two.
Once all the hatchlings are out of the container, replace the lid and put it back in the sunny window; multiple hatchings are the norm. Continue this process in several locations (we have released in the potato bed, on tomato plants, in flower beds and in trees) to increase the spread of your predators. This year, our nieces created a life-sized terrarium by releasing their hatchlings in a screened patio and did not let them out. They got to watch them grow all summer. Once your egg cases have all gone a week without hatching any new babies they are done and can be composted.
As you can see, they start out tiny. Upon hatching, they are about as thick as a pencil lead and twice as long as the lead. Mantises eat anything their size or smaller so you might not notice an immediate decrease in your bug population, especially if it is your first hatching. Be patient, they grow to be as long as a human hand from tip of the fingers to the wrist and as big around as a thumb.
Also they are great at hiding so if you don’t see them that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. In fact our neighbors have seen them in their yards now too. They seem especially fond of mosquitoes because my yard and garden does not seem to have a mosquito problem anymore. In fact, I only get bit when I am walking through the subdivision or visiting friends. Unfortunately they don’t eat Japanese Beetles; I hate Japanese Beetles. I suspect it is because they taste nasty (trust me, don’t ask) and there are better food sources. So I just use beetle traps for those.
They come in several different species but we usually buy the European variety which is a bright apple green. This year and a couple of previous years we have hatched the Asian variety which is medium brown. See below for a photo of each kind. Regardless of the variety, mantises are a great addition to the organic garden. So, if you would prefer not to eat pesticides with your produce, try hatching some mantises next spring.