On Sunday afternoon, Tom welcomed a special guest to Poppy Corners: A woman who had bid on an auction item ('Jam Session') we had donated to Kate's theater group. It was basically a how-to class, about jam-making and water-bath canning using strawberries from our favorite farmers' market vendor. While the jam was cooking on the stove, I took our guest out to the yard for a little tour, as she had expressed interest in the garden. We came to the yarrow patch in the North Pollinator garden, and she was enchanted. As she ran her fingers through the blooms, I watched in horror as a cloud of flies erupted and then resettled. I was embarrassed. I think I said something lame like, "Gee, there's a lot of flies this spring! Must be all that rain we had!" and we promptly moved on to a different, less buggy section of the garden. But I filed that moment away in my brain, and today, as I passed by the same patch of yarrow (which I must do a hundred times a day, as it's right next to our back gate), I stopped to watch. And it was like an episode of Wild Kingdom.
I've been spending this morning trying to figure out just what kind of bugs I saw on the yarrow. Some are just regular flies, like the fellow above, and I'd chalk that up to the location of this flower patch, which is next to the chicken coop and the compost heaps. But I've also seen what I think are syrphid or tachinid flies, both of whom are predatory and eat the bad guys, like aphids (and yes, I've also seen a few aphids on the yarrow) and thrips.
I've also seen several spiders, just lying in wait - they're no dummies. What better place to catch a fly than where the flies are hanging out?
And I've also seen numerous beetles.
It's exciting to see all the activity on the yarrow, and a little shivery too, I must admit. Getting up close and personal with these critters always helps me to appreciate them, whether they are beneficial in the garden or no.
This particular yarrow is Achillea milleflorium, Common Yarrow. It's a little hard to get going in the garden, but once it starts, it can be quite weedy. However it is easy to control by pulling it out. Once pulled, it is an excellent addition to the compost pile, as it apparently acts as an 'activator' or 'accelerator,' due to its high nitrogen content. It's also an excellent medicinal plant (although it hasn't been scientifically studied, of course), used for everything from healing wounds and stopping bleeding to bringing a fever down. And, it looks pretty - remember our guest running her hands through the blossoms delightedly? It really is a beautiful plant. There are lots of cultivars with different color blooms; I have some peachy pink ones that are particularly nice.
Our 'Jam Session' student went home with a dozen half-pint jars of fresh strawberry jam, and hopefully she'll mostly think of that when she thinks of the day at our house, rather than the flies! But I am glad that she discovered them, because it has made this patch of flowers much more exciting and ecological for me.