Celebrate the culture of agriculture & share skills (Growing! Cooking! Eating!)


This article is re-posted from BaltimoreDIY

Recently two amazing Baltimore organizations, Blue Water Baltimore and Power in Dirt posted articles about biodiversity, the urban environment, and our foodsystems.

What does okra have to do with biodiversity? A hint is in the photo above. Can you find the nearly six inch long praying mantis we found this summer on our okra? It's in the middle of the photo. I can't remember the last time I saw one in the city, much less such a big one.

It's commonly know that it's hard to have biodiversity when you need to grow thousands of acres of corn. This article posted by Blue Water Baltimore and written by Robert Krulwich, Cornstalks Everywhere But Nothing Else, Not Even a Bee, describes a project by "David Liittschwager, a portrait photographer, who spent a few years traveling the world, dropping one-cubic-foot metal frames into gardens, streams, parks, forests, oceans, and then photographing whatever, or whoever came through."

By the end of the article we learn that the one cubic foot of a commercial corn field is essentially denuded of any life. Sounds a lot like the empty houses filled with trash, wild cats, and virginia creeper we see around Baltimore.

We see a majority of the same five or ten creatures around most cities: crows, pigeons, sparrows, starling, cats, rats, and maybe a few feral raccoons or bats. Same with plants: grass, virginia creeper, ghetto palm (ailanthus), and that other broad leafed ghetto palm whose name I can't recall.

The article posted by Power in Dirt, The Wild Life of American Cities, confirmed this limited variety of urban life. Baltimore even gets a shoutout, and I found out our city is going to be in a study about this very issue:

"Places like Baltimore, Minneapolis and Phoenix appear to be becoming more like one another ecologically than they are like the wild environments around them. Groffman and Hall are currently part of a huge, four-year project financed by the National Science Foundation to compare urban ecology in six major urban centers — Boston, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Miami, Phoenix and Los Angeles. The purpose of the study is to determine how much cities are homogenizing and to create a portrait of the continentwide implications of individual decisions we make about our backyards."

I love that last part about the individual decisions we make about our backyards. Which brings us back to the okra.

This past summer we noticed a great deal of insect life, particularly on the okra. Before okra becomes the pod that is eaten, it is a large, beautiful flower that looks like hibiscus.

Thanks to www.backyardnature.net for the photo

The bees and other pollinating insects absolutely love the open flowers, which bloomed from July until early November.

In addition to the giant praying mantis, we had another really cool find in the okra: a caterpillar covered with parasitic wasp eggs! Wikipedia can explain more about parasitoid wasps.

The white things you see in the photo below are the wasp eggs, which the wasp lays on the back of a caterpillar. When they are born, the wasp larvae eat their host and then emerge to eat nectar as adults before spinning a cocoon and re-starting the cycle.

Parasitic wasps are something that any organic gardener wants to encourage in the garden as part of a natural pest control program. The tomato hornworm will eat your tomato plants and other nightshades, and can only be controlled by laborious hand-picking or spraying with pesticides. This way, the wasp does the pest control for you!

Our third interesting predator find was this giant garden spider! This is not my photo, but hopefully Cheryl can send me a photo soon. It hadn't made a web when we found it, but the spider is a big one, probably two or three inches. The kids who visit us at the garden were definitely excited to find it.


Interesting fact: Cheryl and I were told by a gardener at Herring Run Nursery that we should leave the whole okra stalks in the garden in case predators laid their eggs in the stalks. So don't chip up or remove those okra stalks if you can help it. We did cut the stalks down with a saw to clean the garden for winter, but left them in a pile in case any predators will be hatching in spring.

Posting a smaller photo in case some of  you don't want a giant spider jumping out on your screen!


And of course, okra aren't only good for biodiversity. Can't wait to crack open these pickles at the Greater Greenmount Community Association holiday party next week!



Views: 200

Comment by Jennifer on December 6, 2012 at 11:04am

Thanks for sharing this—a great window on biodiversity in your neck of the woods. Cornelia emailed that cornstalks article around the office, and it was water cooler fodder all week. Pretty eye opening.

Comment by Matt Volz on December 9, 2012 at 7:31pm

Hmmm... Pickled okra? Interesting. We grew 4 or 5 rows of okra about 10 or 12 foot long this year. Sooo, needless to say we have alot of okra!! Most of it we blanched and froze either plain or breaded. Never thought of pickling it. I would be interested in your method of pickling it:)


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