This Organic Gardener Destroys The Insects And Pests In His Garden By Eating Them

Fried green tomato hornworms, anyone?

July 6, 2017
Lambsquarter quiche, one with crickets and one with cicadas
Lambsquarter quiche, one with crickets and one with cicadas. Photograph courtesy of Paul Landkamer

Organic gardeners have a lot of ways to get rid of the insects that nibble, gnaw, and nip their plants. Floating row covers provide barriers, paper collars protect seedlings, and trap crops provide distraction. But at some point we end up hand-picking, and what is one to do with all those loopers, beetles, and bugs?

“Eat ‘em,” says Paul Landkamer. Insects are a great source of protein and, when cooked up right, taste good. Landkamer, who ate his first bug at the age of ten, volunteers as a Missouri Master Naturalist when he’s not working his day job. He also curates the “Missouri Entomophagy” Facebook page. On weekends he gathers insects to cook and serve at edible insect programs for schools, libraries, and fairs. His mission: to introduce people to entomophagy, the practice of eating insects. (Here are 13 more weird things organic gardeners do that really work.)

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Paul Landkamer collecting cicadas
Paul Landkamer collecting cicadas Photograph courtesy of Paul Landkamer

Many of the insects he eats come right from his own garden. Landkamer lives in rural countryside three miles from the nearest town and grows what he calls a “PIAFI” garden – plant it and forget it. This spring he sowed seven rows of okra and a favorite variety of jalapeño pepper hard to find in local markets. He allows volunteer squash to propagate in the leaf piles, even helps them out by tossing squash seeds onto the leaves. Landkamer isn’t concerned about cross-pollination between varieties, because it’s not the squash he’s after …

 

squash bug
Anest/Shutterstock

… it’s the squash bugs. They’re his favorites, “and have a naturally sweet, spicy flavor,” Landkamer claims. He collects them using a battery-powered hand vacuum, as the bugs tend to fall right off the plant. An alternative method is to place old boards near the plants before a cool night. In the morning, pull up the boards to collect squash bugs.

Related: The Best Way To Protect Your Squash From Squash Bugs

Brown marmorated stink bug
LYNN BUNTING/GETTY

 

It may sound anti-intuitive, but stink bugs are tasty. Landkamer says they have a “unique spicy” flavor; others describe the taste as similar to apples. The best way to eat stink bugs? Dead, says Landkamer. “If you eat them live, they will deploy all their defenses;” advice garnered from personal experience. Also cooked; insects are, after all, meat. As for collecting stink bugs, they tend to shelter beneath leaves in the winter—one reason gardeners are advised to clean up crop debris at the end of the season.

The invasive Japanese beetle skeletonizes such a wide range of crops that they’ve become the bane of gardeners east of the Mississippi. Most organic gardeners knock the pests off foliage into buckets of soapy water, but Landkamer likes to bag his beetles live so he created a cheap trap from a 2-liter plastic soda bottle. Cut off the top a bit below the shoulder of the bottle so it looks like a funnel, and invert it inside the remaining portion.

Collecting Japanese beetles from milkweed, in the beetle trap.
Collecting Japanese beetles from milkweed, in the beetle trap. Photograph courtesy of Nick Landkamer

That way, when the beetles are knocked into the trap, they can’t easily escape. He also harvests their night-flying beetle cousins, chafers and June bugs. Though the nocturnal beetles are attracted to lights, Landkamer has found that the easiest way to collect them is to pick them off bushes. Their eyes reflect in the beam of a flashlight making them easy to find.

Related: 10 Most Destructive Garden Insects And How To Get Rid Of Them

Cooking up beetles and bugs isn’t as simple as dumping them into a pot of water; they tend to fly, jump, or climb their way to freedom. Chilling insects in the freezer for 10 to 20 minutes to renders them inactive. Then boil them in water for 5 minutes or so before roasting, toasting, stir-frying, currying, or sautéing.

boiled crickets and grasshoppers.
boiled crickets and grasshoppers. Photograph courtesy of Paul Landkamer

Landkamer’s prefers to marinate his insects overnight in a special sauce (equal parts hot pepper sauce, soy sauce, and water with sugar, garlic, ginger, and cumin added). Then he dries them in a dehydrator until they are crunchy or leathery, depending on the insect. If you don’t have a dehydrator, spread the bugs out on a cookie sheet an roast them at 200F degrees for a couple hours. Once dried, he spoons them into freezer bags and freezes them until needed.

Lambsquarter quiche, one with crickets and one with cicadas
Lambsquarter quiche, one with crickets and one with cicadas. Photograph courtesy of Paul Landkamer

Japanese beetles, seasoned and dried to a crisp, make great croutons in salads, Landkamer says. Roasted crickets make a great alternative to snack chips, and are sometimes substituted for nuts in cookies and brownies. They’re even ground into powder and used to make high-protein,  gluten-free “cricket” bars.

tomato hornworm
?Studio One-One/getty

Each bug has its own texture, flavor, and crunch factor. Tomato hornworms, for example. If fried quickly, they keep their bright green color and make a unique addition to the traditional BLT. But when boiled and dehydrated, they come out comparable to veggie sticks you might find in the snack isle, says Landkamer. “I’d be tempted to plant tomatoes just to get hornworms!”

Related: How To Control Hornworms

Cicadas, which look like they might roast up like crickets, never reach that crunchy stage. They are a lot fattier, Landkamer notes, and their exoskeleton—the hard outer wings and skin—is more tender.  

bugs on plates
Cicadas with mixed insects. Photograph courtesy of Paul Landkamer

Landkamer doesn’t squirm at the thought of worms on his plate. Why waste time washing loopers off the broccoli when you can make them part of the stir-fry? Loopers and cabbage worms, he says, taste fresh and green. Corn ear worms are sweet, while cutworms and army worms tend to have more of a smoky-nutty flavor. Even wireworms, larvae of the click beetle, make it to his plate. Roasted or dried, these beetle relatives of mealworms can be added to cookies and stews, even used to top pizza.

Eating bugs may sound strange to us, but every day a couple billion people around the world include insects in their daily meals. Roasted crickets are becoming a popular snack—you can find them online—and some researchers believe that insects are the protein of the future. Bugs take less room, use less water, and produce fewer greenhouse gases than traditional livestock.

Related: 3 Reasons You Should Start Eating Bugs

Before you Bite a Bug

1. Know your insects! If you can’t make a positive identification, don’t eat it.

2. If you have allergies to insects or shellfish, avoid eating insects. Insects and crustaceans are related and share common allergens.

3. Start small. As with any new food, take a taste or two at first and see how your body reacts.

4. Pay attention to colors. Brown or green bugs are usually okay to eat, but leave bright orange, yellow or red insects alone. Also avoid caterpillars with stinging hairs.

5. Gather insects from chemical-free locations.

6. Cook freshly harvested bugs before you eat them.

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