Extermigate is a word I just made up.
I was looking for one of those lovely, lengthy German words that describes something so well, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I was hoping for a word to describe the act of interrupting an insect’s lifecycle by wiping the eggs off before they hatch. No such word. So, I took extergimus, the Latin word for “wipe off”, and gave it a little twist. From now on, if anyone asks, extermigate refers to the act of wiping insect eggs off of a host plant. Ta da!
In many cases, it is the larval form of an insect that causes the most damage. Voracious eaters, they can sever seedlings, turn leaves into lace, and hollow out cabbages before they have a chance to form. Imported cabbageworm butterflies are a perfect example.
Tiny pale eggs are laid by the dozens on the underside of young leaves. In no time at all, these eggs hatch into tiny larvae that don’t stay little for long. All day, they chew holes in leaves, growing larger by the minute. Since they tend to turn the color of the leaves they are feeding on, they are difficult to see until the damage becomes extensive. Instead of losing crops to pests like these, you can extermigate the eggs and be done with it.
How to extermigate
Much like tree rubbing, in which you use a gloved hand to rub off unwanted new shoots before they get large enough to require pruners, exterminating insect eggs is a lot faster and easier than hunting down fat green larvae, removing shredded leaves, and hosing all that frass (bug poop) out of your decimated plants
Every few days, simply take a walking tour of your susceptible plants. In the case of the imported cabbageworm butterfly, that would mean all of your cruciferous vegetables: broccolis, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflowers, chard, and kale. Inspect the underside of leaves for signs of eggs. If you see any, simply wipe them off. They will fall to the ground where, when they hatch, they will have no food and die.
Milk in the garden? Some say it can be used as a fungicide or fertilizer, while others praise milk’s ability to acidify the soil. Who is right? Are these myths or useful tools? Let’s find out!
According to Mother Earth News, a Nebraska farmer, David Wetzel, worked with a local County Extension agent, a soil specialist, a weed researcher, and an entomologist for 10 years to study the effects of milk on plant and soil health. According to his experience, plant production increased, soil porosity doubled, microorganism populations increased, grasshoppers abandoned his pastures, his pasture grass contained more nutrients and sugars (brix levels), and even his cows were healthier and produced more milk. At first glance, all that falls under the Too Good To Be True category, but is it? Can spraying milk on your garden plants really make things that much better?
Before we learn what milk can and cannot do in the garden, you need to know that Wetzel’s ‘research’ was never published, and that the real data showed absolutely no correlation between milk and any of the benefits listed. You can read an excellent summary of this at Garden Myths. After winnowing through several real studies, I learned that milk can be useful in the garden in some cases, but not all.
Milk as fertilizer
Anything added to the compost pile or the soil will ultimately be broken down by microorganisms into its elemental parts. While milk is the perfect food for baby mammals, it may or may not be good for plants. Milk contains amino acids, enzymes, fats, minerals, proteins, salts, sugars, and vitamins. Those minerals include calcium, chloride, citrate (an ester of citric acid), magnesium, phosphate, potassium, and sodium. Most of those minerals are useful to plant health.
The protein in milk contains an average of 0.5% nitrogen, another useful plant nutrient, but in a very small supply. So, yes, milk can be used as a fertilizer, but not a very good one. By the time you added enough milk to get a reasonable response, your garden would smell like a rotten dairy.
Milk as soil amendment
Milk can add calcium to the soil, improve porosity, and acidify the soil. That’s what they say, anyway. The fact is, milk is 90% water, which does nothing to improve soil structure or porosity. It also contains very little in the way of organic matter.
Milk starts out with a pH of 6.4 to 6.8, which is great for plants. When milk starts to curdle, it has a pH closer to 5.0, which is acidic. Putting practically anything with a pH of 5.0 in your soil will alter its pH temporarily. As expensive as milk is, there are far more affordable, effective methods, but it won’t hurt.
Milk as insecticide
It is said that if you spray soft-bodied insects, such as aphids, with milk, they will weaken and die because they do not have a pancreas with which to digest the milk sugars. Huh. That just doesn’t sound right to me. I mean, soft-bodied sap-sucking insects live on sap. Sap contains a lot of sugar. Insects may not have a pancreas but they sure know how to process sugar!
Some researchers believe that aphids may be deterred by foliar sprays of milk. It is not yet known why or how the milk spray does this. It may be that aphids simply do not like the milk film left on the plants, or it may be that microscopic pathogens that grow on the milk are a threat to aphids. We don’t know.
Milk as disease treatment
Foliar sprays of milk on wheat and grape, squash, melon, and pumpkin leaves are said to prevent fungal and bacterial diseases, such as powdery mildew and leaf black spot. There is, however, no research that demonstrates milk can control black spot on roses or other ornamental plants. Most of the studies that support this claim were performed in greenhouses, rather than outdoors, which makes a big difference. Just because something works in a greenhouse, a highly controlled environment, does not mean it will work in the field.
Generally speaking, milk or whey, applied before exposure to powdery mildew does reduce disease incidence. This may be because the benign microorganisms that start growing on the milk make it more difficult for powdery mildew organisms to take hold. Another theory is that the fatty acids contained in milk have antifungal properties. It may be for another reason altogether. We don’t know yet. Note that none of these studies succeeded using nonfat milk.
Research has also shown that foliar sprays of milk are effective in treating viral diseases, particularly tobacco mosaic and other mosaic diseases on barley, beans, beets, celery, peas, spinach, sunflowers, tomatoes, and zucchini. It is believed that the milk may either deactivate the viruses, or physically isolate them, but no one knows for sure. The milk spray may also prevent aphid attack, thereby reducing the number of aphid-borne viral diseases.
Problems with milk in the garden
The main problem associated with milk in the garden is that there has been very little scientific research conducted. Most of the information available is anecdotal, at best. Besides being expensive, there are three problems you should keep in mind before deciding to use milk in the garden:
How to apply milk
If you decide to use milk to prevent disease, it is recommended that whole milk be sprayed on soil prior to planting and again when insects appear or just prior to when powdery mildew and similar diseases are expected to occur. You can also dump sour milk into your compost pile or around acid-loving plants, such as blueberries.
So, can milk help improve your plant and soil health? Yes, and no. Used as a preventative antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial treatment, milk may reduce disease incidence by 50% to 70% on some plant species.
Commonly referred to as ladybugs in the U.S. and ladybirds in Britain, a more correct name is lady beetle, even though some of them are male. In most cases, lady beetles are beneficial insects, eating a surprising number of soft-bodied, sap-sucking insect pests. The Asian lady beetle is something of an exception.
First introduced to the United States from Japan in 1916 to control aphids, Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis) did not start to thrive in North America until 1988. First seen succeeding in the wild in Louisiana, Asian lady beetles were well established in the Northwest by 1991, the Northeast by 1994, and in the Midwest by 2000. Asian lady beetles are now found throughout the U.S. and Canada, and in parts of Europe and Africa. And for some, that’s a problem. We will get to that in a moment.
Asian lady beetle description
Slightly larger than other lady beetle species, Asian lady beetles have the same half-dome shape of other ladybugs. Legs tend to be brown while the antennae, head, and mouthparts are pale yellow, though they can be tinged with black.
This species appears in a very wide variety of colorations. They can range in color from red to yellow, or even black. The black variations may have 2 or 4 red spots, though not always. The red to yellow varieties may have up to 22 spots or no spots at all. The thorax, or middle part, (where the legs and wings attach) tends to be white, cream, or pale yellow, with variable black markings that can range from a few dark spots in an “M” or “W” formation to almost completely black. The pattern may also be in the shape of a trapezoid. Many other coloration patterns have also been recorded.
If you turn an Asian lady beetle upside-down, you would see that it is dark, with a reddish brown border. This, and the fact of its larger size, are the two most reliable methods of identification.
Because of the variety of colorations, Asian lady beetles also have a variety of names, including harlequin lady beetle, Japanese lady beetle, multicolored Asian lady beetle, multivariate lady beetle, pumpkin lady beetle, and southern ladybird.
Asian lady beetle larvae, like other lady beetle species, look like miniature alligators, with spines and tubercles. These black to blue-gray larvae go through 4 developmental stages, or instars. The final stage can be quite colorful with bright orangish-yellow patches on the sides of the abdomen.
Asian lady beetle lifecycle
Also known as Halloween lady beetles, these insects often invade homes during October in search of a place to overwinter. Using visual cues and pheromones to signal each other, they will often congregate in huge numbers. As temperatures drop below 50°F, they slow and then stop moving. Before that time, unmated females will seek out dry, dark crevices, such as inside walls and furniture. They also gather in the upper corners of windows, where they collect the sun’s heat. They seem to prefer light-colored buildings and dark screening material. Subsequent generations will follow chemical trails to favored overwintering sites.
In spring and summer, mating occurs and bright yellow eggs are laid in clusters on the underside of leaves. Within 3 to 5 days, these eggs hatch, releasing the classic alligator-shaped ladybug larvae. The larval stage lasts 12 to 14 days, followed by a 5 to 6 day pupal stage. Adults can live 2 to 3 years and there can be multiple generations in a single year. A single female may lay 1,600 to 3,800 eggs in her lifetime.
Asian lady beetles are also known to swarm in summer, creating a nuisance for picnic-goers.
Asian lady beetles have good eyesight. When threatened, Asian lady beetles release a foul odor, staining bodily fluids (“reflexive bleeding” from their knees), and they bite. Yes. That’s right. Asian lady beetles will bite you. And some people are allergic.
Asian lady beetle diet and host plants
Asian lady beetles are commonly found on apple trees, alfalfa, Christmas trees, grains, maple trees, pecan trees, rose bushes, walnut trees, and wheat. A single adult Asian lady beetle can eat 90 to 270 aphids each day, and one larva can devour 600 to 1,200 aphids as it develops. Adelgids, asparagus beetle larvae, mealybugs, moth larvae, psyllids, scale insects, spider mites, thrips, and whiteflies are also popular food stuffs. So are other lady beetle species - and other Asian lady beetles. These predators are voracious!
The problem with Asian lady beetles
Being slightly larger than other lady beetle species. Asian lady beetles have been devastating to native populations. Suddenly, beneficial ladybugs went from predator to prey. In addition to eating indigenous ladybugs, Asian lady beetles outcompete our more gentle ladybugs, leaving them without adequate food supplies. Also, Asian lady beetles are highly resistant to common lady beetle diseases. If that weren’t bad enough, Asian species carry a parasite to which they are immune, but other lady bugs are not. This parasite infects and then kills local lady beetles.
As Asian lady beetles devour, outcompete, and infect local ladybug populations, biodiversity is reduced and a domino effect occurs in ways which we have only partially identified. Asian lady beetles are now considered one of the world’s most invasive species.
Asian lady beetles are causing problems for grape farmers, too. As grapes are harvested, Asian lady beetles are often caught up in the harvest, ultimately altering the taste of the wine produced by those grapes.
Experts predict that things will settle down, once Asian lady beetle predators appear on the scene, but that can cause yet another set of domino-effects to become active. The delicate balances that evolve slowly over time have a difficult time dealing with the sudden changes we humans tend to create.
Asian lady beetle management
It is probably too late to do anything about this invasive insect. You are urged to not use pesticides. If Asian lady beetles appear in your home, you can gently sweep them up and toss them outside. Some people vacuum them up only to discover that alarming these insects results the stink and stain mentioned earlier. After kicking out the interlopers, inspect your home for points of entry around doors, windows, and pipes, and fill those spaces with expandable insulation or caulk.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Asian lady beetles are here to stay.
Winter is when many fruit and nut trees and cane fruits enter dormancy. This is an excellent time to prune and train trees and canes. It is also a good time to apply anti-pest and anti-disease treatments. But some of those treatments should be applied when a plant is in full dormancy while others should be applied during the delayed dormant period. Let’s find out more about these two time frames and how to make the most of them.
Life in the year of a tree
Summer is a riot of leaf, flower, and fruit development. Ample warmth and moisture combine to allow trees and canes to invest all their resources into procreation. As days begin to shorten and temperatures start to drop, deciduous trees, grape vines, and bramble fruits pull resources from leaves, as seen by the changing colors and ultimate leaf drop. During the coldest part of winter [December and January if you live in San Jose, California], most fruit and nut trees are in full dormancy. Sometime around February, things start moving again. Sap starts flowing. Buds start swelling. This is called the delayed-dormant period and it continues until spring, when the tips of the buds start to turn green.
Timing tree treatments
Horticultural oils, fixed copper, Bordeaux mixture and fungicides can be used to suffocate pest eggs, thwart fungal diseases, and break many other disease triangles. But the timing of those treatments is critical for them to work properly. Spray too soon and rain will wash it away before it ever comes into contact with a pest or pathogen. Too late is, well, too late. Also, coverage must be complete to the point of it dripping from every surface.
Generally speaking, these treatments need to be done before buds start to swell. Applying horticultural oils during summer, for example, when trees are more likely to be water-stressed, can lead to severe leaf loss and sunburn damage, reducing crop size and making trees susceptible a number of other pests and diseases. Applying treatments during freezing weather can be just as bad. Ideally, tree treatments should be applied on cool (50°F - 70°F), slightly overcast days, when rain, fog, and wind are not expected for at least 24 hours.
Different species have different ideal “windows” of treatment opportunities:
Timing also depends on the specific pest or disease. Full dormancy is the best time to treat for San Jose scale and peach leaf curl. Either full dormancy or the delayed dormant period can be used to treat for aphid eggs, European fruit lecanium nymphs, fruittree leafrollers, peach silver mites, and peach twig borer larvae. You can also wait until blossoms appear to use Bt to treat for peach twig borers.
The delayed dormant period is the best time to apply treatments for these specific problems:
In some cases, your tree, vine, or canes will need more than one type of treatment. Dormant oil may be needed to combat certain pests, followed by a sulfur treatment to prevent fungal disease. It is very important that at least 30 days separate those two treatments. Also, sulfur should not be applied on days when temperatures will go above 75°F.
Keep in mind that treatments should not be given as a matter of habit. They should only be used when they are needed, as evidenced by infestations of infectious the previous year. Use a hand lens or magnifying glass to inspect buds for signs of aphid or other insect eggs. If your trees do not need treating, don’t do it. This is especially true for fixed copper treatments, as copper can build up in the soil to reach levels that are toxic to valuable microorganisms.
Whichever treatments you decide to use, ALWAYS apply them exactly as package instructions state and wear protective clothing and goggles. Using these products incorrectly can harm you, your trees, and groundwater supplies.
Other actions you can take to ensure the health of your fruit and nut trees during delayed dormancy include:
February may seem like a quiet time for gardeners, but it is the perfect time to get outside and take a closer look at stems, twigs, bark, buds and spurs. Identifying potential pest and disease problems ahead of time, and treating your trees at the ideal time to combat those problems can make the rest of your year that much easier and your trees more productive.
Insect pests can damage garden plants by feeding on them, burrowing into them, or by carrying diseases.
Ants, aphids, scale insects, mites, thrips, psyllids… the list never seems to end! Practically any time of year, one sort of insect or another is trying to take a bite out of your garden plants. If that weren’t bad enough, many of these pests spread diseases as they feed and travel around. There isn’t a gardener alive who hasn’t wished for an easy solution to the constant onslaught. But easy solutions often backfire and insecticides are a perfect example.
How insecticides work
Insecticides are formulated to repel, kill, or otherwise harm insects. These agents are classified as either systemic or contact insecticides. Systemic insecticides are absorbed by the plant, making it toxic to anything that eats it. Systemic insecticides have residual, long term actions, while contact insecticides have no residual actions. Contact insecticides simply have to come into contact with an insect to be toxic.
The mode of action by which an insecticide works is important as it determines which other living things may be affected. Some insecticides work by damaging an insect’s nervous system, interrupting feeding and reproductive behaviors, while other insecticides attack the exoskeleton. A damaged exoskeleton allows insects to dry out, causing death by desiccation. Growth regulators (e.g., pyriproxyfen, methoprene) stop insects from molting or laying eggs. Ovicides kills eggs. Larvicides kill larvae.
Insecticides also come in several forms: sprays, dusts, baits, and gels. Depending on which form you use and how you use it, the poisons intended for pests can harm pets, people, and the environment.
Insecticides can be repellent or non-repellent. Repellents discourage insects from bothering a plant in the first place. Non-repellents are especially effective against social insects, such as ants. Being a non-repellent, the insecticide is not offensive to the pest, so they walk through it and end up carrying it back to their nest, ultimately killing the entire colony.
Types of insecticides
There are three basic types of insecticide: natural, inorganic, and organic. Natural insecticides are enzymes and other protective substances made by plants as part of their arsenal against insect pests. These natural insecticides include nicotine, neem, and pyrethrum. Pyrethrum is made from the dried flower heads of two chrysanthemum species: Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium and Chrysanthemum coccineum. Other natural insecticides include the chemical that gives horseradish its fiery bite, rosin, and wintergreen.
Inorganic insecticides are made from metals. Organic insecticides are organic chemical compounds that are generally work by making contact with an insect.
The problem with insecticides
Being poisons, insecticides can affect our health, as well as kill insects. Insecticides can also remain in the food supply, increasing in concentration as they move up the food chain. This is important because we are at the top of our food chain. [It is a lot like mercury in fish.] Many of these problems can be reduced or eliminated by understanding the different types of insecticides and using them responsibly.
Like weedkiller sprays, broad-spectrum insecticides are very appealing. A problem appears. You spray it. The problem is gone. Fantastic. Except that the problem is not gone. In fact, the problem just got worse. By spraying broad-spectrum insecticides, all insects are affected. Beneficial predatory insects, pollinators, burrowing soil arthropods, and our beloved honey bees are all subject to the same poisoning.
There are several type of broad-spectrum insecticides, in order of toxicity, all of which interfere with nerve cell transmissions:
Educate yourself about ingredients
Before applying insecticides, you can protect yourself and the environment by learning more about the ingredients. For example, some beneficial insects, such as lacewings, are tolerant of pyrethroids, while beetles, parasitic wasps, and predatory mites are very sensitive to the same chemicals.
You should also ask yourself how long the ingredients of any particular insecticide will remain in the environment. Insecticides are commonly grouped by persistence: short (days), intermediate (up to 6 weeks), or long (months).
Finally, are insects developing a resistance to an insecticide? If so, it should be avoided and another product used.
Reducing risks associated with insecticides
Before resorting to the use of insecticides, be sure you have done the following:
In many cases, it is against federal law to use insecticides improperly, and for good reason.
As quickly as insects can reproduce, it often feels like a losing battle. This is what makes the use of modern insecticides so appealing. Insecticides are an easy way to kill insects. But not all insecticides are safe to use on edible plants. And many insecticides interfere with the delicate balance that exists in a healthy environment. Knowing more about the different ways insecticides work, and how and when to apply them properly, can prevent longterm problems while still reducing the damage done to your plants by insect pests.
Leaf rot causes crisp, leafy greens turn brown and mushy.
Your spinach, endive, escarole, lettuces, mustards, and Swiss chard are all susceptible. So are your lentils, strawberries, beans, peas, okra, and many cucurbits.
What is leaf rot?
You’ve seen it in your refrigerator. You place a fresh head of lettuce in the crisper drawer. The next time you look, leaves have turned brown and mushy. What happened? What happened is fungi or bacteria found a hospitable location and started reproducing and feeding. Rotting is the breakdown of complex structures by those tiny life forms.
Causes of leaf rot
Leaf rot can be a case in which leaves were exposed to too much moisture and decomposition set in. Leaf rot can also be a symptom of any number of fungal or bacterial diseases, most often caused by Fusarium, Pythium, Phytophthora, and Rhizoctonia. These leaf rot diseases include cherry mottle, cucurbit wet rot, carrot leaf rot, lentil leaf rot, pigeonpea leaf rot, and white mold.
Like most rots, moisture is a critical component. Allowing water to sit on your leafy greens invites trouble, as does saturated soil.
Preventing leaf rot
Rather than losing your leafy greens and other garden favorites to leaf rot, there are steps you can take to prevent this problem. First, healthy plants are better able to protect themselves, so select plants best suited to your microclimate and avoid overwatering. Good drainage will also help prevent conditions that lead to leaf rot. Instead of overhead watering, use drip irrigation, a soaker hose, or furrow irrigation.
If leaf rot does occur, dig up infected plants and throw them in the trash. This will reduce the chance of neighboring plants suffering a similar fate.
Eating lead-based paint is a bad idea. You don’t want it in your garden soil, either. But how do you know if it is there and what can you do about it if it is?
Lead is a soft, heavy metal that has been used to make paint, pipes, bullets, batteries, pewter, leaded glass, and in gasoline. Lead is still used to make high voltage power cables, lead-acid batteries, solder, and wicks for cheap tea lights.
Damage caused by lead
Lead is a neurotoxin that accumulates in bones and soft tissues, causing brain, kidney, liver, reproductive system, digestive system, and nervous system damage. It also reduces intellect and is believed by some to be associated with increased rates of crime and violence. Many historians attribute the Fall of Rome to the fact that their pipes many of their food containers were lined with lead.
Most countries have banned the use of lead in products that might cause exposure, but not all. Countries such as China, India, and Indonesia still use lead in many products which is why it is important to verify that planting containers, coffee cups, and other food-related items are safe to use. Red and yellow ceramics are the most likely to contain lead.
Where does lead come from?
Lead was added to gasoline as an anti-knock agent in 1921. By the 1970’s, over 75% of the U.S. population had elevated lead levels in their blood. That number dropped to just over 2% twenty years later, after lead was removed from gasoline. All those fumes, spewing forth for over 50 years, contained lead. That lead settled on roads, yards, gardens, and fields. Rain and irrigation water leached some of that lead into rivers, lakes, and oceans.
Lead can also find its way into your garden soil by sanding, chipping, or sandblasting lead-based paint from older buildings, or when old lead pipes, roof flashing, or lead-batteries are allowed to sit on the ground and break down.
How much lead is in your soil?
Lead occurs naturally in the soil. While there is no safe level of exposure, natural concentrations range from 10 to 30 parts per million (ppm). Areas where leaded gasoline was still in use in 2014 were found to have lead levels of 100 to 1,000ppm. Homes painted with lead-based paint that were located near high traffic roads could have had lead levels as high as 3,000ppm.
Until you get your soil tested, there is no way of knowing how much lead is there. I use the UMass Extension Soil Testing Lab. My soil test lists anything below 22ppm as acceptable. My results were 2.1ppm in 2015 and 2.0 in 2019. Lab-based soil tests are inexpensive and they provide valuable information both for your plants’ health and your family’s health.
How to manage lead contaminated soil
If your soil is contaminated, your biggest health risk is breathing in dust that contains lead. One of the easiest ways to reduce the risk of inhaling lead dust is to grow cover crops or mulch over the area. You can also cover the contaminated area with 4” to 6” of clean soil, to reduce the risk of dust.
You can also use certain amendments that bind to the lead, making it less likely to be absorbed by plants or released into the air via dust. Lead will bind to organic matter, such as aged compost, but this treatment needs to be repeated as the compost breaks down. Depending on your soil’s phosphorus levels, the addition of more phosphorus may improve the binding action. Too much phosphorus is bad for plants, so check your soil test results before using this method.
As soil pH increases, becoming more alkaline, plants absorb more lead. Maintaining a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.5 is ideal, both for plant health and to reduce lead absorption.
Can I grow edible plants in lead contaminated soil?
Plants can grow in soil with lead levels as high as 500ppm. Lead moves very slowly through plants, staying mostly in the roots. According to the University of California Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, “Fruits such as tomatoes, peppers, melons, okra, apples, and oranges and seeds such as corn, peas, and beans generally have the lowest lead concentrations and are the safest portions of the respective plants to eat [when] grown in lead-contaminated soils.”
Crops that should never be grown in lead contaminated soils include leafy greens, such as chard and collards, and root vegetables, such as beets, carrots, potatoes, and turnips. These crops are better grown in raised beds with clean potting soil.
Also, if you know your soil contains high levels of lead, be sure to wash all produce thoroughly to remove any lead dust that may be present.
Finally, pencil leads have never been made from lead. They are made with graphite.
Now you know.
When I first read the name drugstore beetle, I conjured up images of an 1800s mercantile being harassed by a gunslinging beetle wearing spurs. I have no idea why.
The truth is, drugstore beetles (Stegobium paniceum), also known as biscuit beetles or bread beetles, are very tiny and don’t look like much of a threat to anyone. Looks can be deceiving.
Drugstore beetles got their name because, until relatively recently, most drugstore pharmaceuticals were made out of dried plants. Drugstore beetles have also been known to feed on chemicals, such as strychnine, once commonly found in drugstores.
Drugstore beetle description
Being brown and covered with microscopic hairs, drugstore beetles look similar to cigarette beetles, but are somewhat larger at 1/8” (3.5mm) in length. Also, where cigarette beetles have smooth bodies and serrated antennae, drugstore beetles have longitudinal grooves along the elytra (wing cases) and antennae that end with three tiny segmented clubs. Drugstore beetle larvae are white grubs with very fine hairs.
Drugstore beetle lifecycle
Female drugstore beetles can lay up to 75 eggs at a time, and the egg-laying season can last for months. That works out to a tremendous number of offspring. Those eggs are usually laid in dried foods, such as cereals, dried fruit, grains, herbs, and nuts. Eggs may also be found in dried meat, hair, wool, and candy.
As those eggs are laid, they are covered with a yeast fungus. This fungi and the beetles cannot live without each other. This is an example of obligatory symbiosis. In less than two months, larvae pupate into adulthood, protected by tiny cocoons, and the cycle begins again.
Damage caused by drugstore beetles
After the eggs hatch, it is the larvae that cause damage by burrowing through and feeding on a wide variety of materials. They also leave frass (big poop) and webbing behind, as well as stray hairs and secretions.
Drugstore beetle larvae love dried plant products, such as cereals, beans, pasta, rice, bread, flour, and spices. Apparently, paprika and chili powder are drugstore beetle favorites, though they will eat practically anything. Larvae are also commonly found in tea, potpourri, tobacco, wreaths, and birds’ nests and they have been known to damage books, leather, hair, and museum specimens.
In the garden, drugstore beetles are a major pest of cumin.
Drugstore beetle control
Drugstore beetles are often carried into the home, garden, or landscape in bulk items, such as grass seed, bird seed, or dry pet food. They may also hitch a ride on packaged food. This is why it is important to look for holes in food packaging and avoid those products. While adult drugstore beetles do not eat, they often chew holes in plastic, foil, and paperboard food packaging. You may also see pockmarks in crackers and pasta. Inspecting foodstuffs and bulk items before you bring them home can prevent infestation.
When bringing crops, such as beans and other seeds, into the home., it is a good idea to freeze them overnight to kill any larvae that may be lurking. This is an easy way to keep your home from becoming infested. Diatomaceous earth (DE) can also be used lightly in areas where drugstore beetles may be lurking.
Pheromone traps and insecticides are not effective against drugstore beetles.
Chlorine in your plants? Yes. Well, sort of.
Before you go grab a jug of bleach, you need to know that laundry bleach most commonly refers to a dilute solution of sodium hypochlorite. This is NOT something you want anywhere near your plants. In fact, high concentrations of chlorine are fatal to all living things. It was even used in World War I as the first chemical warfare agent.
We are not quite ready to throw the book at chlorine, however. We need to know that chlorine is an element, much like copper or nitrogen, used by plants as food. You don’t hear much about it because plants only need it in tiny amounts. Once called trace elements, minerals used in such small amounts are now referred to as micronutrients. The form of chlorine used by plants is called chloride (Cl-).
Forms of chlorine
Chlorine is a highly reactive element. As such, it rarely occurs naturally by itself. Instead, it binds to other, nearby elements. In fact, chlorine will pair with practically every other element in the Periodic Table. Those parings occur because chlorine most commonly exists as an anion, or negatively charged, somewhat unstable atom, called chloride. To stabilize its outer electron field, chloride shares electrons with other elements, creating molecules. Some of these more familiar ‘binary chlorides’ include:
We all know ‘salting your fields’ ends badly for plants. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know just how much chlorine is in your soil. Most soil tests do not include chlorine results. If your soil test indicates excessive levels of other anions, such as sulfur and boron, it may be difficult for your plants to absorb the chlorine they need. Only a lab-based soil test can tell you what those levels are and how they are changing over time. If you see signs of chlorine toxicity, you may want to limit the use of calcium chloride and potassium chloride.
How plants use chlorine
Chlorine aids plant metabolism during photosynthesis. It is necessary for osmosis and fluid balance within plants, working in tandem with potassium ions to open and close the stoma. As an anion, chlorine binds with many cations, or positively changed ions, helping to transport them throughout a plant. Chlorine also appears to have antifungal properties which are currently being explored.
Chlorine toxicities and deficiencies
Chlorine is a relatively mobile nutrient, which means it moves around freely within a plant, going wherever it is needed. This means that deficiencies are most often seen in older growth. Chlorine deficiencies appear as wilting, leaf mottling, and a highly branched but stubby root system. [Cabbages that are grown in chlorine deficient soils do not smell like cabbages.]
More often, chlorine toxicities occur close to swimming pools and in areas with hard water. [San Jose tap water ranges in pH from 7.0 to 8.7.] Symptoms of chlorine toxicity appear as scorched leaf margins, excessive leaf drop, reduced leaf size, and reduced overall growth. Too much chlorine can also interfere with nitrogen absorption, causing chlorosis, or yellowing, but that might not always be a bad thing.
We know that new growth tends to be more susceptible to disease than older growth. It ends up that chlorine’s interference with nitrogen uptake may be a method of reducing disease severity. As a disease occurs, plants absorb more chloride anions, blocking nitrogen uptake, and reducing the amount of vulnerable new growth being produced.
Now you know.
Large hairy spiders might not be what you want to see in your garden, but tarantulas are actually gentle, beneficial creatures.
Tarantulas are the largest spiders on Earth and they have been around for 150 million years. There are approximately 1,000 species of tarantula around the world.
Before you run away in a panic, you might be surprised to learn some of the more unique characteristics of tarantulas. For example, did you know that tarantulas use special hairs on their legs and feet that are used to taste things? Or that their sense of smell is in their feet? Read on!
We have all seen images of these large, hairy spiders, but there is far more to tarantulas than their appearance. Like other Arachnids, tarantulas have eight eyes and eight legs. Each of these legs has 7 segments and 2 or 3 retractable claws used for climbing and hunting. Tarantulas have 2 large eyes and 3 smaller eyes on either side. Tarantulas have hollow fangs used to inject their prey with venom. These fangs are unique in that they are articulated, which means they can be pointed forwards to attack or folded backwards for storage. [Imagine doing that with your teeth!]
Depending on the species, tarantulas range in body size from 1” to 4” long with leg spans of 3” to 12” wide. The Goliath birdeater, from Brazil and Venezuela, is the largest tarantula. While most North American tarantulas are brown, other species can be black with white stripes, iridescent purple, cobalt blue, yellow-legged, and one species, the Venezuelan greenbottle blue, has an orange back and metallic blue legs!
Speaking of legs, a tarantula can regrow a lost leg. A tarantula may pull off an injured leg and eat it, making room (and providing nutrients) to grow a new one.
Did you know that all tarantulas can produce silk? Or that some Old World species can hiss? I didn’t either.
Female tarantulas take 3 to 5 years to mature, depending on the species, and they can live for 15 to 30 years. Male tarantulas are smaller than females and they only live for 3 to 6 years. Like most other spiders, most female tarantulas often eat the males after mating. [Sorry, guys.] This provides her with the nutrients she needs to raise her young. Even if they are not eaten, male tarantulas normally die soon after mating.
Eggs are laid once a year in clusters of 50 to 2,000, depending on the species. Females are rather protective of their egg sacs, turning them frequently, the same way a broody hen will roll her eggs around in the nest. In both cases, this action prevents the offspring from becoming deformed.
Tarantulas are nocturnal predators. They used touch to find and ambush their prey. They mostly eat large insects, centipedes, millipedes, and other spiders. The larger species also capture and eat small bats, birds, lizards, mice, snakes, and tree frogs.
Tarantulas that hunt on the ground tend to live in silk-lined burrows in the ground. Tarantulas that hunt in trees tend to build silken nests for themselves, up in a favored tree.
As a tarantula grows, it must shed its protective exoskeleton. These molts are dangerous times for a tarantula because they cannot move while they are molting. Baby tarantulas, or spiderlings, molt every couple of weeks. Mature tarantulas molt once a year.
Tarantulas as prey
Tarantulas may look fierce and intimidating, but they look like lunch to a variety of other predators, including scorpions, giant centipedes, opossum, honey badgers, mongooses, kinkajou, and coati, depending on your continent. Even other tarantulas will feed on tarantulas. One of the biggest threats to tarantulas is a type of wasp, called a tarantula hawk. Tarantula hawks must sting the underside of a tarantula to subdue and paralyze it. The wasp then drags the tarantula to its den where it lays an egg on the tarantula’s belly before sealing it inside the tunnel. When the egg hatches, it will consume the tarantula.
Tarantulas as pets
Many people keep tarantulas as pets, swearing that they are affectionate, gentle beings. That may be so, but you do need to know that New World species of tarantula have special stinging, barbed hairs, called urticating hairs, that can become embedded in your skin, eyes and lungs. These hairs are very similar to the stinging hairs found in nettles and are used to mark territory and protect nesting areas.
Sadly, as a result of pet trade, some tarantula species are threatened with extinction. This is especially true for the Mexican red-knee tarantula. If you must have a tarantula as a pet, make sure you get it from a reputable dealer. Better yet, if you happen to see a tarantula in your garden, simply leave it alone and let it take care of some of those pesky millipedes!
Are tarantulas dangerous?
Tarantulas would much rather run away and hide than attack a person. Contrary to popular belief, North American tarantula bites are not particularly dangerous, though they are said to feel like bee stings. Tarantula bites can be very dangerous to people who are allergic. Tarantula species found in other parts of the world, particularly the Indian ornamental tarantula, can be particularly deadly to humans.
Did you know that some people also eat tarantulas? Apparently, in Cambodia and Venezuela, tarantulas are roasted over an open fire to burn off the hairs before being eaten. They can also be deep fried. And the fangs are used as toothpicks.
Now we know.
When installing new bare root trees or doing some dormant season pruning, be on the lookout for orange bulges on stems or branches. It might be burr knot.
Once considered a disease, burr knots start out as smooth orange bulges on stems or branches that develop into adventitious roots. These tumor-like bulges are actually masses of tiny roots that somehow ended up growing in the aboveground portion of a tree. This condition can be mistaken for crown gall.
Remember, most fruit and nut trees purchased these days are actually two trees that have been grafted together. The upper portion is selected for fruit or nut production and pest and disease resistance, while the rootstock is chosen for its ability to establish itself quickly and make the best use of soil resources.
Trees susceptible to burr knots
This condition is most common on apple trees. It occurs on scion cultivars, particularly Gala and Empire, and on dwarf and semi-dwarf tree rootstocks. Specifically, semi-dwarf trees grown from M.7, M.26, MM106, or MM.111 and dwarf trees with M.9 rootstock are likely to develop burr knots. Scion cultivars develop burr knots on the underside of limbs, while grafted trees tend to develop burr knots at nodes. Nodes are where leaves and stems normally emerge. Instead of developing normally, primordial roots cells begin to develop, creating a tumor-like bulge.
Conditions that encourage burr knots
In addition to being a grafted apple tree, other conditions, such as shade, increase the likelihood of burr knots occurring. High humidity and temperatures ranging from 68°F to 95°F during a tree’s first year encourage the development of tiny growths, called root initials, during its second year. These root initials can break through the bark of a tree, making room for more roots to form, increasing the bulge.
Problems associated with burr knots
As roots push their way through the bark, they create entry points for pests, such as plum borers, apple clearwing moths, and wooly apple aphids, and diseases. These diseases include fireblight and wood-rotting fungi. Limbs can become structurally weak and more likely to break. Several burr knots on the same tree can also interfere with nutrient movement through the phloem, causing stunting. These weakened areas are more prone to frost damage in winter.
Preventing burr knots
First, be sure to select tree varieties that are suitable for your microclimate. Next, be sure to install your tree at the proper depth. Improper planting leads to several problems and can ultimately kill your tree. Keep weeds away from your young tree and make sure that tree supports are used properly and only for as long as they are needed. If burr knots are seen, they can be cut out with a knife or filed out with a rasp.
When gooseberry and currant growers find hollowed out, discolored berries that fall off early, it is time to look closely for other signs of invasive gooseberry fruitworms.
Gooseberry fruitworms are the larval stage of the gooseberry moth (Zophodia convolutella). This insignificant looking moth can cause significant damage.
Gooseberry moth description
Adult gooseberry moths are grey with a 1” wingspan. You may be able to see a white fringe on the back of the rear wings, and white horizontal stripes on the forewings, as well as a brown spot. More often, all you will see is a small, narrow-bodied greyish-brown moth.
Larvae are 3/4” long. At first, they are a pale green. As they mature, the head turns brown and dark stripes can be seed down the sides of the body. Sadly, I was unable to track down a photo. Please share one in the Comments if your berries have been so afflicted.
Gooseberry moth lifecycle
Adult moths lay eggs on currants and gooseberries. When the eggs hatch, larvae burrow into the fruit and begin feeding on the pulp. This discolors the fruit and causes it to drop prematurely. A single larva will feed on several berries. Berries may be held together by a silken thread. There is usually only one generation each year but, being invasive insects, the lack of natural predators may cause that to change.
Gooseberry moth controls
Handpick and destroy any larvae you see, or feed them to your chickens. Bacillus thuringiensis and spinosad can also be used against these pests. Treatments should be applied when fruit is first developing and again 10 days later.
Gymnosperms are plants that produce naked seeds. We say they are naked because the seeds are not surrounded by an ovary. When seeds are enclosed by an ovary, which we generally refer to as fruit, the plant is classified as an angiosperm.
Angio- or gymno-?
There are several differences between angiosperm and gymnosperm:
Another difference between angiosperm and gymnosperm is the idea of softwood versus hardwood. Those terms don’t exclusively refer to the density of the wood. It actually points out that they are two entirely different types of plants. Hardwoods are angiosperms, while softwoods are gymnosperms.
Types of gymnosperm
Gymnosperm seeds, unlike angiosperm, develop on top of leaves or scales. Those scales often turn into cones. There are four existing types of gymnosperm:
You may have heard of pine nuts and gingko nuts, but neither one is actually a nut. True nuts are hard-shelled, inedible pods that hold both the fruit and the seed of a plant. The pod, or shell, of a nut is made from the ovary wall, which hardens over time. Hazelnuts, chestnuts, and acorns are true nuts. So are kola nuts.
A nut is not a nut when it is a fruit seed. Pine nuts and ginkgo nuts are not true nuts.
While most of the plants in your garden are probably angiosperms, you just might have a gymnosperm or two in the mix!
Caraway seeds taste similar to anise or licorice and caraway plants are easy to grow. Did you know that the entire caraway plant is edible? Read on!
Frequently used in rye bread, goulash, havarti cheese, and Irish soda bread, this cousin to carrots and dill has lovely umbrella-shaped flowers that attract many beneficial insects, such as hoverflies and parasitic wasps.
The caraway seed is actually a type of dried fruit, called an achene. Feathery leaves, strong stems, and small pink or white flowers make caraway (Carum carvi) both attractive and useful. Plants can reach 24-30” in height, though they only reach 8” or so their first year.
As a member of the carrot family, caraway plants can look similar to poison hemlock, so make sure you know how to tell them apart.
How caraway grows
Caraway, like parsley and many other umbellifers, is a biennial plant. This means it uses its first year to develop a root system and become established. In its second year, flower production takes place and seeds are produced. Some varieties are grown as annuals, and one type of caraway is a perennial plant.
Caraway plants prefer warm, sunny locations, good drainage, and nutrient-rich soil. Commonly grown in Europe and Western Asia, caraway plants prefer cool temperate zones and a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.0, and can be grown in Hardiness Zones 3-11. While they prefer full sun, caraway plants can handle partial shade.
How to grow caraway
Caraway seeds should be planted 1/4” to 1/2” deep in spring or fall, directly in the soil. As is common with plants that feature a taproot, caraway does not transplant well. Plants should be thinned so they are 8-12” apart. Caraway is a slow grower, so you may want to intercrop with something faster to reduce weeds and to act as a nurse crop for your caraway. Water plants well during their first year, but avoid getting the leaves wet. Soaker hoses are an excellent tool for irrigating caraway.
While caraway has very few pest or disease problems, it is a good idea to leave some distance between them and other members of the carrot family.
If grown as a biennial, cut plants back in the fall. They will regrow, bigger than ever, in spring. If grown as an annual, be sure to start a new crop in succession, for a continuous harvest.
Since all parts of the caraway plant are edible, you can use young leaves and stems in salads, soups, and stews. When seeds have turned brown, remove the flower head and hang it upside-down in a pillowcase until dry. Then you can simply rub the head between your hands to dislodge the caraway achenes. After seeds are produced and harvested, you can dig up the root and treat it the same way you would any other root vegetable.
Try adding some caraway to your foodscape this fall!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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