YELLOWJACKET TRAPS, THEN PANSIES

By: Sandy Swegel

Is Spring about to happen in your neighborhood? Before you start getting pansies or collecting daffodils, stop and put out your yellow jacket traps…if yellow jackets are a problem for you in the summer.

The yellow jacket life cycle is pretty simple. Almost all the yellow jackets die off in winter. Single queens that already “mated” go into winter hibernation…in the ground, or your shed, or woodpile. Once warm weather starts in the Spring the queen wakes up, builds a new nest and starts laying eggs for this year’s yellow jackets. One little queen easily lays 500 eggs. Conservatively, every queen you catch now means hundreds fewer yellow jackets gathering at your picnics in the yard this summer. It is so much easier to catch one queen now than to tackle nests full of angry yellow jackets under your picnic table in July.

A simple pheromone trap works great…it lures the queen to those yellow plastic hanging traps. This is no time for simple soapy water. You’ll be glad you spent the $5 for the pheromone lure refills. And the lure doesn’t affect honeybees.

Catching the queens isn’t always predictable. I put up more than one trap. Last year the trap by the BBQ grill caught ten queens. And a trap under a tree caught two. It seems to differ every year. But I will be grateful come summer.

It’s definitely time in this warm March we’re having in Colorado. It was 80 degrees today…I got stung cleaning up debris in the perennial bed. The queen rolled over from her winter nap and sunk her stinger into me as revenge. Ouch. Yellow jackets hurt so much more than other wasps. If you don’t go outside in the summer, then let the yellow jackets live. But since they don’t play well with others, I believe in a strong birth prevention policy.

Photocredits:
www.rescue.com/bug/yellowjackets
greenbugpestandlawn.com/learning-center/flying-pest

 

Give your House Plants a Spa Day

By: Sandy Swegel

Right about this time of year is when your indoor plants are all stressed out. It’s been months of winter and dry heated air. Outdoors in nature, wild plants are enjoying spring rains that clean off their leaves and freshen their soil.

Once again, we plant lovers know to mimic nature if we want our plant friends to thrive in the odd conditions we try to grow them in. Growing plants under a roof without moving air or overhead moisture is definitely odd.

The plants I’m wintering over are the most stressed. The hibiscus have aphids. White fly that I thought I eradicated shows up in the sunroom. Scale is appearing on the underside of waxy leaves.

Time for a Spa Day.

Take any plants that are moveable and bring them into your shower. Don’t forget a good drain catch…you don’t need perlite in your sewer pipes. Bring in the non-buggy plants first. You don’t need to spread pests and disease. Clean off dead or diseased leaves and give the whole plant a good overhead shower. Use the hand sprayer to get the underside of leaves.

Pretend you are a spring thunderstorm and really soak the soil so that water runs out the bottom taking away some of the built up salts. Use soapy water to treat any soft-bodied pests. Use your fingernail or a Q-tip with alcohol to remove scale sacs.

After the bathing and dripping dry, add a layer of clean compost — earthworm castings work great. Then douse the soil with a good natural liquid fertilizer—I like seaweed based fertilizers because then everything smells ocean fresh.

Your plants will be grateful for their Spa Day and perk right up from all that moisture and a good meal.

Of course you might need your own Spa Day after you finish cleaning up the mess. But we all enjoy a good Spring shower.

 

Photos:
www.ourhouseplants.com/guides/cleaning-your-plants
www.thesmallgarden.com.au/blogpages/how-to-holiday-proof-your-garden-this-summer

 

 

Attract chickadees to your garden

by Sandy SwegelChickadee

Chickadees are out and about on warm winter days.  They are the tiny white birds with black heads that are flittering and chirping vocally on sunny January days.  I often see them in the top branches of evergreens.

Chickadees are small birds that don’t migrate but hunker down in tree cavities to survive the winter despite their tiny bodies.  You can have lots of chickadees in your garden if you keep a simple tube feeder with seeds (they love black sunflower seeds.). You can also feed them with your garden by leaving the seed heads on all the plants for the chickadees to sit on or hunt and peck for.  Chickadees need a lot of food …. the eat about a third of their body weight per day.

Chickadee

And that is why you want them to live in your garden.  They may rely on seeds in winter but come early spring and mating time, they get about 80% of their diet from insects.  They eat so many insects, some wildlife fans call them the pest exterminator of the forest.  And their favorite insect?  Aphids!  Tiny aphids are the perfect food for tiny chickadee beaks.  The birds are very systematic and will cling to a plant stem eating one aphid after another until they clear the entire stem. In spring before your plants are even sending up new stalks, the chickadees will pick in leaf litter finding the baby aphids just as they hatch or even just eating the yummy aphid eggs.

 

Photo credits

https://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/2016/Help-Birds-Stay-Warm.aspx

 

http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/black-capped-chickadee

 

 

Apples

by Sandy SwegelApples

Two things I learned about apples this year.

Reduce codling moths in your trees.
A few years ago, I started following the advice of a local organic farmer to pick up the bad apples under my apple trees. I’ve always left them there to compost in place or waited until they were all down to pick them up. My delicious McIntosh apple tree had lots of codling moths which left unappealing frass in the apples as well as the occasional worm. The tree was too tall to spray clay and I didn’t want to use anything toxic. So I did start religiously picking up the apples as they fell. Now, some five years later, I’ve notice that while codling moths still attack the apples, they are MUCH fewer in number affecting maybe only 10-20% of the apples. What a difference sanitation made.

Apple larva

Bake awesomely easy gluten-free Apple Crisp
The second thing I learned came from the new “problem” of what to do with so many apples. If you pick up the apples soon after they fall from the tree, then you notice the apples are in pretty good shape if you cut out the bad parts right away. So now I had a surplus of apples. The freezer was full of sauce and still the apples came. Fortunately I gave the apples to a baker friend who made a gluten-free apple crisp that was better than anything I had ever had. And that’s when she taught me a professional secret. You have to bake the apples first before you put the crisp topping on. When you just layer apples pieces in a pan and sprinkle with your crisp mixture, you can end up with apples that are too crunchy and/or a burnt crisp top.

 

 

So here’s the basic recipe:Apple Cobbler

Cut up apples into pan. Bake until mostly soft.

Crisp topping:
Oats, cinnamon, nuts (almond meal, tiny pecan pieces) Optional: butter, brown sugar.
Sprinkle topping on baked apples. Put the pan back in the oven until the crisp is browned and crispy. Twice-baked apples melt in your mouth (without lots of extra sugar) and the topping is crispy delicious. The perfect foil for vanilla ice cream.

So now I spend more time working to clean up apples…..but am rewarded with more apple crisp!

 

 

Photocredits: http://utahpests.usu.edu/ipm/htm/fruits/fruit-insect-disease/apple-pear-control03
http://allrecipes.com/recipe/229088/apple-crisp-with-oat-topping/

 

Stop the Powdery Mildew Cycle this Fall

by Sandy SwegelPowder Mildew

Powdery mildew had a grand time in my garden this year. I often have a nonchalant attitude to it growing on a few leaves and don’t mind a little bit. But it started early this year on roses, then showed up on the bee balms and finished out the season inundating the sweet peas and squashes. By the time I paid attention, it was out of control.

But now it’s Fall and my inner lazy gardener says…ah well this season is over. Next year it will be different. But if we want to make progress against disease in our gardens, now is the time to act.

Powdery Mildew

Do you Want Less Disease in your garden next year? Then take these steps now:

In the Vegetable Garden
As your squash and cucumbers and pea plants are dying back, remove those leaves and put them in the trash. Not in the compost pile. Don’t let them overwinter and deal with it in the Spring. Fungus and disease spores are sitting passively on the backs of those leaves, just waiting for rebirth next Spring. They do not reliably die in home compost piles. Powdery mildew survives the winter by forming minute fruiting bodies called cleistothecia And tomatoes? I put the whole plants in the trash after frost. There are just too many diseases on them to risk.

In the perennial beds, leaves infected with powdery mildew like rose or phlox or bee balm often drop before Fall. Before the big tree leaf fall, I use the blower to blow the diseased leaves out of the bed and PUT THEM IN THE TRASH.

This vigorous sanitation is a good idea for all pests too. If you had bean beetles…get rid of those leaves that might have next year’s eggs.

But don’t be too clean.
That’s the important lesson here. In the non-diseased parts of the garden, lady bugs and lacewings and lots of beneficial insects are going to lay eggs and overwinter. We want them. I learned last year especially to let willow leaves be…there were dozens of beneficial babies at the base of willow plants last spring.

Powdery Mildew

And next year…be attentive to the powdery mildew. I now promise to treat early and often with something gentle but effective such as a horticultural oil or a baking soda. I lost a lot of production in my vegetables this year because I let the powdery mildew have its way. And the roses and phlox really took a hit. I’l do better next year. I promise.

 

 

Photo Credit:
ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7406.html
startorganic.org/tips-for-treating-powdery-mildew/

 

Natural Weed and Pest Control

NATURAL WEED AND PEST CONTROL

Honey Bee on Dandylion

Weeds do have value to pollinators, as most produce blooms that carry highly nutritious contents for pollinators.  However, they can be overwhelming in their growing power, and we need ways to control them without poisoning the soil and the things that feed on them.  I would like to begin by saying I pull each and every weed I do not want growing in specific places.  I never use chemicals, not even vinegar and salt.  I would like to urge you to do the same, but I am providing you with some choices that are non toxic.

  1.  Boiling water.  Pouring boiling water over weeds cooks them, and kills them.  Water is only water, so it’s okay for it to get into the soil and ground water.
  2. Spray straight White Vinegar on the leaves of weeds being careful not to go overboard.  Too much vinegar in the soil isn’t good for the pH of the soil so it will affect the balance of the existing underground ecosystem if it is applied excessively.
  3. Spray a mixture of salt and vinegar…and then maybe pull them, roast them, and eat them?  Just a joke.  The recipe is 1 cup of salt into 1 gallon of vinegar

Wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets are the other most popular topic of seasonal pests.  I don’t consider them much of a  pest because they eat other insects, which makes them a very important part of the food chain.  So, instead of finding ways to kill them, I find ways to coexist.  They do not like peppermint oil, lavender oil, or eucalyptus oil.  So, the best prevention is to spray a mixture of these oils with water around the areas you’d rather them not set up shop.  The recipe is as follows:  1 tsp of peppermint oil; 1/2 tsp lavender oil; 1/2 tsp eucalyptus oil into 2 cups of water.  Use a good spray bottle to apply this mixture anywhere you do not want them present.  I suggest daily application, and the smell is pleasant, at least I think so.

Bald Faced Hornet

Remember that every living thing has a purpose, so frugally controlling them is in our best interest! I hope you all are having a wonderful summer so far! Thank you for being part of this very important movement to save our bees!

Jessica

Here are a couple of links to steps to control pests using non-chemical controls and least toxic methods, and a link to a great video from BeyondPesticides.org website.

Manage Safe

Organic Land Managment Practical Tools and Techniques

 

 

Pesticide Applicators CAN Protect Pollinators

Pesticide Applicators can Protect Pollinators06.10.16Reduce_Bee

 

By Sandy Swegel

Most of the visitors to our Facebook page and website are already among the converted. We know how important pollinators are and we’re doing everything we can from avoiding pesticides to planting pollinator gardens in hope of preserving our pollinators.

Sometimes as activists for the things we feel passionate about, we human beings have a tendency to make the people who oppose our opinion into our enemy. The reality is that right now, everyone isn’t going to quit using pesticides no matter how much we want that. We all have spouses or neighbors or friends who are going to use pesticides no matter what we say. Garden and tree businesses are going to spray. So what the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) is doing is bringing together government agencies like the EPA, pesticide manufacturers, licensed pesticide applicators, and non-profits like beekeeping associations to develop guidelines to teach pesticide applicators how to choose pesticides and how to spray while causing the least harm to bees and pollinators that end up as collateral damage.

A couple of obvious things pesticide users can do:

Schedule your pesticide application when bees aren’t active. Saturday morning or in the evenings after dinner before dark are the worse time to apply pesticides. Bees and pollinators are foraging then and likely to get sprayed or eat pollen or nectar that has just been sprayed. For some pesticides, simply applying it at night protects the pollinators while still killing the pests.You have to wake up before the bees or stay up after they go to sleep.

Plan your pesticide applications when plants aren’t in bloom. This isn’t always possible but some bloom times are short and you might find that waiting another week until bloom is finished will still kill your pests and protect the pollinators.

Avoid drift and runoff.
Don’t spray on windy days. Wind carries the pesticide into neighboring areas or into your nose and eyes.
Don’t spray when it is about to rain. Many pesticides will dry within a few hours of application and be less toxic to pollinators. If you spray when rain is coming, those pesticides are going to be washed away into storm drains or rivers.

Keep the pesticide spray on the problem area….don’t keep spraying the rocks or sidewalk because you’re walking from one area to another. Use only as much pesticide as needed to achieve your goal. Drenching everything isn’t necessary.

Read and re-read labels. The formulations of your favorite pesticides can change Some are very toxic to bees. Others are only toxic under certain conditions. Know exactly what you are spraying and how it affects bees.

06.10.16 EPA-bee-label (2)

Pesticide applicators aren’t out there spraying because they hate bees. They want to get rid of their pests in the most efficient way. Print out this brochure for friends and neighbors and even companies you see applying pesticides. Help the people who INSIST on using pesticides learn that they can still protect pollinators.

 

 

 

 

Photo credit  http://www.pollinator.org/PDFs/NAPPC.pesticide.broch.Consumer%20FINAL%2005%2027%2010.pdf

 

www.Environmentalleader.com/2013/08/16/epa-launches-bee-protecting-pesticide-label/

 

 

Aphid-Eating Wasps

by Sandy SwegelLadybug eating an aphid

There’s yet another reason not to try to kill off aphids outside, even with “safe” organic treatments like soapy water. If you kill the aphids, the aphid-eating wasps, another of those native beneficial insects, won’t have anything to eat and they’ll leave your garden.

Aphids are eaten by so may beneficial insects that it’s rather amazing that we see any aphids at all. Yet there are so many aphids on our plants sometimes. This week I’m seeing thousands on the new growth of roses. And while my first instinct is to kill the aphids in some way, I have finally learned to just watch them. I know what I am seeing is a mini population explosion of aphids that will usually be followed in a week or so by mini-population explosions of predators that eats aphids. If we try to kill off the aphids which are the bottom of the beneficial insect food chain, then the beneficials will fly away to another garden.

Wasp eating an aphid

I knew about many of the predators of aphids like lady bugs and lacewings, but I learned yesterday that tiny native aphid-eating wasps eat a LOT of aphids. In addition to wasps that just eat the aphids, there are the parasitic wasps that lay their eggs inside the aphids. When the eggs hatch the tiny larvae eat their way out of the aphid. A bit gory, but effective guaranteeing enough food for baby wasps.

So I challenge you to a two-week experiment. Leave the aphids be when they show up and just watch the plants for a few days. See who shows up to dine on your aphids. Some possibilities include wasps, both large and small, hover flies, ladybugs and lacewings. It will be a fascinating discovery of how many small beings live in your garden, there to help you keep everything in balance.

Aphid-eating Wasp
Photo credits
http://www.small-farm-permaculture-and-sustainable-living.com/natural_pest_control_aphids.html
http://forhumanliberation.blogspot.com/2013/06/1088-why-closely-related-species-do-not.html
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060925070245.htm

 

Cabbage and Clover Husbandry

Cabbage and Clover Husbandry

by Sandy Swegel03.14.16

St Patrick’s Day is this week…a traditional day for planting peas. But you know that….so get ready to plant your peas. This year I’m thinking about Ireland and two plants usually associated with Ireland: cabbage and clover (not necessarily the four-leaf variety.) A little internet browsing led to an interesting connection to these two plants. One…they both like to grow in cool humidity like Spring and Fall. Cabbage is a cool season crop. Two… old country wisdom and modern science show that cabbage and clover are excellent companion crops.

Books in England dating back to the 1700s recommend cabbage “Husbandry” the old word for farming. Cabbage was highly regarded because it lasted well as a stored food for winter and because cows and sheep that ate cabbage in the winter made sweeter milk than those that ate turnips. Standard practice in England in the olden days was to plant a clover cover crop and follow that with cabbage or potatoes. Turns out that cabbage that grows in clover or where clover had been grown and tilled under are larger and have significantly fewer pests included the cabbage looper. Cabbage moths are still the bane of cabbage growers. Modern no-till farmers have adopted this centuries old wisdom to plant cabbage right into a field of clover.

03.14.16 looper-caterpillar1-2

Besides being good for cows and sheep, cabbage is healthy for us and a staple in many cuisines. I am particularly fond of the red cabbages because they are pretty! Here are a few tips to grow cabbage:

It’s a cool season crop.
That means you have to get it in early. Or plant it in mid-summer for fall harvest.

They do well from transplants.
Start seeds indoors or in a cold frame 8 weeks before last Spring frost. Then transplant it about 2-4 weeks before last Spring frost. Cabbage is a “heavy feeder” so you need good soil or extra fertilization and regular irrigation.

Watch out for pests.
Cutworms and cabbage loopers love cabbage too…but they are pretty easy to pick off if you stay after them. Little paper collars protect transplants from the cutworms. If you don’t like to pick off the worms, it is a good organic control.

Cabbage make great microgreens.03.14.16 red-cabbage-microgreens-in-soil
Cabbage germinates in about two days in your warm kitchen. Another superfood from the brassica family.
For more on the science of intersowing clover and cabbage and other brassicas
http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/IP-27.pdf
http://www.modernvictorygarden.com/apps/blog/show/2015631-in-praise-of-cabbages
http://microgardening.newearthmicrogreens.com/red-cabbage-microgreens-vitamins/

 

Aphids Q&A

Aphids Q&A03.2.16 Aphids

By Sandy Swegel

We got a great question from a customer this week about controlling aphids. Her frustration resonates with most of us who garden.

Q. Aphids are terrible, tiny creatures and I fight them every year. I’ve been looking for the best ways to make sure they don’t screw with my garden this time. I thought I had a good way; planting garlic around the plants. “Aphids don’t like garlic,” one link said.  “Aphids love garlic leaves, said another one. Soap mixture, Neem oil, rubbing alcohol mixed with soap and water, importing good bugs that love to eat the aphids. I refuse to use chemicals that poison everything, it makes growing organic pretty pointless. Does anyone have any SURE FIRE, tried and true methods?

A. The key to reducing aphids in your garden is to understand their lifestyle. Controlling aphids is like cleaning house. You can’t just clean a house full of people once and expect the house to still be clean a week later if you didn’t keep picking up stuff all week. When you use any treatment you might kill most of the adult aphids that day. But the ones you missed or who were eggs that wouldn’t hatch for another day, are still eating and reproducing. Reproduction is the key to aphid success. Aphids reproduce both sexually and asexually. They lay eggs to survive the winter. And they have life births in warm weather. Each aphid can create up to 100 new aphids per month.

My best sure-fire, tried and true method (or as close to that as one can get) is this:

Accept that you are going to have some aphids. To kill them all, even if possible, means you would also kill all the beneficial insect pollinators and you don’t want to do this.

Understand how aphids die. Warning: graphic content ahead.
It is super easy to kill aphids, which is why plain water spray works great. Aphids feed by attaching to the plant with their mouths. When you spray water on the aphids, the force of the water tears the aphid off the plant. The head and mouth parts stay attached to the plant, instantly killing the aphid. Even just brushing off all the aphids on a leaf with your finger decapitates and kills all those aphids. That’s why you don’t have to poison them….if you can just mechanically remove them.

Be vigilant (every few days) about checking for aphids. 03.02.16 Aphids
New aphids are hatching in leaf litter or being birthed by the aphids who were hiding out in the weeds next door. You have to spray the aphids every time you see them in large numbers. Each aphid can have dozens of generations….They are baby-making machines. You have to keep after them at least until you see you are no longer getting infestations.

General Advice about aphids.
If you start to watch your aphid population, you will often find that lots of aphids are followed in a week by lots of lady bugs who eat them. Nature does provide a natural balance if you have a healthy garden that supports beneficial insects. If you are aggressively treating aphids with garlic or neem sprays, you are also killing all the other insects that eat aphids.

Learn more about aphids.
You can alter the conditions in your garden that reduce the number of aphids.

Don’t over fertilize. Aphids love nitrogen. Every time you add nitrogen to your plants, you will get a little aphid bloom. Reduce the nitrogen and you don’t have so many aphids.

Encourage earthworms and use earthworm castings. Earthworms produce an enzyme chitinase to help digest their food. Aphids are repelled by chitinase. Unfortunately the chitinase doesn’t last long enough to be the only deterrent.

Encourage good environmental conditions like air flow and temperature. This works really well indoors. In my greenhouse I can reduce aphids by keeping a fan going and shading the plants from really hot afternoon sun. Aphids are often in greater numbers on plants that are stressed.

Finally if you do want to use “organic” sprays, simple soapy water works well. (1 teaspoon per gallon). Some people use the kitchen spray with garlic and tabasco sauce. I think the science is not clear on neem. It definitely works but it works by disrupting insects hormonal systems and I’m not convinced it doesn’t adversely affect beneficial insects. Some studies say Neem only kills sucking insects. I would try gentler methods first before turning to Neem.

 

Photo credits:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphid
https://theaphidroom.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/aphid-twit.jpg
http://www.myrmecos.net/tag/aphids/