Aphid-Eating Wasps

by Sandy Swegel

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 many 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 eat 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.

 

I knew about many of the predators of aphids like ladybugs 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, hoverflies, 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.

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 Swegel

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.

 

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 good organic control.

Cabbage makes great microgreens.
Cabbage germinates in about two days in your warm kitchen. Another superfood from the brassica family.

 

For more on the science of winter-sowing 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&A

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 mouthparts 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.
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 ladybugs 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/

 

Pill Bugs, Sow Bugs, Roly Polys, Doodle Bugs

by Sandy Swegel

Kids love roly polys. There is no end to the fun of having these cute little non-biting bugs roll up in their hands. So cute.

Teachers love roly polys too. It’s a great teaching opportunity for a critter that is everywhere and the kids can open the rolled-up bug and count legs. Teachers can build terrariums. Amazon sells roly poly playgrounds! It’s a great entertaining moment when the kids learn the roly polys eat their own poop. “Ewww” or “Cool” depending on the kid.

 

Gardeners aren’t so impressed. In a year with a lot of spring rain, as much of the U.S. just had, pill bugs are the bane of our existence. In one night, a whole row of young beans can be toppled. Lettuce seedlings are so riddled with holes there’s no hope of a crop.

This is not a time to be entertained by stories that roly polys are related to crawfish. The gardener needs to watch out for pillbug infestations and act quickly if you want to save your veggies.

While there are poisons to use, it’s fairly simple to discourage the little beasties.

One, Keep the top of the soil dry.

Two, Remove all the leaf litter or mulch.

If you still have a lot of pill bugs, there are two more advanced techniques:

Trap them with Beer (little containers of beer buried to soil level).

Vacuum them up. One friend with a really infested garden went out each night after dark with her shop vac and sucked up hundreds of them one wet spring. After a week or so the numbers were down although the neighbors were puzzled.

Good luck with the garden this year. All the extra spring rains inspired population explosions of critters.

 

 

Photo credits:

http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t2380-pill-bugs

www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Playing-with-Pill-Bugs-Lab-Pack-with-Pill-Bug-Information-Lab-Sheets-FREE-1328929

 

Who’s in My Garden?

by Sandy Swegel

That’s the question I’m hearing most this week. What is this and what do I do about them?

Grubs and larvae. These big squishy curled-up fat wormy looking things are usually the larval forms of beetles or moths. Lots of cutworms especially. They aren’t your friends because they usually come out of dormancy hungry and start chowing down your plants. What do I do with them? I put the grubs and other unwelcome critters like snails and slugs in the bird feeder. Mama birds who are always watching you even if you don’t realize it will swoop down as soon as soon as you walk away and take the grubs and slugs to feed their new babies.

 

Solitary wasps and bees
When I’m vigorously cleaning up spring debris, I sometimes accidentally unearth a solitary wasp or bee. These are usually still dormant so I haven’t gotten stung. I usually just recover them with debris and move on. Sometimes they are yellow jackets which I really should kill….but I don’t know bees and wasps enough to tell the beneficial ones from the bad ones…I’ll get the yellow jackets in the pheromone traps later this month.

Lady Bugs
I’m happy to say there are lots of ladybugs this year. When I disturb them during cleanup, I just apologize and put them back in place. I know they’re eating aphid eggs and all kinds of undesirable things.

There are the bigger critters naturally. The rabbits and mice and voles chomping on emerging bulbs. Squirrels digging up tulip bulbs. Rat traps will get the voles. Hawks and cats often take care of mice. Squirrels and rabbits: good luck. One friend has trapped 11 squirrels this week and relocated them fifty miles away.

Enjoy the Spring weather and spring flowers….and use this new-life time of year to notice how many critters share your garden space. Birds in the air, and grubs in the soil. It’s all good.

Photo credit bird: Angela Vidrich https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/6167398051
Photo credit grub: http://bulletin.ipm.illinois.edu

 

No Neonics: Three Easy Ways to Help

by Sandy Swegel

Just a moment to be serious now. Spring has arrived and stores are filling with bedding plants and seeds. At the same time, homeowners are noticing all the weeds in yards and some still go out to buy weed killer.

There are three easy quick things you can do that make a difference to help protect bees and yourself from the “neonic” pesticides.

Learn One Name
Imidacloprid
That’s the neonic most likely in retail products. If you’re an overachiever, the other names are Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam, Acetamiprid, Dinotefuran. These are ingredients in weed killers, especially products marked Bayer or with names like Systemic or Max. Just check your labels and don’t buy these.

Watch For the Label
Customer pressure led Home Depot and Lowe’s last year to agree to put labels on all plants treated with neonics. The label is deceptive….makes it sound like neonics are better…but watch for the label.

Ask Your Retailer
There’s no government regulation (Alas!) that says neonics have to be labeled. The best thing you can do is ask at the garden center if the plants you are buying have been treated with neonics. If they don’t know…then you can probably assume the plants have been sprayed. The treatments can last up to two months in your garden…making your pretty flowers potentially lethal to bees that land on them.

Every time you ask a garden center employee or a grower if their plants have been treated with neonics, you are educating them. That’s what we are after. Nobody really wants to harm bees or the environment. Two years ago when I asked a major grower here in the Denver area if they used neonics, the owner looked at me like I was some crazy Boulder liberal. Which of course I am. He said, “Bah humbug, there’s no way to grow plants without neonics.” But last week, his greenhouse (Welby) had an open house in which they proudly said that most of their plants were grown without neonics and they were continuing to work on how to get neonic-free.

Oh, and of course there’s a fourth thing to do to help the bees. Grow your own plants from good non-pesticide treated, non-GMO, often organic, often heirloom, always neonic-free seeds like ours!
For lots of info on neonics in consumer products, you can read this pdf put out by Xerces.
http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/NeonicsInYourGarden.pdf

Photo Credit
http://ecowatch.com/2015/02/10/global-ban-bee-killing-neonics/

 

 

A Valentine’s Day Gift for the Bees

by Sandy Swegel

Nothing like Valentine’s Day to make us think about who and what we love. If we look at the huge number of Facebook “likes” we get when Mike posts about bees or wildflowers, we know our followers have a special love for wildflowers and for the bees and other pollinators who feast on wildflowers.

So how about we all do something special for bees this Valentine’s Day and plant a special Wildflower Patch for them that is a food source both beautiful and safe. A wildflower garden can be a whole meadow or it can be a tiny corner of your garden. Size isn’t as important as a good source of food that’s grown from seed naturally.

 

We’ve written here before about the dangers of the neonicotinoid pesticides (now more easily named neonics.) The bottom line is that if you buy plants, it is likely they were treated with neonics at some point in the greenhouses where they are propagated and grown for sale. Neonics are good killers and control the aphids, mealy bugs, scale and thrips that plague crowded unnatural greenhouse conditions. It’s much for expensive for big growers to treat pests naturally when mass spraying of neonics takes care of the problem for them cheaply. The cost to the bees doesn’t factor into the budget.

But for bees, it’s starting to look like even small amounts of neonic residue left in plants can hurt them. See the link below for the Harvard study that found that healthy bees that were exposed to even sublethal doses of neonics were significantly less likely to survive winter.

The only way to protect the bees until neonics are outlawed here as they are in Europe is to make sure they have natural sources of flowers that are grown from seeds instead of from purchased plants. And the best plants to grow are the ones bees have evolved with: Wildflowers. Anyone who gardens that knows that Wildflowers are a real “if you plant it they will come” experience. Every pesticide free wildflower you plant will be covered with happy bees.

So our Valentine’s message is this:02.13.15-VDay-FB
“Bees, We Love you. We want to show you our love in a time-honored way humans have always shown love: we want to feed you lots of good food: the pollen and nectar from naturally grown wildflowers. We want you to be healthy and happy and share many more Valentine’s Days with us.”

Harvard study:
http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/study-strengthens-link-between-neonicotinoids-and-collapse-of-honey-bee-colonies/
Photo credit:
http://www.sweetcomments.net/picture/valentines-day/bee-valentine.gif.html

 

Bring the Outdoors In

by Sandy Swegel

If early freezes haven’t killed all your plants, there’s still time to think about bringing some of your favorite plants indoors. You can bring in plants that thrive indoors to live on a sunny windowsill or you can bring in plants that will otherwise die and that you don’t want to lose, to overwinter in your cold garage.

First things First.

The first thing before any plant comes indoors is to make sure it doesn’t have bugs or diseases.  Fall often brings outbreaks of aphids so if your plant is full of aphids, treat the pests first:  hose off the bugs, or soak the entire plant, roots and soil and all in some soapy water. Once cleaned up, you can cut it to size if needed and bring it to a sunny spot.

– Watering Inside is Different –

My rosemary plant needs almost no supplemental water when it’s growing outside in the ground.  I’ve killed more than a couple of rosemary by assuming that’s the same conditions indoors.  The stress of heat and dry air of being indoors in a pot demands that I coddle the rosemary indoors a little and never ever let the soil dry out.

 

Saving plants in the dark in the garage.

Dahlias can be lifted. Pots of bulbs for spring can be planted and stored.  Even geraniums can be kept in moist peat and overwintered to bloom again next year. That’s what the Swiss do…they aren’t about to repurchase all those geraniums that hang from balconies every year.  If you live in a very dry climate, you may have to water the dormant plants every month so the soil doesn’t desiccate.

Plants that thrive indoors for me.

Geraniums – Continual color, almost no bugs, and forgiving if I forget to water. Great in sunny windows.

Angel wing begonia – I keep these in an indirect sun situation and water weekly.  They bloom and bloom all winter.

 Coleus – All the wild colored coleus and other foliage plants will do well in bright conditions if you keep snipping off the seed heads.  They can handle lower light but might get buggy.

Bougainvillea – is my favorite. Its natural bloom time is winter and it is a stellar performer. Messy though since it drops a zillion dead blossoms.

Hibiscus – So pretty, so ever blooming in a sunny spot.  So likely to get hundreds of aphids. Keep washing the aphids off and hibiscus will make you smile all year.  Some dogs love to eat the spent flowers….they’re edible so it doesn’t hurt them unless you’re using chemicals to treat the aphids.

An Herb Pot – Nothing beats fresh herbs for winter roasted vegetables and savory dishes. Rosemary, oregano, thyme all thrive with light.

Winter doesn’t have to be cold and gray….bring in some outdoor color and pizazz.

 

 

Photo credits

http://www.finegardening.com/plants/articles/rosemary-outdoors-and-in.aspx

 

http://www.bananas.org/f8/growing-flowers-indoors-12847.html

 

 

My Squash is Wilting

by Sandy Swegel

Eww…Yet another bug thriving this year and ruining my food.  Most of us have experienced our squashes suffering from powdery mildew that coats the leaves white, but knowledgeable gardeners are perplexed here in Colorado by squash that suddenly completely wilts and dies.

Turns out it’s often a very small bug, the squash bug, that injects a nasty venom into the stems wilting and killing the entire vine.

“Can’t we just all get along?” I holler at them.  There’s an entire large squash plant and I’m willing to share with bugs….but the squash bug wants it all.

This is a pest you need to be aggressive with if you see it because it doesn’t share but will kill your whole plant given a chance. Look for the adult bug (looks a bit like a stink bug) or nymph (distinctive antenna and small head) and kill it (take a small bucket of soapy water into the garden with you and throw the bugs in, to drown them, if you don’t want to ‘squash’ them). More importantly look for the eggs on the underside of leaves and crush them.  Handpicking works well in a small garden if you’re vigilant.

 

We have to stand our ground against creatures like the squash bug. I explain it to them as I dunk them in the soapy water or throw them to my chickens….if you don’t share and play well with others, you lose your privileges in my garden!

For more info:
http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05609.html
Photo credit: http://extension.entm.purdue.edu/4h/default.php?page=snr40&stage=larva

 

 

 

 

Aphids on your Kale – Ewwww

by Sandy Swegel

A gardener I know recently went out to his cold frame to harvest some beautiful kale he could see pushing against the top of the frame.  Instead of an ecstatic reaction of joy to this spring treat, he quickly retreated with a big “ewww.”  His kale was absolutely coated in aphids.  He had nursed it and even given it extra organic nitrogen fertilizer recently and this was the thanks he got.

Aphids are an irritating pest.  They are very prolific and can have twenty generations in a season. And it could take a long time to rinse off every aphid off a leaf of kale, so what’s a gardener to do if they are not ready to become an insectivore?

You Can Prevent Aphids

Our gardener probably got aphids for a couple of reasons: 

His cold frame was sealed pretty tight, so predators like birds and ladybugs couldn’t get in to control the aphids. Also, recent warm temperatures stressed the plants in the closed frame. Opening the cold frame on warmer days will help.

Aphids are everywhere.  They overwinter on mustard weeds which are prolific in the spring garden. There’s no avoiding the aphids all together on cole plants, but cleaning up the debris in the garden and weeding out the mustard weeds will remove many of the eggs from last year.

Aphids adore nitrogen. The soluble nitrogen he had just added just enticed even more aphids to come eat over here!

Plant chard and spinach. Aphids don’t bother them as much.

You Can Treat Aphids

Aphids are super easy to treat:  a blast from a garden hose washes the aphids to the ground and they don’t easily crawl back.

Soapy water (a drop or two of dish soap or Dr. Bronner’s in your watering can or spray bottle) kills aphids easily.

Check the plants frequently: the aphids are often under the leaves or along the stems…hard places to reach.

You Can Clean the Kale

A sink full of water, most people agreed, was the best way to clean the aphids off so you don’t disgust your dinner guests.  Submerge the kale completely and squish it around a lot.  The aphids float to the surface. Repeat.

Someone else suggested dissolving some salt in hot water and then adding it to the sink of cold water and let the kale sit for 30 minutes.  The salty water helps dislodge the aphids.

Don’t give up. Kale is incredibly nutritious not to mention tasty and easy to grow.

For complete information on managing cabbage aphids, http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/r108300811.html

 

Photo Credits:
Judy Sedbrook CSU
http://www.colostate.edu/Dept/CoopExt/4DMG/Pests/cabaphid.htm

http://thetanglednest.com/2010/10/eat-more-kale-a-kale-manifesto-with-recipes/eat-more-kale-shirt-480/