Sunday, July 31, 2011

What To Do When Squash Bugs Attack Your Pumpkin Patch?

I am only growing one pumpkin plant this year, so it's imperative I take special care of it. Though it's been a little "slow out of the gate," it's shown good signs of life during the last week or so. Unfortunately that "life" is not just plant matter, but bugs ... big bugs ... I'm talking about the dreaded Squash Bug!

In recent days I have seen & identified a few of these creatures, and today when I saw two sets of eggs - I had had enough. It's time for action. Though I'm 99% organic, the ONLY product I ever use is GardenTech's Sevin-5 Dust. I use this powder on rare occasions, like today (16-32 ounces seems to last me a year). According to the label, it's supposed to kill Squash Bugs (I'll post an addendum on this post later to let you know the results).

Last evening I studied these bugs - as they relate to pumpkins - and am further devising a game plan to rid these monsters before they put a kibosh to my 2011 Halloween vegetation. So far about 80% of my plant is in good condition.
Squash bug damage on a pumpkin plant leaf
The most difficult garden pest?

Many people consider the squash bug the most frustrating and difficult of all garden pests. For one, there appears to be no universal solution that works for everyone. Secondly, they overwinter extremely well and can return year after year (getting worse each growing season), making it sometimes impossible to ever successfully grow squash, pumpkins or other melons again.

Like any pest that multiplies rapidly, early-season or early-plant-stage intervention appears to be the best defense against squash bug infestation & damage.

Human versus Squash Bug

Unfortunately, manual control may be your best & most effective remedy. Removing each bug by hand (one at a time) and crushing their eggs can help control your local squash bug population, but must be performed on a regular basis to be most effective. Since eggs take at least a week to hatch, egg detection can be performed once-a-week.

Mulch and other debris must be kept to a minimum. Squash bugs love to hide, and removing any mulch or other garden debris left lying around keeps them from wanting to hang around.

This "hiding" tendency amongst squash bugs can also be used to your advantage. Laying boards or wood around the base of your pumpkins makes a perfect overnight hangout for squash bugs. In the morning, flip the wood over, and you're likely to see many squash bugs huddled conveniently together, perfectly queued for mass extermination.

Eggs (& Closeup) As Laid On Leaf Of a Pumpkin Plant
The Bitter Truth - You May Need Chemical Intervention

Organic methods of controlling the Squash Bug appear to be limited. Yes I found a few "folk remedies" by some wise old gardeners swearing upon their success, and Neem Oil seems to work for some. I did run across this website, which suggested the use of Diatomaceous earth/pyrethrins applications around the base of the plant (the website says it's allowable in Certified Organic vegetable production). If anyone else wants to try this, let me know of your results.

If you're going to use insecticides, look for esfenvalerate, permethrin, or carbaryl as the main active ingredient and be sure to spray the under-side of the leaves, as this is where squash bugs do much of their damage.

As I mentioned earlier in this article, I use Sevin-5 on rare occasions. Squash bugs are listed as one of 65+ bugs it's said to kill.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Timeout To Enjoy The Variegated Fritillary Butterfly

Well it seems like suddenly I've become a butterfly enthusiast and photographer. After all, last week I posted about my experiences with the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly.

Truth is, blogging has made me keep my camera nearby & thus - much to my amazement - I seem to notice and enjoy things that I've overlooked in the past. I don't wake up and say "hey, I'm gonna go out & photograph butterflies today." Rather, they somehow just seem to find me.

This week, another beautiful butterfly caught my eye. After researching I thought I'd stumbled upon the Great Spangled Fritillary (similar), but it turns out to actually be a Variegated Fritillary.
While also residing in many parts of South America, this beautiful butterfly is primarily seen in the eastern 3/4 of the continental United States (with the exception of the extreme north-central & northeast).

Caterpillar/Range Map
The mid-sized & nomadic Variegated Fritillary Butterfly is a much lighter brown-orange than other Fritillaries, such as the Great Spangled Fritillary. They are low & swift flyers.

Difficult to approach and easily scared, I considered it a privilege to capture this butterfly on camera (though it did take a lot more patience than my experience with the more relaxed Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly last week).

Living from around April through October (slightly shorter life farther north), these Fritillaries usually have between 2-3 broods per year.

These butterflies love open fields and meadows, sunny prairies & pastures, and can be seen along road edges and near landfills. They'll also frequent their favorite nectar food sources, including milkweed, dogbane, peppermint, red clover, thistles, alfalfa, butterflyweed, fleabane, common boneset, coneflowers, asters and more.
Finally, Variegated Fritillaries are not a threatened species globally, but may be considered a minor pest to ornamental pansies and violets.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Free Mulch By the Truckload? It May Be As Close As Your Local Landfill !

In a world where middle-men thrive and everyone seems to get a piece of the pie, it's rare to get anything good for FREE anymore.

Many gardeners are unaware that mulch, which usually goes for $4 to $10 a bag at a store, may be obtained free - right in their own community. Further yet, you may be able to load up your entire truck bed -- and come back for more tomorrow!

How is this possible? Well, many landfills provide the service of disposing peoples brush, which piles up quickly on their lots. As a courtesy, they shred these piles of discarded vegetation, and offer you - the resident - the opportunity to use this recycled matter as mulch.
Is free mulch available where I live?

Whether or not your landfill offers mulch depends on many factors such as whether the landfill is located in a urban or rural location, or if there's enough vegetation in your region to make this courtesy feasible. Usually, the availability of landfill mulch falls under one of three options:
  • Mulch is not offered at all.
  • It is offered, but in limited quantities.
  • The mulch is offered FREE, or at some cost.
Either way, you can check for availability by visiting your local landfill, calling your local government office for information, or checking on the internet -- many jurisdictions offer all the information you need on their website.

If mulch IS offered at your local landfill, keep in mind the following:
  • There may be a daily or weekly limit (although I wonder who really pays attention).
  • It may be offered for local citizens only (with proof of residency required).
  • Availability may be limited or seasonal - on a first come, first served basis.
Though some landfills will load your pickup truck for you - usually for a fee, most offer the option of manually loading the mulch by yourself. Of course you'll need to come properly equipped. For best results, you should show up with the following:
  • High boots to help move around the mulch pile more efficiently and prevent mulch chips from getting inside your shoes.
  • A nice, large pitchfork. You can use a shovel but trust me, nothing picks up mulch better than a pitchfork.
  • A truck with an open bed, or if you're picking up smaller quantities -- large containers (such as garbage bins), or large durable plastic bags ("durable" the key word here).
What type of mulch can I expect?

The type of mulch offered may vary widely from region-to-region depending on local vegetation types, and the time of the season.

For example, in areas where a lot of pine trees grow, the mulch may be more pine-based, whereas Florida residents may have more chopped-up palm trees in their mix.

Also, certain times of the year may yield different variety, such as in Fall or Spring when people prune & "tidy-up" more often.

Here on the east coast, the mulch is a pretty good mix of everything - and the quality is fairly consistent no matter what time of year I visit.

What's the quality like?

If you're expecting "fine," colored or specialty mulch like those found at your hardware store, you will be disappointed. This mulch is not that.

Based upon my personal experience at my local landfill, the free mulch I get is somewhat dull and light brown in color and, overall, the wood chips are slightly bigger, and more irregularly shaped than store-bought versions.

Because it's free, authorities utilize less manpower, money & attention to the entire process.

Commercial shredding operations may check for inconsistencies (such as plastic among the wood, and larger chucks), and may run their wood chips through a shredder several times to create better consistency.

The mulch at landfills, on the other hand, is usually shredded just once and not checked for inconsistencies.

Many residents are just lazy and rather than separating their brush from regular trash, some will throw everything in the brush pile. Therefore, amongst the wood chips, you'll occasionally find bits of "whatever else" - which you'll have to manually discard. This is usually not a big problem, but only a minor inconvenience.

Negative aspect.

Well you knew there has to be a catch. You know the old saying, "if it sounds to good to be true, then..."

Free mulch also comes with the 'unknown factor.' There is no way of telling whether your mulch comes from brush that's been previously tainted, treated or killed with harmful chemicals, or to which degree? Over time, when this mulch decomposes into the ground, will it have a harmful effect on your vegetation?

Added (7/28): As pointed out by WDCGardener on Twitter, Poison Ivy (or oak) is often discarded and mixed-in with the mulch. Therefore, although you should use them anyway - gloves are an absolute necessity when handling this mulch and of course don't allow it to come in contact with other parts of your skin.

Personally, I have used this mulch for years and all my vegetation appears to be growing without any noticeable problems (nor have I been infected with poison ivy - and yes, I am allergic to it).

Suggested uses.

With its somewhat dull hue & inconsistent appearance, free landfill mulch may be best suited for backyard use, or in places where it can't be easily seen by the public.

As a money saver, I like to use this mulch in combination with quality, colored commercial mulch. Placing your free mulch underneath the good mulch can add up to big savings. For example, 3 inches of free mulch covered by 2 inches of good mulch, saves your wallet 60%.

Final note.

Courtesy should be practiced and applied when transporting your free mulch. If you load a pickup, or otherwise are transporting an open load, please cover your mulch with a tarp (or other similar material) to help prevent debris from flying all over the place. Depending on your jurisdiction, it may be unlawful to do otherwise.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Famous Short Quotes & Sayings About Animals & Insects

"Since we humans have the better brain, isn't it our responsibility to protect our fellow creatures from, oddly enough, ourselves?" - Joy Adamson

"Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come." - Chinese Proverb

"There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly" - Buckminster Fuller

"I have found the link between animal and civilized man; it is us." - Konrad Lorenz

 "Rabbits have a habit of coming for breakfast and staying for lunch. Now there's one leaf instead of a bunch." - Gerry Krueger

"When a man does not admit that he is an animal, he is less than an animal. Not more but less." - Michael McClure

"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven." - Emily Dickinson

"An animal's eyes have the power to speak a great language." - Martin Buber

"Odd things animals. All dogs look up to you. All cats look down to you. Only the pig looks at you as an equal." - Winston Churchill

"Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms." - George Eliot 

"There's nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way they can build & yet leave a landscape as it was before" - Robert Lynd

"He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings w/ men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals" - Immanuel Kant

"Happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you" - Nathaniel Hawthorne

"In nature a repulsive caterpillar turns into a lovely butterfly. But with humans it is the other way around: a lovely butterfly turns into a repulsive caterpillar" - Chekhov

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Extreme Heat Vegetable Gardening: 11 Ways To Keep Your Garden Lush Green

Though it's been hotter than normal yet once again virtually all summer here in the mid-Atlantic states, we've yet to hit triple-digits on a recurring basis -- until now. The weather forecast calls for 100-103 degrees in my area today, Friday & Saturday.

My garden has held up extremely well so far this year. Except for the dying browning leaves of the potato plants (which is normal in any year/climate), my garden is maintaining its lush green hue.

But now it's time to get serious - to show what man vs. nature can do.

First & foremost, do not pay attention to the 'heat index' - rather focus your attention only on the temperature. The heat index measures a combination of temperature and humidity, and indicates how it feels to us humans. Since humidity is actually moisture content in the air, plants are not as negatively affected by it as humans. In fact, one can argue that plants (especially those tropical in nature - such as tomatoes & peppers) may actually benefit from the natural wetness humidity brings to the air. So even though we humans may suffer more when it's hot & humid as opposed to hot & dry, plants react opposite.

Develop a good watering 'game plan.'

1) Prioritize which plants need to be watered more & most frequently. Pay special attention to wilting or dying plants, and vegetation that naturally relies on more watering, such as melons, tomatoes etc. New plants also need more water than established ones because they are still trying to grow & establish roots needed for long-term survival.

2) During the heat wave, watering should only be attempted early in the morning or later in the evening. Mid-day watering may cause the moisture to evaporate more quickly and/or result in wilting of leaves. Generally speaking, try not to water between the hours of 10am & 7pm.

3) Before watering, allow the sun-heated water already inside the hose to exit before spraying in & around your vegetation. The plants are already stressed and pouring 150 degree water on them cannot be good. NOTE: I have recently read stories of people pouring ice cubes around their plants. This, too, actually stresses the plants rather than help them. Do not do this.

4) Using a hoe, self-irrigate or create temporary water flow channels as I show in this post. If you happen to get a rain shower, this helps direct excess water where it's most needed.

5) To also help prevent water run-off on dry hard dirt, loosen soil with a hoe by tilling the radius from between 6 to 18 inches from the plant stem (tilling too close may damage roots). This helps allow the ground to better soak up more moisture, more deeply. Water run-off can also be prevented by watering less more often, rather than watering more less often. In other words, water for 5 minutes twice a day rather than for 10 minutes once.

6) Since water on leaves should be avoided, so too should be the use of sprinklers. During hot & arid times, resort to watering with containers (like I explain in this post) or use a hand-held hose. Each method allows you to water only where it's most needed -- at or around the base of the plant. Better yet is the use of a drip irrigation system or a soaker hose. Each waters more slowly right at the soil level, preventing evaporation.

Additional tips.

1) Don't use fertilizer until after the heat wave subsides. Since fertilizer promotes new growth, it also boosts the need for more water.

2) Adding mulch around the plant is more important than ever. One or two inches of mulch helps retain water moisture & prevent the soil from drying out as fast.

3) Don't be afraid to prune back plants that appear to be suffering from the heat wave. However, don't attempt to prune if you're only trying to stimulate new growth - plants challenged by the heatwave will not benefit.

4) Removing weeds is especially important during these scorching, arid times. Each ounce of water is more valuable than ever, and sharing with weeds should not be an option.

5) Avoid spraying your plants with products that contain oil. The extreme heat combined with oil residue left behind may result in leaf burn.

Final word
Use this heat to take a much needed break from gardening -- only harvest & water as needed during the early or late day hours. Consider your time indoors (in air conditioning) like a mini-vacation, or use this extra free time planning your second-half vegetable garden. Lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower (among others) can still be planted going forward in most parts of the country.

And remember, heat waves are usually (but not always) temporary. Exerting extra effort for a few days or few weeks now will reward you with healthier crops going forward.

Resources for this article:
eHow- How to water plants in extreme heat
CBS news- Help your garden through a heat wave - Coping with a garden in a heat wave

*DISCLAIMER: Before using any information contained in this blog entry, you are advised to do your own due diligence & research on the topic and/or consult with a qualified expert or professional.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Up Close & Personal With the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

It's always good to have your camera nearby, and it's even better when it has a macro function (ability to take extreme clear closeup images).

Though I've probably seen a million of these beautiful butterflies in my lifetime, for some reason I've never had an inclination to look at one of these at close range. Yesterday, for some odd reason, I became fixated on this eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly. And I decided to start a little photo shoot.
As usual, after taking my pictures, I went inside to "develop" (download & edit) my digital photographs and do research on this common, yet remarkably beautiful butterfly.

All my life I had simply known & described this butterfly as large, colorful, and/or beautiful without ever knowing its name.

With a little online research I come to find that it's called the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly.
  • "Eastern," because it's a native butterfly primarily found in the eastern United States (see range map below).
  • "Tiger," because of the distinct tiger-like markings, especially found on the male.
  • "Swallowtail," because their long "tail" on their hind wings is similar to that of swallows (birds).
The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (known scientifically as papilio glaucus) is not considered to be a threatened species, due to its ability to live nearly everywhere that some foliage or forestation is present. This includes rural fields & woodlands, rivers & creeks, roadsides & gardens, and even in many urban locations.

It's so popular that four states (South Carolina, George, Delaware & Alabama) have named this butterfly their official state butterfly. Virginia (my state) decided to go one step further, labeling it their official state insect.
Known as powerful, quick & strong fliers, adults can frequently be seen above tree canopies. With their colorful appearance and wide wing span between 3 & 5 1/2 inches, they are hard to miss.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly is diurnal (only active during the day). Though generally solitary, males are known to congregate in "puddling," where they huddle near each other around puddles, mud or damp rocks. These activities are believed to help them extract necessary amino acids & sodium ions beneficial for reproduction.
Adults have a wide range of food sources, but prefer nectar from sturdy plants having pink or red flowers. But they also may feed on urine or dung from other insects or animals.

To eat food, it uses a long & flexible tube-like proboscis tongue (as seen clearly in my picture below) to sip liquids. This proboscis can coil & uncoil as needed.
The lifespan of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly extends from Spring through Fall, during which time they produce two or three broods (two in northern climates - where lifespan is slightly shorter, and three farther south).

As with most butterflies, birds are their chief predator. In caterpillar stage, squirrels, raccoons & shrews (among others) may find them appetizing.

Further research:
Enchanted Learning

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Spiny Pigweed: The Name says It All About This Filthy Weed

As I've gotten older & wiser, I've also become a firm believer that there is a purpose and reason for the existence of virtually every living thing on this earth. Everything is designed to work in unison as part of this large diverse eco-system.

But then came spiny pigweed, also known as spiny amaranth.
When this ugly, spiny, fast-growing, even faster spreading, invasive weed started showing up all around my garden this year -- I obviously wanted to know more about it from a weed control standpoint. But I also was driven to find out what its purpose was here on this earth.

Well, believe it or not, this plant is being utilized today throughout the world to treat numerous medical conditions. I'll get more into that later in this post. But first, let's take a closer look at spiny pigweed.

What is this weed?

Spiny Pigweed is native to America and is frequently found in bare ground areas of pastures where the ground is compacted, but can also be found in agricultural garden areas. This may explain why this weed primarily shows up in my manure-laden vegetable garden in-between rows where I tend to walk more often and compact the dirt (but it does also show up between and around my plants as well).
Growing fast, spiny pigweed should be removed as it first appears. It is important to identify and eliminate this 'annual' early during the growing season. If allowed to go to seed early, it has a tendency to spread like a plague & grow all over the garden. If not removed, it quickly grows to several feet or more in height, and produces 100,000 or more seeds per plant (seeds mature about 4 weeks after flowering). These seeds will continuously germinate throughout the summer months, spreading like wildfire with each successive rainfall. Furthermore, they tolerate drought extremely well.

Unfortunately I was not aggressive enough with spiny pigweed early-on this season, partly due to lack of education about the plant. Now I'm stuck spotting & removing these weeds on a daily basis, adding to all the other obligations in maintaining a fairly large garden. Next year I will know better.

Removing Spiny Pigweed

This nasty looking weed cannot be pulled out of the ground with your hand (even when using gloves), as it features numerous 5-10 mm thorny spines, capable of penetrating the toughest leather. You must use an appropriate tool to effectively dig the roots out of the ground.

Removing spiny pigweed is especially troublesome when it grows right next to your "good" vegetation. If this occurs you can either attempt a risky operation to remove the weed (possibly damaging the roots of your good plant), or just allow the weed to share the space while continuously cutting it back near ground level.

After removal from the ground, spiny pigweed must be bagged and removed from the garden premises to prevent existing seeds from scattering.
Closeup of stem

If your garden methods are organic, your options to control this weed are minimal. Vinegar, at 15 to 20% concentration (regular household vinegar is usually about 5%) may be effective, but care & further research should be undertaken to make sure the vinegar does not harm your 'good' plants or soil. All spiny pigweed plants should be removed before flowering & seeding.

The good news is that spiny pigweed is not a perennial. However, if they're invading your garden this growing season, their scattered seeds will likely result in another visit next year. Early prevention in 2012 will be your best defense.

Herbicides can be used to kill existing spiny pigweed plants, but should be applied early in growth stage -- preferably at 2 inches in height or less, but certainly under 8 inches. At this stage of growth, success rate can be as high as 80-90%. Atrazine, Dopont Upbeet, Glyphosate, Gramoxone, Dicamba (among others) may be effective herbicides. If you wish to attack and kill spiny pigweed before they emerge from the ground, Oryzalin, Trifluralin or Pendimenthalin may be your best bets.

For a detailed overview of helpful herbicides, click here, or read this PDF document.
Flowering end of branch where some of the plants over 100,000 seeds eventually form.
Medicinal benefits. Yes there appear to be many.

Though not anywhere near renowned as, say, Echinacea for it's ability to prevent or cure illnesses, spiny pigweed is used in many parts of the world (mostly in Asian & African countries) to treat numerous medical conditions, including:
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Vaginal discharges
  • Excess menstrual bleeding
  • Bloody noses
  • Wounds
  • Internal bleeding
  • Diarrhea
  • Snake Bites
  • Fevers
  • Dysentery
  • Urinary conditions
  • Gonorrhea
  • Eczema
  • Colic
  • Menorrhagia
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Earache
  • Inducing abortion
  • Burns
  • Boils
  • Ophthalmia
  • as a diuretic
Closeup of spiny pigweed leaf, usually 1-2" in length.
Edible, if you so desire

The good news is that spiny pigweed is not poisonous to humans (though it is toxic to many animals) & can be safely consumed. In addition, it has extremely high nutritional value, and can be fried, cooked or steamed. The seed can also be ground into healthy flour.

Now the bad news. This plant is popularly known as famine food. Though eaten regularly in a few suspect third world countries, its bitter & otherwise less desirable taste (along with its many spines) makes this plant a food of "last resort" in most worldwide locations. It's primarily only used when other vegetables become unavailable, such as in times of drought (it's a fairly drought tolerant plant).

Still, if you're ever lost in the woods or wilderness and come across this plant -- it can help keep you alive.

Other uses

Dyes. Ash from the plant has been used in Cambodia to create grey colored dye for cloth. Green & yellow dyes are also reported to be made from parts of the whole plant.

Final words

This may be the longest non-scientific piece written on this horrific weed ... well, someone had to do it! Consider yourself educated.

After reading and researching this piece I now have a new found respect for spiny pigweed. It does have "some" purpose, but I still loathe it anywhere in my yard.

*DISCLAIMER: Before using any information contained in this blog entry, you are advised to do your own due diligence & research on the topic and/or consult with a qualified expert or professional.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Famous Short Gardening Quotes & Sayings, Volume 1

Ken Druse
"When gardeners garden, it is not just plants that grow, but the gardeners themselves." - Ken Druse

"Confronted with the vision of a beautiful garden, we see something beautiful about ourselves." - Jeff Cox

William Cowper
"Gardening imparts an organic perspective on the passage of time." - William Cowper

"If you would have a lovely garden, you should live a lovely life." - Shaker saying

Joseph Joubert
"All gardeners live in beautiful places because they make them so." - Joseph Joubert

"Because a garden means constantly making choices, it offers almost limitless possibilities for surprise and satisfaction." - Jane Garmey

A. Pope
"All gardening is landscape painting." - Alexander Pope

"How deeply seated in the human heart is the liking for gardens and gardening." - Alexander Smith

Monty Don
"You do not need to know anything about a plant to know that it is beautiful." - Montagu Don

"Earthworms are the intestines of the soil." - Aristotle

Joseph Addison
"I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly give them fruit for their songs." - Joseph Addison

"If you have a mind at peace, and a heart that cannot harden, go find a door that opens wide upon a lovely garden." - Author Unknown

Alfred Austin
"Exclusiveness in a garden is a mistake as great as it is in society." - Alfred Austin

"Poor indeed is the garden in which birds find no homes." - Abram L. Urban

William Blake
"The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest." - William Blake

Our Paths In The Valley