Got worms?

22 06 2013

I got worms… but not the kind you might expect

It seems as though there are too many garden pests these days. Aphids, stink bugs, cabbage loopers, and now even some of the larger garden pots have ants crawling through them. How do I control these pests without blowing up the yard, killing the neighbors dog, or destroying the last surviving bee hive on the planet?

It’s time that I gave nematodes a try. Nema what? Nematodes. Pronounced “NEEM-uh-toads”.

Oh… you mean like these?

Not at all. In fact nematode aren’t toads at all. They are microscopic worms that go after garden pests. But aren’t nematodes a bad thing? Wasn’t there an article somewhere talking about how much damage they cause to crops?

Well, think of nematodes as your neighbors. There are the good ones that invite you to a party or bake you a pie. There are the bad ones that lock people up in the attic for years. For our example, we’ll assume they are not one and the same. I don’t want to wake up after eating a slice of cherry pie, wearing nothing but my birthday suit and shackled to the wall. I learned my lesson the last time… What a lousy attic party… Eh, too soon…

Back to the worms. Yes, there are nematodes that attack crops. We will avoid those. In a plot twist that would make the best mystery writer proud, parasitic nematodes are actually beneficial. They are wonderful little assassins, with an interesting method of dispatching their victims. Apparently, they enter the target through various orifices (take your pick), then proceed to release a toxic bacteria that kills the target pest and turns it into a great food source and great place for the nematode to reproduce. “My oh my, Mrs Nema, I’ve heard that the dead grub school district is a great place to raise kids.”

I decided to try the Heterorhabditis bacteriophora nematodes, as they can get rid of the ant queens residing in my planters. The package I ordered was intended to cover 1600 square feet. The package that arrived was a plastic container the size of a small deck of cards. It looked like it contained several clumps of sawdust.nematode2

I followed the directions and applied them to my garden beds and planters. Actually, I sort of followed the directions. I did not mix them enough, I did not use a sprayer, I applied the entire package over less than 200 square feet. Let’s say that enthusiasm got the best of me.

I think I know the question you want answered- Did they work? They jury is out, but the results look promising. I will provide periodic updates on the pest population in my garden.

Overwintering Peppers Part 2- The Musical

5 01 2013

I’m crazy for this little lady I’m freaking for my little baby ‘Cause she makes me feel good She’s so fine

She’s a lady. Whoa, whoa, whoa. She’s a lady. Talkin’ about that little lady, and the lady is mine.

Lenny Kravitz? Tom Jones? Am I turning into a living karaoke machine? Let’s hope not. The last time I sang karaoke was after drinking several mugs of “liquid stupid”. It wasn’t pretty. Have you ever heard the song The Mighty Quinn? This performance was back before smart phones and pocket video cameras were widely available. It’s a good thing there was no video taken. It would have gone viral. By viral I mean it would have made millions of people violently ill. Anyway, we’re getting a little off topic.

Oops. Looks like somebody heard my singing

Oops. Looks like somebody heard my singing

But first, special thanks goes out to cmmarcum for the tip of using a hair dryer to remove aphids. I was getting ready to swipe borrow my wife’s hair dryer when I saw a sweet young thing in the kitchen. Dressed in red. Crawling on the ceiling.

That’s right folks, it’s that time of winter when ladybugs start to appear in the house. Remember option number 4 to eliminate aphids? I don’t want my house to be infested of course, but if I have a choice between banishing a ladybug or using it as a convenient aphid assassin, let the slaughter begin.

The ladybug is blurry but beautiful

The ladybug is blurry but beautiful

I wanna take you home I won’t do you no harm, no You’ve got to be all mine, all mine Ooh, foxy lady

Time to play some Jimi Hendrix while watching the ladybug go to town on the garden pests. Let’s come up with a name for our little friend. First question: Is our guest a boy or a girl? That’s a very good question. Despite the name, ladybugs are not unisex. Apparently you need a microscope and a PhD to tell the difference. Either that or get a bunch of ladybugs in the room, set up your own ladybug pickup joint, and catch the couples in the act. I’m no insect voyeur, so let’s just say our critter’s gender is undetermined.

Another lady joins the party

Another lady joins the party

How about the name Lola, L-O-L-A Lola, Lo lo lo lo lola.

This insect sure has me singing. (For bonus points, name the group that sang the above lyrics)

For added excitement, I found three more in the house. There’s a full garden party taking place on the peppers. After giving them a few days to feast, it appears that the aphids have disappeared. Here’s hoping that they will remain gone.

Quick edit: I had a fever when writing this post, and now I’m returning to view what I actually wrote. Two things of note. First, fevers must make me musical. Second, and more importantly, is to keep an eye on any ladybugs you place on your plants. Some critters in the ladybug family, or that look like they belong to the ladybug family, may actually be other insects that will snack on your plants. Now back to my karaoke, I mean, my beer; er, I mean, wholesome gardening.


Overwintering Peppers and Tactical Nukes

16 12 2012

It’s been a while since I updated the blog, but strap yourselves in because this one’s a doozie.

Our story starts with my obsession with growing warm weather crops year round in a climate that freezes over the winter. That, and my frustration that my pepper plants didn’t really start producing this year until late September, early October. Can I keep the peppers going throughout the winter? Yes and no. Yes if I move a few garden zones closer to the equator. While we’re at it, get me a frosty beverage while I lay by the pool in my tropical paradise. I open the bottle… young models in bikinis carrying even more beer walk out of the pool as Van Halen music starts to play. This post is starting to sound like a beer commercial. Anyway, peppers will do fine during a hot, hot summer. Winter in my back yard, probably not.

I read some articles about hot peppers being perennials in hot climates and decided that at the very least, we’ll keep some hot pepper plants indoors and alive this winter. That will give us an early start in the spring/summer next year. There was no mention of overwintering sweet peppers though. Why not? It seems as though nobody tried. Is this information being suppressed? I smell a conspiracy…

([start dream sequence] Secret meeting of Thurston Burpee, Montgomery Parks, and Johnny Moneybags from their respective seed companies. While we’re at it, let’s include George Soros, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates at the meeting to make the conspiracy complete. [dreamus interruptus]

As an aside, are you angry at that big bad 1 percent? Do you have the average US household income? If so, you are the 1 percent. You have the top 1 percent of income in the world. Minimum wage? Top 13 percent of household income in the world. Don’t have the new iPhone? Neither do I. Your computer is soooo slowwwww that your Facebook status updates are taking 2 whole minutes? Half the planet is spending their day searching for food and drinkable water. You have First World problems? Here’s a straw, suck it up. Enough of my rant… I’m just grateful for what I have. Time to put the tin foil hat back on…

[return to dream sequence] They are in the back room smoking cigars, drinking scotch and wearing their top hats and monocles. — “Why yes, let’s make them grow new plants every year. Then we can sell them seeds every year. The idea is so evil, it’s brilliant! Bwahahahaha!”) [end dream sequence]

Peppers in the basement

Peppers in the basement

In an effort to discover the truth about keeping peppers over the winter, I dug up some sweet peppers and some hot peppers just before the frost hit in October, planted them in large pots, and moved them to the basement under grow lamps. By large pots, I mean I went with 10 inch terracotta pots. Try to keep the roots intact when you dig them up. Prune back a lot of the growth; you don’t want the plant expending extra energy to support excess branches and leaves. The plan is to get new ones to grow in the Spring. It’s a good idea to skip the garden soil, and go with some bagged potting mix. I went with some peat moss, some bagged compost, and since I was running low, some soil from the garden and the yard. More on this later.

The plants seemed to survive the shock of the move. Then all the leaves fell off. What’s the deal with that? Too much testosterone? Needing some plant Propecia? Doubtful. Imminent plant death? I sure hope not. Maybe the plants aren’t dead. Maybe they’re “just sleeping.” Actually, it’s not all doom and gloom. The stem remained green, and within a week I noticed some new green things on the plant. Could it be… leaves? Why yes, patience my boy. The plant was getting back to growing. All was well in the plant kingdom. Now that we’re gently lulled into a false sense of confidence, it’s time for the excrement to hit the air conditioning.

The hot peppers are taking their time growing new leaves but the sweet peppers are having a great time with their new sprouts and leaves. Another 2 weeks and what do I see? Even more green. The green is moving. That’s right, it’s moving. Leaves do not move of their own volition. What the <bleep> is going on here?!? These peppers are being invaded by a town of aphids. It’s like they’re having a party. Do I see a teeny tiny swimming pool? And do I hear Van Halen playing out of some teeny tiny speakers? Great, we’re in an aphid beer commercial. And here I was thinking this was pure, clean garden soil.

What does ivory snow and my soil have in common? More than you would expect.

What does ivory snow and my soil have in common? More than you would expect.

Off topic- Have you ever heard of Marilyn Chambers? She was the young lady on the cover of the Ivory Snow soap boxes in the early 1970s. Her bright smile and wholesome good looks were used to advertise the purity of the product– 99 and 44/100% pure. Unfortunately for Proctor and Gamble, she decided to become a porn star, making some of the filthiest films of the time. So that lawn and garden soil that I thought was so pure was more of a Marilyn Chambers kind of 99 and 44/100% pure.

There are two types of bugs that feed on garden plants. They are chewing bugs and sucking bugs. Aphids are sucking bugs, not only because it sucks so much having them on your plants. Aphids treat the plant like their own giant Slurpee, pushing their mouths into the leaf to suck out the juices. This weakens the plant, and if you’re really unlucky they’ll transmit fun plant diseases in the process. If little miss aphid had gotten around a little more, a trip to the clinic wouldn’t save the plants. They would be goners. In this case we were fortunate, and no disease appeared on the plants.

But how do you get rid of these pests indoors without killing yourself, the wife, the kids, and the neighbor’s dog? Here are a few options:

  1. Spray them off with a strong stream of water; they won’t be able to find their way back to the plant. Two problems with this approach. First, I am not going to spray a strong stream of water in my basement. Second, these plants are the only game in town. The bugs will find their way back
  2. Squash them; this will serve as a repellent. Two problems with this approach. First, I’m not going to get them all. Second, these plants are the only game in town. The bugs will stay. Not to say I didn’t try. The aphids hide in plant crevices. Hurt the aphids and you take out part of the plant.
  3. Insecticidal soap- What’s this? A product that’s safe for people, safe for pets, and will help control the little buggers. It will dry up and kill the invaders. Let’s give it a try…The insecticidal soap works like a charm. For a day. If that long. Unfortunately, the label states that it is only effective with direct contact. You miss one side of one leaf where they are hanging out, and they’ll be back in business quickly. I pull out the magnifying glass. Are they wearing shower caps? What does it look like when a bug is smiling, flipping you the bird? Time for another approach.
  4. Beneficial insects- Don’t get me wrong. I love the ladies. Ladybugs, that is. But I don’t love the idea of replacing one infestation for another.Aliensaphids
  5. I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure…
    But it will vaporize the plants, the family, the house and the neighbor’s dog.
    Give me a few minutes while I put myself in a fetal position and suck my thumb in the corner.

  6. Neem oil- what is neem oil? It’s oil extracted from the neem tree. Obviously. It is used as an organic insecticide. I bought Garden Safe brand. I think their products are called Garden Safe because that is where they store all the Garden Money I have been paying them. At this point I am willing to try anything. Disclaimer. I did not buy the neem oil extract. Rather I bought an organic fungicide/insecticide that contains neem oil. May as well protect the plants against other damp basement threats while I’m at it.
    Anyway, time to start the treatment. Bombs away! I love the smell of neem oil in the morning. Wait a day, and what do I see? No aphids! Wait 3 weeks and what do I see? Plenty of aphids! Maybe next time I will finish reading the instructions. You need to follow up every 7 days for effective treatment. Let’s see what happens after treating every 5 days. I will let you know.

Feeling like Elmer Fudd – PVC to the rescue

26 03 2012

I was walking through the yard the other week, admiring the plants in our winter yard, when I noticed something unusual with my blueberry bushes. Did somebody prune them?  I saw all buds below 1 foot were cut off! Then I remembered the rabbit… The fat, nasty rodent was smirking at me that very morning. Have you ever wanted to kill over a bowl or two of tasty berries? I sure did.

Well, I could have gone the Wild West / Loony Tunes route and brought out the shotgun. But I am out of ammo– and the neighbors in the closely spaced lots won’t appreciate gunfire in their back yards.

What to do? What to do? Well, until I find a way to “send bunny on a trip”, I had to stop the damage. My half-assed bird netting from last year needed an upgrade. I got a great roll of new netting, but I needed a frame to put the netting on. Let’s go with cheap. How about using PVC? Yes, that works, but it’s butt-ugly. White plastic ducts look fine in a lab, not so much in a back yard.

But how do you make PVC not look like PVC? Apparently in most cases you don’t. It’s made to look like crap, so deal with it. At least that was the early information I had. But I have a top notch research team, and they suggested making it look like wood.

(Actually not wood, more like what wood looks like in PVC Land.)  I thought what could it hurt to try?

PVC- dark wood stain

pvc heavily sanded and soaked in stain almost looks like wood

I found one link with the suggestion to use wood stain to color the pipe. Brilliant! The only drawback is the hours of sanding required if you do not have a power sander. Dave does not have a power sander. I had nothing else to do on a particular Saturday, so I had at the PVC with 60-grit coarse sandpaper. I followed up with a light coat of stain on one set of pipes. I came close to dunking the other sets in the stain. Results are in the pictures left and below. I can say that it does look like wood from a distance, and it doesn’t look too bad up close. A few zip ties and the netting was looking sharp.

PVC- normal staining process

PVC doesn't soak up the stain. It looks much lighter if you try to stain it like it is wood

There are other ways to decorate PVC for a garden-friendly appearance. Many techniques require the use of primer, which surprisingly is located near the PVC aisle at your local big box home improvement store. One coating of this and you should be ready to paint with your favorite earth tones (or your favorite lawn elf colors, if you’re into that thing). Alternatively, some people have had luck with the spray paint for plastic I will let you know what happens when I try them. And I will let you know whether I can take Mr Rabbit on a long trip…