Sunday, August 3, 2014

A is for Aphid: by Tina Clinefelter

Odds are that you have aphids somewhere in your garden right now. There seems to be an aphid for almost every plant and with over 1300 species in just these United States what makes you think you can escape their attentions? Last time I checked I had green ones on my roses, greyish ones on the quince and white ones on the milkweed; but they can also come in red, brown, black, yellow and pink. I have never seen a blue one – yet!
Aphids are small – 1/32” to 1/8” – mostly pear-shaped, wingless and totally devoted to eating – or rather – sap sipping, and when their numbers become abundant the damage they can inflict becomes apparent even if the insect itself is hard to see. Look for curling, yellowing and stunted leaves, usually at the end of a stem, and check underneath the leaves for their hiding places. They will feed on stems, buds and flowers as well as leaves, and their feeding produces a waste material called honeydew (sticky and sweet) much prized by other insects such as wasps and ants as a welcome addition to their own food supply. (This honeydew can develop a fungal growth called ‘sooty mold’ – but that a whole ‘nother subject…)
The sex-life of an aphid can be a little difficult to explain succinctly, but basically there are on-going generations per year not requiring the help of any males (parthenogenesis), with the females giving live birth to scads of daughters. The rest of their life-cycle is none of my business, and my only concern is the wellbeing of my plants. This brings control into sharp focus and luckily Mother Nature has provided a number of natural predators – the sometimes maligned lady beetle, the lovely lacewing, the sneaky syrphid fly and always helpful parasitic wasp. If these obliging insects are in short supply a strong jet of water is enough to dislodge the rather fragile aphids and they are unable to return to their feeding stations. If need be, insecticidal soap is effective (remembering to spray under the leaves) but the ‘woolly’ aphid may need the really big guns. Information on handling this part of the problem is available from the Extension Office.
I should mention that there are also aphids that feed on roots underground but as they seem to like dandelions it would seem to be of benefit to leave them alone!
One other factor to keep in mind when deciding to tackle aphid control is that they may be spreading diseases with their feeding habits –particularly viruses, so it behooves you to be vigilant in monitoring your garden on a regular schedule!
Well, the Clinton County Fair is next on the horizon, and the Master Gardeners will be setting up an informational display on ‘Firewise Landscaping’. This little-known subject is designed to help the homeowner minimize or eliminate fire hazards around the house and environs by providing hand-outs detailing what to do to keep your property and family safe, and how to work with the Emergency Services that will provide protection should the need arise.
The display will also provide information on mulches, plant selections and ‘hard-scaping’ – paths, driveways, and suitable locations for burn-barrels and brush piles.
See you at the Fair!

Timely Topics: by Tina Clinefelter

Heads up! The wineberries are ripening and the birds have already discovered them. If you fancy some wineberry pie or wineberry wine now is the time to hit the road and gather ye wineberries while ye still have time! What’s this? You do not know the wineberry? Merde!
Wineberries are a kind of raspberry growing on long, arching canes in moist areas in either sunny or shady locations in fields, stream edges or roadsides in riotous abandon. In some cases they are considered to be invasive – crowding out everything in the vicinity – but, as usual, they were first introduced from Asia to perform a useful service (breeding stock) and then escaped cultivation to really enjoy their new surroundings. To identify this species look for spiny bramble canes fuzzily covered with reddish hairs; leaves are 3 – 5 rounded leaflets, toothed, green above (purple veins), and white and woolly beneath. The canes form a dense thicket and often grow in harmony with poison ivy, so watch where you put your feet! I have experience!
The ripe, shiny, red fruits are slightly sticky to the touch and leave the yellowish-white core (receptacle) behind when picked. The fruit is tarter than raspberry, jam-packed with goodies – vitamin C, antioxidants etc. They have a very short shelf-life but freeze well. As always, do not eat unless you are very sure of a positive identification; if in doubt, bring a sample to the Extension Office for help.
By now everyone is aware that it is Japanese beetle season and the evidence is there that last year’s hard winter was no help in diminishing the population. Beyond using traps and sprays, there is little to do that makes much of a difference and the advice to plant things the beetles seem to avoid is of scant solace now! I sure everyone will vow to treat their lawns with white grub killer at the appropriate time, but by then memories will have faded and other more important things will have arisen…I just thought I’d mention that starlings have been noted as predators of this pest – at least they have something going for them! (Starlings, I mean).
On a somber note, it is reported that the dreaded late blight on potatoes and tomatoes has been detected in Clinton County. Time to prepare! It is advised to begin a regimen of spraying a fungicide at recommended intervals to help guard against those airborne spores, and to bring any suspected infections to the Extension Office for disease confirmation. Please read the fungicide labels carefully and follow all directions. If late blight is confirmed you MUST destroy all infected plant material to avoid allowing the spores to be carried to neighboring gardens and farms – the spores can travel 40-50 miles from point of origin. If you require more information contact the Extension Office at 570-726-0022.

I don’t like Spiders and Snakes…by Tina Clinefelter

Have you ever been on a stroll in the woods, just tootling along enjoying the sounds and the serenity, when- Shazzam- you run face-first into a large, sticky spider-web strung across your path in a most ingenious and invisible fashion? After a bit of frantic cussing and scraping you continue on your way, then upon returning to home base you peer into the mirror to discover a large arachnid still sitting on top of your head…As they say – ‘been there – done that’, and learned quickly to carry a big stick waved in an up-and-down motion, preceding the passage of my head and body through the undergrowth. I don’t do this much anymore due to my aversion to ticks and I guess the spiders are glad I no longer ruin a hard day’s work by blundering into their webs.
I try really hard to appreciate the role of spiders in my everyday life; I enjoy close-up photography (someone else’s) of their eight eyes and fearful fangs; I like the fact that a spider’s diet helps keep my house clear of other pests and I love to capture the dew on a web in the early morning light with my camera, but outside, in the garden, not inside with me…But I cannot honestly say I like spiders, especially as I just spent half the morning vacuuming up hosts of webs and their occupants in my garage. In the last two weeks there must have been a massive hatch of spiderlings – every corner, nook and cranny was festooned. As each web was swept away a tiny spider made a bid for freedom – and lost; sometimes it was a larger specimen – one of those you can’t see unless they move – gotta be sharp to get those! They move swiftly on those eight legs and those eight eyes can see safety in a flash. These, as far as I can determine are one of the varieties called ‘daddy longlegs’, and herein lies great confusion as to what actually is a ‘daddy longlegs’.
According to all the research I can muster there are three contenders for the ‘daddy’ title: first, is the crane fly which has 6 long, dangly legs, a skinny body, but has two wings – obviously a regular insect; second, is the above-mentioned house spider with the slender body, 8 dangly legs and the almost invisible habit of remaining perfectly still until spooked (by a vacuum cleaner), and finally, the Harvestman, an 8 legged sub-species of spider with the imposing name of ‘opilionid’.
The Harvestman has only one body segment and only two eyes (OK – you count them) but it does have a penis – regular spiders do not (honest!) Also, the Harvestman does not produce silk so if it’s in a web, it is breakfast for a real spider.
Now we get to the famous urban myth that the bite of a ‘daddy longlegs’ would be one of the most poisonous if only it’s fangs were longer – the Harvestman eats only decaying plant material so has no venomous fangs. Myth busted! We’ll get to the snakes another time…

It’s War! by Tina Clinefelter

Enough already! My patience is exhausted! The lines have been drawn in the sand, and the arsenal assembled. Evil-doers beware – I am on the warpath…
Someone asked me the other day if I thought the number of robins was on the increase – there seemed to be more than usual – and I quite agree. My avian quota per backyard area is at critical mass – there are signs of stress, bad behavior, and outright insanity and that’s just me, and the reason for my current militant manner. The birds have discovered that wet potting soil is an admirable substitute for mud in the building of nests – they have also discovered there is a good supply of this material in the seedling pots on the table on my back patio. With gay abandon, innocent seedlings have been flung willy-nilly and the soil purloined! Robins have also found that wherever I have installed a new plant, the soil is easy to dig (having been pre-dug by me) and the path to a worm feast is much facilitated and more flinging occurs!
Sparkle tape and shiny children’s windmills work for about ten minutes; running outside screaming like a banshee amuses the neighbors. Stringing fishing lines over and around prized areas can afford some protection but netting would work better if I could find where I hid it (i.e. put away in a safe place). Instead I shall concentrate on outwitting the wily wabbit…
My anti-bunny campaign began when I found that my plants (in pots, in trays – inside the garage overnight) had been nibbled upon and debris strewn on the floor. On closer inspection I found a baby bunny cowering INSIDE a tray, pretending to be invisible. This well-fed rodent, when tipped unceremoniously out of the tray, ran for cover inside the garage instead of making a dash for freedom. Could still be there for all I know – I don’t care – he/she ate a whole, beautiful gloriosa daisy – an unforgivable sin!
In the greater scheme of things, my 3x6 raised-bed vegetable garden, I installed lovely lettuce one day and it was history the next. They ate the parsley too – to cleanse the breath I assume, after decimating the peppers. I did discover that bunnies don’t care for stevia – the sweet herb substitute for sugar. I watched from the house one day to see a taste-test result in a big ‘ptui’…Hah! But that did not restore the lettuce and peppers – off to the greenhouse and the fencing supply store! With the help of one son-in-law the new ‘de-fences’ seem to be working fine – score one for the humans!
The resident groundhog is a little harder to deter. The store-bought ‘repellants’ work for a while but need to be re-applied after every rain; the smell of rotten eggs wafts over to the neighbor’s house too. Can’t say I’m fond of it either. Enter a newly purchased bottle of red-fox urine for some judicious spritzing in strategic spots (I wanted the coyote variety, but it was out of stock). So far the newly planted, succulent seedlings have remained un-munched, but it is too soon to claim victory…
Going back to those so-called robins – they aren’t even a proper robin – thrushes are what they are; big, bossy birds, nothing like the gentle English robin so beloved by all!
And I’m not even going to mention my attempts to defend the lettuce with my trusty slingshot. Not wanting to litter my neighbor’s lawn with steel ball-bearings I purchased dried peas and lima beans to use as ammunition – I only wanted to frighten the little dears, not cause them permanent harm, but my aim is atrocious and I couldn’t bear to hear the bunnies laugh as they ate my ammo!