Archive for ‘Insects & Diseases’

May 13, 2015

Before you spray…

A Scott’s sales rep came to the door yesterday telling me he could spray to kill all of the dandelions and other weeds in our yard, fertilize the lawn and spray to get rid of all of the mosquitoes. I politely told him, “No thank you. I don’t mind them and am actually growing plants to attract insects and pollinators instead of kill them.” He then offered to use their organic line and estimated that it would be $56 to “take care of” our yard. Again, I smiled and said, “No, thank you. We’re not interested.” at which point he offered me his business card, told me he was also a realtor and offered to do a property value estimate if I’m ever interested.

We have no plans of moving.  Part of why we bought this house is because it’s just behind the nature center which has a lake. Mosquitoes, whether we like it or not, come with the territory.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate mosquitoes just as much as the next person, but the SPRAYS they use ARE NOT SELECTIVE. That means they don’t just kill mosquitoes, they also kill everything else including bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

I realize a lot of people don’t like insects, but we NEED these insects. Our food system relies on them. I don’t think most people know or understand the impact that spraying their yard for mosquitoes has on our food system.

Yes, I’m a gardener and every year I hope for an abundant harvest from my garden, but this isn’t about my garden. This is effecting food on a much larger scale. This is about the food on everyone’s table.

Our pollinators are disappearing at alarming rates and our food is going to follow. This isn’t something we can ignore or pretend isn’t happening. It’s not going to be okay or correct itself on its own.

This time of the year, when everything is in bloom, my yard is typically abuzz with bees and other insects feeding on the nectar and pollen from dandelions, creeping charlie, flowering crabs and dogwoods. This year I have seen a couple of wasps pass through and a handful of flies. That’s it.

It would be so easy to blow it off and try to reason our way out of why I don’t see them in my yard, but the truth of the matter is that I work to create a bee, butterfly and insect friendly yard and they are not here. My yard is a minute sample of the greater picture. Looking at my yard is like looking through a sample under a microscope. If the insects aren’t in my yard, that means they aren’t around.

Am I worried that the fruits and vegetables in my yard won’t get pollinated and will produce less fruit? Of course. But what really bothers me is that the fruits and vegetables on a greater scale aren’t getting pollinated,  which is a much larger problem.

All of this makes me so sad. They are making it so fast, cheap and easy to kill-off the insects that we think are a nuisance but fail to tell people that they are also killing off insects  that pollinate the plants that give us our food.

We have smoking policies in place to protect people who don’t smoke from breathing in second hand smoke.

Spraying our yards doesn’t work the same way. If we spray, we are not just impacting our yard and our neighbors, we are impacting life on the larger scale.

We need to stop pretending that what we do in our yard is our choice and that it doesn’t impact anyone else, because it does. It impacts EVERYONE else.

The next time you go to buy groceries, look at the produce section and imagine it empty or sparce with extremely expensive produce. Imagine coffee so expensive that it becomes a luxury. Do you hate spending so much money on groceries? It’s going to continue to get more and more expensive and we will have less and less available if we don’t change what we are doing.

We need to fix our system, fast. Some states are banning neonicotinoide pesticides. A couple of cities in the Twin Cities metro area have also banned them. But until they are fully non-existent we need to be our own advocates.

That’s not to mention the detrimental effects directly on people. Pesticides are also hormone – altering (endocrine disruptors) which alter the natural function of our bodies in many, many dangerous ways.

If our world were balanced, it should be ungodly expensive to spray both herbicides and pesticides because the effects are damaging on a global level. Damaging to our health, damaging to our food system, not to mention damaging to the soil, water and air we breathe.

It shouldn’t cost $59 to kill everything that lives in a 1/3 of an acre lot, it should cost at lot more than that because in reality, it does.

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April 10, 2013

Insects – The Good, The Bad and The Really Cool, Geeky Stuff

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In high school I tried not to stick out.  I tried to blend in.  I didn’t want to be too smart, too dumb, too fat, too thin.  I wanted to just be me, without really letting others get to know me.  (Because what if they didn’t like me?!?)  So I was quiet and shy.  Except around my closest friends, who knew me for who I was, who knew that I loved school, tried hard and took pride in doing well.  Around those same friends, I could inhale as much flavored popcorn as I wanted and let the effenheimers fly.

That was twenty years ago.  And while I still love popcorn of nearly any flavor and still drop an occasional f-bomb, over time I’ve learned to truly embrace the rest of “me”.  I’ve learned to embrace my strengths… and my weaknesses.  And I’ve learned to love my inner nerd.  And now I really don’t care who knows about it.  I don’t hide the fact that plants and soil and insects all fascinate me and that I wish I’d dug into this stuff way earlier in life.  I don’t hide the fact that I really like to know what makes nature tick.  I love learning and understanding nature’s symbiotic relationships and I find it so fascinating how everything is woven together and how the slightest change can cause an enormous chain reaction.  I love that when I learn something it makes me want to learn more.  And the more I learn, the more I realize how little I really know, how little any of us can really know.

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And I love that I’m going to share one of the coolest, geeky things I just learned.  It is about insects.  More specifically, the life cycle of insects.  Why should anyone care about the life cycle of insects?  I’m so glad you asked!  If you are a gardener, a farmer or food eater, you should care because insects can both help and harm our the food supply.  However, knowing the life cycle of an insect helps us learn how to work with it, or against it, depending on whether or not they are beneficial.

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Ten years ago I took a course on Insects and Diseases, and while I learned some pretty cool stuff about insects at the time, what I didn’t learn was about Degree Days.  What are Degree Days?  Let me tell you… Degree Days are basically the sum of the number of days that an insect gains energy.  Think of it like charging a battery.  Your car battery is dead.  You connect it to a charger.  You leave it charged for a few minutes and try to start the car.  It won’t start.  The lights turn on, but they’re dim.  You connect the charger for an hour and try again.  This time the power locks, windows, windshield wipers and radio work but there still isn’t enough power to start the car.  So you leave it a few more hours and finally have a full charge.  The car starts and you’re back in action.

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Well, the same works for insects, only heat is their charger and the units of energy are Degree Days.  When it’s cold, insects shut down and stop moving.  When the weather warms up, they start “charging” and start moving around in the soil.  But they don’t start charging the second we get a “warm day” because cold days and warm days are all relative to each other.  (A 40 degree day in the fall is “cold” compared to a “warm” 40 degree day in the spring after a long, cold winter, but realistically both days are 40 degrees.)

So Degree Days are determined by a calculation:

(The high of the day (in F degrees) + the low of the day (in F degrees) /divided by 2) – 50 degrees = Degree Days (units)
Example:  80 degree high + 50 degree low= 130 degrees/2 = 65 degrees – 50 degrees = 15 Degree Days

Each day insects accumulate Degree Days (but only when the Degree Day is greater than zero).  So let’s say we had a week of exactly the same high and low, each day, the insect would accumulate 15 Degree Days, by the end of the week the insect would have accumulated 105 Degree Days of charge. (15 Degree Days x 7 days = 105 Degree Days)

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Each insect, like every car, is different and therefore each insect needs a different amount of Degree Days (energy) to become active and another amount of Degree Days (energy) to begin reproducing and so forth.

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Why do we care?  Well, if we can look at our daily temperatures and determine the Degree Days in our area in relation to the life cycle of a particular insect that may be attacking our garden, or our farm or our CSA’s farm, then we will know when the insect is in each stage of its life cycle (egg, larva, pupa, adult).  Knowing this means that if we are trying to get rid of that insect, we know when, for example, they are laying eggs which in turn means we know when to release beneficial insects to feed on their eggs, or we will know when to apply milky spore on the soil, or we will know when we need to apply an (organic) spray or worst case scenario, if we have to resort to using chemical sprays, we would know when it would be most effective to apply it and cause the least amount of damage.  It’s like the difference between playing darts with a blindfold on or playing darts after doing target practice.

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If we can determine what to do when, then we will use less time, less money, fewer resources and fewer chemicals chasing down and attacking “the bad guys” and more time hanging with “the good guys” and enjoying our garden or our dinner.

Swallowtail on phlox... again

Pretty cool stuff, huh?

Kate

April 4, 2013

Daffodils – More Than Just Another Pretty Face

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Daffodils, some of the first flowers to appear in the spring, even before the trees leaf out, brighten up dark corners and otherwise still groggy gardens.   They remind me of the sunrise, the centers ranging from yellow to peach to orange with the bright white petals like the rays reaching out.  Even the pure yellow daffodils shine brightly like a the mid-day sun.  But there’s more to daffodils than their pretty face.  They can serve a purpose in your garden as well.

Daffodil

Daffodil

Daffodils are guards in the garden, defending it from both encroaching lawn and from four-legged predators.  When planted densely, daffodils will keep grass out of planting beds, making weeding a much lighter task.

Often times, many of us will plant a fruit tree in the middle of our lawn.  Unfortunately, lawn is not a fruit tree’s friend.  The lawn competes heavily with the trees for water and nutrients in the surface of the soil during the heat of the summer.  Daffodils, on the other hand, are relatively deeply planted bulbs.  They will begin to establish themselves when planted in the fall, put on growth and bloom in early spring.  Then, about the time the trees need water and nutrients, the daffodils begin to die back, reducing their need for water until fall when the tree begins to go dormant and process begins again.

In addition, daffodils help defend fruit trees against predators.  As a member of the onion family, they contain a toxin that deters many animals, including squirrels, deer, gophers and mice from gnawing on the tender bark when planted close to the trunk off fruit trees.  One word of caution, however, although daffodils are in the onion family, they are toxic to humans and should not be ingested!

Other benefits of daffodils are that they are a perennial bulb, therefore only needing to be planted once and will return year after year. They will also gradually reproduce, making them a great bulb for naturalizing under a tree or in a shade or woodland garden.

 

Naturalized Daffodils

Naturalized Daffodils

One last fun note about daffodils – their faces follow the sun throughout the day.  This is fun to observe both for kids and kids at heart.

Many of the daffodils relatives, in the onion family, will serve the same purpose in the garden.  Allium, the tall blue, white or purple puff-ball on a stick, which resemble fireworks in the sky, will add color and can be found in a variety of heights and sizes.

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Allium

 

 

 

 

 

Chives and garlic chives again, provide the same defense against predators and will also attract beneficial insects to the garden, such as teeny-tiny parasitic wasps, plus they have the added bonus of being edible.  And we all know, I’m all about things being edible! 🙂

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Chives

 

 

 

So there you have it. Daffodils (and alliums and chives and garlic chives) are much more than just another pretty face. 😉

Kate

July 11, 2012

And… we’re back!

Wow!  It’s been a long time since I’ve written.  Ages!

How have you been?  This summer sure has been busy, hasn’t it?  But don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about you.  In fact, I’ve thought about you a lot.  I have lots of pictures to show you as to what I’ve been up to when I haven’t been working, but just haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and write.  Hopefully your summer is equally busy, so you totally understand. 😉

 

Chickens at Linden Hills Farmers Market

 

So where did I leave off?  Ah, yes.  Chickens!  The chicken class was awesome.  Loved it!  If you live in the Twin Cities and are thinking about getting chickens, I definitely recommend taking the Backyard Chicken Basics class at EGG|PLANT Urban Farm Supply before you jump in and get those cute and cuddly chicks.  The class is filled with good information to prepare you for raising chickens.  I thought I’d take the class, order my chicks while I was there and be raising them this week.  I still want to get chickens but, thanks to the class, realized that I have a little more preparation to do before bringing these feathered friends into our backyard.

And speaking of the backyard, this spring was so busy that I didn’t get my garden planted until just a couple of weeks ago.  Holy lateness!  Thankfully, most of it is coming along nicely so far, although something or someone did manage to sneak in and dine on my sunflower and pea shoots, but it could be worse!  Now that things are growing its obvious that my garden could definitely use a little more sun.  I finally contacted an arborist to “take care of” my overgrown volunteer trees so my plants can grow a little stronger.  He’s scheduled to be out in the next couple of days to check everything out so hopefully the balance of the summer my garden will have full sun exposure instead of just part sun!

Peas to please

Greens in the garden

Radish ready for picking

As some of you may know, I spend a good deal of time volunteering at my son’s school.  I help some of the teachers with the Botany unit and coordinate the school garden with a couple of friends.  Even though my home garden got a late start, the garden at school is doing great!  Last year about this time we were just getting the raised beds built and the arbor/pergola constructed.  This year the kids were able to plant before school was out and the children taking summer school classes are now reaping the benefits in their school lunches!  It’s truly awesome to see how much the kids enjoy the garden and trying the food that comes out of it.

 

And since we’re on the subject of food, I’ve also visited a few more Farmers Markets.  Some small, some simple, some large, some with excellent presentation and even visited some in the rain.  I’ll do write-ups on those in the very near future so you can get a taste and see if you want to check them out.

What else?  Insects and diseases.  You can’t have plants without running across those.  Let’s start with Dutch Elm Disease.  While Emerald Ash Borer is getting lots of press these days (as well it should) Dutch Elm disease is still going strong and continuing to make its way around the Twin Cities (along with the rest of the country).  A couple of years ago we lost two large Elm trees in the front yard.  They were big old Elms, they had survived the initial wave of Dutch Elm Disease back in the 70s so I figured they would be okay.  I was wrong.  They left a huge hole in the yard and burnt out lawn, not to mention the habitat that disappeared for the birds and critters.  Well, not wanting to lose the last large Elm in our yard, I decided it’s time to bite the bullet and spend the money to protect it.  Treatment for this tree isn’t cheap, but it is guaranteed for three years and is still cheaper than the cost to remove the tree if it died.  So in addition to protecting a tree that would take 70 years to replace, it was kind of like getting a three-year insurance policy on the tree.  It’s worth it to me.

Japanese Beetles

And while we’re talking insects, guess who’s back?!  The Japanese Beetles.  They have been rearing their iridescent heads again.  While the population hasn’t been anywhere near what it was last year (at least not yet), it seems to be growing by the day.  At first I saw one, then a couple more, and so on.  Many mornings and evenings you’ll find me in the garden with my peanut butter jar of warm soapy water trying to flick off as many as I can find and leave them to, well, drown.

Red-femured Milkweed Borer

Ooo… and speaking of insects, I had a new (to me) insect sighting this year too.  The Red-femured Milkweed Borer.  Have you seen them?  Their coloring is quite stunning.  I found them, ironically enough, on my milkweed. 🙂  Unfortunately I don’t know a lot about these guys.  They seem to be migrating our way due to the climate change and warmer temperatures.  The closest information I could find on them came out of Missouri and as far as I can tell they are neither a “good bug” or a “bad bug”.  They are just there.  If you know anything different, please share!

Snapping Turtle

There have been a couple of other neat non-insect related sightings in our yard this year too.  The first one took place on Memorial weekend.  The dogs were barking out the front door and when I went to see what they were barking at I saw a fairly decent sized snapping turtle on the front sidewalk.  “OH!” I thought to myself, “That’s what you’re barking at.”  After a couple of days of hanging out around the house she burrowed into one of my flower beds and then after a day or two, she disappeared.  Neighbors are pretty certain she probably laid eggs but we won’t know for sure for a few more weeks.  I’ll let you know if there are suddenly little snapper babies everywhere.

Robin

We also had a pair of robins nest under the grape vines on the pergola in the back yard and give birth to three babies.  It was fun watching the nest, waiting for them to hatch and watching the parents feed them.  I was even lucky enough to witness the first attempted flight of one of the babies!  So amazing and so funny!

Garter Snake #2

What else?  Snakes.  Have we had snakes! One of our dogs is very good at catching snakes. (I really wish this wasn’t one of her talents!)  Thankfully we only have garter snakes, so she’s not chasing anything really nasty, but man, these are some of the longest and fattest garter snakes I’ve seen in a long time!  Got a snake problem?  Call me.  I’ll send her over.

I’ve picked up some cool new books too.  A chicken book, gardening book, sustainable living book and of course some cook books.  I tried out a number of new recipes out of the cook books and from a couple of blogs too.  I’ll share some of them later this week.

 

Loaded Raspberry Canes

Oh my, I nearly forgot!  Even though my veggie garden got a slow start there has been no shortage of stuff to eat.  As my Mom would say, we’ve had “a bumper crop” of raspberries this year.  Each year I think I’ll “make stuff” with them, but this year, like most other years, I find myself eating them before I can really make anything.  (Unless you consider a yogurt parfait “making something”.)

Beginning of the blueberries

I’ve also gotten a handful of blueberries, quite a few golden raspberries and the grape vines are loaded, although not ready to eat yet.

The pear trees have a handful of pears on them again too so hopefully I’ll be able to snag one before the squirrels get to them!  Sadly, no fruit on the apple trees again this year.  It appeared as though they were invaded by leaf rollers.  Once things slow down a little I plan on planting a few companion plants in the vicinity of the apple trees to see if I can improve things for them.

The Yurt

Oh, and one more thing to share with you.  I helped build a Yurt!  If you already know what a Yurt is, excellent!  If you’re like me, you’d say, “A what?”  A Yurt.  Basically, it’s like a semi-permanent, round tent.  I’ll go into more detail on that later.

So there’s a glimpse as to what I’ve been up to.  I’m planning on writing more and filling in the gaps as the week progresses.

In the meantime I hope you’re able to get outside and enjoy the summer weather even if temps have been in the 90s and 100s like it has been here.

Until next time…. happy summer and happy gardening!

Kate