Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pests, Problems and Preventative Measures

The end of June, every year, we are invaded.  It's Japanese Beetle time!  They showed up right on schedule last Wednesday.  I found two on the pea plants, and I knocked them down and squished them.  Really, they don't do a whole lot of damage in the garden.  They munch on the bean leaves a little, but they really wreak havoc on Tim's Linden trees, and anything that threatens Tim's trees is considered an arch enemy.  Which means its really not wise for me to ignore them in the garden.

They also munch on the blackberries, raspberries and wild grape vines.  I have a porcelain vine in the front landscaping, concealing the A/C unit, and they find that particularly delectible.  So these are good places to catch them.  We use a variety of methods to control them.  Each fall we treat a portion of our lawn with Milky Spore.  What this is is a powder containing bacteria which infects the grubs and kills them before they can hatch.  This is a long term program, but its easy and effective.  You can purchase it at most lawn and garden stores.

Secondly, there are beetle traps. A smelly lure (smells sort of like black licorice) is placed above the bag.  The stupid little buggers are lured onto the plastic card by the hundreds and slide down into the hour glass shaped bag where they are unable to escape.  You hang this in a tree up wind from your garden so they follow the smell away to their deaths.  Beetle traps are great if you want to see a volume of the pests dead in one spot.  They have two drawbacks.  #1:You will draw beetles in from all over your neighborhood, and they will stop for lunch along the way (in your beans).  #2:  Racoons find the bags full of bugs to be an irresistable snack.  But, in really bad years, I will hang three or four traps just to put a dent in the population.  Well, three drawbacks.  Every few days you have to empty a bag of smelly dead bugs and put a fresh one up.  And if you are particularly unlucky, it will also be full of rain water and will likely pour down the front of you, or at least fill your shoe.  But, I've found the most fun and satisfying way to wage war on beetles.  Soapy Water.

Japanese Beetles are slow and clingy. They have two thoughts on their little bug brains. Food. And Sex. Which means they are really easy to sneak up on. All you have to do is walk around with a cup full of water and knock them off the leaves into it. Actually, the prescribed plan is "soapy" water. But yesterday, when I noticed there were enough beetles around to warrant catching, I didn't have any soap handy. So I just grabbed a cup of water and knocked them in there. I figured the soapy part was to slow down their escape with a layer of suds. Nope, they aren't getting out of that. They just swim around in there, poop, and pause for a little pool sex.

As I was wandering around with this cup of swimming, pooping, fornicating bugs, I began to wonder what I was going to do to kill them.  Obviously it was taking them awhile to drown.  I could either leave the cup of water out in the sun and boil them (seemed a little cruel even for bugs) or pour them out on the pavers and try to stomp them all before they regained their senses.  In my travels, I happened by the house.  So I went in and got my old fashioned organic Castile soap which I use for the occasional organic bug spray and I squirted some into my cup o'bugs.  Well by Golly!  That's what the soap is for!  In under 20 seconds every last beetle was doing the deadman's float.   So that's how you deal with Japanese Beetles.

Next on the list of July Pests and Problems is Powdery Mildew.  What starts out as little white specs on your concurbits...

Soon turns to a rash of spots.  Then the leaves begin to yellow and die.

Besides being ugly and reducing your lush, dark green summer squash plants to shriveled, yellow vines, it stops the plant from flowering and producing, spreads into your cuccumbers, and will eventually kill every vine.  And we don't want that.

In the past I have messed around with copper spray (Organic copper spray of course), and pruned off the infected leaves, but really, you need to attack this problem before it gets started.

#1.  NEVER water at night, and always avoid dampening the leaves.  No sense inviting trouble by giving mildew exactly what it is looking for... cool, damp leaves.

#2. Stay on top of the first signs of it and immediately remove and destroy the infected leaves.

#3.  (This should actually be #1) Prevent it in the first place.

Back in 1999 a study was conducted in Brazil which showed that simply spraying your plants with watered down milk was extremely effective in preventing powdery mildew.  This article explains it briefly better than I can.   How to Spray Milk to Prevent Powdery Mildew Disease .  If you google "pwdery mildew milk spray" you will get a lot of information.   What the milk spray does is change the PH on the leaves and introduce microbes which inhibit the growth of the mildew.  In addition, it appears to boost the plants overall immune system.  But you have to start before the infection sets in.  About 4 weeks before.  And you have to spray at least once a week.

So, since the day I planted them, I have been spraying all my squash and cuccumber plants with a 30% milk solution in the morning unless is is going to be cool or rainy.   They have now been sprayed regularly for 3 weeks, and I will continue to spray at least once a week and watch closely for signs of mildew.  So far so good.  The mildew is setting in on all the usual places, but thus far my plants are clear.

Now, on to the bacterial spec and early blight....


  1. I always think of southern preachers of a certain type, wild eyed and full of hate and spittle whenever I hear the word fornicate.

  2. Yup, me too.... Especially when it's Japanese Beetles!!!