Category Archives: bad bugs

A Winner and a Tip to Control Aphids

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Last night Random Number Generator told me that Kimberly of An At Home Daughter was our Pharmaca gift card winner! Congratulations Kimberly!

I just wanted to show you these broccoli plants. They’re romanesco broccoli, which are great fun to grow, we’ve done it in the past. This year we planted the seeds in either late January or early February and they are just now forming heads of broccoli! The plants are absolutely huge and at this point in the season are full of aphids. Scott asked a lady at Sonoma Mission Gardens about how to control them and her advice was to sprinkle a little gypsum onto the heads. She said, ‘you don’t like to eat food with sand in it, do you? Gypsum is like sand to aphids.’ So we’re going to give it a try and we’ll let you know.

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the good, the bad & the ugly

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(the good :: ladybugs & soldier beetles)
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(the bad :: cucumber beetle)
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(the ugly :: drowned earwigs)

Gardening in the country ain’t easy folks. Not at all. These bugs, they come in droves with the primary purpose of destroying every seedling in sight. While we have had a great army of lady bugs and soldier beetles by our sides, we’ve also had our fair share of cucumber beetles, earwigs and pill bugs to wreck havoc on our tender new plantings. Most of my flower seedlings (pepperbox poppies, zinnas, and echinacea) have been eaten right down to their base. At this stage in my gardening career, if a seedling doesn’t survive, I shrug my shoulders and move onto another variety of flower. I’m a tough love flower gardener and if something doesn’t work out, I know there are plenty of other hearty varieties to fill their spots.

However, with vegetables it’s different. Most everything that we depend upon as tasty summer eats, the bugs also find as tasty spring eats. The earwigs are leaving the tomatoes alone, but we can’t subsist on tomatoes soley this summer. We also want beans, melons and cucumbers, all of which are a real hit with the bug crowd. To combat this, we’ve cut off the bottom of all our gallon planters and are using them as collars around our seedlings when we plant them out. We are also going back to a key piece of wisdom that a friend shared with us years back (and recently reminded us of), which is cans of canola oil spiked with something savory, in this case bacon grease.

In combating these creeping crawling things, it took us a while to figure out what exact bug it was doing the damage. I think this is making us better gardeners in the end. It’s one thing to read and look at pictures of bugs and bug damage in a book, but when you see it on your plant, it’s all together different. Now after watching a cucumber beetle munch on a window ledge zinna seedling, I know exactly what kind of damage she does. And now that we’ve caught many ear wigs right around our seedlings, we know exactly what kind of damage they do.

Next year we’ll be armed and ready. Just you watch out bugs! (that said, if you know of any cucumber beetles fighting advice, my roses, zinna’s and I’d love to hear it!)

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Homemade Insect Repellants (Day 15 & 16 of 30 DTABG)

Oh those pesky pests. They can be insatiable sometimes, can’t they? We don’t have too bad a time with them, but from time to time we do fall victim (remember that horrible aphid/kale disaster we had last year? or the aphids and cabbage worm infestation?) Now in the ideal organic garden, the beneficial insects take care of most of the bad bugs. And the few bad bugs they don’t get don’t do too much harm because by growing organically, you are growing strong healthy plants that don’t fall prey to those insects. But this is real life and sometimes your garden won’t be the garden of Eden, so you need to call in back up. If you are like me, when you see large infestation of aphids, earwigs, cabbage worms and other bugs, there is a very strong temptation to just obliterate the area with the most toxic stuff you can find. However I’ve found some great recipes for homemade insect repellents.

Garlic Pest Control Spray
Many cultures around the world have used garlic as a natural antibiotic and anti-fungal remedy. When garlic is combined with mineral oil and soap, it becomes a very effective pest control product. However, when it is sprayed, it is not a selective insecticide. It can be used to control cabbage worm, leaf hoppers, squash bugs, white fly, but will also affect beneficial insects so be careful where and when you apply this product.

3 ounces finely chopped garlic
2 tsp mineral oil
1 pint water
¼ ounce garden safe soap

Allow the garlic to soak in the mineral oil for 24 hours. Add water and garden safe soap. Stir well and strain into a glass jar for storage. This is your concentrate. To use: Combine 1-2 tablespoons of concentrate in 1 pint of water to make the spray. Do be careful not to make the solution too strong. While garlic is safe for humans, when combined with oil & soap, the mixture can cause leaf injury on sensitive plants. Always test the lower leaves of plants first to make sure they aren’t affected.

Dormant Oil
The purpose of an oily spray is to suffocate over wintering pests, such as aphids and mites. Most commercial products are made of kerosene or other petroleum oil. A much less toxic and more sustainable approach is to use a renewable resource such as vegetable oil.

1 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp garden friendly liquid soap
1 gallon water

Combine the soap and oil and stir to blend thoroughly. Add the water a bit at a time, stirring as you go (water and oil don’t really emulsify; the soap helps the process). Pour the mixture into a clean garden spray container. Spray a coat of the mixture over the entire plant. Shake the container frequently as you are spraying. This recipe makes 1 gallon.

Homemade Insecticidal Soap
Soap has been used for centuries as an all-purpose pesticide. It disrupts insects’ cell membranes, and kills pests by dehydration. The key is not to use too much soap, or you’ll also kill the vegetation near the pests. If you follow the proportions of soap to water in the Soap Spray recipe, below, the vegetation should be fine.

1 to 2 tablespoons garden safe soap (not detergent)
1 quart water

Combine ingredients in a bucket, mix, then transfer to a spray bottle as needed.

All Purpose Pesticide Soap Spray
Strong smelling roots and spices such as garlic, onions, horseradish, ginger, rhubarb leaves, cayenne and other hot peppers, are all known to repel insects.

A handful of roots and spices
Boiling water to cover the roots and spices
Insecticidal Soap Spray (recipe, above)

Add the roots and spices to the bottom of a mason jar. Cover with the boiling water, screw on the top, and let set overnight. Strain, and add to the Soap Spray. Note that this will rot, so use it all up or freeze leftovers for another time. Place into a spray bottle and apply to the plants to control pests.

Want to read about more homemade insect repellents, here’s more:

  1. Natural Aphid Repellant Recipes
  2. Easy Earwig Trap
  3. Another Earwig Repellant using Diatomaceous Earth DE Crawling Insect Killer – 1.5 lbs which you can buy online.

Have you found an effective natural bug repellent?

p.s. sorry for cheating and combining two days into one, I got caught up in helping Scott rebuild our perimeter fence today. What a yucky job!

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The Best Gardening Tip You’ll Ever Hear (Day 3 of 30 DTABG)

Charlie's Flowers for me
I know, what a presumptuous title, right? The best gardening tip you’ll ever hear? Yes, it is. They say that a growers best fertilizer is his own footsteps and it is true. Make a new habit of going and visiting your garden every day. Walk down each path, look at each plant, touch a few and enjoy yourself. Not only will it bring you a little peace, but by seeing your garden everyday and hopefully a few times a day you’ll be able to catch any sign of disease or pests before they become detrimental. You will be able to monitor growth, how much sunlight or shade each area gets and so much more.

If your schedule allows, I highly recommend an early morning walk. I know in our house full of little boys, getting ready for school, work and and everything else that it is a challenge to get out in the early morning light, but we try and do it as often as we can. Why? Because most pesky bugs come out at night and you’ll be able to see what has been nibbling away at your lettuce or spinach in those early morning hours. Turn over leaves and see what you find, stick your finger in the dirt to feel if the soil is wet, and take a good look at everything to see how close you are getting to harvest time.

Last fall we found out what was nibbling away at our cabbage leaves by and early morning outing. Tonight, set the timer on your coffee maker and tomorrow wake up an extra 10 minutes earlier for a garden walk. Pick a few flowers (or have them picked for you by your little ones) along the way. I promise taking a regular garden walk will result in a much healthier garden. And better mental health for you too.

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway, only two more days left!

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Attract Beneficial Bugs (Day 2 of 30 DTABG)

marigolds in the garden
In the quest of a perfect organic garden, most people strive to attract beneficial insects to their garden to eat the pesky bugs. (Read more about the benefits of beneficial insects here) You can go and buy praying mantises and ladybugs and release them into your yard, but another way is to invite them in. We do this by planting flowers at the ends and corners of our vegetable garden spaces. In front of our vegetable garden I keep about a 40 foot border of perennial flowers to attract beneficials, but then in our vegetable garden we add in more spots of flowers. This year we are doing both marigolds and sunflowers.

Most any flowers will help, but if you are headed to the nursery to find a few new 6-packs, look for big fat flowers. Think of them as little landing pads for flying bugs to land on. Marigolds, cosmos, bee balms, sunflowers, zinnas anything with a nice big flower head would make a great addition.

Birds are also great at eating the bad bugs, so invite them in with a new bird feeder, bird house or bird bath. And if you set out big tomato cages like we do, you have cat safe bird perches (and, uh, instant bird manure for your tomatoes too).

Do you make a habit of adding flowers to your veggie garden? If so, what kind?

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Cabbage Worms and Aphids

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I know what you are saying to yourself right about now, “Oh, I wish Scott & Kendra would invite me over for some cabbage soon, it’s looks so delicious.” Or you might be wondering, “Is it National Gross-Out Week on A Sonoma Garden?” Isn’t this awful?

If you ever wanted to know how to improve as a gardener I would say the first thing to do is to take regular early morning walks out in your garden. As the saying goes, ‘The best fertilizer a gardener can use is his own footsteps.’ Those early morning walks is when you’ll catch all the creepy crawlies that are harming your crops. I had been wondering what was eating our cabbage. I knew about the aphids, but I didn’t know about what was taking those big bites.

The other morning I was looking for something more creative to do with the boys than watch early morning cartoons so I bundled us all up and sent us outside. And these cabbage worms are what we found. Cabbage worms can grow up to about two inches long and are green with a slim yellow line down them. Apparently some sort of white butterfly found our cabbage and laid her eggs on the underside of the leaves which then hatched into these pesky critters.

You can get rid of cabbage worms by:

  • Applying BT (Bacilulus thuringiensis), which is a naturally occuring bacteria that is harmless to us, but deadly to the cabbage worms.
  • Applying a hot pepper spray (which you can make yourself with ground up 1/2 cup of hot peppers into 1 pint of water) every four to five days
  • Applying insecticidal soap which is a plant derived concoction that dries up the worm. Try this one:
    Bon-Neem Insecticidal Soap – Quart RTU

  • Or you can simply hand pick them

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We opted for the hand picking method. Thank goodness for little boys who have no qualms about picking them up. Our oldest decided that they needed a new home so he promply brought them into his room. I thought maybe they would be best kept in a jar rather than crawling free for all on his bed.
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Now we need to work on those aphids. This isn’t our first problem with aphids. We normally haven’t had too much of a problem from them, but this year they seem to really like our yard, remember the kale carnage?. Oh the horrors!

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Ladybugs, You’re Fired!

Kale and Aphids
Look at this carnage! Look at this aweful infestation! Oh, it’s terrible, isn’t it? We just got done saying how this was the most beautiful, healthy bunch of Red Russian Kale we’ve ever grown. It was lush and green and verdant. And we couldn’t wait to roast it and steam it and saute it. But instead the aphids got to it first and it was pulled out and given to the chickens.
Healthy Kale
What happened to all of those ladybugs, soldier beetles and friendly praying mantis‘? Where did they go? A quick look around at my flowerbeds spent blooms told me that I wasn’t doing my job to give them a happy home. My flowerbeds always look gorgeous in early spring but by August they are brown and wilted. So off to the nursery I went and planted a cart load of flowers hoping and praying that our beneficial friends return and keep those aphids at bay.

If you’d like to buy ladybugs you can do so here:
“9,000 Live Ladybug Beetles Hippodamia convergens – Medium Garden”

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What you don’t want to see in your garden

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This is what you don’t want to see in your garden. Especially at the base of the steps that your toddler just sat at and which you just walked over.

Every year we catch a few black widows, but they are usually back in the wood pile or under rocks. This time it was right out in the open. And it was huge. Unreal looking. I mean, doesn’t it look like a dime store plastic ring? Although we don’t use an exterminator, everytime I see one of these in our yard, I have a strong desire to call one and just have them spray the heck out of our yard. However doing a little reading up on them made me feel a tad bit better about Scott and my fatality should we ever get bitten:
black widow

Although their venom is extremely potent, (15 times more potent than that of the rattlesnakes; it is also reported to be much more potent than the venom of cobras and coral snakes), these spiders are not especially large. Compared to many other species of spiders, their chelicerae are not very large or powerful. In the case of a mature female, the hollow, needle shaped part of each chelicera, the part that penetrates the skin, is approximately 1.0 millimeters (about .04 in) long, long enough to inject the venom to a point where it can be harmful. The males, being much smaller, inject far less venom with smaller chelicerae. The actual amount injected, even by a mature female, is very small in physical volume. When this small amount of venom is diffused throughout the body of a healthy, mature human, it usually does not amount to a fatal dose (though it can produce the very unpleasant symptoms of latrodectism). Deaths in healthy adults from Latrodectus bites are relatively rare in terms of the number of bites per thousand people. Sixty-three deaths were reported in the United States between 1950 and 1990.

However I still live in fear that one of our boys gets bit. It’s a good thing the ER is just a few blocks away. Has anyone heard of anyone getting bit by one of these? Anyone have any near misses?
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Our Little Praying Pet + Free Download

Praying Mantis
The other day while walking through the yard with my camera I glanced down at my shoulder and saw this little guy sitting on it. There he was sitting here, just along for a free ride, as I strolled along. Of course my little one wanted desperately to hold him. This hasn’t been the first time we’ve had a hitch hiking praying mantis. They are friendly little creatures and love to hop on for a free ride when they see that you’re walking through the garden. And they’re bad ass too. Read this description I got from Wikipedia:

Mantises are notable for their hunting abilities. They are exclusively predatory, and their diet usually consists of living insects, including flies and aphids; larger species have been known to prey on small lizards, frogs, birds, snakes, and even rodents. Most mantises are ambush predators, waiting for prey to stray too near. The mantis then lashes out at remarkable speed. Some ground and bark species, however, pursue their prey rather quickly. Prey are caught and held securely with grasping, spiked forelegs (“raptorial legs”); the first thoracic segment, the prothorax, is commonly elongated and flexibly articulated, allowing for greater range of movement of the front limbs while the remainder of the body remains more or less immobile. The articulation of the head is also remarkably flexible, permitting nearly 300 degrees of movement in some species, allowing for a great range of vision (their compound eyes have a large binocular field of vision) without having to move the remainder of the body.

Ellen asked me the other day what we did for pest control so Scott and I had a talk about it this morning over breakfast. And really, we take a preventative approach to pests. When we first moved in 6 growing seasons ago, we did have a pest problem, and a lack of water retention problem, and a whole lot of other problems. Our plants were small and bug eaten, but as we’ve learned more and more about organic gardening we’ve learned that the key to pest prevention is to nurture healthy plants. Give them highly nutritious soil, water them correctly and provide habitats for beneficial insects.

Now while we do have our fair share of white flies, aphids, grasshoppers and other pests out in the yard, after six years of returning the soil back to health, we have them outnumbered with ladybugs, praying mantis’, birds, chickens, soldier beetles and all sorts of good little guys. And really at this point we don’t do much to control the bad bugs. We collect snails when we see them and pick off a worm or two, but at this point we let nature take it’s course and live with the little bug bites we do get. Of course, that’s not to say that we haven’t lost a plant or two, but really that was my own lazy fault for not jumping onto of the situation earlier.

If you’d like to read up more about different pests and what you can do to organically treat them you can download this free pdf. It’s an exerpt from the ebook I have over in my sidebar: How to Start an Organic Garden. You can download the pdf here, it’s full of photos and treatment ideas and its yours for the taking.

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radishes

Just picked radishes
Here are our french breakfast radishes, bug bites and all. Our friend, Doug, told us this weekend that his favorite organic bug control is to mix soy sauce and canola oil and put out a dish of it in the garden. The bugs are attracted to the soy sauce, but once they get the oil on their legs they can’t move. He said he can’t find anything else to compete with it. This might be just the fix for our radish bed.

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