Category Archives: Organic Pest Management

Practical Organic Gardening – Free Book – Chapter 3

Only one chapter today because it’s a long one. It you want to garden, DO NOT invest a lot of money in tools…just read on to find you how you can get started for next to nothing…

So, what makes organic gardening practical?  Just this. You can grow a whole lot of healthy, tasty food, literally, for pennies. What’s the trick?

Green and organic garden in summer.

My garden laden with organic veggies.

Unlike traditional gardening, if you go organic, there are a lot of things you will NEVER have to buy.

For instance, you don’t have to buy chemicals or herbicides.  You don’t have to have fancy sprayers or a rototiller – not even one of those small ones named after the bug that prays.

In fact, if you pay a bit of attention, you already own just about everything you might need to get started.

What you don’t own, you can usually get, free. How does this work? A little planning and a bit of forethought are all it takes!

Here’s my list of what you need to be an organic gardener:

Dirt – free.

Seeds – cheap to buy and even cheaper if you save some for next year’s garden.

A big spoon or small shovel – something to dig holes with when transplanting.

Newspaper – free if you ask your neighbors and co-workers for them.  You can use it for mulch and make transplant pots with it, too.

Straw – free if you find a farmer who has old or moldy straw which works just as well as the golden yellow stuff.

Cucumber trellis from a head board.

Headboards make great trellises.

Trellises – made from some found items, your cukes, tomatoes and peppers will love climbing up or grow on these.

When I say found, I mean things like this old headboard from a day bed that I found on the side of the road. I use for climbing vegetables like cucumbers.

Or how about chain link fence sections and hay bale ties for growing tomatoes or training peppers or eggplant? I got these fence sections for free, too. And I have been using them for over 20 years!

Free fence sections grow great veggies

Fence sections supporting tomatoes

By the way, the dog isn’t free and he doesn’t do too much supporting! He can, however, pick his own tomatoes and blueberries.

And the decorative fence – my attempt to slow him down just a bit, was free, too.

Epsom salts – dirt cheap in half gallon milk shaped containers.

A bucket – free if you can get a hold of a kitty litter container or a dog food bucket.

A mug – free if you liberate it from your kitchen and use it to deliver water or fertilizer right to the roots of your plants.

Twine – free if you buy straw by the bale, save the baling twine and use it to tie up plants.  You can also get tons of baling twine in any horse barn.  NOTE:  Do NOT use green baling twine.  It has been treated with strychnine to kill mice and rats.

free curtains and free frames

Free curtains, free frames, free from frost

Old, sheer curtains, old bed sheets and even old mattress covers – free if you save yours or ask relatives and friends to give their old ones to you.

They don’t look as pretty as commercial row covers but they will keep frost off your baby plants. and, they’re free.

Access to a public library – free and there are always books and magazines about organic gardening ready for you to browse through, borrow and take notes from.  Oh, and libraries have computers and internet connections. Using them is free. And online is just FULL of ideas, tips and advice on organic gardening.  All you have to do is put in your search terms and hit Go.

An old 3-ring binder and some paper – can be free if you ask co-workers to save used copy paper and write on the back.  NOTE:  I consider this a requirement for my gardening.  If I don’t write down a tip or a “lesson learned”, I can easily forget what I learned and end up repeating my mistakes again and again and again.

A bit of inventiveness, a dollop of gumption and enough courage to try, fail and try again.

Here’s what would be nice to have if you move beyond dabbling in organic and decide to grow most of your produce every spring, summer and fall.  Bit of advice?  Before you buy any of these items, look on http://freecycle.org  or http://craigslist.org  to see if you can get them for free or cheap!

Peat pots – I use 2” and 4” peat pots and hate paying the price for them.  But they make transplanting easier for me and less stressful for the baby plants so I pay but I try to get them online rather than in a big box store where the price is always higher.

Raised beds – I make mine with 2 X 12s (NOT pressure treated) and plastic anchor joints from Home Depot.  They are so easy to do and won’t cost you $200, just a bit of sweat equity.

Raised beds are easy to make..

Raised beds are easy to make.

A kneeling pad – you can make one of these or buy one.  I’ve had my small green one for more than 15 years and it really, really saves your knees!

Gloves – I consider these nice to have because you really can dig in the dirt with your hands and suffer no ill effects.

But, in fact, I don’t use gloves because I love the feel of soil in my hands.

Two hand tools – both of mine are Fiskars because of the grip, the design and the lifetime guarantee — the big grip knife and the hand trowel.

A pitch fork – used to move the straw back from the fence sections a couple of weeks before planting so the soil can warm a bit.

A watering can – very nice to have if you want to hand water fresh transplants.

Fish fertilizer – I use Neptune’s Harvest hydrolyzed fish but am currently “brewing” my own using fish heads and bones that a friend of a friend got me for free, a 55 gallon drum and water!

Beneficial insects – there are quite a few beneficials and you can buy them.

Trichogramma wasp eggs on cutworm

Wasp eggs on cutworm

They may seem pricey, at first, but you don’t have to buy them often and you will truly be glad you did the first time you see a tomato cut worm trussed up like Gulliver and covered with small, white egg casings of the trichogamma wasp.

I bought nematodes and wasps 2 or 3 times when first establishing my garden but no longer need to buy them.  They live and work in my backyard.

A good pair of secateurs – hand held clippers that can cut through a 1” branch like it was butter.  These let you trim inside the bush not hack off the outer branches.

A garden club in your neighborhood.  Membership dues are usually low, ours is just $25 a year but you might enjoy some ideas and tips from your gardening neighbors. WARNING:  not everyone is organic so pick and choose who you listen to and what you are going to do.

If you decide you like gardening and want to get into it, here’s are a few more items I’ve learned to keep on hand to help make my gardening go a little easier:

A good bug book – this could be one of your larger expenses but, believe me, you will be grateful for putting out the cash.  Why?  There are a whole lot of good bugs in the garden that will do battle with the bad ones without you lifting a finger.  If you don’t know the good from the bad, you could be killing your soldiers and giving the enemy a chance to overrun the battlefield, i.e. your garden.

White vinegar and a big box of salt – it does not have to be iodized.  You’re just going to mix them together and use them to kill ants or a persistent weed like poison ivy or both.

A small propane torch – the handheld kind – I use this to burn tent caterpillars off my cherry trees.  It’s a bit brutal but it burns the nest and the caterpillars before they can strip my trees.

An old knife or pair of scissors nicked from the kitchen – nice to have on hand to cut baling twine and cut off produce rather than try to pull it off.  Having lost several battles with eggplant and peppers, I tend to keep a knife in my garden basket and use it with malice aforethought.

As I mentioned before, there are a couple of online resources that might also make it cheap and easy to get basic gardening equipment so before you buy, you might want to visit these sites:

www.craigslist.org – people are always selling fence sections, hand tools and possible trellis material at incredibly low prices.  Check the ads out before you lay down good money for a tool someone else bought but no longer wants or needs.

www.freecycle.org – I find this site painful but you will find free stuff on it so it’s almost worth it.  You have to be a member to see the posts.  And navigation is not just basic; it’s irritating.  But you will be able to pick up a lot of the “nice to haves” on Freecycle for…free.

 

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Free Organic Gardening Book

If you ever wanted to learn all about organic gardening, the good, the bad and the ugly…just sign up for this blog and sit back.

Every week or so, I am going to upload a chapter of my organic gardening book which you can read for free!

Today, I am starting at the beginning…that would be Chapters 1 & 2 (the chapters are short) of Grow So Easy; Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us. Enjoy!

Chapter I – Why This Book

Organic gardening is easy, practical and cheap!

My all organic, backyard garden.

Remember when you decided you wanted to start a garden?  You told a friend, spouse, garden center guy and then got bombarded with miscellaneous stories of gardening disaster.  All that support really made you want to go out and start tilling the soil, right?

I hate it when I hear someone telling another would be gardener how hard it is to get things to grow or how easy it is to kill this vegetable or that one.  Why?  Because, instead of gardening, you probably wanted to run home, mix up your favorite drink and sit down with the remote control.

Too many people in the gardening business write or talk about how hard organic gardening is or how complicated it is.  Sometimes that’s all it takes to make people who read their articles or buy their books put down the shovel or rake and walk back into the house.

They’re lying!  Organic gardening is easy!  It’s cheaper than going the chemical route and it’s fun!

Organic gardening is so easy the lettuce practically grows itself.

Organic lettuce is easy to grow.

The truth is gardening can be as easy as you want to make it.  It’s all about what you want to grow.  Figure out what you want to plant, how many plants you want to put in, how large a garden space you want and what works in your planting zone.

One tip from someone whose motto is, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.”

Start small and only plant those crops you want.  Lettuce is so easy to grow that it practically raises itself! It’s a cool weather crop that loves early spring and late fall. And it helps save you $5.00 for organic greens in the store!

Think about it. Stores sell spring greens mix for $5.00 for 12 ounces.  Fifty two weeks of buying greens comes to just under $300.  You can raise enough for you and your significant other for less than $3.00 a year.

Some seeds, some dirt and some water, a little kindness and a lot of sunlight and you are on your way to creating your own organic garden.  So, dig in!

Reading This Book

Organic gardening tips

Organic gardening is so easy.

This book is designed so you can pick it up, look up a specific plant or bush and read about the good, the bad and the ugly for just that one selection.  Or you can read it cover to cover – starting at the back if you want to and working forward.

Why?

Because a lot of us gardeners aren’t very linear.  And many of us would rather “give it a go” than sit down and read about gardening.  So I tried to give you what you need, when you need it.

Want to raise blueberries?  Interested in saving your own seeds?  Want to get a handle

Organic gardening is easy.

Organic gardening is all about getting your hands dirty!

on techniques like composting, using organic fertilizers or even doing battle with Japanese beetles?  Check the Table of Contents and flip to the right page.

Want the back stories?  The pain of losing a loved one to Verticillium Wilt?

Make a cup of herbal tea, start here and just drift through the book, laughing, learning and, I hope, getting a powerful yen to get out there and get dirty.

 

PS – if you can’t find it in my book, I didn’t kill it.

 

Great List of Top Spring Yard Chores

Spring list of chores

Spring list of things to do!

Got a lot of energy now that Spring has sprung?

Looking for some ideas for a little outdoor fun?

Your backyard is waiting and Eartheasy has the perfect list of ways to spend some sweet hours in the dirt!

Here are some of my favorites:

  1. when it’s dry enough, ‘top dress’ beds.
    Top dress garden beds with compost or well-seasoned manure in preparation for planting. Resist the urge to dig the bed; established beds have a complex soil ecosystem which is best left undisturbed. Nutrients added from the top will work their way down into the soil.
  2. protect seedlings from hard frosts.
    Early spring plantings are vulnerable to hard frost which can set in overnight. If you expect a hard frost, cover seedlings overnight with anything you have on hand – an overturned bucket or cardboard box (with a rock on top) or large flower pot, a portable garden cloche, or a cold frame. I use old bushel baskets.
  3. apply horticultural oil sprays to pear and apple trees.
    Apply oil spray to pears just as the buds begin to swell and then again 10 days later to control pear psylla and pear leaf blister mite. Make a single application of oil on apple trees when a half-inch of green tissue is visible in developing buds.

All of these chores are ones that should be done early in Spring and with all that restless energy just looking for an outlet, now is the perfect time to get the tools, and your gloves and get outdoors.

Enjoy!

 

Zika Virus Protection & Tips

It’s early March. Why write about Zika Virus now?

I killed my first mosquito yesterday. It’s a bit early but, while occasionally cold, the frozen North hasn’t been all that frozen in 2017. And the news about the spread of Zika, for those of us in the Northeast, is not good – 6 cases in Maryland, already.

Aeses Aegypti carries Zika.

Aeses Aegypti carries Zika.

Sighting that first mosquito in March says it’s time to offer some information about the mosquito known as Aedes aegypti – the carrier for Zika, the same mosquito that carried dengue fever, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis.

Before you dismiss this little pest because you’re not in your child-bearing years or you don’t have sex, keep in mind that the Zika virus can directly affect adult brain cells.

Zika also can make you sick, very sick. Here, in order of occurrence, according to Dr. Michael Callahan, the foremost authority on Zika and head of The Zika Foundation, are the symptoms of viral infection from Aedes Aegypti:

  1. A feeling of being unwell and/or having a chill with a touch of fever
  2. A high fever
  3. A headache in the upper frontal area of your head
  4. Myalgia or muscle aches in the lower back, upper legs and shoulders
  5. Conjunctivitis followed by reddening of the white of the eye, itself.
  6. A rash on the trunk first then possibly moving to the inside of the arm.

That’s not a nice symptom list but Aedes Aegypti has some tendencies that make it a bit easier for us to become more aware of and be more aggressive in protecting ourselves:

  1. The Aedes Aegypti is black and white – black with white scales on its legs – so keep an eye out for that pattern.
  2. This mosquito is a weak flier so it prefers to bite indoors! And it’s a day time biter, unlike its cousins.  So be on the lookout, indoors and kill mosquitoes you see.
  3. This mosquito uses silent flight – you won’t hear it buzzing your ears.
  4. Aedes Aegypti is aware of you looking at it and will hop off, “kettle” around your body and bite you on the back of your head, below the knees or on your feet.

Because of this mosquito’s unique lifestyle, all the pesticides being sprayed in your neighborhoods are a waste of money and a huge risk to your health. But you can protect yourself by using one of 3 repellents deemed safe for pregnant women and known to keep these mosquitoes off for up to 6 hours:

  1. DEET – your grandmother’s repellent
  2. Lemon of Eucalyptus – a newcomer but very effective
  3. Picardin – used by the DOD to protect soldiers

By the way, these repellents also work to repel ticks and fleas.

I can’t speak for you but I am really going to be on the lookout for these winged pests. If you want to arm yourself with more information about the Zika virus and how to keep yourself and your family safe, watch Dr. David Perlmutter’s interesting and in-depth interview with Dr. Michael Callahan of the Zika Foundation.

Want even more info? Visit the CDC for their in-depth information and tips on avoidiing all mosquito bites….not just Aedes Aegypti.

Photo courtesy of CDC/ Prof. Frank Hadley Collins, Dir., Cntr. for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, Univ. of Notre Dame.

Tips for Fall Garden Clean Up

Green and organic garden in summer.

My garden in July, 2016.

T.S. Eliot got it wrong. April isn’t the cruelest month; it’s September. It’s the time of year when your garden goes from lush, green, verdant…

Tips for cleaning up your garden

Garden clean up in progress

To brown and gold broken up only by beets, Swiss chard, kale and lettuce.

Not only is the growing season drawing to a close for many of us…but it’s time to clean up!

I used to hate cleaning up my garden in the fall. When I  looked out my kitchen window and  saw more brown than green, I would grimace and think, “…next weekend.”  Inevitably, clean up kept getting pushed back by other, more pleasing events like the Brewfest in Kennett Square or the Hagley Car Show .
But not anymore.

Tomato horn worm eating tomatoes.

A tomato horn worm in my garden.

I’ve discovered that cleaning up is the perfect time to find unwanted visitors like the varmint that was eating my tomatoes. This fat and happy tomato horn worm is enjoying his last meal.

While tearing down my tomato trellises, I found a dozen of these beautiful but sinister worms as I cleaned up the tomato bed. But I also learned that all but 2 were covered with trichogramma wasp eggs, like the little fellow below.

Trichogramma wasp eggs on hornworm

Wasp eggs on hornworm

Fall cleaning, removing leaves, vines and stems, raking up fallen bits and pieces of this year’s green bean and tomato plants, all these activities help me get a jump-start on my garden next spring.

Garden Clean Up Tips
Anyone who has gardened for a few years has come up with their own tips and tricks for making garden clean up a bit easier.  Having 30 years of experience behind the hoe, I have discovered a few things that might make life easier for any organic gardener.

My first bit of advice? Be prepared.  When I go out to clean up, I always bring the tools I’ll need to make it easier.  So my tool bag (actually my wheel barrow) contains:

  1. Scissors – the knots you used to tie up tomatoes will be real tight after a summer of rain and heat.  Trying to pull them off just frustrates the gardener.
  2. Secateurs – if you try to cut back blackberries or blueberries without them, the chances are you’ll do more damage than good.  These small, sharp sheers can cut through up to an inch of stalk or wood and are always in my bag of tricks.
  3. Baling Twine – picked up at the stable and used to bundle all the leggy tomato, pepper and eggplant carcasses.
  4. A shovel – I sometimes need to coax some of the plants from the ground.  Eggplant and tomatoes get stems more than an inch in diameter and their roots can extend up to 10 feet from the base of the plant.  So, a bit of shovel power comes in handy.
  5. A rake – I prefer the good, old-fashioned garden rake because it’s heavier than a leaf rake and the tines won’t work against me as I rake up fallen tomatoes and peppers.
  6. A bucket – I use an empty kitty litter container and I use it to pick up all the green or rotten produce that hits the ground at the end of the season.
  7. Garden gloves – I consider these optional.  I always start out wearing them but, inevitably, rip them off about 30 minutes into clean up.  I like the way the dirt feels on my hands.  But the manicure does suffer so it’s up to you whether you wear them or not.
  8. Large trash bags – I didn’t use to bag any of my garden waste but I learned that trying to compost vines from tomatoes, zukes, cukes and even green beans meant giving diseases like wilt a head start next spring. It also meant providing warm, cozy homes for Mexican Bean beetles and cucumber and squash beetles among others.

Clearing The Ground
This is always the worst step for me.  I really hate pulling off tomato cages, cutting vines out of my fence sections and tearing up the roots of the dying plants.  But once I get started, I actually enjoy it!

Bag garden waste

My dogs helping me to bag .

I pull all plants (except perennials), shove the waste into bags and stack them on the edge of the garden. I know some people put their plant bodies in the compost but I don’t. Why not?

If you’re a slow composter like me, letting nature and God do the work for you, you probably shouldn’t put your garden detritus in the bins, either.  Seeds will germinate.  Diseases will survive.  When you spread your compost next year to welcome your new seedlings, you may be welcoming some very unwanted visitors.

One last task remains before you can move from clearing to covering.  If you grew tomatoes, grab a bucket and pick up all of the fallen tomatoes off the ground.  If you don’t you will have a whole lot of baby tomatoes to pull up next year.  This is a gooey task but well worth the effort.

Once the ground is cleared, it’s time to cover it. I use straw and a lot of it. It mulches the ground, protects perennials and annuals like garlic and beets and sets me up for weed free gardening in the spring.

I use about 40 bales of straw  to cover everything including the blueberry and blackberry patches, the vegetable garden, raised beds and asparagus.  That may sound like a lot but by next spring, the 18 inches of straw I lay down now will have settled and started to break down.

Bug Control – A Pre-emptive Strike
I offer one last bit of advice for wrapping up the growing season and getting ready for your garden next spring.

During the growing and harvesting season, I don’t use any bug control except what I detailed in Getting Bugged.  However, if it’s been a very bad year for Mexican bean beetles, Asian Beetles, Japanese Beetles and Stink Bugs, just before I cover my garden, I do spray the straw remaining from last year and the ground in my raised beds.

Before you gasp, click unsubscribe and cry, “…traitor,”  know that I use only one product — Pyola.    The active ingredient is pyrethrin which comes from chrysanthemums and is mixed with canola oil.  I use Pyola to control next year’s bugs by killing the larva that are now safely snuggled into my garden ground.

NOTE:  Pyrethrin is a contact poison which quickly penetrates the nervous system of the insect.  It will affect bees and some  beneficials so I wait until I have had two hard frosts to use it. I want to make sure there is no insect activity in the garden.   Also, pyrethrin is harmful to fish so if you have a pond or your garden borders on a stream, don’t use it at all.

Cornell University’s post on its ExToxNet provides a very thorough idea of what pyrethrin is, how it works and what it might do in the environment.  Read it before you use it so you’ll know if it will work in your garden.  And don’t use it if you don’t have to.

So that’s my version of garden clean up.  Clean up really isn’t that hard but I avoid it because it signals the end of the growing season and the approach of cold winds and falling leaves.    It also means time for dreaming and planning next year’s garden…

 

How To Kill Mexican Bean Beetles

I used to ask myself, “What’s a Mexican Bean Beetle?” Now, every summer, I ask myself, “Of all the bugs in all the world, why does the Mexican Bean Beetle have to find my garden?”

Mexican bean beetle life cycle

Photo reproduced w/permission of Purdue University

As with any pest, it pays to know your enemy. I call this picture, “The Circle of Life” and am grateful to Purdue University Entomology Department and Dr. Christian Krupke, Principal Investigator, for letting me use it.

If you have been invaded, these are all the forms the enemy takes while ravaging your crops. Since it’s mid-July in Pennsylvania, I know the invasion of my back yard, all organic garden has begun.

Of all the pests I do battle with, the Mexican Bean Beetle is the worst of the worst when it comes to green beans.  One day there is nothing there.  The next day there are some holes in a few leaves on a couple of plants.

Flip up the leaves and if you see pudgy yellow larvae with lots of legs and one big old mouth chewing away, you’ve been invaded. Grab a bucket, sit down, methodically flip up every single leaf on every single plant and crush the yellow menace. Then get up and do it again, tomorrow and the next day or you will lose your bean crop.

Mexican Bean Beetles are members of the lady beetle family.  But they aren’t the Lady Beetle relatives you want in your garden.  Small, copper or khaki colored, these beetles are about 6 mm (1/4 inch) long and 5 mm (1/5 inch) wide.

Pesky bean beetle

Tiny & destructive (Photo credit: Michael Bok)

Some have 8 small black spots on each wing, resembling large lady beetles. Some are brown with barely discernible stripes. No matter what they look like, they’re really wholesale destruction machines.  And they come in force.

How do they find your garden and your bean plants so quickly?

Chances are they never left when the winter came; they simply tucked in to the ground in leaf litter and other sheltered areas in fence rows of your garden plot and waited out the freezing temperatures and the snow.

Adults begin emerging from these protected areas when beans begin sprouting and continue to emerge for up to two months. The adults feed for approximately two weeks before depositing their eggs on the underside of leaves.  And when I say feed, I mean ravage.

Nasty beetles eating everything.

Mexican Bean Beetles will literally eat the life out of my bean plants, if I let them.

Yellow eggs 1 mm (1/20 inch) in length are laid in groups of 40-60 on the lower leaf surfaces.  Females may deposit an egg-mass every two to three days. Eggs hatch in 5-24 days.  Immature larvae are yellow and are covered with large spines.  Larvae feed for two to five weeks before pupation.

You have 3 chances to kill these beetles off – crush the eggs, crush the larvae and crush the mature beetles.  The first two are the easiest but you can catch and kill the beetles too.  You just have to be persistent.  I like to think of it as my summer time exercise program, bend, search, crush, start again.

If you can make it through July and early August, when the greatest amount of injury occurs and the adults begin to disappear, you might save some of your bean harvest.

So, every spring I take a chance and plant some beans.  They grow fast.  They set tons of beans.  If I plant them properly, train them right (if they’re pole beans) and aggressively crush all variations of the Mexican Bean Beetle, I can harvest and enjoy green beans all summer long.

 

Controlling Japanese Beetles Naturally

I am at war with Japanese beetles, the offspring of last year’s huge and devastating population. This year, I think I’m going to win!

Surround stops Japanese Beetles.

Japanese Beetles hate Surround!

Why? My secret weapon? I am using Surround.

Surround is 95% kaolin clay (5% inert) which is mixed with water and sprayed on plants.

This year, all the blackberries and the blueberries in my yard are wearing coats made

Blueberries covered by Surround.

Beetle free blueberries coated by Surround.

of Surround which I sprayed at the first sign of Japanese Beetles in my back yard.

When I say “first sign” I mean it. Apparently, the beetles release a pheromone when they find good food. Any beetles in the vicinity fly in and start feasting.

Surround doesn’t harm any other insects. But Surround does make berries and leaves taste really bad to the beetles! The proof is on the plants and in the bucket.  This year I have only gotten about 45 beetles, total.

Very few Japanese Beetles in 2016 thanks to Surround

Surround meant fewer than 45 Japanese Beetles in a week!

Last year, I plucked morning and evening, got thousands of Japanese beetles in my bucket and I still lost all the blackberries, beans and apples. The only difference this year is Surround!

Surround also keeps my 10 most hated bugs, including Colorado Potato Beetles, Cucumber and Squash beetles, off of plants so, yes, every squash and cucumber plant in my garden is also sporting a beautiful coat of kaolin clay.

FYI the beetles I have found were on the only 2 plants I didn’t spray with Surround — a Pussy Willow and Borage, which I planted for the bees.

Borage without Surround equals Japanese Beetles.

Borage is one plant I didn’t spray!

Based on my current state, which is only one week into beetle season, I may win the war this year.

If I do, I give all the credit to Surround. If you’re being “bugged,” consider giving it a try.