Now, where’d I put that soapbox??

Ah, I found it… and now I’m standing on it. It’s about pesticides. Our association sprayed (“EPA approved lower risk”) pesticides again yesterday. They made a wide berth around me, the crazy lady in the driveway holding the pitchfork.  Not really, but my hands were on my hips when I told them to skip my house. We were not sprayed.

We were told to take away birdseed, empty birdbaths, remove pet items and food, children’s toys, and personal belongings. “KEEP CHILDREN AND PETS AWAY FROM ALL TREATED AREAS UNTIL THEY DRY” So folks took their pets and children inside, shut windows and doors, and waited until the coast was clear. Pesticides like insecticides have become a widely accepted way to keep our homes and gardens relatively pest-free.

But how about those animals left outdoors?

toad

This week I’m hearing the wood thrush singing the most beautiful melody just inside the wooded area against which they sprayed. It’s an insect eater, and just 20′ inside the woodline is a free flowing stream and vernal pools full of life. A variety of songbirds were hovering in the freshly treated shrubbery looking for our suet and meal worms we removed. The robins were bobbing across the freshly treated lawns and shrubbery around each building searching for worms and insects. My bluebird parents were busy feeding insects to their young in a bird box 50′ from our back door. Bunnies, pesky or not, were most likely sprayed in their nests under shrubs around homes. A variety of bees and other pollinators were buzzing around the newly blooming rhododendron. Around our foundation, I see our toads and the tiny salamanders emerging from hibernation and moving through leaf litter searching for small insects… like beneficial spiders.

salamander 2017

Our sluggish salamander unearthed in a flowerpot from hibernation.

In the garden, growing healthy plants using organic methods is the best pest deterrent. There are a variety of natural pest control methods such as Integrated Pest Management using beneficial insects and remedies like traps and barriers.  I don’t want ticks or termites either and, of course, I realize my life cannot be chemical-free. But pesticides should be a last resort.

Pesticides are designed to kill. Ticks, termites, and carpenter bees are some of what they want to prevent. But, sadly, most insects are good insects. They become the non-target victims that then become a part of the contaminated food chain.

Fig.  5.21: An example of a food chain.

I am not an activist. I simply wish for another way.

Trouble in Paradise

It was a wet summer in New Hampshire. We’ve had torrential downpours, flooding, high humidity, and a good stretch of sweltering 90°+ weather.  For a while there in July, life was made miserable by weather conditions.

I can’t help but think the summer weather conditions took a toll on flora, too. Several plants around this yard are showing signs of fungus and predation from pests. Most are easy to identify but I was stumped by two conditions. From an online search I identified the first pest, the Pine Bark Adelgid (Pineus strobi), that prefers to feed on the bark of white pines (Pinus strobus). Two mature white pines in the yard look whitewashed, the white protection created by females to protect eggs. Chemical measures to protect the health of a mature tree is seldom required but the insect can be combated with dormant oil sprays, insecticidal soaps as well as insecticides. Since I rarely use insecticides to prevent harm to beneficial insects, I may treat with dormant oils or insecticidal soaps in early spring…. or I’ll just ignore it.

Pine Bark AdelgidPine Bark AdelgidPine Bark AdelgidThe second mystery pest required contacting Eric Day, an entomologist with Virginia Tech who taught my Virginia master gardener classes. I knew it was a scale of some sort on the lilac which one? Eric narrowed it down. He ID-ed it as White Peach Scale (Pseudaulacaspis pentagona), a more serious infestation as it removes the sap from the host plant. Eric suggested I contact local extension experts to see how to handle this pest in New Hampshire. Treatment may be different in the south.

White Peach ScaleWhite Peach ScaleAfter zooming in on a photo of these tiny grains of white, there in the midst of the pests is another pest. A small purple scale eater, too tiny to be noticed with the naked eye, was moving about dining on scale creatures. It was obviously the larva stage of another insect.

White Peach ScaleClick to enlarge photos.

A Touch of Eden

Just about a mile from where we live, there are several large greenhouses on the UNH campus that are used in the agriculture, horticulture, and science departments for classrooms, research projects, breeding, Integrated Pest Management, organic gardening, sustainability studies and more. When I read they were opening the greenhouses to the community last week, we jumped at the opportunity to tour them, learn from professors and master gardeners, plus get a little break from the late winter bleakness.

Yes, there were crowds. We wandered and squeezed around people through the several greenhouses that were all connected to one building where educators, students, master gardeners were set up to answer questions or tell a little about the plants, the greenhouses and how they were managed. There were greenhouses devoted to annuals, some perennials, to crops, to herbs, to exotics and some where only students and staff were allowed entrance.

Hallways were arranged with attractive display gardens… pots, wall hangings, vertical gardens, tulip landscapes and horticulture students like Zack (below), tired from a late night getting ready for the open house, but ready to answer questions.

Zach yawned a bit but he was ready to chat...

We realized that some greenhouse had lots of healthy tomato plants and herbs for sale… CHEAP… and folks were buying and buying.

Other greenhouses held succulents, gorgeous exotics, and all those carnivorous pitcher plants, and orchids, some labeled, others not. There were ferns, a small pond, bananas, oranges… Pinch myself.  Is this Eden?

Flamboyant pitcher traps (Sarracenia levocphylla)

Another pitcher plant (Nepenthes x ventrata) from the Philippines

Orchids galore! (Paphiopedilum insigne)

Pitcher Plant with little bugs inside

Flamingo Flower or Boy Flower (Anthurium scherzerian)

Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula)

The melon greenhouse was filled with a variety of plants, all grown vertically. Fruits were supported in little hammocks. What a great idea!

And yes, like many others, we did succumb to the lure of healthy, large herb plants.  So we left after an hour and a half with a Tiny Tim tomato plant and some dill…. all for a good cause to raise funds for a trip for the students, we were told.

Now to keep them healthy until May 20 when the last frost is over in these parts…..

It’s a small, small, small world…

I have a few aphids on some of my beautiful Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum ‘Becky), daisies that have flowered profusely throughout the summer. I know aphids can overtake and cause havoc in the bed of daisies but I needed to know how much of a problem I had.

Shasta daisies

Insects buzzed and circled around my head yesterday as I knelt to check out the aphids that traveled along stems beneath the blooms. These insects will suck the sap out of leaves, tender stems and the flowers, and they will transmit diseases like fungus and mold. I saw no signs of wilting leaves or buds. And I saw very few aphids. Now the question, “Should I treat these flowers with an insecticide?” That’s a question that every gardener faces when insect pests invade their gardens. Insecticides would certainly take care of the aphids, but….

… what damage would the insecticide do? The answer to that question comes by observing your garden. There is a small world of insects living there, good ones and pests. Insecticides will kill all insects, benign insects as well as insects that are the natural predators of pests such as ladybugs, praying mantis, assassin bugs, spiders and more.  Let’s take a closer look at the small world around these daisies.

Hover Fly – click photo

The hover fly is a common fly in our area. It gets its name from their ability to hover in midair, then dart here and there, sometimes backwards. The adult does not sting and feeds on pollen and nectar and they are important pollinators but their larvae are very important predators of aphids, thrips, and other caterpillars. These are excellent insects for the garden. Insecticides would eliminate them.

Green Bottle Fly – click

The green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata), also called a blowfly, is a scavenger of all things decomposing and will lay eggs in carrion, thus cleaning up what other animals cannot eat. Unless this fly invades your house or garbage and causes problems, it is not a threat to humans in the garden. It’s a natural pollinator attracted to the nectar of the daisy.

miniature ants – click photo

Almost too small to be identified as ants by my eyesight, the camera zoomed in on these miniature ants who are after food, too. These are benign insects that do no harm to the daisies and are food for other insects and birds.

 Skipper Butterfly – click photo

This little butterfly could be the Yehl Skipper (Poanes yehl), a fairly uncommon skipper that is seen along the coast at this time of year, but I prefer my IDs to be confirmed by an expert. This fella would be done in by an insecticide.

Soldier Beetle – click photo

This soldier beetle or Pennsylvania leatherwing beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) is a cousin to the lightning bug. They are common in the garden and beneficial as a pollinator and a predator of aphids and other small insects.

sweat bee – click photo

A variety of bees visited the daisies and we all know we need those pollinators. Although the sweat bee can be a nuisance when it seeks out the salt in our sweat, it is considered a benefit in the garden due to pollination.

mystery insect – click photo

These tiny insects were unknown to me. These winged insects were the size of pepper flakes to the naked eye. I watched them through the camera lens become the meal of a few hungry crab spiders that lived around the petals.

The answer to the original question about insecticides is IPM (Integrated Pest Management). IPM is a sustainable method of management using biological, cultural, physical and some chemicals to minimize environmental damage. Using a insecticide for the aphids indiscriminately will have a negative and damaging effect on all insects that depend on this small ecosystem for life.  Because there is no sign of damage to the plants and the insects are a part of the food chain for predator insects, I will allow the aphids to live in the daisy bed and permit the natural system to work. But I will monitor the flowers for signs of disease or damage. If I must interfere, I will learn about the life cycle of the insect, how best to control it physically, such as picking off or pinching the colonies to kill them. My next step will be to spray soapy water beneath the blooms. And if all else fails, the very last attempt would be a careful use of pesticides, preferably the newer natural pesticides derived from botanicals.

It’s better to become familiar with IPM techniques and implement a regular monitoring program before using any biological controls. Read more about IPM here.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester