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4 Pests 4! (And one 'Pest'That ISN'T a Problem!)
Question. Mike: My husband's belovedeggplants fell prey to pestilence. I told him you said the best way toget rid of those flea beetles was to buy eggplant in the supermarket,but am hoping you have another suggestion. Thanks!
---Barbara; Malvern, PA
Answer. Even afteryou steal my best line, Barb?!! Oh, all right. Italian gardenersswear that dusting wood ashes on the leaves as soon as you see thosefirst little telltale 'shotgun holes' does the job. Or try insecticidalsoap; spray the leaves early in the morning or late in the evening,then rinse them off an hour later—soap sprays only kill the bugs thatthey hit, so rinsing doesn't lessen their effectiveness, and I like toget the soap off the plants in hot weather. (Speaking of which, neveruse a soap spray in the heat of the day.) Next season, keep spunpolyester rowcovers(like Reemay) over the plants till the flowers open; it prevents thebeetles from getting to the plants when they're smallest and mostvulnerable, and speeds the early growth of your eggplant (a notoriouslyslow starter) by warming that cool Spring soil.
Question. Is there an organic offenseagainst gypsy moths? I knock down the nests and squish the caterpillarsI can reach, but… Thank you.
---Carla; Boyertown, PA
Answer. Nests?! Gypsy moths don'tmake no stinkin' nests! (If they did, they wouldn't be gypsies now,would they?). Sounds like tent caterpillars. Prune out and destroy thenests you can safely reach. For ones up high, get some "BTK", thebasic, caterpillar-killing variety of Bt (one big brand name is Dipel)and use a pressurized sprayer (or the local hook n' ladder) to spray itup onto the other nests. When the caterpillars eat the sprayed leavesthey'll die, but the Bt (a naturally-occurring soil organism) won'tharm anything else.
Question. Every year ourzucchini/summer squash grows great, and then some sort of bug eats upthe stalk, and the fruits wither. What is it, and how do I stop themthis year?
--- John; Boyertown, PA
Answer. Vineborers—the scourge of summer squash growers! To prevent them nextseason, simply wipe the stems of your squash with a damp cloth everyother day or spray the stems once or twice a week with insecticidalsoap or BTK--you'll destroy the eggs (laid by a moth) before they canhatch into destructive, 'boring' caterpillars. If you can already seeholes with that nasty 'frass' (the classy word researchers use for bugpoop) outside, wait until evening, carefully slit the vine with a razorblade, capture and dispose of the beast within ("hahaha! I've got youNOW!"), then cover the damaged part of the vine with compost or goodsoil, water it well and think good thoughts. Or you could inject beneficialnematodes or BTK into the hole with a garden syringe, and thewonderful little nematodes or that delightful soil organism will thenseek out and kill the borers within.
Question. I transplanted a beautifulheirloom rosebush from my mother's garden to mine last year. Now it'sFILLED with APHIDS!!!! I found a ladybug and put her on the bush,but she looked at me like, "now why did you do that?" Please help.Thanks,
---Beth in Emmaus, PA
Answer. Aphids are EASY! Cradle the infested part of the plant in one hand and blast the littlerats off with a sharp, strong steam of water from one of thosemultiple-choice nozzles. It'll kill 80 to 90% of 'em outright, and thesurvivors will be too depressed to go on. Do this a couple of times andthat Lady should be able to handle any stragglers.
Question. Dear Mike: I used tosprinkle dried, crushed pennyroyal around our stone terrace overlookingthe Neshaminy Creek to deter spiders. But I now find it impossible tobuy pennyroyal. (I believe it has been taken off the market.) What doyou suggest I use? Or do you know where I can get some?
----Carol; New Britain, PA
Answer. Carol! Spiders areGOOD! At least any spiders that you see running around in frontof you are. The only dangerous spiders in PA are the brown recluse andthe black widow—both of which hide in dark places (the widow inwoodpiles and the recluse in winter clothes [honest!]). Most people whoget bitten by these two never see them. Spiders that are highlyvisible, like orb weavers and the ferocious-looking wolf spiders(OK—and "daddy longlegs", but they're not true spiders) won't hurt you,but WILL destroy lots of pests that would cause you harm, like ticks,mosquitoes, biting flies, Green Goblins and Dr. Octopus! Andpennyroyal IS dangerous stuff; this powerful herb is toxic to peopleand (especially!) their pets. Please just choose to share your outdoorspace; those spiders are tremendously beneficial. And, hey—consideringall the truly unwanted insects that tend to congregate near water,those spiders are probably so highly visible because they're allworking overtime—for YOU!
You Bet Your Garden ©2004 Mike McGrath