Flea beetles! Caterpillars! Vine borers! Aphids! & Spiders!
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Question. Mike: My husband's beloved eggplants fell prey to pestilence. I told him you said the best way to get 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 after you steal my best line, Barb?!! Oh, all right. Italian gardeners swear that dusting wood ashes on the leaves as soon as you see those first little tell tale 'shotgun holes' does the job. Or try insecticidal soap; 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 that they hit, so rinsing doesn't lessen their effectiveness, and I like to get the soap off the plants in hot weather. (Speaking of which, never use a soap spray in the heat of the day.) Next season, keep spun polyester rowcovers (like Reemay) over the plants till the flowers open; it prevents the beetles from getting to the plants when they're smallest and most vulnerable, and speeds the early growth of your eggplant (a notoriously slow starter) by warming that cool Spring soil.
Question. Is there an organic offense against gypsy moths? I knock down the nests and squish the caterpillars I can reach, but… Thank you.
- ---Carla; Boyertown, PA
Answer. Nests?! Gypsy moths don't make no stinkin' nests! (If they did, they wouldn't be gypsies now, would they?). Sounds like tent caterpillars. Prune out and destroy the nests you can safely reach. For ones up high, get some "BTK", the basic, caterpillar-killing variety of Bt (one big brand name is Dipel) and use a pressurized sprayer (or the local hook n' ladder) to spray it up onto the other nests. When the caterpillars eat the sprayed leaves they'll die, but the Bt (a naturally-occurring soil organism) won't harm anything else.
Question. Every year our zucchini/summer squash grows great, and then some sort of bug eats up the stalk, and the fruits wither. What is it, and how do I stop them this year?
- --- John; Boyertown, PA
Answer. Vineborers—the scourge of summer squash growers! To prevent them next season, simply wipe the stems of your squash with a damp cloth every other day or spray the stems once or twice a week with insecticidal soap or BTK--you'll destroy the eggs (laid by a moth) before they can hatch into destructive, 'boring' caterpillars. If you can already see holes with that nasty 'frass' (the classy word researchers use for bug poop) outside, wait until evening, carefully slit the vine with a razor blade, capture and dispose of the beast within ("hahaha! I've got you NOW!"), then cover the damaged part of the vine with compost or good soil, water it well and think good thoughts. Or you could inject beneficial nematodes or BTK into the hole with a garden syringe, and the wonderful little nematodes or that delightful soil organism will then seek out and kill the borers within.
Question. I transplanted a beautiful heirloom rosebush from my mother's garden to mine last year. Now it's FILLED 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 little rats off with a sharp, strong steam of water from one of those multiple-choice nozzles. It'll kill 80 to 90% of 'em outright, and the survivors will be too depressed to go on. Do this a couple of times and that Lady should be able to handle any stragglers.
Question. Dear Mike: I used to sprinkle dried, crushed pennyroyal around our stone terrace over looking the Neshaminy Creek to deter spiders. But I now find it impossible to buy pennyroyal. (I believe it has been taken off the market.) What do you suggest I use? Or do you know where I can get some?
- ----Carol; New Britain, PA
Answer. Carol! Spiders are GOOD! At least any spiders that you see running around in front of you are. The only dangerous spiders in PA are the brown recluse and the black widow—both of which hide in dark places (the widow in wood piles and the recluse in winter clothes [honest!]). Most people who get bitten by these two never see them. Spiders that are highly visible, like orb weavers and the ferocious-looking wolf spiders (OK—and "daddy long legs", 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! And pennyroyal IS dangerous stuff; this powerful herb is toxic to people and (especially!) their pets. Please just choose to share your outdoor space; those spiders are tremendously beneficial. And, hey—considering all the truly unwanted insects that tend to congregate near water, those spiders are probably so highly visible because they're all working overtime—for YOU!
You Bet Your Garden ©2004 Mike McGrath