Wednesday, August 17, 2011

San Diego garden insect management in August

It has been a very active week with pests and problems in Gidget's Garden. I did not realize how quickly bugs take hold in a garden but from the first sign, to the baby, to the destruction, happens just about overnight. My first suggestion is to get on it right away if you see a potential for problems in your garden.

It also helps to know what the problem looks like, and while it is fresh in my mind, I hope to tell you how our current problems started so you can try to get a handle on them right away. I will also try to show you the least toxic, yet effective ways I have found to mange the problems.

An important factor when looking at bugs is to be sure you identify them correctly so you aren't eradicating something that is working for you. Beneficial insects are extremely important when you use organic methods to grow your vegetables.

Vegetable gardening can sometimes be a challenge and we would love to help you learn from our mistakes.

My first mistake with this infestation was that I did not pay much attention to the ants that were taking over in our garden. It turns out that ants are some of the most destructive bugs in a garden. In San Diego we have aphids and leaf hoppers which are two of the insects that ants will capture and plant on your plants so they can eat the nectar that is secreted after the aphids and leaf hoppers suck the sap out of your plants. It is all around not a good situation and had I known this about ants sooner I would have simply gotten some diatomaceous earth and spread it around the areas where I was seeing ant activity. Ants can also be destructive to bee hives and worm bins.

I was not aware of all of this so I just let the ants go and ended up with a lot of aphids and something I had never seen before. I decided it was time to gather the equipment needed to wage war.

A mini lint roller
The mini lint roller is used to roll over leaves and surfaces to pick insects up without spraying anything. It's a good way to make a large dent in your insect population but may not be enough to eradicate destructive insects.

Diatomaceous earth 
Diatomaceous earth is a fine powder that is sharp to ants, aphids, slugs, earwigs, leaf hoppers and other destructive insects. It is applied to the plants, surfaces, and other areas through a mesh screen or flour sifter type tool to control those insects. I suggest wearing a particle mask and gloves while applying it because it is very fine and should not be inhaled or absorbed in the skin. It is completely fine for vegetables though because it is non toxic to them and washes off easily.

Insecticidal soap
Insecticidal soap is very gentle but will kill many garden pests because it coats them in heavy soap and sort of suffocates them. It can be washed right off. I still try to avoid blossoms and any areas where beneficial insects are frequenting when I use this in Gidget's Garden.

Gidget liked the Gilmour box
I purchased a cheapy sprayer a few months ago and had nothing but problems with it so I upgraded today to a Gilmour. It has a lifetime warranty and Bill at City Farmers was kind enough to refund my money for the Organicide spray that I bought for fungus, mites, and pests that was organic; but caused me nothing but trouble because it stunk, burned my plants and did not address any of the issues I used it for. That refund helped us buy our new sprayer, thanks Bill!

I noticed them yesterday and had no idea
I noticed this happening on one of my Big Bertha pepper plants yesterday and was unable to identify them using my Kaufman's Field Guide so I went to facebook and started asking my more experienced gardening friends because I did not want to kill them if they are beneficial. They are not beneficial. They are either a keeler leaf hopper or a buffalo leaf hopper. Either way, they are herded to the plants by ANTS and then suck the sap out of your plants, which ants feast on.

I decided to get a head start on them last night with my lint roller and head lamp. 
Me with my headlamp and lint roller, ready to murder
This is an extreme close up of some that I took off with my lint roller
"Whoa.  I can't decide if Crystal or the immature leaf hopper is scarier."
An adult keeler or buffalo tree or leaf hopper? The adults look just like new leaves when on the plant
There were more than I was able to take off by hand with the lint roller last night so I sprayed with insecticidal soap which I think helped with some of the immature ones, and now I plan to dust the plants and surrounding areas with diatomaceous earth to make sure they have been erased from our garden.  

Powdery mildew is another garden pest that we have been trying to manage
Mildew is not a bug but it is a living organism which can cause problems in your vegetable garden.

We have been using a 1 part milk to 9 parts water solution to control powdery mildew
Gidget is doing her best to learn all of the stuff in our organic gardening books by osmosis
As I mentioned before, beneficial insects are some of the most important garden helpers you can employ, and they don't cost you anything. We try our best not to spray anything or anywhere that may harm them. We avoid blossoms and look out for signs of beneficial babies when managing pests in our garden.

A single lady bug is always a welcome sight
Love making lady bugs with an unknown beneficial wasp above  is even more welcome
 A lady bug egg cluster is enough to make the organic gardener's heart sing
Lady bugs eat aphids, white flies and other destructive insects, it's good to avoid spraying them with anything, ever.

Wasps not only feast on caterpillars but they also pollinate plants, and of course bees are our primary pollinators. 

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