Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Mother Nature’s Amazing Corn Gluten

If you ever need further proof of how wondrous Mother Nature is, look no further than Corn Gluten. This by-product of processed corn is nature’s weed and feed and can perform seemingly contradictory functions. Corn Gluten has the ability to be a powerful pre-emergent herbicide for weeds while also being a potent fertilizer for established plants.

Corn Gluten (whether liquid or granular), when used in sufficient volume, will inhibit the emergence of dormant weed seeds. As the seeds crack open to sprout, the Corn Gluten dries it out, which will stop the germination process. When germination stops, root development stops and the weed will cease to grow. Corn Gluten works well against most weeds, but not all. Types of weeds that are affected by Corn Gluten include:
  • Bermuda Grass
  • Crabgrass
  • Creeping Bentgrass
  • Curly Dock 
  • Dandelions
  • Foxtail
  • Lambsquarter
  • Pigweed
  • Purslane
  • Redroot Bigweed
  • Smart Weed

Corn Gluten, when applied in a lesser volume than the rate for herbicidal action, acts as a phenomenal fertilizer. This is due to its Nitrogen-rich properties (9-0-0). When used on established lawns and plants (those that are rooted with true leaves), Corn Gluten will promote richer turf color, thicker lawns and all-around healthier growth. Each additional application will build on what’s already there to encourage continued greening. As the slow release of the nitrogen greens up your growth, it will also aid in the creation of richer, healthier soil. An added dimension of weed control in Corn Gluten is that weeds prosper in poor soil; so, as your soil becomes healthier, you will see a natural reduction of weeds.

Here are a few other things to bear in mind before using Corn Gluten:

  • When using for weed control, apply when rain is not expected for a few days. It’s important to water in the Corn Gluten and then let it dry out.
  • Don’t sow a lawn or plant seeds for six weeks after applying Corn Gluten. This will give it a chance to lose its herbicidal qualities.
  • Corn Gluten will not change to pH in your soil. 
  • The Corn Gluten Meal sold as animal feed is not the same thing. Often people are lured by the lower price of this variation, but it simply does not have the same protein concentration to be effective as a seed killer.
So, to re-cap: Get your Corn Gluten out early and stop weeds in their tracks. Then, wait six weeks and begin using it again to add a blast of nitrogen to your lawn or garden. Continued usage will keep what you’re growing vibrant and aid in developing healthy, weed-resistant soil.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Japanese Beetle Control 101

Japanese Beetles can decimate crops above and below ground, leaving huge swaths of land barren and unproductive. These grubs are naturally detritivores (meaning that they eat decomposing materials), but they also feed on plant roots. Once they start to feed on roots, water and nutrient uptake is severely hindered. This results in brown and patchy dead spots in turf, lack of plant vigor and stunted growth. Unfortunately for the grower, this is only part of the plague that is the Japanese Beetle. 

Adult Japanese Beetles skeletonize leaves, strip flower petals and damage developing fruit. While their grubs feast on plant roots, the adults are opportunistic and tend to eat whatever they can get their little (yet voracious) mouth parts on. Some of their favorite host plants include roses, beans, grapes and berries.

Where Are They? Should You Be Worried?

Japanese beetles are found predominately in the eastern part of Unites States, from the Atlantic coast to states that border the west side of the Mississippi river. They have, additionally, been spotted in several Midwestern states, although their numbers and distribution vary in these regions (i.e. Texas is only considered partially infested). Chances are if you live in an area with lawns, prairies or grazing areas, you can expect Japanese beetles to make their way to you, if they haven’t already. 

What Do They Look Like?

Japanese Beetles are often described as iridescent green beetles. Other beetles like the Fig Beetle and False Japanese Beetle are often mistaken because of this. While their heads are a metallic green, their wings are a brown to bronze color with recognizable white tufts around them. Look for the tufts for a positive ID!

How Do We Control Them?

The best way to control Japanese Beetles is by stopping them before there is an infestation through preventative treatments. These treatments include applying beneficial nematodes to kill grubs, using Milky Spore to prevent yearly recurrences and utilizing row covers to limit damage. 

If prevention is not an option or if you have adult beetles making their way in from nearby areas, then direct, spray-on treatments will be your best plan of action. The infective fungus, Beauveria bassiana, kills both grubs and adults while remaining harmless to beneficial insects. It is a fantastic choice for organic growers trying to stay away from conventional pesticides. Surround WP is the next best option to save your plants from damage. Sprayed onto foliage and fruit, it deters beetle feeding and helps shield plants from heat stress.

There are a number of DIY traps we have found online and would love to hear any other ways you have found to control these bad hombres!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Spring Isn’t Just For Showers, It’s For Beneficial Nematodes Too

As spring finally arrives for those of us in need of a deep thaw, our attentions turn to the garden and how to best put it to use in the upcoming season. For the organically inclined, there is no better first step to a healthy spring garden than applying beneficial nematodes. They help control a vast range of insect and arachnid pests in the soil and help maintain a bioactive soil network essential for healthy plants. 

The question is: when is it best for them to be applied?

The truth is, there are probably native beneficial nematodes overwintering deep in your soil already. For raised bed or container gardeners this may not be the case. A general rule of thumb is to apply the nematodes after your last expected frost date (found here). Unfortunately, weather patterns and climates have become quite unpredictable in the past few years, so the listed date may not always apply. For those aberrant weather anomalies, it is helpful to know the temperatures at which nematodes remain active. 

These hardy creatures are effective parasites in soil temperatures down to 42 degrees Fahrenheit; below that they enter a period of dormancy. It is important to note that soil temperature, not air temperature is the main factor for nematodes’ continued viability in the soil. 

Soil temperatures may be radically different from air temperatures for a variety of reasons:
Climate and season
Orientation to the sun and topography in the area
Plant cover
Soil makeup and texture
Rainfall and moisture content
Organic matter content

Because soil temperatures are the critical factor, a soil thermometer is a handy tool to have lying around. Measuring soil temperatures periodically allows gardeners and growers to chart changes from year to year and adjust treatments accordingly.

Just like timing insecticide applications, timing your biorational control treatments properly is a vital part of successful integrated pest management. 

We welcome input from our readers and would love to hear any tips, tricks, questions or comments you have below!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Hum - Humus – Humble - Human

“The root word HUM comes from the Latin humus, meaning earth and ground. The Latin humanswhich means MAN begins with HUM. HUMus = earth, then becomes HUMble = lowly; and finally, to HUMAN”, Dr. James Cassidy.

Last month at the High Desert Conference in Sierra Vista, I had the eye-opening and mind-expanding experience of meeting and listening to Dr. James Cassidy of Oregon State University. Wearing a fedora and suit jacket covering a black t-shirt with bold white letters spelling out SOIL, Dr. Cassidy opened by holding up a minute particle of dirt. He asked a slightly confused audience to identify what he held between his fingers. When we responded with ‘dirt’. He answered with “a million bio-organisms”.

In the hour that followed, Dr. Cassidy amused, enlightened and challenged us to rethink our understanding of the importance of soil. The essential question is ‘why should we care about soil’? Simply put – all life begins with soil and we are intimately tied to the life of the soil. Humans cannot photosynthesize. We are dependent on organisms that can photosynthesize in order to get the energy and nutrients we need to survive. “Most of the organism that we eat depend on soil, along with air, sunshine, and water to make the energy and nutrients needed to survive.” (Dr. Cassidy)

A highlight of his talk was being introduced to the new Soil Web Apps that UC Davis and the California Soil Resource Lab have produced. These apps can be used to access USDA-NCSS soil survey data – which drills down to the soil type in your backyard. FYI – my land is not prime farmland. When overlaid with mapping of geo-political upheaval, it is striking how closely linked poor soil is to conflict, poverty and starvation.

Soil is a complex mixture of:
  • Water
  • Air
  • Minerals – which we have ample of in our dirt
  • Organic Matter and Microbial Life – our dirt is sadly lacking in these organisms.
The microbial life consists of bacteria, fungi (mycorhizzae), arthropods, nematodes, protozoa and in some areas – earthworms.

Minerals in the soil include nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, sulfur and a host of other nutrients that are essential to plant health and our own health.

The good news – no matter where you are, your soil can be improved by adding microbial life. Dr. Cassidy’s solution mimics what I have learned from my best teachers – add compost. It’s as simple as that.

- Contributed by Deb at ARBICO Organics

Have you ever taken a moment to ponder your soil's microbial profile? Do you seek out soil solutions to boost your microbial populations? Let us know about your piece of the earth/humus and we will be glad to offer our advice!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Biorational Controls

No matter how we come to the place of making a change, our paths are lined with options.We have great freedom to pick and choose what works best for us. In my experience, working in the garden provides new opportunities for learning and decision-making every day. 

Over time, I’ve done an informal survey of my fellow organic gardeners asking them how they reached the idea that it was time to rethink our use of chemicals in our landscapes. Many came to the idea after a health scare or when a chemical they had used is suddenly labelled as carcinogenic. Some of us move to the organics gradually based on many reasons – for me it’s important to leave a smaller footprint both in what I take from the earth and what I leave behind. To do this, I try to move to increasingly sustainable methods of growing.  

One of the most important developments in sustainable agriculture are the biorational pest and disease control products that are being developed and are increasingly available to farmers and home gardeners. It’s a wonderful world of selective products that are relatively non-toxic to humans, animals and beneficial insects. The use of biorationals fits well within an IPM (integrated pest management) strategy in which a keystone principal is monitoring for and identifying the specific pest that is in the landscape.

Biorational Pesticides fall into 3 general categories:

1.  Botanicals are derived from plants. This category includes pyrethrinsazadiractinneem oil, garlic and many others. 
2.  Microbial pesticides are formulated from beneficial micro-organisms or their by-products. This includes insecticides that are bacteria, fungi, nematodes and protozoa. One of the outstanding qualities of microbial pesticides is that they are very specific to the target pest and have little or no effect on other species. 
3.  Minerals are mined from the earth and processed minimally. Kaolin clay 
(Surround WP) and iron phosphate (Sluggo) are examples of this category of biorational. 

Biorational Disease Controls are typically botanically based or microbial. In the disease control world, most of the microbial biorationals are bacteria or fungi. 

Each of these categories, and indeed each biorational, deserves their moment in the sun. Stay tuned because we will be delving into many of the biorational control options in future posts.  In the meanwhile, we would love to hear from you if you have questions about biorationals or a comment about one that has worked for you.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Mosquitos Can Breed in a Bottle Cap of Water

It doesn’t take much stagnant water for mosquitos to find a place in which to colonize and reproduce. The new scientific measure of how much is enough is a mere bottle cap of water. It’s tough to spot this small amount of water and we hear all the time, “I have mosquitos but not stagnant water”. If you have a problem with mosquitoes don’t dismiss any amount of standing water or mud and be vigilant in monitoring drainage in your garden and lawns. 

    · The saucers beneath your container plants.
    · Plant soil and basins where the water isn’t draining.
    · Any solid, open container where rainwater or overhead  
      watering collects. 
    · Depressions in lawn and garden areas where the water moves to 
      but doesn’t drain well. 
    · Bird baths.
    · Improperly maintained or ‘empty’ pools.
    · Eaves, rain gutters and drains around the house.
    · Empty tires, wheelbarrows.
    · The edges of a pond.
    · Dense brush and weedy areas that provide refuge during warm 

If you have any of these locations, the optimal approach is to keep them clean and clear of debris and make sure that anything catching water has a clear path to quick drainage. Not only do mosquitos need very little water to reproduce in, they don’t need much time. Mosquitoes breed about 28 hours after the adult emerges. Here is their life cycle:
  1. Female adults find a blood meal and lay eggs on or near water. This includes soil areas that are wet. Her eggs can survive dry for months. 
  2. Eggs hatch when exposed to water. Hatching speed depends upon the water temperature and type of mosquito. 
  3. Larvae live in the water, molt several times and need to surface for air now and again.
  4. Pupae do not feed. Adults emerge from this stage after about 2 days to 1 week. 
  5. The adult emerges. The females can live over a month and they require a blood meal to reproduce. Think of all those babies. 

I’m not sure what their proper place is on the planet but, at their best, mosquitos are an annoyance and at worst they are a health hazard. So, how do we control them organically? Options are varied and inexpensive – but one use may not be enough, so be prepared for repeating the process.
For any areas that are very moist to wet, consider applications of granular Bti, Bacillus thurengiensis israelensis. This bacillus has been used for more than 40 years and there is great confidence in the scientific community that mosquitoes will not develop resistance to Bti. 
Bit only affects the larval stage of certain Dipterans – which include pests such as mosquitoesfungus gnats, and black flies .  The Bti works because of the pH of the mosquitoes' intestines.  In other good news, Bti cannot survive in the intestines of mammals, birds, or aquatic life. So, it is entirely safe to use when dogs (and other animals) are present. Bti is available in granules and dunks

For larger areas or if you anticipate repeat applications, try the larger sizes of granular Btipackaged as Aquabac. If you prefer liquid applications, try Aquabac XtBonus on Aquabac products – they ship for free within the contiguous 48 states! All of the Bti products are safe to use around humans and other mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds. They can easily be used in stock tanks and other drinking reservoirs for your animals – just beware they may eat them. While it won’t harm them, the dunks and granules don’t control mosquitoes once consumed by other animals. 
If you need a fast solution for your bar-b-que or outdoor shindig, try spraying the breeding areas and any area of the garden where mosquitoes are swarming with Mosquito Barrier or Garlic Barrier - a garlic based liquid that smothers adult and larval stages of the mosquito rapidly. The smell of garlic dissipates quickly but continues to repel mosquitoes for some time. A bonus with Mosquito Barrier or Garlic Barrier is that they also repel ticks, gnats and fleas AND you don’t need to know exactly where the bugs are in order to gain control!  
If the thought of spraying a garlic solution in the garden or on the lawn is too much for you, try Mosquito Magician. Mosquito Magician is a botanical concentrate that acts as a smotherant for the larvae and a contact kill for the adults. It repels for up to 2 weeks. The botanical combination includes: citronella, cedar, lemongrass, garlic, geraniol and rosemary oils.
There is a new bacillus in town that is selective to killing mosquitoes only. Bacillus sphaericus, Serotype H5a5b, strain 2362 is highly selective and kills only mosquitoes. Packaged under the trade name, Spheratax SPH, it is a water soluble powder that is safe to use by or in contact with mammals – humans, dogs, cats, horses, livestock, wildlife – as well as around birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
If you are interested in learning about more organic and natural ways to control and repel mosquitoes, follow this link to a comprehensive list of the products we offer: Mosquito Control. If you have questions, please feel free to contact Dr. Buglady– she’s happy to answer any questions you might have!