Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Scouting for Insects: Save Money, Time and Your Sanity in the Greenhouse and Garden

Let’s face it, greenhouses provide the perfect environment for breeding pest insects.  But unfortunately, by the time we see pest related damage on plants, the infestation may be well on the way to careening out of control. 

One way to save money, time and ultimately your sanity in the greenhouse – or garden is to use simple and affordable sticky traps to trap and monitor for pest insects. 

Using sticky traps will help you grow better in several ways.  Use them to:

  • Identify specific insect and mite problems - before plant damage occurs.
  • Locate where the problems are occurring.
  • Observe changes in the severity of infestation - this information will help you make the decision of whether to intervene or not.
  • When interventions are necessary, having the pest identity will help you treat exactly the problem you have. Ultimately this will save you money and time spent on unnecessary purchases.
  • Use the trapped insects to identify the phase of the pests life cycle that you are confronting.

How do sticky traps work?

Sticky traps can either use a pheromone attractant, a smell attractant or a color attractant.  The color attractants attract an assortment of pest insects while the pheromone and smell attractants attract specific insects.  Today, we’re looking at the sticky traps that use color as an attractant and they are excellent for trapping:
  • Aphids
  • Fungus gnats
  • Leafminer flies
  • Shore flies
  • Thrips
  • Whiteflies
  • Plus many others

The color of the sticky trap attracts pest insects, once the insects land on the trap they struggle and become trapped by the sticky adhesive.   Use a loupe or hand lens at least 5X magnification to take a close look at what gets trapped.  Any magnification above 5x should allow you to identify the pest(s) on the trap.  I use a 30X loupe and I can see excellent detail of the microscopic world.  One of the great side benefits trapping the pest on the sticky board – when you don’t recognize what is on the trap, place the trap in a plastic bag and take it to your local county extension office or to a fellow grower for help with identification.

For traps to provide you with the most complete information, divide the greenhouse into logical units.  Set traps throughout and around the perimeter.  Make sure to place traps near openings and ventilation systems – these are likely spots for pests to enter the greenhouse.  Setting some traps just outside any openings will help with very early detection.

We recommend using 3 to 4 of the 3”x5” traps for every 1,000 square feet.  Place some near doors, vents and in plant species and varieties that are highly susceptible to pest insects.

Monitor the traps daily and keep a record of what you find.  You can use this data to identify the pest, determine the level of infestation, progress of the life cycle.  All of this data is helpful to determining when and if you need to intervene.  Change out the traps when the sticky substance is covered with insects, dust, or grime.

On a personal note, the traps are sticky to us as well.  If you get any of the sticky substance on your hands, simply remove it using either a waterless hand cleaner or a little vegetable oil.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Grasshoppers - Legends of Greatness & Evil

Legends of greatness and evil abound in the west.  When it comes to the 6-legged westerners there is no more storied creature than the grasshopper.  The stories of their swarms are epic and biblical – skies dark as night and crops devastated in moments.  The Hopi tell their children that the grasshopper will bite off the noses of those who disobey elders or violate taboos.  Other tribes claim that the grasshopper predicts bad weather or brings evil with it.  Even Aesop featured the grasshopper in his fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant – using the grasshopper as counterpoint to the industrious and hardworking ant.  Needless to say, the grasshopper doesn’t survive the harsh winter because of his summertime idleness and folly.

Grasshoppers present an obstacle for those of us who were taught to look for the best in every situation.  I’ve always felt that there isn’t much good that can be said about grasshoppers, but I’ve become curious about where they fit in the scheme of things and whether I need to change my attitude. 

It turns out there are more than 400 known species of grasshoppers in 17 states of the western U.S.  Only 2 dozen of these species are considered a pest.  Several species are considered as beneficial insects because they consume undesirable plants. The other grasshoppers are somewhat benign. 
Even the ‘bad guys’ have some good points:
  • As an herbivore, grasshoppers link plants to the rest of the ecosystem and his helps biodiversity.
  • Their droppings (frass) contribute nutrients by turning the plant material into fertilizer.
  • They are a food source for birds, spiders, lizards, and rodents.

However, as with all things in the garden, I’m looking for balance.  I think that there is enough vegetation to go around.  But I want those bad guys to exist outside my gardening perimeter.  I realize now that before I try to manage the grasshoppers in my patch, I need to identify what species I’ve got and determine whether they are actually harmful to my cultivated plants.  One excellent clearinghouse of identification guides is provided by the USDA and can be found at this link:

A little about their life cycles
Understanding the life cycle of a grasshopper can help you identify the species you have and to determine when treatments will be most effective.  Taking this step can save time and money.  Typically, grasshoppers emerge in late spring and remain active through autumn.  Treatment at any time will help, but to gain optimal control it is important to watch for them in their earliest, above soil stages. 

All grasshoppers begin life as an egg.  The eggs are laid in soil, in tight clustered pods and are usually well hidden in specific habitats.  The eggs begin to incubate immediately.  Depending upon the species, the embryos begin to develop and then based on environmental cues (temperature is a major cue) enter a state of diapause and cease growing until favorable incubation temperatures are reached.  Both the diapause and incubation inducing temperatures differ from species to species.

Generally temperatures between 50 oF and 55oF trigger development to restart.  Once optimal temperatures are reached grasshoppers continue to incubate in soil and will hatch as nymphs.  All grasshoppers develop through a process of gradual (simple) metamorphosis, there is no larval stage.  The hatched nymph looks like the adult except it is smaller, has no wings, fewer antennae segments, and only rudimentary genitalia.  Depending upon their species, as grasshoppers grow and develop they molt (shed) their outer skin 4 to 6 times during their nymphal (immature) life.

Control options
One way to keep grasshoppers away from the plants you don’t want them to consume is to provide some beneficial habitat in a place where you are happy for them to be.  An island of dense, native grasses and flowers is a great way to help keep them away from your more precious plants. 
When grasshopper populations exceed your tolerance, there are two natural and effective organic methods for controlling them. 
  • Nosema locustae - naturally occurring fungus that weakens and kills when eaten.
  • Beauveria bassiana - derived from naturally occuring fungi in the soil cause muscadine disease when consumed.
Nosema locustae is available under two labels:  Semaspore and NOLO Bait.  These products are effectively the same.  The Nosema locustae is embedded on flakes of bran that act as bait to the grasshopper.  Once consumed, the grasshopper develops a disease, is weakened, consumes less, and eventually dies.  In 2 – 4 weeks, 50% of the population will be dead.  It is most effective when grasshoppers are ½” – ¾” in size.  Nosema locustae is only fatal to grasshoppers and their close relatives such as crickets and mantids.

Beauveria bassiana is available as a liquid under two product names:  Mycotrol O and Botanigard ES.  It is available as a wettable powder as Botanigard 22WP.  This product causes white muscardine disease in a wide variety of pest insects including thrips, aphids, whitefly, psyllids, and fire ants.

When either of these products are applied, pay close attention to grassy areas of untilled ground, to southern slopes or any other location known as a grasshopper hatching bed.

While grasshoppers may be considered a scourge, they have some interesting and quirky behaviors.  I’d like to leave you with a few of these so you might see why they are quite fascinating:
  • Females lay eggs in holes that they dig with their abdomen.
  • Some grasshoppers spit a bitter, brown liquid as a defensive behavior - they may spit at you when you handle them.
  • Before molting, grasshoppers do not eat.
  • During molting, they swallow air to build pressure to break the cuticle of the old 'skin'.
  • Each grasshopper species has an individual song produced by rubbing or flicking the lower back legs on their forewings.
  • Some species have elaborate courtship routines performed by the males. Some include posing using wings and legs while others wave brilliantly colored wings to woo their mate.

In spite of their bad reputation, I can’t help but feel respect and some admiration for an insect that has achieved fame in so many cultures and breeds such fear and loathing in the hearts of gardeners and farmers everywhere.   But when it comes down to the battle for my plants – I am happy that there are control methods that won’t harm the good guys in my garden.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Birds, Butterflies, Bats, and Bees…oh my!!!

By the simple act of transferring pollen from one flower to another, one of the great miracles of the plant kingdom takes place and production of our food begins in earnest.  Without pollinators, we don’t have food crops.  Something like 1 in 3 bites of food we eat are a direct result of pollinators doing their job.

The relationship between pollinators and plants is critical to healthy cultivated and wild plant communities.  But we are facing some critical problems that are negatively affecting pollinator populations.  The loss of habitat, the increased use of pesticides and other chemicals, combined with unexplained diseases have imperiled these relationships.

This is alarming news about what is happening to the pollinators.  Even scientists don’t completely understand or agree about what is happening to pollinators.  This can be daunting because it’s hard to determine a best course of action and what we can do individually and collectively to make positive change.

There are some daily and long-term decisions we can each make that will help to reverse the course of pollinator decline.  So, what are some simple things we can all do to help pollinators survive?  Here is what I’ve learned recently that we can do as a start…

Protect the pollinators from toxins.  Every day we release pesticides and chemicals that poison or impair the breeding cycles of our pollinators.  Become aware of the species native to your area and what needs to be done to insure their continued success.
  • Read labels before you buy and spray - make sure that you minimize the impact on your local pollinators.
  • Buy organic foods - support farmers who are not using pesticides and chemicals.
Mason Bee Lodge
Build habitat for native pollinators.  Loss of habitat is one of the great dangers confronting pollinator populations.  Pollinators need undisturbed habitat for nesting, roosting, and foraging.  An important part of building habitat is to plant native trees, shrubs, fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals.  Contact your local native plant society or the master gardeners in your area – they have lists of native plants that attract and support pollinators.
  • Plant native in your garden.
  • Focus on including nectar and host plants in your gardens.
  • Work within your community to create large, uninterrupted areas of plant populations in which pollinators can live and work.
  • Add a mason bee house or bumblebee habitat to your garden - these are natures gentle pollinators.
It doesn’t seem like much, but if we all take one idea and turn it into action we will make a difference. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Triple Threat: As Easy As 1,2,3!
1. Economical
2. Eliminates guess work and
3. Effective with the highest number of pests.

We strongly recommend that you choose beneficial nematodes based upon the target pest and level of infestation.  However, when you have multiple pest species, certain pests that have mobile and immobile stages or you have an unidentifiable combination we recommend using the Triple Threat. 

The Triple Threat includes all 3 varieties of our beneficial nematodes – Sf, Sc, and Hb. In case you are interested in knowing their full names:
  • Sf are nicknamed NemAttack but formally they are Steinernema feltiae.
  • Sc are nicknamed NemAttack but formally they are Steinernema carpocapsae.
  • Hb are nicknamed the NemaSeek but formally they are Heterorhabditis bacteriaphora.
For example, if you have fleas and ticks – the triple threat is your best option for controlling multiple stages of development that range from low mobility to high mobility.  For instance, the Sf go after the very mobile adult fleas while the Sc go after the less mobile larval and pupae stages of the flea.  The Hb and the Sf go after the various life cycles and feeding stages of ticks.

Another scenario for the Triple Threat is a vegetable garden that is limited in size or limited in options for crop rotation.  Before you plant in spring or early summer, apply the Triple Threat to eliminate the pest insects that have over-wintered in your soil before they destroy your spring and summer fruits and vegetables.

Finally, if you are a new gardener and you don’t know exactly which pests you have – applying the Triple Threat is smart.  You cannot over apply beneficial nematodes and it can be safer to apply all three varieties instead of guessing and using trial and error while your garden and lawn are being consumed by pests. 

We offer the Triple Threat in all sizes at special prices.  The SKU’s and coverage rates are: 
Remember, you cannot over-apply beneficial nematodes – so don’t worry about having too many.  For maximum effect, order enough to fully cover your area.  All varieties of the nematodes can be applied at the same time – just mix them together and look for the results!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Stinky HE Washing Machine? We May Have a Cure!

Anyone who knows me is aware that I have more than a passing interest in finding good, natural cleaning products – some friends and family think it’s a bit of an obsession.  The good news, as a collecting hobby it’s pretty inexpensive and I get some really great products to use.  For the last year I have been enjoying learning more about products produced by Biokleen.  In reality, I am over the moon about the Biokleen line of cleaning products.  So much that I convinced the folks here at Arbico to add some of their products.
For me, it all started with a perniciously slow drain in one of the bathroom sinks.  I have tried all of the old-fashioned homemade remedies along with every natural drain cleaner I could find and no joy.  Sometime last year I came across the Biokleen Bac-Out Drain Care – after following the directions and strictly adhering to the ‘leave it in the drain for 24 hours’ I had a clear and clean running drain.  I was sold.

BioKleen Products
The problem came in when I tried to buy more – this is a difficult product to locate here in Arizona.  The answer to that problem is to begin carrying much of the Biokleen line and making it available to our customers.  Biokleen is a great fit for us.  Just like Arbico, Biokleen is a family owned and operated business.  Their products are made in Vancouver, Washington, with a strong commitment to ensuring that the products are effective but non-toxic and safe for the environment.  

So, back to the title of this blog…I’ve tried everything recommended to keep our HE (high efficiency) washing machine clean and odor free.  I wipe down the gasket, use the HE laundry soaps, keep the door open to dry the machine, run the cleaning cycle monthly, I’ve even used both the organic and caustic machine cleaners.  Nothing seemed to work and walking through the laundry room was an increasingly odoriferous experience. 

My husband had concluded that it wasn’t the machine, but perhaps the drain pipe to which the washer was attached.  His theory was that HE washers don’t have that surge of water going through the drain that the old top-loads did and he was thinking that perhaps the drain pipe wasn’t getting ‘flushed’ properly and needed to be cleaned. Usually we don’t go ‘off-road’ and diverge from product labels but we have had such good results with the Bac-Out Drain Care that using it to clean the wall drain seemed a low risk proposition. 

We followed the instructions as for any other drain (don’t forget to pull the washing machines drain hose out of the drain and turn off the water to the machine – just in case someone tries to start the washer!).  We left the Bac-Out Drain Care in the drain for 24 hours (per the label), then ran a load of wash through the machine.  Don’t forget to put the hose back in the wall drain and turn the water back on.  WOW.  The lingering odor that we thought came from the machine is gone and the clothes smell much better coming from the wash.  I figure that I’ll do this monthly for a few months and see if it continues to mitigate that nasty odor that I was blaming on my HE washer.

If I was sold before, I’m kind of in love now.  I urge you to try some of the Biokleen products; I think that you will be very happy with the results!    

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Veganic Growing in a Nutshell

It’s been a few years since I first learned about growing veganically, recently I’ve observed that it is becoming a more common practice.  For those who are new to the idea, Veganic is a contraction of the words Vegan and Organic and it identifies a methodology of growing where the use of animal products and by-products are avoided. 

In a way, Veganic takes Organic a step further.  Organic growers eschew the use of synthetic or chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and genetically modified crops. Veganic growers abstain from all of the above, as well as animal products.  Many commonly used organic animal-based products are excluded from Veganic growing.  These include:
  • Manures
  • Blood and Blood Meal
  • Bone Meal
  • Fish Meal
  • Liquid Fish Fertilizers
  • Crab Shell
What is in Veganic fertilizers? 
Veganic fertilizers are plant and mineral based using ingredients that come from land and sea.  Common ingredients are alfalfa meal, soybean meal, cottonseed meal, grain solids, kelp meal, and rock phosphate.

Why are people moving to Veganic growing?
There are several reasons that people grow veganically: 
  • Reduce ones carbon footprint by reducing the use of animal based products.
  • Religious beliefs and tenets that require a vegetable based diet and lifestyle.
  • Philosophical choice to produce crops with minimal exploitation or harm to any animal.
  • Concern that animal manures contain contaminants that are harmful to soil health and the health of consumers. These include listeria, E.coli 0157, Salmonella, Giardia, Cryptosporidiosis.
Whatever your reason for moving to Veganic growing we are delighted to provide you with a new choice in fertilizers – Organics Rx.   Organics Rx comes in several N-P-K ratios that are designed for any and all of the plant varieties that you grow. 
OrganicsRx Sea-Kelp 100

Organics Rx consists of approximately 100% plant and mineral based nutrients.  The dry Organics Rx products contain ingredients such as soybean meal, alfalfa meal, rock phosphate, calcium sulfate, and sea kelp.  The Organics Rx LiquidSea Kelp is comprised of Ascophyllum, a sea kelp that is rich in both macro and micro nutrients, cytokinins, gibberellins and a host of other valuable resources for your plants and soil.  

For those of you who live in Southern and Central Arizona, we can also introduce you to a local food grower who is Certified Veganic – Sunizona Family Farms.  Sunizona has a flexible CSA program – the FarmBox - as well as an increasing local presence in grocery stores.  Arbico Organics is proud to be a supplier to Sunizona as well as a pick-up location for their CSA FarmBoxes.   Follow this link for more information about Sunizona Farms:         

Friday, March 1, 2013

Weeds are Interesting Storytellers

By now you know that I don’t have a lot of weeds (it’s the soil baby) – but a weed free environment is still a dream.  Weeds happen, they can’t be avoided.

However, weeds are interesting storytellers.  When weeds occur they can tell us quite a bit about what the garden needs or has too much of.  Weeds tell us specifically what is happening in the soil.  Here are some things that weeds tell us:
  • Whether we are watering correctly - weeds occur when we over - or under - water.
  • If we've planted too closely together or left too much space between plants.
  • They communicate when there is too much or too little fertilizer - they can indicate if we need to add more of a specific nutrient.
  • A new crop of weeds can tell us whether we are planting good, clean seed (or not).
  • Weeds tell us a lot about the quality of the soil or tilth - whether it's sandy, clay, compacted, too fertile, not fertile enough.
So before you reach for a weed spray, take a look around and follow some other sage advice I’ve picked up along the way – know your weeds and learn what they are trying to tell you about your garden.  Get started, one weed at a time and here is a game plan to help you:
  1. Identify the weed you have – your local County Extension office can help you with plant identification.
  2. Once you have correctly identified the weed, investigate the optimal conditions for the weed.
  3.  Use your new knowledge to formulate your strategy for fixing the problem – focus on the root cause of the problem. For instance, if the weed likes moist, poorly draining areas develop a plan to fix the drainage.  
To help get you started, here are some common weeds and what might be encouraging them:

If you don’t know what to do about the weeds you have, give us a call and we’ll be happy to help you get started on managing weeds.  Just remember that after you get rid of the weeds – we’ll help you focus on improving your soil

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Great Soil is the First (and Best)
Method for Fighting Weeds

When I was just discovering my passion for growing things, one of our neighbors, an experienced gardener, gave me the best soil tutorial.  On one of her walks, she noticed as I struggled to deal with weeds in my drought stricken yard.  She stopped to chat and casually mentioned that I really needed to work on the tilth of my soil.  When I asked what that meant, she kindly invited me to check out her garden – it would be better to see and feel what she meant. 

When she poured some of her soil in my hand it was clear that what I saw, felt, and smelled was very different from the dirt that I was dealing with.  I had an immediate and visceral reaction to the wonderful musky richness.  The soil was soft and darkly colored and it felt good – plump, moist, lively – not thin, grainy and dry like the stuff I was dealing with.   She told me that this was my goal in the garden - create soil that was dark brownish-black and smelled good, clean and earthy and held together but did not clump or fall through my fingers when moist.

How to accomplish this?  Her message was simple –back off the chemical fertilizers, feed the soil by adding organic matter and she promised that over time my soil would become like hers and I would have no weeds.  Really?  No weeds???  I was a skeptic at first but over time I have learned that if I cultivate healthy soil and I make sure to water and fertilize properly* – weeds are unlikely to grow in such a healthy soil environment.

In the ensuing decades (yes decades), I’ve learned that most of us don’t inherit or buy a piece of land with great soil, the fact of the matter is that we need to improve the soil with every growing season.  Our best friend in the garden is soil that is rich in micro-nutrients, has enough macro-nutrients to support what we are growing, and has abundant microbial life.  Good soil encourages:
  •  The break down of organic matter.
  •  Microbial life that develops good soil structure.
  •  Fights pathogens that would harm plants and
  •  Transforms minerals so they can be better used by plants.
It’s not that I never have any weeds, but the weeds I do have are easy to manage.  Another great lesson learned from a fellow gardener – pull weeds in the first 15 minutes you are in the garden and that bend and snap helps warm-up your muscles and joints in preparation for the tough gardening ahead.  Smart advice to help avoid an aching back!

*Watering and fertilizing properly are dependent upon many factors – soil, temperature, humidity, wind, and the type and health of the plants you grow.  It is important to know how all of these factors influence your garden’s needs.  Responding appropriately is a lot easier with knowledge.  Just remember “The Three Bears” – not too much, not too little, just the right amount of water and fertilizer are very good things!

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