Thursday, September 27, 2018

Japanese Beetles, Milky Spore and Soil Inoculation

Japanese Beetles (Popillia japonica) were first spotted in the US in 1916. It is believed that they were accidentally imported in Japanese iris bulbs and found their way to a nursery in New Jersey. Since that time, these voracious pests have steadily moved south and westward leaving a swath of damage in their wake. The adult beetles damage the leaves of more than 300 different kinds of plants, while their larvae love the roots of turf grasses, vegetables and ornamental plants as they move up through the soil and pupate into adulthood.

One of the great (and scary) things in nature is that every living thing on the planet has a natural enemy – or two. Even more amazing is that many natural enemies are specific to their targeted prey. In the world of bio-rational controls, this is especially remarkable. One of the great benefits of bio-rational controls in the garden or crop is that they target one family or species of pest and leave all the others – particularly the beneficial insects – alone.

Milky Spore (Paenibacillus popilliae, formerly Bacillus popilliae) falls into the category of bio-rational controls because of its target specificity. While there is no evidence that it will help to control other white, C-shaped grubs, it is a powerhouse treatment for control of the grub (larval stage) of the Japanese beetle. Milky Spore ticks all the safety boxes – it will not harm humans or other mammals, reptiles, aquatic life, or plant material. Click here for more information on the main ingredient in Milky Spore.

Milky Spore Can Inoculate the Soil for Up To 20 Years

Many controls for pest insects require repeated applications with no end to it in sight. Milky Spore, however, has the added benefit of inoculating the soil after several applications. What this means is that the soil will carry enough of the bacillus that any grubs that hatch in the area will not survive.  Depending upon your climate, fully inoculating the soil can take between 1 and 5 years.

  • In warm climates inoculation requires 1 – 3 annual applications.
  • In colder climates inoculation requires 3 – 5 annual applications.

Milky Spore begins working as soon as applied so long as grubs are feeding. This means spring and autumn applications of Milky Spore are most effective because the grubs are most active at that time. Don’t forget that beneficial nematodes are great for seasonal control of the Japanese Beetle. They are effective on a broad range of in-soil pest insects and they will help to more effectively distribute the powder form of Milky Spore.

The cause of death from P. popilliae is not fully understood. The most likely cause is from starvation as the bacterial cells grow in the grub’s hemolymph - the blood-like fluid in invertebrates. The already milky looking grubs become even milkier looking and fail to mature.

Damage from Japanese Beetles
Milky Spore is available in powder and a new granular formulation. The granular product is applied using a hand spreader or a drop spreader. The powder formulation can be applied with a dispenser tube or for small areas, by the teaspoonful spaced in a checkerboard pattern every 4 feet. 

Community use of Milky Spore will help to most effectively reduce the population of the Japanese beetle in your area. Remember, the adult beetles are not affected by the Milky Spore and by their nature are highly mobile – they will be moving into your area throughout the summer months. The more of your neighbors who inoculate their soil, the better the control will be. 

Posted by Deb N.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Famous Faces of the Desert – Tarantulas

In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to make it clear that I am not a fan of spiders. All those skittering legs, yucky webbing and fierce fangs just make my skin crawl. This attitude is the direct result of a horrifying incident with a giant spider and its web when I was a child in Panama. I can’t bear thinking about it to this day.
Large grey tarantula
Photo by Valerie, Customer Service

Having said all that, I do rather like tarantulas. After numerous encounters with these spiders, both in the wild and as someone’s pet, I see that they are gentle and delicate creatures. They are probably the most misunderstood of all the iconic desert creatures we have here in Arizona.

Unlike other desert creatures I have talked about in this series, I have not encountered tarantulas in or around our office. However, most of our crew has had them around their homes; so I asked for pictures from them. Mike, our Shipping Manager, contributed an image of a large black one found in his garage and Valerie, Customer Service, donated one of a lovely grayish specimen. These two pictures, taken just a few miles from each other, show the variety of tarantula species in our area.

Large black tarantula on a garage floor
Photo by Mike, Shipping Mgr
Despite their rather fearsome appearance and their unwarranted reputation as being dangerous, the truth is tarantulas are more shy and reclusive than anything else. They live solitary lives in holes, burrows or crevices and rarely venture far from them. Around here, if you find a hole about the size of a quarter, it may be a tarantula hole. If you see silk in or around the hole, it is actively occupied. The silk helps prevent cave-ins and makes the perfect nesting material. They often extend the silk lining outside the entrance. This outside webbing has two purposes: waterproofing and an early warning system. Tarantulas do not like water and their silk helps keep their burrows dry. If a burrow floods, the tarantula will flee. This is one reason that they are more
likely to be seen during monsoon season here. Outside webbing also serves to let the spider know that prey is nearby. They can sense vibrations and the slightest touch to the webbing will send the tarantula out to snag its dinner. When it is time to hibernate for the winter, the spider will mix the silk with a little dirt dirt and create a plug for the opening.

A tarantula lying on its silk in its nest
A tarantula resting on its silk
Females will always be in or very near their burrows, but males will head out looking for love during mating season (generally September-October). In some places, tarantula males head out in large numbers, making for an unsettling display of devotion to reproduction. Once a male finds a female’s burrow, he will “knock” on the silk around the door. The female will rush out and, in that split-second, make her decision to mate with him, eat him or both. After the long trek to get to her, it is the worst kind of blind date. With what he goes through for love, it should come as no surprise that females live twice as long as males.

Although their bite can be painful, a tarantula’s venom is not dangerous to humans. Because they feed on small prey like other insects, arthropods and the occasional small lizard or mouse, they have no need for venom strong enough to disable or kill a large being. Unless the person has a severe allergic reaction, a tarantula bite is no more serious than a bee sting.

The hairs on a tarantula can cause a person more trouble than their venom. They have hundreds of hairs on their upper abdomen called urticating hairs that are used as a defense mechanism. They will flick these barbed hairs at would-be tormentors. Once lodged in their target, these hairs are extremely irritating and difficult to remove. They can cause real damage if embedded in the eye or inhaled. Just give them their space and they will give you no trouble.

Tarantulas have very thin skin, especially in the abdominal area. This makes them very vulnerable to damage from falls. A height of less than a foot can kill a tarantula. This makes for another good reason not to handle them.

While they cannot handle falls, losing a leg is something most tarantulas can overcome. They will simply regenerate a new leg the next time they molt. Never one to turn down a meal, the tarantula may even eat its detached leg. Since males rarely molt once they reach sexual maturity, it will be the females or immature males re-growing legs. We used to have a very large (about 4½”) 7-legged fellow who hung out in the tree by our front door.

Tarantulas appear in many legends around the world  and in many myths of native peoples. Underscoring its importance as an essential part of our Southwestern world, the Navajo, Zuni, Apache and Pima all have traditional lore surrounding the tarantula.

When it comes to predator and prey, tarantulas are equal parts of each. They are valuable predators for pest insects such as cockroaches, but they are also preyed upon in all stages of their lives. Ants invade their burrows and feast on their eggs and large predators gobble them up when they are old enough to leave their burrows. The most terrifying and gruesome nemesis of a tarantula is the Tarantula Hawk (Pepsis spp).These insects prey on and parasitize the spider as part of their
Close-up of an individual tarantula hawk
Tarantula hawk
reproductive cycle. I will save the specifics of their predation for one of my October blogs on insect mummies and zombies. Suffice to say, it’s pretty gross.

Usually, at this point in the blog, I would direct you to ways to control the creature I’ve been discussing. With tarantulas, however, I have no control recommendations. These benign creatures mean you no harm and can easily be guided away from you, your yard and your pets.

Submitted by Pam

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Frost Cloth – What do the Numbers Mean?

Echeveria sp with FrostSitting in Tucson on a day when the temperature will reach 102o,  I find it difficult to think about the need for frost protection on my plants. In reality, now is the perfect time to think about what the garden will be needing in a few short weeks. If I don’t plan now for frost protection, the cold will sneak up and plants will suffer or die as a consequence of my poor planning.

Frost cloth has many functions beyond protecting from frost, it offers wind protection, works as a pest barrier and it reduces light transmittance; but perhaps the second most popular reason people use frost cloth is to extend the growing season.  With Tucson as an example, using frost cloth in winter/early spring allows us to plant summer crops like tomatoes and pepper plants before our last date of frost (March 17). This lets us get an aggressive start on the growing season and harvest before temperatures climb to the point of shutting down the pollen. Applied in fall, frost cloth allows us to nurse those tomatoes straight through the winter. There is nothing like a freshly harvested tomato on a gloomy January morning.

In most areas of the country, one of the primary limiting factors for the types of plants that can grow there is how cold the temperatures become. Every plant has a temperature at which they begin to take on physical damage that will impact health and longevity. To determine the level of frost protection needed, it is critical to understand these two data points:
  • The average lowest temperatures where you grow. 
  • At what temperature do the plants you grow experience damage 
Your local County Cooperative Extension Office has a lot of information regarding minimum and maximum temperatures that is specific to your area. also has minimum and maximum temperatures for every zip code in the United States.

Once we understand the minimum temperatures that may occur and what plants will have trouble tolerating them, it’s time to decide what type of frost protection to prepare for. Here are the options to consider.

Seedlings Protected by Frost Cloth
The Agribon line of frost protection is known for being high quality and their products are made of an ultra-light spun polypropylene that resists exposure to the extremes of elements. This fabric allows water, light and air to pass through, but not insects. The number in the product name tells you exactly what you can expect in terms of temperature protection.

AG-15 – The lightest weight (.45 oz. per square yard) and least frost protection available. This cloth allows 90% light transmission and is most widely used to protect plants from insects. It is only suitable for a couple of degrees of thermal protection.

AG-19 – Another light weight cover (.55 oz. per square yard) that provides frost protection up to 4oF. It allows transmission of 85% of light and helps to reduce evaporation. This is an excellent choice for helping to prolong growing seasons in moderate to warm climates.

AG-30 – Medium weight cover (.9 oz. per square yard) that provides up to 6oF frost protection. There is 70% light transmitted through this cloth.

AG-50 – A heavy weight (1.5 oz. per square yard) protection that works down to 24oF – meaning it provides up to 8oF of protection. Since the cloth is denser, light transmission is 50%.

AG-70 – The highest level and heaviest weight (2.0 oz. per square yard) protection. This cloth provides more than 8oF protection while allowing 30% light transmittance.

When the cloth is doubled (or folded over), the protection doubles and the light transmittance is reduced. So, for example, the AG-30 numbers look like this:
  • The temperature protection increases from 6oF to 12oF.
  • Light transmittance decreases from 70% to 40%.
No matter the season, if you are growing, having some frost cloth on hand is a pretty good idea. The many helpful functions it provides will make your gardening easier and less troublesome.

Contributed by Deb N.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Mite Problems Are A Thing of the Past, Unless...

Summer gardeners will be intimately acquainted with mites of all kinds – spider mites, broad mites and russet mites to name a few. The departure from the summer heat marks a break from mite control for most. Unfortunately, not all growing environments are equal. A northern outdoor gardener may be delighted by their chance to plant fall crops without the worry of mite incursion; a northern greenhouse grower may need to hit the brakes a bit on that delight.

We like to warm things up to extend the growing season and these temperatures are the main influencing factor on whether pests will find your grow attractive or not. Extending the growing season also means extending the pest season, especially in warm climates, greenhouses and indoor growing areas. Some of this can be mitigated by increasing humidity in the growing area, but that may also increase the risk of cultivating fungal diseases. Boosting airflow in the area can keep mites from settling in, but that may dry out the plants and blow your beneficial insects away from where they do their best.

So what do we do if we want a longer growing season, but don’t want to risk creating other problems along the way? The answer, as always, is be prepared and act early. 

If potted plants or raised beds are preferred, apply Tangle-Trap or Stiky Stuff around the pot rims and bed sidings to trap any sneaky travelers making their way upward. If your plants are mature enough, a thin coating around the base of the stem/trunk can be helpful too.

Greenhouses have an assortment of hideouts for would be mite problems – joints, small grooves in the structure, detritus on the ground. Take the opportunity to sanitize your growing area as temperatures cool. This can be done with a hydrogen peroxide solution sprayed onto target areas, but for those of us that don’t want that hassle there are many products available to help growers clean up and avoid ongoing mite problems.

In the event that mites are spotted sucking the life out of your precious plants, introduce mite predators to do the dirty work for you. Predatory mites seek out their prey and use them to fuel the ongoing hunt. If you time it right, you can maintain control without spraying a thing.

There is no one size fits all solution to any pest problem and mites can be trickier than most. The best and easiest approach is to be an attentive grower, so you can make educated decisions before the problem gets out of hand. If you have questions about what you are seeing, we encourage you to send us a picture at or call us at 1-800-827-2847. Our biocontrol specialists are happy to help you identify the culprit!

Contributed by Sterling North

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Famous Faces of the Desert – Rattlesnakes

In my last few blogs, I have been talking about some of the iconic flora and fauna of the Arizona desert – all of which are outside our doors here at ARBICO Organics™. We are at the base of Pusch Ridge in the Catalina Mountains, amidst miles of open desert. This makes for great views of the mountains and also makes for a great wildlife viewing platform.
Pusch Ridge in the western Catalina Mountains, Tucson AZ
In the last few years, in our parking lot at work, I have seen deer and a coyote. Not to mention all the birds – hawks, roadrunners, cardinals, quail and many more. Then there are the reptiles – a Gila Monster and endless lizards. And, of course, snakes. Twice we have arrived to find a nice fat rattler sunning itself in front of our door. They appear commonly enough in our warehouse that they keep a catch stick back there and know how to use it.

Rattlesnakes are a daily reality around here. There are 13 species of rattlesnakes that are native to Arizona; we have more venomous snakes than any other state. Our climate and terrain is a reptile paradise. Despite the number of snakes sharing a landscape with humans, there are fewer snake bites than you’d expect and fatal bites are extremely rare. Many more people die from lightning and bee
Western Diamondback snake poised to strike
Western Diamondback
stings. Effective antivenoms and proximity to emergency care keeps these numbers low. Most of the snake bite deaths that occur are due to other medical problems the victim has or from anaphylaxis (an allergic reaction to the venom) and not from the venom itself.

The best way to avoid an encounter that can have serious results, is to learn more about rattlesnakes and their behavior so that you and the rattlers do not cross paths. Additionally, there are a number of myths and misconceptions that need to be thrown out:

Myth #1: Baby rattlesnakes are the most dangerous.
Do not be fooled by this idea. Because baby rattlers are born live and need to be independent right away, they are born with venom to kill prey. While this venom is potent, their small bodies do not produce large volumes of venom. It is the large adults that can strike with enough venom to kill an adult. Don’t run away from a baby and right into the fangs of its mother!

Myth #2: If you do get bit, you can suck out the poison.
Cutting into the skin and trying to suck out poison, as well as applying ice or tourniquets, are all dangerous, time-wasting and futile. You would never want that poison in your mouth and handling the bitten area can cause painful additional damage to the tissues already affected by the toxin. Use that time instead to get to a hospital.

Myth #3: You need to kill the snake and bring it to the hospital to identify which antitoxin is needed.
Taking the time to try to catch an already agitated snake is detrimental to the victim and simply increases the chance of a second bite. It is also completely unnecessary. There is one antivenom used for all North American pit viper bites. Not only is it effective for every rattlesnake, it also works for Cottonmouths (Water Moccasins) and Copperheads. The only other venomous snake in North America is the Coral Snake and they are not pit vipers, so there is a different anitvenom for them.

Myth #4: You will hear the rattle and be warned of it presence.
Rattlesnakes are shy and non-aggressive. Remember that they are prey as well as predator and will
Well camouflaged Sonoran Sidewinder snake in Tucson Arizona
Well camouflaged Sonoran Sidewinder in Tucson, AZ
instinctively avoid you. Their preferred defense mechanism is to lie still and blend in.They will then try to flee as quietly as possible.Shaking their rattle is a last ditch effort before they strike. Never put your hand where you cannot see. People are bitten because they do not see them – although most bites occur when people handle or provoke them.

The University of Arizona’s Poison and Drug Information Center has snake bite instructions and a bite video here.

If you are sharing an ecosystem with rattlesnakes, there are a number of things you can do to keep them away from your house:
Control rodents (a favorite snake food).
Build a wall that can keep reptiles out, but make sure it is high enough. Rattlers can lift themselves quite high. Males routinely stand “on tiptoe” while fighting for
Western Diamondback snakes fighting for females
Western Diamondbacks fighting for females
Keep grass short to eliminate hiding places.
Reconsider bird feeders – snakes are as drawn to them as birds.
Dogs and cats can be a deterrent – snakes don’t like their smells. Dogs are curious, though, and can get bit This Golden Retriever puppy was curious and heroic and took a bite for his owner. Consider getting your dog snake avoidance training (there are companies out there who do this – your vet should be able to direct you).
Other smells snakes dislike include sulphur and mothballs. Spread them around the outside of your home and in your yard.
Use environmentally-safe repellents like BONIDE™ Snake Stopper.

Like any living creature, rattlesnakes should not be killed indiscriminately. Their value in rodent control alone makes them useful; those hairy little mammals carry many diseases that are a direct threat to humans.

For more information on how to live harmoniously with venomous reptiles, check out this piece from the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Did you know there is a rattlesnake that has evolved to eliminate its rattle? It is the highly threatened Santa Catalina Island Rattlesnake.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Famous Faces of the Desert - Scorpions

There has been a scorpion bonanza here in our ARBICO offices lately. A couple weeks ago, I was in the bathroom and looked down and there was a lovely orange scorpion with his stinger raised right beside my foot. My critter-loving colleagues quickly re-homed it outside. The other day, near the same part of the building, another colleague found a little bitty one (maybe an inch or so long) that was missing a pincer but still very much alive. On the same day as that incident, another co-worker brought in a (deceased) sample of the type of scorpion that is currently infesting her home. Clearly, these arachnids are very common in our part of the world.

Scorpions are a desert icon and, like the saguaro I wrote about in my last blog, they are misunderstood. For one thing, they are hardly exclusive to the desert; they are found in almost every terrestrial habitat on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. Not only are they everywhere, they have been here for a very long time. These ancient arthropods can trace their ancestry back more than 400,000,000 years. Evolution does not appear to have found a reason to change the design of a scorpion. Aside from being larger, those Paleozoic scorpions have the same basic anatomical details as the modern version.

People generally react with fear when they come across a scorpion; but this is a baseless fear for most Americans. Of the approximately 100 species found in the US, only a handful have venom that is harmful to humans. Of these, the most venomous scorpion in North America is the Arizona Bark Scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatusIf bitten, highly effective antivenoms are readily available. Nevertheless, it pays to keep children, pets and the elderly protected from this scorpion.

Rather than just killing prey and hurting people, it appears that scorpion venom can greatly help people. It is currently being used in medical research and has shown to have benefits in fighting cancer. As this becomes more of a reality, it should leave us with a new appreciation for the humble scorpion.

If you are still not able to see scorpions as anything but dangerous creatures, consider the fact that scorpions (unlike most other invertebrates) are surprisingly attentive and tender mothers.

Kenyan scorpion mother with babies. Photo by Ivan Zuzmin
They give birth to live offspring (as many as 100), which they then arrange carefully and carry around on their backs. Some species spend up to two years caring for their young, much longer than many other creatures.

Photo by Kenton Elliott
One of the coolest things about scorpions is that they fluoresce under ultraviolet light. Scientists believe that there is something in their epidermis that causes this. If you take a black light out on nice dark night, you will be able to see the world of the scorpion as it lights up.There are many more out there than most people would believe and they are living their lives nocturnally all around us.

Scientists consider scorpions to be excellent bio-indicators. Their specie's durability and longevity as well as their habitat and range specificity provides researchers with valuable baseline information related to changes in their environment. Unfortunately, like too many other species, they are losing space to habitat degradation.

 Even though scorpions have great potential in medicine and are important bio-indicators, there are few scorpion experts out there. The shortage is great enough that the American Museum of Natural History is actively encouraging and recruiting new researchers.

While there aren’t as many scorpion scientists as we need, there are some out there doing important work. And sometimes this new information is as disgusting as it is interesting. Scientists at the National University of Cordoba in Argentina have discovered that certain scorpion species will drop their tail when threatened (like a lizard does). Unfortunately for them, their anus is located on the part of the tail that is dropped. Which means they fill with feces and die. National Geographic has all the scatological details here

We encourage everyone to refrain from killing scorpions simply because they exist. Instead, keep your yard clear of hiding places for them (think potted plants, firewood, boxes, crates) and close up any holes or cracks that offer access into your house. If you simply must exterminate them, bear in mind that they are not easily controlled. You can use Diatomaceous Earth as a barrier or spray  spray EcoPCO®AR-X Multi-Purpose Insecticide.

Submitted by Pam

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