Tuesday, September 28, 2021

What To Get In The Ground Right Now

A hand holding a trowel over a hole. The view is from the ground up.
In every garden across North America, summer crops are over and it’s time to consider what’s next. If your enthusiasm has continued unabated, you should get your fall garden going. If you’re ready to take a break but would like something to look forward to in the spring (and perhaps jump-start your garden fever), this is the perfect time to plant some bulbs. Or you could do both.

Before you plant anything, make sure to give your soil some love. Although this is always the thing to do, it is especially important after a long growing season. All those beautiful summer blooms and vegetables demanded a lot from the soil, it’s only fair to give it something back before asking for more. We have lots of excellent soil amendments and microbial inoculants that can pep up your dirt. And if you want specifics before adding anything, we have soil testing options as well. But really, it’s not all that complicated: get in there and work the soil some, add amendments or inoculants and water well. This short article explains these three steps. Even if you are done gardening for the year, you should still treat your dirt to some Beneficial Nematodes. They will go in and clean out any grubs that are trying to overwinter in your soil.

A little blond boy watering a raised bed with a silver metal watering can. Photo by Filip Urban on Unsplash.
What you plant in your fall garden is naturally dependent upon your geographical location. However, all but the most northern of climates can still squeeze out some vegetables. In fact, there are many delicious vegetable options whose flavors and colors are heightened by cold weather. If the onset of frost is somewhat fluid in your area and you’re worried about committing to a garden, you may want to plant your veggies in containers that can either be moved into the shelter of a covered area or moved directly inside. You could also plant in raised beds - they are more easily protected from the effects for cold weather than in-ground gardens. Here are some excellent choices for plants that grow quickly and can be grown in-ground, in raised beds, or in containers (for more container ideas, check out this article):

Different types of lettuce growing in black earth.
Lettuce – There are too many scrumptious lettuce varieties to list here, and they all grow quickly enough for a fall harvest. Many of these varieties also able to tolerate light frost. Other salad-type vegetables like arugula, kale and mustard greens are also good fall choices.

Spinach – The savoy varieties of this plant are especially fond of cooler weather, but all of them will provide a delicious addition to your fall meals. Since spinach can grow in full sun or partial shade, it should not suffer unduly if you have to move it under some type of shelter part-way through its growing cycle.

A hand holding some red radishes with soil, roots and green tops still attached.
 Radishes – These crispy treats are made for fall gardens – they don’t appreciate hot weather and can grow in as little as 20 days. They do well outside, but you can also grow them on a bright windowsill and pluck them out as they become ready.

 Vegetable gardens are not the only kind of fall garden you can plant. If you enjoy flower gardens, there is no reason you can’t have one into the fall. Everything from chrysanthemums to pansies can provide color for you alongside your changing trees. This article from Good Housekeeping highlights 30 different flowers to have in a fall garden.

Purple hyacinths blooming from bulbs in the garden.
Now is the time to plant bulbs for spring blossoms. This is the perfect avenue for someone who is doesn’t want to deal with often unpredictable fall weather and would just prefer to plant for the warmer days to come. Planting bulbs is a little like planning a surprise party for yourself – choose which ones you like the best, pick the place you want them to be and wait for them to pop up when the time is right. Here are some of the most beautiful treats you can plant right now:

Hyacinths – These are some of the earliest of spring flowers to peek out. According to this article on the planting of and care for hyacinth bulbs, they appear sometime after crocus and before tulips. Whenever they show up, their lavish pink, purple, red or blueish-purple blooms will be a highlight in any garden.

Tulips – If you are considering flower bulbs and trying to decide which ones, just add “tulips” to your list. Within their vast variety of styles, shapes and colors will be something that will be perfect for your garden. Picking which one will be the hard part, though, as they are all spectacular. Here is a short article on just some of them. 

Tall stalks of purple allium tilted in the wind.
Alliums – If you want some long-lasting drama in your garden and are ready to expand out of the traditional tulip-daffodil- crocus type of flower, the allium could be just right for you. These plants are part of the onion-garlic family, but their tall stalks and globe-shaped flowers are very different from those underground-growing cousins. Alliums can last many weeks in the garden and are favorites of pollinators. Here’s more on them.

Now I’d like to make a pitch for something that is both a relative of the allium, a vegetable, a bulb and a seed – garlic. If you plant some now, you will be able to harvest delectable, fresh garlic in July. But, you don’t have it plant it as a bulb. You can actually plant individual cloves as seeds – and each one has the potential to grow into a full-sized bulb replete with many cloves. For garlic beginners, it’s probably best to plant bulbs specifically cultivated for this purpose; but you can plant from grocery store garlic. This article will give you some help with this.

A Simpson's cartoon clip. Bart asks "What are you planting?" Homer says "A little bit of everything" and opens his hand to show a random assortment of things, including a gummi bear and a piece of candy corn.
Whatever you decide you want to do with your fall garden, just being outside on these cooler days is rewarding in and of itself. Especially here in southern Arizona, where we always eagerly await summer’s end.

Take Care.

Submitted by Pam

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Fall Armyworms Are Back with A Vengeance.

Close-up of a Fall Armyworm on a leaf.
In case you haven’t heard, the always-awful Fall Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) is making its presence known this year in bigger and more voracious numbers than ever before. In fact, according to this article from the Smithsonian, the caterpillars are invading at an unprecedented level. The reason for this is weather-related, like so much else that is plaguing us at this point in the 21st century. And, since the unheard-of weather events we’re seeing are the result of climate change, so all these caterpillars are yet another symptom of climate change. 

A storm over a green and rural place, with lightning striking the ground.
So how do caterpillars and climate change correlate? It takes several steps, each one being more intense than the next as follows: Caterpillar populations boom in drought conditions (which huge parts of the globe are experiencing). The main reason for this is that their natural controls in the form of fungal diseases cannot develop properly when it is too dry. High numbers of caterpillars turn into high numbers of moths. As the moths get flying, they are caught up in storms (and there have been massive storms worldwide recently). Fall Armyworm moths can (and do) survive up in the jet stream, which can take them great distances. Once they finally land in a new place, if there is abundant food they will respond by producing great numbers of larvae (caterpillars). Sometimes this food is carefully planted crops, and other times it’s native grasses. Often, the same storms that brought the moths have caused explosive growth in native plants. Fall Armyworms have traditionally been an issue only in warmer climates as they do not diapause, which means freezing temperatures will kill them. But this distribution is changing as storms move them northward and northern areas warm up. If temperatures stay warm enough through the winter wherever they land, they will just stay there. 

A Nigerian woman in an orange shirt and beige head wrap checking her crops for worms.
The Fall Armyworm is native to the Americas, but this has not stopped it from expanding its reign of
terror elsewhere. In 2016 it reached Africa, and in 2018 it reached Asia. In both areas, it has set upon maize plants (its preferred food) and other essential food  crops with devastating results. The effect that the Fall Armyworm has had in the developing world has been compounded by its resistance to chemical pesticides and its ability to survive in harsh conditions. In just one year (2018) in Nigeria, these pests disrupted the food supply of 1.5 million people. Faced with such a serious problem, scientists have been working overtime trying to find a solution and it looks like they may be on to something. Parasitoid wasps native to East Africa and India have been identified and, they enthusiastically prey on the non-native armyworm eggs. Here is a great article that will tell you more on this. Suffice to say, these wasps provide a speck a hope in a tragic situation. 

A small Fall Armyworm making its way up a leaf.
Fall Armyworms are not just resistant to pesticides and drought, they are efficient and relentless. In fact, they got their name from how they march across fields laying waste to everything in their path, just like an army does. They can devastate a golf course in 48 hours and can wipe out a forage crop in hours. According to this article from Texas A&M, the Fall Armyworm moths can lay up to 2,000 eggs which will hatch out hungry caterpillars in two to three days. Their reproductive cycle is fast enough for at least four to five generations to appear in just one growing season. 

Fall Armyworm moth
Although Fall Armyworms are a formidable foe for growers everywhere, there are some steps that can be taken to gain a measure of control. However, if you have an infestation that is well entrenched already, you may have to scrap the lawn or garden for this season and start over next year. Otherwise, your  best bet for control will always be a multi-pronged approach. The following are some examples of things to use that can get you the help you need. Our Fall Armyworm page has many more suggestions.

Traps and Lures: 

It’s always best to stop an infestation before it starts. With this Scentry Lure, the moths will come right to you and you can monitor how many there are flying about before they turn into ravenous worms (you’ll use it with a Scentry Wing Trap). This will help you plan your next stage of defense. Plus, whatever moths you catch will not be reproducing.

BONIDE® Thuricide

Bacillus thuringiensis:
These beneficial bacteria have proven to be extremely effective against Fall Armyworms, with two caveats: They need to be ingested by the larvae and they work best on newly hatched larvae. We have several species within our inventory for you to choose from. One of our most popular and cost effective products is BONIDE® Thuricide, which is powered by Bacilklus thuringiensis v. kurstaki (Btk).


PFR-97™ 20% WDG
While Fall Armyworms have displayed resistance to conventional insecticides, this is not generally a concern if you use products whose active ingredients are naturally occurring or botanical. These types of products have modes of actions (suffocation, anti-feeding, etc.) that insects cannot develop resistance to. You may want to try Debug® Optimo, Debug® ON or Debug® Trés, all of which use azadirachtin derived from neem seeds. Or there is Entrust™ SC Naturalyte® Insect Control, whose active ingredient is the soil bacterium spinosad. And then there is  PFR-97™ 20% WDG which utilizes the entomopathogenic fungus Isaria fumosorosea Apopka Strain 97. All of these are excellent choices.

Cartoon worms on the march

Fall Armyworms will continue to be a problem until we as  a species can get a handle on climate change. In the meantime, with a little foresight you can reduce the effects these pests can have on your growing things. 

Take Care.

Submitted by Pam.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

What’s This Bug? The Jerusalem Cricket.

A fine example of a Jerusalem Cricket
This intimidating-looking insect is the Jerusalem Cricket (Stenopelmatus spp), and it is in no way as fearsome as it looks. They are native to North and Central America and it is estimated that there are more than 100 species, with 60-80 just in California. They are often found in sandbars and under rocks and logs, but with such a widespread distribution throughout so many different ecosystems, they can be hiding most anywhere. As common as the Jerusalem Cricket is, it’s still unfamiliar to a lot of people. This is mainly because they live most of their lives out of sight underground and are solitary creatures who do not live in large communities. If you run into one, it will most likely be at night, when they venture out looking for food, a mate, or a new place to bed down. If you see one during the day, it has most likely gotten trapped somehow and has been unable to return to its out-of-sight lair. 

A hand reaching for a Jerusalem Cricket on someone's arm.
Jerusalem Crickets are in no way a threat to people, they’re non-venomous and usually docile. Those big, scary-looking mandibles protruding in front of them are for chewing through dirt and roots, not for biting people. However, if they feel threatened they can emit a foul smell and are capable of doling out a nice little bite. Such a bite is usually a response to being carelessly or overly handled. They are much more likely to play dead than bite when caught.

If you are still not too sure about these guys, consider the fact that they’re beneficial insects. They are omnivorous and feed on decaying organic matter in the soil, other insects and some tubers and roots. Since they are slow moving and cannot fly, Jerusalem Crickets are not out there aggressively hunting other insects as a predator would, they are instead scavenging dead or injured insects that they come across as they hop-walk around. This keeps the area they’re in above the surface tidy. And as they munch and move around underground, it keeps the soil healthy and aerated. All in all, they are beneficial to the environment and should be viewed as helpers, not as something to be stomped out – no matter how frightening they look. 

A closeup of a Jerusalem Cricket face. Does it look like a baby's face to you?
This creature wins my award for the insect with most names. Just some of the names are Potato Bug, Child of the Earth (Niño de la Tierra”), Devil’s Baby, Earth Baby, Qalatötö (“Shiny Bug” in Hopi), Ćićin lici (“Red Skull” in Navajo), Skull Insect, Sand Cricket and Stone Cricket. A great many people seem to think their heads look like human babies or old men and some of the names have evolved from that, but I personally can’t see that and think it’s a little creepy. Additionally, how it came to be commonly known as the Jerusalem Cricket has spawned as many theories as there are names for this insect. This article gives one short version. 

A Jerusalem Cricket in the dirt.
Jerusalem Crickets don’t make the familiar chirping sound that we all know; but they do make noise with their hind legs. When disturbed they will rub them together and emit a sound that is more of a hiss than a chirp. A far more impressive noise that they create is the drumming sounds they use as mating calls. These sounds are quite loud and are the result of them drumming their abdomens against the ground. This drumming can not only audibly draw in a mate, can also be felt as vibrations in the ground. Unlike many other creatures, where the male tries to impress the female, both genders of Jerusalem Crickets send out these signals.  As they each zero in on the other’s signal, the male and female begin a duet that allows them to find each other in their usually solitary and dark world. Each species of Jerusalem Cricket has a distinct drum sound that it uses, which assures that they find the proper mate. Jerusalem Cricket species are hard to distinguish by simple visual assessments, so scientists have been using these unique drumming sounds to differentiate between species and identify new ones. With this technique, the number of species identified  has been growing steadily. Check out this video to see and hear their drumming. 
A Jerusalem Cricket head morphing into a baby.

If you run across one of these interesting insects, be gentle with it and send it on its way peacefully.

Take Care.                                                        

Submitted by Pam


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