Dear Aphids: POD Hates You

plants on deck aphids and waspsAs one of the only vegetable gardens in Pennsport, POD provides quite the haven for local pests. Each year POD struggles, and ultimately fails, to keep these suckers in check.

This year POD pulled out the stops with mulch, preventative organic sprays, squishing, leaf-soaking, and ultimately, chemical sprays. Can’t you tell? That is one messed up melon. One of these days, when this gardener has a garden that extends beyond pots, we’ll set some ladybugs free. (In the meantime, we’ll settle for not killing them.)

But for those gardeners just starting out, here’s an encyclopedia of aphid control options:

This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record, Part III

It’s Just a Habit: part three in a series of notes for POD 2011

Oh, POD knows what it’s like to hate. Loopers, cucumber beetles, aphids, whiteflies, stinkbugs — oh yeah, to the kill.

Loopers: bacillus thuringiensis
Whiteflies: yellow sticky traps and lots of yellow marigolds
Aphids: Recycled aluminum foil mulch and maybe diatomaceous earth
Brown Marmorated Stinkbugs: Vigilance — these nasties have no local predator or proven killer.

Aphids Suck

Aphid Damage
Boothby Blonde, RIP

A few weeks ago, POD’s minder was busy trying not to contract skin cancer on the shores of Delaware’s beaches. A few hours north of those repeated SPF 50 applications, POD’s cucurbits were busy acquiring an impressive collection of aphids.

While the diluted soapy solution and aggressive pruning killed off hundreds of the little you-know-whaters, it was too late. The damage had been done. It doesn’t help that these suckers can produce live offspring without mating.

Aphid Mummies, Dead Boothby Cucumber
Aphids 1, Boothy Blonde 0

When aphids take over, their little needle noses suck the life juice right outta’ a plant. When they’re really well-fed, which these were, they produce honeydew, a sweet secretion that ants love. Fun, fun. Here’s hoping that the three ladybugs that have taken up house on the lemon cucumber eat well.

May POD’s Boothby Blonde and Minnesota Midget rest in peace. They’ve been yanked. Fortunately, the Boothby had produced vigorously and three Midgets were rescued before meeting their maker met its end.

Bug Week!

LadybugAfter spending so much time on nasty, awful, horrible, stinky, invasive, crop-killing pests, it’s time to give a shout-out to all the good bugs out there. Please welcome Ms. Lady. ladybug

This little lady beetle was enjoying the lush green basil (which happens to be pest free) so she was moved over to the aphid-infested boothby blonde cucumber to work her aphid-eating magic.

Where There’s Smoke

Aphids and AntsThere’s sure to be a fire.

In this case, long trails of ants paint a smoky trail to the real hot menace: aphids.

By themselves, ants don’t pose all that much of a threat. Sadly, this rarely means one can rest easy. Nature, the wonderful beast that she is, always has a plan. You see, ants like to feed on the sweet stuff (honeydew) that aphids excrete — which means the army ants protect the aphids from natural predators. Which means lots of aphids.

Lots of aphids means that great quantities of sap is slurped from leaves, leaving them curled, dessicated, and unhappy. As if that isn’t enough, aphids may also contribute to the spread of cucumber mosaic virus.

Ants and Aphids
Hi, I'm an aphid. Click on my picture. It's worth it to see my antennae and cornicles.

So, yeah, it’s important to get rid of the sap suckers.

The best method for removing aphids (supposedly) involves spraying the leaves with a steady stream of water to wash the aphids and honeydew from the leaves. Unfortunately, the little blue deck isn’t reachable by hose. Ladybugs love to eat aphids, but you could count the ladybugs this urban garden sees on your fingers.

So what’s a container gardener to do? These buggers, which may produce up to twelve off-spring per day, are tenacious. So, try fighting fire with fire.

POD’s Pest Potion:

  1. Combine 1 c. stems, seeds, leaves, flowers of thyme, lavender, and yarrow (handily, all are grown on or around POD) with
  2. A couple of tbs of coffee grounds
  3. Allow the herbs and coffee to steep for 24-hours
  4. Strain the solution, discarding or composting the herbs
  5. Add 1/4 c. milk to the solution and 1 tbs. natural dishwashing solution, castile soap, or Neem oil
  6. Pour the potion into a spray bottle
  7. Shake
  8. Spray the infected plants thoroughly, making sure you hit the undersides of the leaves

Next year, try planting chives, basil, mint, or marigolds alongside the cucubmers and melons to discourage infestation in the first place.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Spring is here. The sun is shining. It’s 55 degrees outside.

Radishes and peppercress have been planted…and the bugs have emerged.

The thyme that had nearly made it through its indoor winter has been ravaged by aphids. A trip to the basement revealed the lone bag of organic soil crawling with what appear to be fungus gnats.  The thyme has been rinsed and then doused with soapy water. Fingers have been crossed.

Unable to toss away an entire bag of soil, it’s time to give sterilizing a shot. Because it’s very, very rarely used, the microwave lives conveniently in the basement, just above the infested soil. Perfect. A quick visit to the interweb reveled that the trick is to heat the soil to 150-190 degrees (anything over 200 degrees causes toxicity in the soil).

Armed with a kitchen scale, one quart measuring cup, and an instant read thermometer (don’t tell the husband/cook),  POD discovered that 1:30 to 1:45 in the ancient, tiny microwave heated a one-pound bag of soil to the desired creepy-crawly killing temperature.

Here’s the question, though: should the seeds that were just started be ditched and re-seeded in sterilized soil?