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:

Bitty Broccoli

broccoli
Top: Greensgrow
Below: PODgrown

Maybe it’s time to admit defeat.

Earlier this month we received our first winter CSA share from the good people at Greensgrow. It was gorgeous. And the ensuing lemon chicken with broccoli was delicious.

Speaking of broccoli, the broccoli was especially envy-making…given that POD’s broccoli is in a pretty pathetic state.

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of fateful kale…

Waaay back in August, a shopping spree at that very same urban CSA mecca resulted in a deck full of cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale. Oh, my.

But what the CSA gods provideth, the nursery demons taketh away: just days later the starts proved themselves to be crawling in loopers. Squish, squish. Problem solved.

BUT then, a couple weeks after that, a particularly nasty-looking aphid took over. All new for 2012, people: Cabbage aphids! Which, apparently, tend to be more problematic in fall crops. Good to know. These nefarious boogers were regularly sprayed with heavy doses of a Dr. Bronner’s soapy water solution  but to no avail. Deck decimation.

(SIDE RANT: So, not only did this organic “magic all-one” soap fail to kill off the aphids, but the funky-smelling unscented variety stings toddler eyes, and when the screaming toddler flails the offending suds into a nearby adult’s eyes, it stings theirs, too. Like a lot. And it leave a nasty residue on one’s skin and a milky scum on brand-new jet black vehicles. Both the human and vehicular test subjects required two non-Bronner’s scrubbings to remove all traces of ickiness. Which clearly, POD has time for.)

Defeat admitted.

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.

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.