Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Hive Mind Arrives

Awwww...don't these Colorado potato beetle nymphs look cozy?  No.  They look dangerous to me, so let the handpicking begin.

Looking a bit creepier now.  

These potato plants are in a  garden plot about a 1/4 acre away from me. Normally, I'd rather not get interventionist on these bad boys, but here's an example of the biotic potential if not interrupted.  (If I squint, that bug on the upper right resembles Michelle Bachman)  Today, after more handpicking, the potato patch was-selectively-dusted with diatomaceous earth.  The eggplants were redusted...some progress against the flea beetles and within the week, they should outgrow the damage.  There is a model of predator/prey relationships that generalizes to a triangle graph with predators at the top-about 10% of total population of an area-and then all the prey below that-90% of the population, ie LOTS of food and a few diners. (Picture a pride of lions following a bazillion wildebeests)  The diatomaceous earth is effective but non discriminating, so by using it, I have to accept the idea that I've also killed some predators and over the long term, that's a bad idea.  During this garden season, my potato patch won't become like the one above, but I've twiddled up the predator prey balance.  I don't have a good answer to that dilemma.  Here's another one-worse- beginning:

Here's the squash vine borer moth.  This is a terrible picture.  Here's a better one.  You notice a flash of red orange amongst the zucchini/melons/pumpkins and think...oh! a butterfly!  Definitely not, and this bad bug has a fabulous survival strategy.   The larvae tunnels into the stem of the plant where literally no predator can reach it.  The tunneling doesn't usually kill the plant, and all the organic control methods will tell you bury other pieces of the vine so that the plant has many rooted extensions to depend on.  (That's a good idea for other reasons also...water, nutrient access etc plus, you'll feel better too)  Sadly, it doesn't work as borer protection.  A few weeks after the squash vine borer appears, your cucurbit patch will look like this:

The pumpkin patch looks like it needs water, but nope, this is bacterial wilt spread by the squash vine borer larva, and no amount of watering will perk it up.  Dead.  The vines were well rooted in dozens of places, but it didn't matter.  Bacterial wilt killed the plant, and the groundhogs got the pumpkins.  You might also read that the moth lays her eggs at the base of the plant.  But if you catch her in the act, notice that the eggs can be anywhere:

See the egg...the little gold colored dot near the center of the photo?  The moth will return often-for about 10 days- and lay an egg in several locations.  I dusted this plant with D.E. which may kill the larva if the timing's right and does discourage the female from landing.   Back when the Victory Garden was an actual educational program and not a commercial for its sponsors, we were shown how to run a wire into the larva's entry hole in hopes of skewering the monster.  This often worked to kill the larva, but the bacterial wilt would already have spread throughout the circulatory system.  I've heard of a new method to try this season.....use a hypodermic needle to fill the larva tunnel with neem oil.  Best organic control:  have a second set of plants ready to replace the buggy zucchini.  (That doesn't work when what you want are pumpkins or melons-their growing season is too long.)  
Ok!  Cue the next bad boy!

The striped cucumber beetle which attacks everything-the name is nonsense.  The bad guy can be spotted also, and they kill plants by sheer numbers, skeletonizing leaves, flowers (which prevents fruit set) and the fruit itself...add in the bacterial wilt as well.  They winter over and migrate too, flying at night; there is some evidence that bats do reduce the their numbers.  This is my neighbor's sunflower, so I couldn't dust this plant without her permission.  But this fellow is looking across the canal at my young cucumber plants, so we'll have to develop a plan.
Is there any good news in the garden this week?  The Cherokee Trail of Tears beans are up; the deer hasn't been back.

I harvested the last of the spring planted red mustard, thinned cippolini onions, cut parsley and dill for drying.  We've had nearly three inches of rain in a week; many canals are full of water.
I love to look at this fellow's garden...never quite sure what he's up to, and he doesn't speak enough English to explain the plan.

One advantage in community gardening is that I get some goodies without the work as in these wonderful annual poppies in the garden next door.  I'm going to beg some seed from this gardener.

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