Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Summer Garden Pests: Cabbage Worms, Corn Earworms, & Squash Bugs

Cabbage worm damage

Warm summer days mean you need to be on the look out for summer garden pest. People seem to approach pest control with two attitudes:  the chemical warfare approach or the homemade remedy approach.  What is lacking in both of these approaches is an understanding of insects life cycles and insect feeding habits and how the approach kills insects and how the pesticide is intended to manage your problem

. You have to know your enemy to be successful. Different sprays whether synthetic, organic, or homemade are effective at certain stages of the insect's life cycle and their mode of killing matters.  Does it have to be ingested or does the insect have to have physical contact with the pesticide?  Also important to consider is does it leave toxic residue?  And finally is it a broad spectrum spray killing beneficial and predatory insects as well as the pest or is it safe for beneficial insects?  Some homemade remedies kill pollinators, lady beetles, and predatory insects as well as the pest.

While I don't agree with with chemical warfare especially for the backyard and small scale grower I also do not think a homemade remedy will be any more effective you don't understand the feeding methods, killing mode, and the stage at which each is most effective.  With the increase in organic food there has been an increase in the development of organic pest management methods.  Armed with only a couple of controls and a little knowledge you can literally take care of most pests in your garden. Organic gardening is science based.  We work with the knowledge we have of plant biology to manage both pests and disease.

Planting at the right time is an important IPM strategy.  Brussel sprouts do best and have fewer pest issues if planted as a fall crop.

Integrated Pest Management or IPM is the currant term used to manage pests.  Basically it is a fancy way of saying that you will prevent and control pests by various methods.  Overall it means you are practicing good gardening habits, monitoring for pests, and only treating when necessary. Sprays whether organic or synthetic are a last resort in most cases.

Organic IPM's involve first and most importantly building a healthy soil including both good soil structure and a healthy soil food web.  This is done by incorporating organic matter into the soil. Organic matter provides the food for healthy microbes.The microbes in turn create a bio slime that binds soil particles together allowing for oxygen and water to penetrate and root paths to develop. 

Organic fertilizers such as bone meal and blood meal actually feed the microbe population and in turn plants excrete exudates that attract just the right microbes to the root zone.  These microbes become the fertilizer for your plant.  Bacteria are mini fertilizer bags and fungi are mineral miners that bring nutrients to the root zone of the plant.

Mulching around plants is part of a good IPM plan.

Cultural Methods:  Minimal tilling to maintain soil structure, mulching, good sanitation practices, crop rotation, companion planting, proper plant spacing, planting at the proper times, proper fertilizing, and water.  Many pests we inviting into our garden because of our poor garden habits.  For example water stressed plants are vulnerable to attack by pests.

Biological Methods:  planting nectar producing flowers and herbs among your garden crops provides shelter and food for pollinators and predatory insects such as lace wings, lady beetles, predatory wasps, beetles, and pirate bugs etc. Providing a water source and not using any spray synthetic or organic that kills the good guys.

Releasing beneficial insects and using predatory nematodes is an important biological control.

Planting resistant varieties is also a good practice.

Monitoring for pests:  Spend a little time in the garden each day.  Check the underside of leaves for eggs and larvae.  Look for sucking damage and chewing damage.  Sticky traps are good for monitoring what insects are in your garden.

Strategies for controlling pests:  handpicking pests off, spraying off with water (aphids), crushing eggs, covering with a light weight row cover, trapping, and using soft organic sprays that selectively kill the pests with little or no damage to the "good bug" population are all apart of organic IPM.

So lets look at a few summer garden pests and see how you would implement an IPM.

Cabbage worm on underside of cauliflower.

Cabbage Worms

That pretty little white butterfly you see flitting about your garden early spring is searching for your cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts.  It lays it's eggs on the underside of leaves and the larvae, a little green caterpillar, has a voracious appetite and is responsible for all the holes in your leaves.

There are 3  common caterpillars active right now: the imported cabbageworm, cabbage lopper, and diamondback moth.  

The imported cabbageworm is the larvae of the white butterfly you see so often enjoying your garden.  It is a lime green to dull green caterpillar feeding on the underside of leaves.  

The cabbage lopper adult is a brown moth.  The larvae is a light green with white stripes down it's back.  It moves like an inchworm.

The diamondback moth larvae is a light green caterpillar with two hind prolegs that stick out the back.  This worm only grows 1/2 inch long.

All three green demons chew holes in the leaves of the Brassica family and leave frass (excrement) on your produce.
A healthy cabbage forming a head with no pest damage.

IPM Strategy:

Monitor daily.  Look for holes and check the underside of leaves for the worm.  Hand pick them off which is all you need to do if you have a small garden.  Cover with row covers in early spring to prevent egg laying.  Kaolin Clay (Surround) is what it says, a clay that is sprayed on to deter feeding  Spinosad is a fermented bacteria product that is ideally designed to kill caterpillars.  It is safe for beneficials but until dry can kill bees.  Normally bees are not hovering around cabbage but to be safe spray early morning or evening when bees aren't flying.  Spinosad leaves no toxic residue and can be repeated if needed every 10 days. Neem oil is also effect and safe for all beneficials. It must be ingested to kill an insect.  Neither of these sprays instantly kill they disrupt feeding, molting, and disrupt the nervous system so you see results in a day or two.  

An example of interplanting cauliflower with onions and celery.

Cabbage Aphids

These pesky insects live in colonies and are easy to dentify. They have a white waxy coat.  The female gives birth to many live offspring both winged and wingless.  They are fast growing colonies. They like cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.

Feeding and Damage

Yellowing foilage, stunted growth, and cupping leaves are caused by the aphids feeding.  They suck the juices of the leaves.  

Monitor daily around the cauliflower leaf wrappers for cabbage aphids.

IPM Strategy:

Look for the start of aphid colonies on the youngest, highest, and innermost leaves of plants.  You need to check the flowing parts of broccoli and cauliflower and pull back the wrapper leaves of cabbage.

It is important to plant those crops of the cabbage family in early spring.  Much of your harvesting can be done before aphids appear.  Monitor daily and spray off with a stream of water colonies that start.  If it gets out of control you can spray with Neem oil or pyrethrin.  Insecticidal soap which can be homemade or purchased works on aphids but is photo-toxic if applied in high temperatures. Be cautious in using  insecticide soap.  Test it first.

 Interplanting members of the cabbage family with onions and among other crops seems to also help.

Squash Bugs

Squash bugs are active now laying eggs with nymphs hataching 10-14 days later.  A nymph is juvenille squash bug.  It is a small gray black bug that does not resemble the adult.  Squash bugs overwinter as adults and in June find your plants in the curcurbit family and lay a cluster of copper colored eggs on the underside of leaves between the veins. They continue to mate and lay eggs through September. Eggs and nymphs are easy to manage.  The adults are more difficult to manage.

Feeding and Damage

The nymphs feed on plant juices causing yellow speckling and browning.  The adults feed on the vines damaging the xylem which allows for water transport to the leaves.  This causes wilting of individual leaves or an entire section of the plant.  

IPM Strategy

Monitoring when your plants are young and producing flowers is critical.  Check the underside of leaves between the V of the veins.  Squish egg clusters or cut them out. Insecticides can be used to kill nymphs. Handpick any adults or nymphs daily when inspecting your plants.  I use a combination of sprays when I see adults or nymphs.  In one sprayer I put neem oil, pyrethrin (pyola), and kaolin clay.  The pyrthrin kills on contact and is the only thing that seems to work on the adults.  The neem works on the nymphs and is systemic meaning it is taken up by the leaves.  The kaolin clay is a feeding deterrent.  

After and during bloom spray only in early morning or late evening before pollinators are out.  This can be repeated every 5 days.  You need to keep monitoring for eggs.  Another very successful option is to use ducks.  Once the plants are mature enough ducks love to eat squash bugs.  When picking them off plants I put them in a bucket and feed them to the ducks. 

This might sound labor intensive so if you truly do not have time do not plant squash.  Allowing squash bugs to take over ensures that the following season your problem will be worse. 

You might be thinking why not use a synthetic spray such as Sevin?  The people who use Sevin are the people who most often ask me how to get rid of squash bugs. Sevin is a broad spectrum insecticide that really has no place in the backyard garden. It is not more effective than the methods I suggest and is NOT a one time squash bug killer. There is no way to exterminate all pests that's why it is call a Integrated Pest Management system requiring management on the part of the gardener.

Corn Earworms

The corn earworm (Helicoverpa zea) is one of the most destructive insect pests attacking corn.  The adults are a brownish grey moth that can travel long distances.

Damage usually begins in the corn’s silk, where the moth deposits its eggs. The caterpillars (larvae) follow the silk down to the ear, eating as they go. Extensive damage is often found at the ear’s tips, where the worms devour kernels and leave their excrement. 

The larvae can often destroy the silks before pollination is complete. The result is deformed ears often then susceptible to mold and disease. Worm damage is usually confined to the tip of corn ears and can easily be cut away. 

Each year, massive amounts of pesticides are sprayed on commercial corn fields in attempts to kill larvae. Genetically engineered corn, each kernel producing its own pesticide, was developed with corn earworms in mind. Fortunately corn earworms a relatively easy pest  for the backyard grower to control.

No damage from corn earworms.  This is Jubilee sweet corn.

IPM Stategy

In the fall, tilling will expose the pupae or chickens and ducks can be turned loose to dig for pupae. Corn which requires block or a large planting for complete pollination is one crop I plant in a field in deep wide rows.  I rotate it every year. If I till I do so in early spring.  In the fall the chickens and ducks clean up the remaining pests. 

Im not sure if this is actually beneficial but I have a bug zapper that is near my orchard and corn field.

Begin spraying Spinosad (Captain Jack's Dead Bug Drew) when the silks are developed and spray until they dry every 10 days.  Bt or Neem will also work but I prepfer Spinosad when dealing with caterpillars.

If you have only a small patch of corn, then you can add  vegetable or mineral oil to the ears tips to suffocate feeding larvae.  To make that more effective add a little Neem Oil. This is very labor intensive and not as effective as using Spinosad.

Dried silks mean you no longer can treat for corn earworms.

Knowledge truly empowers the gardener to come out conqueror in battling summer pests.  Don't give up!  Enjoying organic fresh produce you grow yourself is so rewarding and worthwhile. I did not include many pictures of the pests because I don't have very many pictures  Also I wanted to show you that organic methods work very successfully for the backyard grower.  Your garden will feed your family and not your frustrations of summer pests.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Brambles: Growing Blackberries and Raspberries

Nothing is better than a cane ripened blackberry or raspberry.  They are incredibly sweet!  Store bought fruit is picked before it is ripe because is it firmer and handles shipping better. It is sour because it was not allowed to ripen on the cane.  Store bought berries are also expensive. It is definitely worth the investment and effort to grow your own berries.  They are highly nutritious, easy to grow, delicious, and have many options for preserving.

Blackberries and raspberries are brambles. They are made up of a small group of fruit called aggregates that adhere to a receptacle.  One of the differences between blackberries and raspberries is that raspberries pick free of the receptacle and blackberries retain the receptacle when picked.

Blackberries which grow on lateral shoots.

General Guidelines for Brambles

Brambles like full sun and protection from wind.  They need soil with good drainage and lots of organic matter.  Avoid clay and areas where they will have "wet feet" or standing water.

Both raspberries and blackberries will spread and propagate.  Raspberries send up new canes and are vigorous and invasive.  I recommend planting in 2 foot wide boxes or within a cement area.  A two foot wide planting area allows you to pick berries easily. 

 Blackberries while not quit as troublesome to contain as raspberries also send up new canes and will tip propagate also.  Both will also need some kind of trellis.  With erect blackberries, you can get by without a trellis but it is nice to have something to tie the canes to so the berries do not touch the ground.

I also highly recommend purchasing certified virus free plants to start your bramble patch.  Although tempting to get starts from your neighbor, you may be bringing diseased plants into your garden.  I also like bare root starts. Bare roots come to you dormant and with no soil around the roots. Obtain these in early spring. Bare root starts seem to be healthier and more productive than container plants and you also have more options in varieties.  I have had good success with these nurseries:  Raintree, Miller, and Jung.

Establishing a Bramble Patch

Preparing the Site

  • In choosing your site,  do not plant where strawberries, tomatoes, peppers or potatoes have been planted within the last 5 years.
  • Plant in rows no wide than 3 feet.  This allows for easy harvesting, pruning, and watering.
  • Place raspberries 2-3 feet apart.
  • Place blackberries 3-4 feet apart
  • Before planting incorporate organic compost into the soil.  Also add some bone meal and blood meal
  • Build your trellis


  • When you receive bare roots stock, open it up and moisten it.  
  • If you are not ready to plant you must keep the plants cool and moist
  • When you are ready to plant place the roots in a bucket of water and avoid exposing the roots to direct sunlight
  • Plant the crown just below the soil level
  • Bare roots have one short cane called the handle.  This will not leaf out.  New canes come up around the handle.
  • Keep the soil evenly moist and mulch around your berries.

Maintenance of Brambles

  • Keep rows or boxes weeded
  • Prune in early spring
  • After pruning and while dormant, spray with a dormant spray to smoother pest eggs.
  • Apply dry organic fertilizer in early spring
  • Add a layer or 1-2" of organic matter around canes
  • When buds break and at flowering ferilize with fish emulsion and sea kelp.  Fish emulsion is applied in a watering can around roots and kelp is used as a foliar spray


Blackberries are a member of the rose family along with raspberries, strawberries, apples, and peaches.  A very delicious plant family.

Blackberry stems are called canes.  The roots are perennial meaning they live for years.  The canes, however, are biennial meaning they live only two years.  The roots send up new canes every year.  Why is this important to know?  In order to have productive harvests and large berries you need to prune blackberries properly.  To do this you need to understand what is going on with the canes.

The first year canes are called primocanes.  They do not bear fruit the first year.  The job is simply to grow vegetatively which they do quickly and aggressively.  The second year canes are called floracanes.  They are the canes that will flower and bear fruit.  During the fall and winter they will die having completed the cycle, but remember the root also send up new primocanes every year which will provide you with fruit the following year.

 Sound confusing?  Just remember the canes live two years.  They grow the first and bear fruit the second.  If left unpruned they will not be as productive.  We prune to encourage fruiting and tame the growth of the canes.  They can grow 15ft in the first year, but that growth does not encourage more berry production.


Sounds simple until you go outside and look at the mass of canes.  So to review the process.

  • Cut all dead canes to the ground
  • Cut all canes to a height of 5-6 feet and tie to a trellis this stimulates lateral can growth
  • The lateral canes come off the main cane they must be pruned to 18-24 inches or 12 buds
  • All cuts should be made to just above an existing bud.
  • Cut out all weak and diseased canes.
  • Clean out leaf litter from around canes.
  • Sprinkle dry fertilizer around canes
  • Spread a layer of mulch around. 

Maintaining Blackberries

Newly Planted
  • When canes reach 5-6 feet tip off canes.
  • This is usually done in July
  • This encourages lateral shoots which are where fruit will be borne next year.
  • New primo canes will come ups from crown of the plant
 In the Early Spring:
  • Prune to the ground all canes the bore fruit
  • Burn or take the pruned canes to the dump
  • Thine remaining primocanes to about 7 -12 per plant
  • Do not prune out flora canes
  • Prune lateral branches on main canes to 12 buds
  • Tie the pruned canes to your trellis

Blackberries needing pruning.

Pruned blackberries

Types of Blackberries

Erect varieties do not require trellising.  They are very cold hardy.  Good varieties are Arapaho, Apache, and Navajo.  I like these varieties best for my planting zone.  They are easy to maintain and very productive.

Semi-Erect varieties need a trellis and are less cold hardy.  Suggested varieties include Black Satin, Triple Crown and Chester.  I find these are not as hardy or productive in my area.

Trailing varieties are tender and require winter protection.

Harvesting Blackberries

  • The color of the berry will develop before the flavor.  Resist picking early.  It's worth the wait.
  • Immature fruit will be shiny black
  • Mature, sweet fruit will be a dull black
  • The mature fruit separates easily from the plant
  • Pick mature for fresh eating and slightly immature for canning
  • Berries can easily be individually frozen and then placed in ziploc bags.


Raspberries are very cold hardy and aggressive plants.  The roots spread out laterally 3-4 feet in all directions.  Buds are randomly produced along the root from fall the spring.  The canes from these buds will easily reach 6 foot in length.  

Raspberries fruit from the tip and on down the cane.  The last two or three buds below the ground remain vegetative and will produce the primocane the following season

Raspberries are one plant you do not want to neglect.  As I said before they are best planted in raised beds no wider that 2 feet and must be pruned to control.

Types of Raspberries

Summer Bearing
Summer Bearing produce one large crop in late summer or early fall.  They can be further categorized as early bearing, mid season, or late bearing.  The harvest period will last about 4 weeks. Popular varieties include, Canby, Latham, Taylor and Kilearney.  I have Taylor and Kilearney but the everbearing Caroline are by far my favorite.  The taste of summer bearing is very good but production is low and the berries are not as big.

Everbearing raspberries generally have 2 harvests per season;  one in mid-late summer and one in the fall.  Popular varieties include Heritage, Caroline, and Anne.  I highly recommend Caroline.  They are very productive, vigorous, and produce large berries.  The primocanes will sometimes survive for a 3rd year and bear below the tip that bore the previous year.  I prune below that on surviving canes

Raspberries needing pruning.

Pruned Raspberries

A Day on the Farm: Trying To Enjoying Spring

Spring is very fickle it comes then goes....  I wish it would stay!  Tired of the cold and ready to plant.  Some crops don't mind the abrupt weather changes.....a little something sweet, rhubarb, and something healthy, asparagus.  

Despite the less than favorable weather everything is waking up after winter.  So beautiful! I love cleaning up a bed and watching new growth come back. Here's what's happening in my yard in May.

The lawn is greening up and all the landscape trees are leafed out. I got control of dandelions using organic methods.

Irises are starting to bloom.  This one is my favorite.

Perennial ground covers are taking off and doing their job of carpeting the ground.

Hostas have unfolded their leaves and are gorgeous.  Hosts are grown from rhizomes or stolons.  They are a shade loving favorite.

Raspberries have blossoms.

Lamb's ear is coming back strong.  I always have to tame this perennial.  If you let it go to seed it will pop up everywhere.
A garden path that meanders through jostaberries, nanking cherry trees, and elderberries.  Edible landscape plants are worth looking at.

Snow in the summer is filling in around spent daffodils.
This is a jostaberry bush which is a cross between a black currant and gooseberry.  A nice landscape bush with edible berries.

Baptista has gorgeous rich purple blooms which have been used in dyes. This accounts for the common name of Blue False Indigo. The seed pods are interesting too.  Be aware that the seeds  and young shoots which resemble asparagus are toxic. 

Another garden path to enjoy.
Dead nettle with its silver leaves is a  great ground cover. It has violet flowers that grow on short spikes.

Snow in the summer is another nice silver leafed ground cover.  Its grows in dense mounds and is a great choice to help with weed control.
Monarda, Bee Balm, or Bergamot, a name inspired by the sweet smell of the leaves, will provide early summer blooms. It is a member of the mint family and spreads horizontally.  It's flowers are a favorite of bees and hummingbirds.

 A Blue Spruce showing off its new growth.
A view of my backyard.