Bug Off!

I have been having the worst time with pests in the garden lately! Any organic gardener will occasionally have to deal with a pest infestation, but things have been crazy lately. It all started with something as simple and seemingly harmless as a hummingbird feeder, and let to a very frustrating domino effect.

I started out hanging up a pretty blown glass hummingbird feeder on a shepherd’s hook, near some of my roses. We already get tons of hummingbirds and butterflies in our garden because of the flowers I have planted, but I wanted to try to lure them a bit closer to E’s play house so he could see the hummingbirds a bit closer. After filling the feeder up and letting it hang for half a day, I came out later that evening and realized the feeder had an awful design and had slowly leaked the sticky syrup all over my roses. I tried to rinse the syrup off the roses, but it was a pretty impossible task.

Sure enough, by the next day, the area was swarming with wasps, coming in for the easy snack of that sweet syrup that was now all over my roses. We cannot seem to find a wasp nest anywhere on our property, so I have no idea where they were coming from. I used a store-bought wasp trap in the past (when we didn’t realize we had a wasp nest at our old house), and that thing caught zero wasps. I looked online and read that you can use savory lures to trap wasps, such as tuna or meat, which won’t interest honey bees (I definitely don’t want to kill off all of the beneficial, non-violent pollinators that are so essential to a successful garden!). I put together a trap with some tuna and water. You can make a trap by cutting open a plastic bottle, and turning the top inside the bottom like a funnel, taping the two pieces together. A lot of those things that you read on Pinterest are flat-out lies. Tuna DID NOT LURE ANY WASPS! It did however give us a temporary fly infestation and a horrible stench, both of which were really fun to deal with.

Next, I tried another bottle lure with some fermented honey. I read from a more reliable source that you can take one part honey and one part water, mix them and let it sit for 24 hours to create fermented honey. The mixture will attract wasps but honey bees will have no interest in it. That trapped four wasps, but did not really make a dent in the overall numbers.

By now, the stupid syrup on my roses had trapped a bunch of moisture on the rose leaves, bringing on a bad case of white powdery mildew. I always water my roses just at the root base, early in the morning to prevent getting powdery mildew, so it was pretty disappointing. I have started treating the mildew with neem oil (great for so many uses in organic gardening). If you are unfamiliar with neem oil, it is an organic oil made from a tree nut, and is used for pest control and disease treatment. It is available diluted or in the pure, concentrated formula. I use the pure neem oil, dilute it down, and put it in one of those big sprayers that you carry over your shoulder. Never use it undiluted since it will be too harsh for your plants undiluted.

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I started getting frustrated with the lack of results from my wasp trapping experiments, and went on Amazon and ordered a couple of Waspinators (found here). They are designed to look like a wasp nest and scare off wasps since most types of wasps are territorial and won’t hang out where they think another nest is already located. The first few days, I was pretty angry. I didn’t see a bit of difference. The wasps were happily flying all around the Waspinators. However, the past few days, I haven’t seen any wasps suddenly. I am not sure if the neem oil has countered the syrup enough so now the wasps are no longer interested, or if they eventually got scared off by the Waspinators. I am going to be keeping a close eye on things, but I think we may be in the clear! I am very relieved since I am highly allergic to wasp stings! I don’t know for sure that the Waspinators did the trick, but if you have a wasp problem and no nest in sight, it may be worth a try!

Below, this is where the hummingbird feeder originally hung. Now the Waspinator is hanging there.

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Another frustrating discover that I found yesterday morning was an infestation of black aphids on one area of my nasturtium flowers. 😦 I treated them with a heavy spray of neem oil as well. E and I are crazy about these edible flowers, so I may have gone a bit overboard in planting them. They are starting to take over the back garden, and I may need to thin them out a bit anyway. They never got this large where I planted them in our front garden or at our old house! The difference in the micro-climate from our front yard and our back yard is pretty remarkable…the front yard has shade from the pine trees, the ocean breeze, and the backyard has no shade (yet) and gets extra hot from the way the cement retaining walls trap the heat.

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The most frustrating pest experience of the week was with my little tomato seedlings in my greenhouse. I saw a bunch of grasshoppers one day, and the next day, all 30 of my seedlings were completely gone. I have had the greenhouse partially open so it doesn’t get too hot in there. Those things are voracious eaters, especially with veggies! 😦

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Gardening Lessons Learned the Hard Way: White Powdery Mildew

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I had an experience with white powdery mildew on my tomato leaves last winter at our old house, and found an easy solution.  I make a mixture of warm water, and about a tablespoon each of baking soda and olive oil in a spray bottle.  I spray the mixture lightly on the affected leaves, and it very easily gets rid of the mildew.  I recommend spraying the mixture early in the day so it has time to dry out.

You may have noticed that I mentioned that my previous problem occurred on tomatoes in winter, which may have seemed a little strange.  My husband and I both love tomatoes, and I cook a lot of Italian food, which means a year-round supply of tomatoes is very much welcome in our house.  The weather here where we live in Southern California is generally frost-free, so last year I decided to try to grow tomatoes in winter in our greenhouses.  It worked out okay until I closed all of the windows and greenhouse doors to try to keep out a cold storm.  The lack of circulation brought on some white powdery mildew.  We will be trying out a few different methods this winter to try to keep the greenhouse warm, but still keep some air circulation going.

The white powdery mildew pictured above is actually a recent picture from one of my summer squash plants.  All of my vegetables are growing much larger in our new garden than I have ever had experienced in any of my previous gardens, due to the warmer temperature and more sunlight.  I underestimated how large my plants would grow this year, and did not space them accordingly.

I have been hand watering everything so far since we have been having some irrigation issues around here (full post coming soon).  I always try to set the hose on the soaker setting and water near the base of the plants.  One particular day, my back hurt too bad to bend over to move the hose around (I had a bad fall after I tripped on some of my husband’s construction equipment in the kitchen).  I figured watering the plants from above for one day couldn’t cause too much harm.  The combination of the plants being too crowded and the watering from above brought on some powdery white mildew the very next day.  I had to go through and spray all of my squash and tomato plants, and thin out a lot of their leaves.  They are all doing much better now that they have been sprayed and thinned out a little. 🙂