LEAP INTO SUMMER                             May 21, 2005

After a record month of spring rain, some of my roses are healthy, others have splotchy blackspot on them.  I'll fire up the sprayer and spray milk (1/3 milk, 2/3 water) on the blackspot-infected roses.  That milk spray is also said to be effective on powdery mildew which may pop up too unless conditions dry out very fast.

June 1, 2005

Sometimes the weather plays tricks on growing shallots and instead of producing bulbs, they try to produce seeds. That's happening in the Treasure Valley this year.

When you see flower stalks on shallot plants, use one hand to hold the bulb in place, and pull out the flower stalk.  The shallot will get the message, and turn to producing bulbs.

Flower stalks in onions grow in the center of the bulbs. When they start growing, the tissue between rings of the bulb becomes soft and enlarged, effectively ruining the onion bulb.  Shallot flower stalks do not come from the bulb, however. They're produced beside the main bulb. 

We're certainly enjoying the "free water," but I expect we'll be nostalgic for rains in late July or early August. 


PLANT YOUR GARDEN -- NOW!            May 15, 2005

I have been busy planting my garden, and that's what you should be doing too.  I have some unusual problems in my garden that I doubt  others have: Russian knapweed and far too many millipedes.

I've fought the Russian knapweed for 32 years by pulling. When the then Ada County Extension agent identified it, it was so unusual he knew about the patch in my area. He told me no spray would kill it, so I'd just have to keep pulling it. I beat it back, but elimination was not even on the horizon.

Quackgrass has proliferated around the edges of my back yard, intruding into raised beds and interfering with flower and vegetable growth.  There's little you can do about quackgrass except spray with Roundup.  I don't like to spray that substance, but it has become necessary.  I accidentally discovered the new formulation that's effective even though it rains 30 minutes later is effective on Russian knapweed.  Hurray! 

Another thing I've heard is effective on quackgrass is a heavy mulch of walnut leaves.  I do not have those, and the quackgrass is so widespread it would take several trees' worth to have any real effect. 

As far as millipedes go, they're considered beneficial because they start the process of breaking down organic matter in soil.  That is useful indeed, if they're present in ordinary numbers.  But when they're so numerous they consume planted seeds before they can germinate, they're no longer beneficial. 

I'm going to be planting seeds for food crops in the beds loaded with millipedes, so I need to control them without poisons.  Diatomaceous earth is tempting, but its main effect of piercing insect bodies is lost when it gets wet, and of course I have to dampen seeds for germination.  I think what I'll do is bait and trap millipedes for several days before I plant seeds.  That is, I'll put cut pieces of old banana on or barely into the soil of the beds for a few days and see if that will trap hungry millipedes. If we don't promptly pick up pawpaws, they're invaded by millipedes upon millipedes. If this works, I could then discard pieces with millipedes. 

I've just finished planting my tomatoes in the garden, and found myself in the midst of cruising wasps and hoverflies looking for food.  I had started tomatoes in my greenhouse, but oddly had little problem with aphids or whiteflies this year except on chocolate habanero plants.  Wasps are going to have to wiggle into crinkled folds to get at the aphids there.  I don't think the hover flies will do that though.

The wonderful hoverflies look like very small bees, their wings beating a mile a minute so they can stay in one place in the air.  As adults they feed on nectar and pollen, and in so doing also pollenate blossoms, but their larvae are important as aphid consumers.  The larvae also dine on tiny caterpillars and perhaps thrips.  Hover flies are also known as syrphid flies. 

Their larvae are cream, green or brown, cylindrical and legless, looking like tiny slugs. If they're near an infestation of aphids, definitely leave them alone because they're most probably beneficial.

A friend who lives in the North End gave me some plant starts for a new flower bed, and one came with livestock-to-be: slugs.  I noticed the eggs right away, and smashed them before planting the start.  Slug eggs are round, clear to pearly, and tiny.  They look like tiny shot from shells.  As they whiten near hatch, they look like Osmocote, the slow-release fertilizer.