Army-worms Devastated My Winter Garden

Army worms have been brutal this fall.  I never saw it coming.  The summer garden came and went and I then planted my fall garden.  The first planting grew nice and the seedlings grew to an inch or two, then overnight – yes, overnight, the seedlings were gone.  It took a few days of research and observation to realize it is army worms eating and destroying my garden.

When I realized it was army worms, I knew to watch for them early in the morning and later in the evening because they usually feed at night.  Yes, I was able to see some of them, in different sizes of development.  They usually feed at night and then hide in the plant litter – the oak leaves you can see.  They are supposed to prefer grass, but for some reason our Bermuda grass was left alone and they were in my vegetable garden and some flower vines.

Army worms do most of their damage in the fall.

I have been re-planting my winter garden since September. The army worms have been brutal this fall. They have decimated my Swiss Chard, Kale, Spinach, Lettuce, Carrots and Beets.

These one-leafed chard seedlings are what I saw one morning.  The next morning, only the stems were left.
Chard partially eaten by army worms

This is another of my winter beds.  These kale seedlings grew a few inches tall before the bed was hit with the worms.  The worms eat all of the leaves, leaving the stems, which of course die.  The larger plant in the top right corner is a volunteer curcubit from the compost pile.
more army worm damage on fall crop

By my finger is the chewed off stem of a chard seedling.  The ground area in this picture was covered with chard seedlings, now it is barren ground.  Early in the morning or early in the evening I would occasionally see a few army worms on the ground or even on a seedling.
army worms eating chard seedlings again and again

The two yellow circles mark cut off chard plants.  These worms eat the leaves off of my tiny sprouts.  The plants are so small that even though I spray the plants with Bt, the leaves are so small that the worms appear to eat the plants before the Bt kills them.  After my fourth or fifth re-planting, I used a kitchen screen strainer to sprinkle diatomaceous earth all over the planted area.  This substance lasted for almost a week.  It even survived a few waterings.  Eventually the worms ate all of the sprouts that grew from that planting.

Two of these horrid creatures curled up and resting on an eaten sweet potato leaf.  These two are a little over an inch long.
army worms on sweet potato leaf

More, extensive worm damage on my sweet potatoes.  These were the first widely seen worm destruction – on the sweet potatoes.  Repeated spraying of neem oil and Bt didn’t seem to slow them down.  After my fourth or fifth planting, I used a kitchen screen strainer and shook diatomaceous earth over my plantingarmy worms damage on leaves

This okra leaf, along with most other leaves in my garden, are full of worm holds.  This is during the early phase of the worm damage.
worm holes on okra leaves

I thought I was going to get one final moonflower to bloom, after the initial assault of worms.  No, it was not to be.  The worms dug right in and ate the bloom.  I was hoping for one more pod of moonflower seeds.
worms eat moonflower bud

This moonflower has been destroyed by the worms.  They seem to prefer the flower sprouts.  You can see their droppings all over the leaves.
army worms in moonflower damage

These ugly army worms are in a cypress vine.  The largest are over an inch long and the smallest are less than a half inch long and as thin as a pencil lead.  They are all over.  This cypress vine has dozens of worms all through it, all sizes.

armyworms in cypress vines

These little black, round balls are caterpillar poop.  This area is under a large, 60 foot tall turkey oak tree.  The tree must be full of caterpillars because there is a constant, quiet ‘raining’ of these bug droppings.  The sound is audible as they droop thru the leaves and fall onto the ground.
catepillar poop all over the ground under giant oak tree

This worm decimates pine tree needles.  Clumps of these worms strip the green needles off, but fortunately, many of my damaged seedlings look like they are re-growing their needles on their barren stems.  These worms are redheaded pine sawfly caterpillars (Neodiprion lecontei).

this worm decimates pine tree needles

It has been a terrible fall for my garden.  I don’t know why so many army worms hung around in my garden.  Perhaps it was the mild past winter.  Cooler temperatures and a higher rainfall are favorable to them.  Army worms are named for their m.o., their method of operation.  The larvae occur and travel in large, army-like groups.  When they eat all of the food in an area, they march en mass and at night, to their next feeding area.  They consume about 80% of all of the food they eat in the last two to three days of their 30 day life cycle as a caterpillar.  Army worms are the larvae of a night flying moth. They hibernate or winter in south Texas then fly north in the spring and summer months, millions of them, looking for fields to lay their eggs.

Army worms go thru three stages of life.  In the pupa stage, the full grown army worm tunnels into the soil and transforms into the pupae, an inactive, non-feeding stage.  In seven to ten days, the moth emerges from the pupa.  The full grown army worm moth has a wingspan of about one and a half inches.  The moths are active at night and a single female can deposit 200 eggs.  Development from egg to moth takes about a week during the summer and a bit longer during the cool fall weather.  Development ends with the cool weather in November.  This means that they should be winding down, but they have eaten about 6 plantings of my fall garden!  I should have greens about a foot high, but I am still struggling to get mere seedlings to survive.  So very disappointed.

Blanching & Freezing Overgrown Zucchini

Somehow I carelessly missed about a half dozen overgrown zucchini. Since it is early in the season and the weather is still wet, I hoped that they would not be seedy and that I could freeze them. Yes, that is how it worked out.

I had put black several gallon nursery buckets sideways under the enormous zucchini plants that are spreading over the sides of my raised beds.  These zucchini were hard to tell apart from the black pots in the shadows under the leaves.  By the time I realized they were zucchinis, they were overgrown.  It happened during a week of overcast, wet weather.
overgrown zucchini

Since this is early in the season and these are some of the first zucchinis, I had real hope that they would not be seedy.  Later in the season, especially when the drought sets in, these would have been inedible.  These slices are all ok with very immature, soft seeds.
overgrown zucchini that is not overgrown

Only one zucchini was partially seedy, and then only at the base bulb.

overgrown zucchini

Zucchini are diced up in preparation of blanching and freezing.
diced zucchini ready to be blanched

Since the zucchini dices seemed to want to float, I had a round cooling rack that fit exactly in the dutch oven that I used to blanch the dices.  I put the dices in  boiling water and kept them there for 2 to 3 minutes.  I then scooped them out and put them in icy water to quickly cool them.

Since I can’t make that many ice cubes and a trip into town is out of the question, I used about 10 sandwich zipper bags, filling them full of water and then freezing them.  While I don’t have extra ice cube trays, or places to level them in the freezer, I could stick those water filled zipper baggies all over the freezer.  Before using, I put them on a wood cutting board (so I didn’t crack the poly ones) and used an ice pick to chop up the ice.  Worked wonderfully.

use cooling rack to hold down zucchini during blanching

After taking one load out of the hot water, I brought it to a boil again before dumping the next batch of zucchini in it.  I did about 3 batches.  The result is these 11 bags of blanched zucchini.  Each bag is about a pint.
finished zucchini blanched packed in bags

Really glad I could save these overgrown zucchinis.  I need to monitor the plants better.

Powdery Mildew Strikes Again

We have had a very cooler and wet spring and the powdery mildew is back with a vengeance.

A day before our last good rain, I sprayed all of my crops with a mixture of Garrett Juice (2 tbsp per gallon), neem oil (almost 2 tbsp per gallon), and a tablespoon per gallon of ocean minerals.  After wards, the leaves had a nice rich green shine to them and the powdery mildew could not be seen.  I suspect that it was just hidden under the glossy finish.  After a few more days of very light sprinkles, enough to wash the spray off, I can again see spots of powdery mildew all over.

I had a small pump bottle of copper fungicide, so I sprayed the most affected leaves.  Tomorrow when I go to town I will look for a concentrated bottle of copper and I plan to add that to my spray mixture of Garrett Juice, neem and ocean minerals.

Neem oil can treat fungus, mites and insects, with varying efficacy.

It starts with just a few small spots here and there.

powdery mildew on squash plants

Then it spreads.

powdery mildew on squash closeup

Another squash leaf.  Different varieties of summer squash and zucchini have differing tolerances and immunity to the powdery mildew.   Winter squash and gourds seem to have the strongest resistance, except for spagetti squash.

powdery mildew on squash plants

I cut out the leaves that are totally wiped out by the mildew.  They are light yellow, covered with the white mess and dry and stiff.  The powdery mildew if a parasite fungus that taps into the leaves and feeds off of the squash leaves.

 

My Cotton Is Trying To Produce A 2nd Harvest

I bought some green heirloom cotton seeds from Southern Exposure seeds.  I have been growing a half dozen or so plants for a few years, just collecting the cotton for the time being.

I planted the plants – this year from last year’s seeds – in the spring and the cotton was ready to harvest by late summer.  I decided to just leave the plants in the ground after harvest.  I then noticed that the plants put on new leaves and then new buds.  I let them grow.  By late fall and cold weather, the plants had put out flowers and then the baby bolls developed.  Unfortunately the 2nd wave of buds could not mature before the killings frosts arrived.  I am in zone 8.  If I was a zone or 2 warmer, these plants would have probably produced a harvestable 2nd round.

This plant has a 2nd round bloom on a plant with a harvested cotton shell noted by the hand.

2nd blooming of east texas green heirloom cotton

These re-blooms came in two colors – pinkish/light lavenderish and yellow.

east texas green heirloom cotton pink flower

east texas green cotton with yellow bloom

The catalog said that these plants grow to about 5 feet.  Mine, in a raised bed with less than 12″ of soil on top of red clay ground, and planted about 12″ apart, grew to about 28 or so inches.  The catalog says that they should be planted 18-30″ apart in rows 5 ft. apart.  I don’t have that kind of room, in fact, I don’t have any on-ground growing space because of our red clay soil.  I am running the risk damaging the genetic quality of my seeds by growing them in less than ideal conditions.  I am considering maybe planting one plant at the end of some of my beds, hoping that maybe a plant by itself may have more root room in my tightly packed beds.

Io Moth Caterpillar – ouch

I walked and drove past this Mulberry tree for a week or so, while going up and down my driveway, and noticed massive leaf loss.  I didn’t immediately do anything about it because I figured that it was the usual fall grasshopper destruction.  On my way down to the mailbox by the road, I decided to walk over to the 7 foot, second year Mulberry tree and check it out.  I was very surprised to see about 14 giant, green, prickly caterpillars. These things were about 4″ long. They were covered with rows of bur looking things that turned out to be toxic stingers.

Mulberry tree eaten by io moth caterpillars

The main branch has been stripped of leaves by these moths.

Mulberry main branch stripped by io moths

io moth caterpillars eat leaves to stems

I was not prepared to remove these pests – I did not have my leather gloves my pocket so I tried to flick one off with my finger. Ouch. I only knocked the critter half way off but received a very severe sting. I had to find a stick to finish knocking off the other caterpillars.

This is an io moth caterpillar:
io moth caterpillar
This is an io moth:
io moth

I had expected fire ants to be the first predators to arrive on these dead caterpillars, but it yellow jackets were there first.

yellow jacket on dead io moth caterpillar

Three yellow jackets on green bug juice from the caterpillar.

yellow jackets on dead io moth caterpillars

Doing some research to find out what these giant stinging caterpillars are, I found that there are public health warnings out about them. My sting could have resulted in a serious allergic reaction. The burs are hollow, poisonous hairs that are connected to underlying poison glands. The resulting allergic reaction could last a day or 2, with possible nausea for the first few hours.

The “Automeris io” moth caterpillar has long rows of tubercles armed with green and black spines. This thing is classified as a “Urticating” caterpillar. They have urticating hairs or bristles, meaning ‘irritating hair’. They are a defense mechanism, like a nettle plant’s hairs. The immature stages of several species of moths in states east of the Rocky Mountains are venomous to humans because of their external poisonous spines and hairs.

While looking at the tree to find all of the caterpillars, I found a round, clay, vase like structure with a hole in it. I have seen these on other plants around the yard. They are obviously some sort of bug home.

round clay like structure made by bugs

Webbing with caterpillar poop.

closeup of clay like structure in tree made by bugs

Burgess.com Continues To Fail The Customer

As noted in several previous posts, I made a $100+ purchase from eburgess.com, Burgess’s website. The plants all arrived very late in the season and thus were in bad shape and almost all died. I contacted Burgess and told them of the problem. They sent me replacement plants, but as noted in previous plants, these plants were the left overs in the fall greenhouse. I specifically told them to wait until next spring to send my replacement plants and no substitutions of plants. What did they do, they sent another batch of poor quality plants that fall. The ones that weren’t dead soon died. They also substituted some plants. I have the plant labels to show the plants I received that weren’t on the invoice. The representative I talked to on the phone told me there were no substitutions noted on my order – I told her some plants were substituted and I have the un-ordered plant labels to prove it. She was literally arguing with me! Bad customer service. I really wanted those chestnut trees – that’s why I purchased them!

Since Burgess sent dead and dying plants to replace the first order of dead and dying plants, I had to contact them again.

burgess does NOT stand by their plants - shop elsewhere

I used their website customer contact form. I did receive a reply a few days later telling me to mail my shipping label to them. I did mail the label back and again contacted them by email. I was told that I would receive a reply about the label within 2 weeks. I have NEVER heard back and have contacted them numerous times.

Yesterday I received another Burgess catalog in the mail. I immediately threw it in the trash.

AVOID BURGESS. AVOID BURGESS! If they send you dead and dying plants, they will NOT replace them. They sent me dead and dying plants and then replaced them with dead and dying plants.  They took me for over $100.

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Squash Issues – Yellowing Leaves on Some Plants

In one of my raised beds, I have some squash plants – both summer yellow and zucchini – that are turning yellow.   In the neighboring bed some of the late planted squash appears to be stunted.  This is affecting the older leaves first.  The edges turn yellow and the leaf surface is splotched with yellow areas.  (This year I am growing some of my summer squash – both yellow and zucchini – in tomato cages to see if I can get a better control over the plants that would otherwise sprawl all over.)

The little squash plant to the front left of this caged plant appears to be stunted.  The plant to the back, right of the center caged plant is OK.  The problem plants are intermixed with plants that are just fine and looking good.  This is a pointer to mosaic virus as opposed to a nutrient deficiency.  I have a hard time thinking that a nutrient deficiency would only affect intermittent plants when the soil was turned over and mixed before planting.
summer squash leaves are yellowing

And a closeup:  The younger leaves are OK so far.
summer squash leaves are yellowing

After spending hours searching for an answer, the 2 most promising answers are either a nutrient deficiency or a mosaic virus.

Below is a broader view.  Some of the plants are affected while others aren’t.  To add more confusion, I only made note of the varieties that I originally planted, not the subsequent 3 re-seedings that I had to do because of poor germination.  (I don’t know why the seeds did not germinate well, the original planting was 2 year old professional seed that has been stored in the refrigerator.)  The 2 original varieties were Superpik yellow and Obsidian zucchini, both on the Cucumber Mosaic Virus Resistant list at Cornell’s Squash resistance lists.

What is affecting my squash does not look exactly like any mosaic virus images I found, neither does it look exactly like Zinc deficiency, although it does look a wee bit more like the zinc deficient images.  It could also be magnesium or manganese deficiency.

So what to do?  I am not ready to pull the plants because I don’t know for sure if it is a mosaic virus.  I am going to water the squash with a handful of Epsom salt in the water.  Maybe I can crush a few zinc vitamin pills and add it to the magnesium sulfate mix.
summer squash leaves are yellowing

Oh what to do?  I have squished a few squash bugs and scraped numerous batches of eggs off of the leaves.  My research has revealed that aphids and cucumber beetles are the culprits that transmit mosaic viruses, not squash bugs, although squash bugs are blamed for transmission of some plant diseases.  No clear answer.

Propagating Rosemary

I like my large 2 1/2′ to 3′ rosemary plants in large clay pots on the patio.  I purchased my last few rosemary plants from the produce section of a grocery store at $2.99 or so each.  This is too expensive to keep doing, so I decided to try to grow my own rosemary plants from cuttings because I realized this is how nursery rosemary plats are grown – from cuttings not from seeds.   I do have a packet of rosemary seeds and intend to sprout them at some point in the future.

I took several 3-4″ cuttings from the ends of woody branches.  I cut the stem at an angle, dipped the cut end in rooting hormone and put them in water.  In less than a week roots were growing on the cut ends.  I then planted the rooted cuttings in potting soil.

The cuttings in water.
rosemary cuttings in water

Within a week or so, the cuttings have grown roots.

roots on rosemary cuttings

The rooted rosemary cuttings in potting soil.
rooted rosemary cuttings

That was fun.  Looking for something else to try to propagate.  Looking forward to see how fast these cuttings grow.

Burgess Seed & Plant Co Disappoints Me, Continued

In a previous post I have described how terrible my experience with Burgess Seed & Plant Co has been.

As I noted, I told them on the phone to NOT send the replacement plants in the Fall because I didn’t want left over junk that sat in the greenhouse all summer AND the plants would not survive out long summer.  That is exactly what happened, they send the replacement plants in the Fall.  The plants were already dormant and re-bloomed in the Fall only to die when the cold weather got here.

burgess plant company dead plants

This is a closeup of dead boysenberries.  The yellow circle marks the rotted stem at soil level.  This is a clear indication that the Burgess plant is dead.

Some of Burgess’ plants sprouted out after arrival in our hot fall weather, some never leafed out – neither in the fall nor the next spring.

more dead burgess plants

As previously posted, this is my Burgess replacement shipment.  I later found out that the 3 raspberries, the big bunch of dried out bare roots in the front center, must always keep their roots moist.  Huh?  Burgess threw them bare rooted in the bag with nothing to keep them moist.  Those 3 green trees are dying Colorado Blue Spruce.  They were browning and dropping needles when they arrived.  Look at all those dried, bare roots.  They didn’t make it.

burgess vs gurneys shipping practices

For a comparison, all of my Gurneys plants were individually, carefully and very nicely wrapped.  I was impressed.  All most all of their plants survived.

burgess vs gurneys plant web sites

This is my Burgess replacement plant mailing label.  Of all these plants, only 1 pecan tree and the Tophat blueberry survived!  I noted no substitutions, but they substituted the dead chestnut trees with some kind of ornamental cherry, both of which also died after they bloomed out in the fall.

Burgess turned out to be a $100 money pit for me.  A $100 of plants delivered too late, were of poor quality and died.  The one-time guarantee replacement was sent, against my request, in the fall and re-sprouted thinking my hot fall was spring – since they were dormant when arrived.  My experience with Burgess was a total disaster.

mail label for dead on arrival burgess plant order

Next Spring, my purchased plants will be from Gurneys.

I Always Thought Strawberries Were Hard To Grow, I Was Wrong

Last year I bought a dozen Ozark ever-bearing strawberry plants from Gurneys.  They put out babies and I now have strawberries all over, even growing in the dirt around the door to my greenhouse where I had some of these pots sitting when trying to find a place for them.

My original plants didn’t produce well the first year, but this second year they are turning out the berries.  Strawberry plants should live for about 5 to 6 years, but start to decline after about 3 years.  My plants are ever bearing, so after a summer break, I can expect another crop in the fall.

I planted most of the strawberry plants in 10″ hanging pots, but set the pots in this bed for a while.  The plants sent out runners and the ones that rooted over-ran this bed.  I wish that I had mulched it better – I need to add something, maybe chopped leaves to keep the berries off of the ground.

strawberry bed

I am surprised how strong and hardy these plants are.  We have mild winters in east Texas, having had only a few nights of mid to upper 20 degree weather and only a few 30 degree days.  These plants handled it just fine.  The crown is constantly putting out new leaves.

The easiest way to grow strawberries is in hanging pots.  The fruit cleanly hangs from the sides and does not rot on the ground.  Easy to harvest also.  A 10″ pot is sufficient for one strawberry plant.

strawberries hand from hanging pot

My problem now is to weld up some rebar into hanging pot stands, enough to handle about 3 dozen hanging pots.

Don’t allow too many runners to grow from the plants – most sources seem to say that 3 runners are sufficient, although no one discusses how many plants to allow per runner.  The runners produce at least 3 to 4 plants each.  The runners take plant energy from fruit production, but I want some runners so that I can have more plants.

When you plant a strawberry plant, be aware that the crown is the heart of the plant – the crown should be half buried in the dirt.  If you totally bury the crown, it could rot.  They like full sun and slightly acidic soil – pH of 5.5 to 6.8.

I temporarily have about 2 dozen handing baskets on several bent cattle panels – this one is on the panel that I grow my yard long green beans and Chinese long red beans, so I will have to move them in a month or so.  I am just going to let the strawberry plants in the bed stay there.  Wood sorrel has been sprouting all over my place – it is the lighter green leaves in the front end of this bed.  Going to pull it and get the beans planted.

strawberry bed under beans

Strawberries are a delightful plant to grow in your garden.