Category Archives: Pests

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.

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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

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White Flies – Minuscule Bug, Massive Damage

This past season I was plagued by White Flies, a new problem for me, especially in the greenhouse.

The vicious end result of an explosion of white flies is the death of the plant.  The tiny, barely visible pests secrete a sticky substance called honeydew.  This honeydew causes fungus to grow on it and creates a black coating on the affected plant leaves.  This plant is a baby osage orange tree.  (The flies seem to especially like osage orange trees.)  Before you know what is happening, the leaves are covered with a drying, crusty black coating.  Here, I have sprayed water on the leaves and tried to rub some of it off.

black crust from honeydew caused by white flies

I googled around and found that insecticidal soap was the best natural treatment for them.  I used numerous applications of liquid soap – Murphy Wood Oil soap – increasing soap content percentage each try and nothing killed them.  The soap may have killed the flies that it actually landed on, but it obviously did nothing for the eggs and nymphs that were all over the underside of the leaves.  The next day, flies were all over the place again – either the ones I sprayed the day before, or a new hatching.  I also used my old favorite, neem oil, but that didn’t work either.

These are some white flies on the underside of flower leaves.  They are all over on most of the leaves.

white flies under leaves

There are so many flies that they are also on the top of the leaves.  They are tiny white bugs and the other spots are either eggs or nymphs – so tiny I can’t see them clearly.

white flies on top of leaves

The white fly is very tiny, maybe about 1/12 of an inch.  This past fall they were getting so bad all over the yard that they killed my large Cypress Vine planting and were getting all over the remaining garden plants.  Outside of the greenhouse, I didn’t spray the poison because there were other bugs that seemed to keep them in check.  However, inside the greenhouse, they were breeding rapidly and getting all over all of my plants that I was slowly bringing inside for the coming winter.  They even ruined numerous pots of Rosemary, Gum trees and other strong oiled plants.  Over just a few weeks, they contaminated almost every plant so I had to do something drastic.  That was to buy a bottle of Bifen I/T.  I read extensively online about killing white flies in the greenhouse and this seemed the best answer to solve the problem.  Several applications seemed to take care of the problem.  I didn’t want to do it, but I couldn’t let them survive and thrive overwinter in the greenhouse.

As of early February, I haven’t noticed a white fly problem.

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Is This A Squash Vine Borer?

I have seen several of these bugs flying around.  I don’t think that they are squash vine borers – the wings look different from other squash vine borers I have smashed in the past. (I also don’t know what that green think is in the top right corner on that marigold bud.)

is this a squash vine borer, don't think so

I had massive summer squash die off, but I don’t think it was from squash vine borers, but it could have been. I don’t know what to think. Next spring I will have to keep better tract of the stems of my squash. I use BT and inject it into the base of my squash stems with a syringe until it squirts back out. If it leaks out of the stem somewhere along the bottom, then it is probably leaking out of a borer hole.

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Squash Bugs, Yuck

These were the first squash bug eggs of the season, back on May 7.  (Note the little baby pine trees – they are all over).

squash-bug eggs

Almost a month later, they are almost out of control.  It is very hard to look for and hand-squash the disgusting, smelly squash bug.  (I can only bring myself to squash the adult bugs with a pair of leather gloves on).  You can readily see the nymph damage – they suck the green life out of your leaves and you can see the holds and yellowing spots that form, and finally end in sections of the leaf turning brown and disintegrating.
squash bug nymph holes in leaves

These are some squash bug nymphs – soft, gray things with black legs.  If there are a bunch of the underside of a leaf, I will hold one hand over the top of the leaf and rub my hand over the bottom, smashing them all in one nasty swipe.  Icky.
squash bug nymphs

 

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Galls?

I notice weird bumps on the stems of plants, especially wild blackberries.
gall on blackberry stem
Doing a bit of research, they must be galls – tissue damage caused by insects.  I found quite a bit of information Here. It also gave me some enlightenment on odd bumps and such on my oaks and other things I have noticed in my woods.  This is probably the plant’s attempt to replace tissue around insect damage.

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A Final Peek Under The Hoops

Time to take the plastic off.

This pic shows kale on the left side.  My notes read ‘Vates Kale’, but I didn’t note the seed vender.  I like this kale.  A few carrots are in the very front right side.  The empty space after the carrots is where spinach was planted.  Under all 3 of my hoops this past winter, I had a real problem with aphids.  They, of course, never freeze out under the hoops – nothing freezes under the hoop.  A bit further back, with the red stems, are Detroit beets.  I don’t know if they will mature in a month – within a month I will be pulling out everything except some kale and chard so that I can plant my spring crop of squash and peppers.  These cool weather crops had their chance.  If the beets don’t mature their roots, I will at least be able to harvest the greens.

I am really having a problem trying to figure out how to grow under the hoop in Texas.  This past winter started out in October with a rough week or 2 of freezes, then it was very warm for a few months and winter finished with a few weeks of freezing weather.  This lack of consistency causes problems like early  bolting and stunting.  I’m going to have to think this thru for next winter.  I also learned this winter to NOT grow broccoli or cabbage under the hoop.  (The cabbage & broccoli grown outside of the hoops is doing great.) I also can’t grow spinach under the hoop.  I’ll also have to be more vigilant about the aphids.  Also, the cos lettuce didn’t need to be under the hoops – it didn’t do well.  I think that the main reason that I planted all of these things under the hoops was to protect them from rabbits.  Last fall the rabbits ate all of my lettuce and spinach.  This winter they didn’t even touch any of the cabbage or broccoli that was planted in the open.  The only rabbit issue I had was one blue berry plant eaten.

Some of this gorgeous kale is bolting and some isn’t.  While I like this kale, I don’t believe a few plants will be enough to save for seeds.  Also, I just don’t have the room to let this leaf crop sprout it’s seed heads – that takes a lot of space.
under the hoop

This is a close up of the kale and small beets.
under the hoop beets kale lettuce

There is no reason to show pics of the other 2 hoop garden beds – they aren’t this impressive.

Last winter this bed provided me a bountiful crop of chard that I spent weeks dehydrating in the food dryer.  Chard will be one of my main hoop crops next winter.

Again, my hoop garden is 5′ wide & 16′ long.  A 10′ length of gray plastic conduit fits perfectly from one bottom edge to the other, held in place by a 2′ section of 3/8″ rebar cut into 2′ sections with 12″ of each piece pounded into the ground.  I bought a $40 box of thick plastic.  The 100′ roll was cut into four 25′ sections.  The 12′ width fit perfectly over the hoops with a foot on each end resting on the ground, weighted down with old 2×4 pieces of lumber.  The extra 3 to 4′ of plastic on each end was gathered and weighed down with a few bricks or rocks.

I like the idea of the hoop gardens, but I need to rethink this and work it some other way next winter.

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A Rascally Rabbit Is Attacking My Blueberries

Today when I was dumping some coffee grinds around a row of blueberry plants, I saw some rabbit droppings.  Looking around, I found a larger pile next to a blueberry plant that had been gnawed down to it’s main branches – the cut branches were laying around the base of the plant.  I don’t think there will be any fruit on that plant this next season.  (I know the pile of brush and tree scraps that it is living in – I’ll deal with that rabbit later).

I had to put an old roll of garden fence around the row of blueberry plants, secured by 2′ t-posts.

fence around rabbit damaged blueberry plants

Only the main stem of this several year old bush is left.  I’m sure it will survive and come back next spring – although there will not be any berries on this plant next season.
closeup of rabbit damaged blueberry plant

I keep all sorts of extra supplies around and thus had this roll of fence and t-posts left over from the old place.  If you have the room, keep stuff that may be used sometime in the future.

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Squash Bugs – Nymphs and Their Damage

These pics are from a month ago, before the plants died off.  I have since gone on a malathion rampage to wipe out as many squash bugs as possible before they hide for the winter.  I do this every fall.  And it worked – I see very few squash bugs.  In a new post I will show what my replanted squash plants look like now – they are jumbo and beautiful with narry a squash bug.  The very few that I have seen, I can squash with a gloved hand.

Here, I have circled 2 nymphs and a light spot on the leaf where a cluster of them had been sucking the life juice out of the leaf.
squash bug nymphs

Here is a cluster of eggs.  For some reason, most of the egg clusters that I find are on the bottom side of leaves even though most publications say they eggs can be found usually on the top of leaves.  Also in this picture are 2 holes left by a past feeding frenze of nymphs.  They kill sections of the leaf where they feast.
squash bug nymph holes in leaves

This is what their damage looks like from the top of the leaf.
squash bug nymph holes

A whole cluster of nymphs.  They are easier to squash when they are clustered – simply wipe over the lot of them with a finger.   I seem to have lots of  tiny little ants that always clean up the squash bug remains.
nymph squash bugs

During the winter I will still find adult squash bugs hidden around the shed and greenhouse.  Interesting where they find to hide.

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Cutworms? Something Is Loose In The Garden

These are new beds so for some reason I didn’t expect to have a problem with cutworms.  Well, not so.  In at least 2 of my raised beds, I have numerous peppers that have been cut off at the ground.  I have also found a few cucumber seedlings and Chinese Long Red beans that have also been cut off.

cutworm damage on a pepper

The picture shows the cinched stem there at the ground level.  That healthy green stem ends with a constriction and grayish tissue.  I have sprinkled diatomaceous earth around the pepper stems where there are damaged peppers.  Well see if it does any good.  I sprinkled the DE earlier today and it is raining hard tonight.  Fortunately, only a few of my peppers have been damaged – maybe 5%.   A couple of the peppers seem to still be alive, but laying down because their stem has been damaged.  I’ll let them grow as they lay and see if they ever produce.
closeup of cutworm damage

I have started all of these peppers from seeds that I save each year and I don’t like them to be damaged.  I do keep a thick leaf mulch on the soil, but I don’t think that affects the cutworm.  It is going to live in the soil anyway.  The mulch may even make it more difficult to find a plant stem?

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