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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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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.

 

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What Is The Problem With These Broccoli Leaves?

Some of my broccoli seedlings are developing spots on the leaves.  They are mostly a black spot and gray on the bottom of the leaf.  This problem is affecting the bottom most leaves first and sort of working its way up the plant.  This problem is affecting only some of the beds with broccoli planted in and not other beds.

I can’t treat the problem until I can correctly diagnosis it.

broccoli leaf spots

This is the bottom of a broccoli leaf.  The leaf in the top right corner is a basil leaf.  The spots look different – probably another problem.

leaf spots on bottom of broccoli leaves

Looking online, I found 2 possibilities:  Downy Mildew – and alternaria.  Actually, it doesn’t resemble absolutely either issue, aka black leaf spot and gray leaf spot.

Downy Mildew  –  Peronospora parasitica

  • Gray-white sunken leaf spots which are often angular and restricted by the leaf veins
  • Leaf tissue around the spots turns yellow
  • Fuzzy gray growth can be seen on the underside of the leaves
  • Numerous black sunken spots can form on infected heads
  • Disease is common in cool wet weather

Black Leaf Spot/Gray Leaf Spot  –  Alternaria spp.

  • Gray to black round leaf spots with concentric rings
  • Leaf tissue becomes dry, brittle and often falls out, resulting in a ‘shot hole’ appearance
  • Leaf spots often appear first on lower older leaves

Neither of these symptoms absolutely accurately describes the problem, so I don’t know what to think. At this point, I can only hope that the issue stops racing up my broccoli plants. We had several days of wet weather, but are going to be dry for a few weeks – hopefully this will help.

Update- I did a bit of online research and decided to spray the plants in question.  I added 4 tsp of baking soda and 1 ounce of Need oil to a gallon of water (but only used half of it – put the other half gallon in a jug -hopefully it will keep for a week or so in case I need to spray again).   I sprayed the broccoli and cabbage plants with yellowing leaves.  I sprayed mostly the bottom of the leaves, but of course lots of the spray also got on the top of leaves.  I am a bit concerned about spraying baking soda on plants – previous experience has showed me that squash plants do not like this solution on their leaves.  Will update and let you know how this spray worked on the broccoli leaf spots.

Update Update- as of early December, these plants are under a plastic hoop cover.  There is very little trace of yellowing or spotted leaves, but the plants seem stunted.  Other broccoli & cabbages planted outside in the old tomato bed have grown taller than these, as have a few brocs in an adjacent covered bed.  It could be that two treatments killed off what I think was downy mildew, or could be the cold weather – we had to very cold blasts early in November – but for whatever reason, the surviving plants don’t seem to be growing as they should – in fact, they don’t look like they have gotten any bigger in the past month!  Also, this is the same half of the garden where my yellow wax beans that I planted in late summer did not thrive – DowAgriscience’s environmental toxin Aminopyralid revisited??

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