We have all fought the squash bug and lost the battle. This bug is the most serious enemy of our growing successful squash and pumpkin in the USA. The squash bug is only found from Canada to South America. Both adults and nymphs damage plants by sucking juices out of the leaves. The leaves then lose nutrients and water, become speckled, then yellow, then brown, and finally, the plant totally wilts. The squash bug also injects a toxin that expedites the plant's withering and death.
The squash bug has an ongoing life cycle. The adults we failed to eliminate last season will pass the winter under whatever shelter they can find - leaves, boards, stones, or debris. They will re-emerge as soon as the weather warms up (yes, just about the time those vulnerable baby squash plants are emerging). The adults mate soon after re-emerging and begin laying eggs in groups of a dozen or more. These eggs hatch in 10-14 days, and it only takes these new nymphs 4-6 weeks to reach maturity. So, all stages can be observed simultaneously throughout the season. How in the world do we control these multiplying monsters?
Let's just say that planning for control begins way before you plant the first seed. The very first line of defense includes several Systemic Strategies. Sanitation is a key measure. If adults over-winter under debris, get rid of all those hiding places. Next, plan to plant this year's crop where no squash or pumpkin grew last year; rotate your crops. While the bugs are quite capable of traveling, rotating and planting a little later will delay a bug population build-up. Companion planting is also worth a try, using repellent plants that deter the squash bug. They include catnip, tansy, radishes, nasturtiums, marigolds, bee balm and mint.
The second line of defense is Mechanical and Physical Strategies. The use of tightly secured barriers, such as floating row covers physically exclude the pests and prevent them from reaching the squash plants in large numbers. The covers can stay on until just before the female flowers appear. This is not labor intensive, and starts you out ahead of the war games. Another physical strategy is the use of kaolin clay products. Sprayed on the plants regularly at least every two weeks it forms a light-colored protective coating believed to deter the squash bug. Last season, I gave it a try. I sprayed half of my squash crop (both summer and winter) with kaolin and left the other half unsprayed. The results were measured daily by inspecting all leaves and counting (and removing) the number of squash bugs found in each area. While the method is definitely labor intensive (mixing and spraying every two weeks to cover new growth), I found 2/3 less squash bugs inhabiting the Kaolin covered plants. However, if I hadn't found and removed them by vigilant inspections, how much would they have multiplied?
The third line of defense is the Material Strategy. This includes biologicals and botanicals, such as sabodella, insecticide soaps and neem oil. Success with these is most effective on the nymphs. Once the adult bug emerges, this line of defense is not very effective.
Let me add my own suggestion to what all the experts have suggested: Vigilance. Checking under all the leaves each day will reward you with finding and removing the first line of adults, busily mating. Get rid of these, and their life's production cycle is interrupted,. With all these defense options to be tried, I wish you a great squash growing season!
- Author: Alison Collin
Reading books about pioneer families I noticed that ground cherry pie often played an important role in fall festivities. Priding myself as a "fruitarian" I was surprised that here was a fruit I had never seen or tasted. That had to be rectified!
Ground cherries belong to the genus Physalis and are closely related to Cape gooseberries (Physalis peruviana) and tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa) which they resemble. Many Physalis species are described as ground cherries, but I chose to grow one particular variety — Physalis pubescens var 'Pineapple' — since it was said to have a superior flavor. Two other highly recommended varieties are “Aunt Mollie” and “Goldie” which are said to have good flavor and are a little larger than “Pineapple”.
I sowed the seeds indoors six weeks before the last expected frost and had no trouble germinating or transplanting them. The plants grew slowly at first but more rapidly once soil temperatures had warmed up. At this point the foliage became laced with tiny holes which looked consistent with flea beetle damage. I used some insecticidal soap with little affect before deciding to let them take their chance without any further intervention. The plants quickly developed into a lax, multi-branched, 18-inch high, sprawling shrub with many of the stems running along the ground. Numerous tiny yellow flowers developed into husk covered fruits. None of them approached the promised ½-inch diameter but were more like the size of a large green pea. Toward the end of the season the husks turned brown and the fruits inside became bright yellow/orange before dropping to the ground. Harvesting was accomplished by raking up the fallen fruits.
Unlike tomatillos, the bottom of the fruit does not protrude through the husk, so there is no way of telling if the fruit is ripe until the husk has been removed. Green fruits should not be eaten since they contain a toxic alkaloid. There are numerous very tiny seeds inside the fruit, and occasionally this can give the impression of eating grit! The flavor is hard to describe, but ripe fruits are sweet, pleasant to eat out of hand and add interest to fruit salads, but they really come into their own for making preserves since they produce a wonderful, unique-flavored jelly or jam. One great advantage of ground cherries is that they have a tremendous shelf life, and can hold for up to 3 months if left in their husks and stored in a cool place.
It was four years ago that I planted my first crop and although I was not smitten by this fruit and had no intention of growing it again, it has volunteered in my garden ever since, so I usually leave a couple of plants to mature and welcome the change of flavor from the eternal grapes and pears!
You can find ground cherry seeds in many gardening catalogues.
It's now been more than three months since I wrote the “Test of the Removal of Lawn
and Use of Newspaper to Eliminate Remaining Grass” - published June 3, 2015 - so an update is long overdue. As the summer and growing seasons end I can report that the test has been an unqualified success.
Very little grass has grown into the new garden bed. None of the original grass that was once under the new bed has come through the newspaper barrier although a little managed to bridge across the open trench we left between our existing lawn and the new bed. Any sprouts that did show up posed little problem and were very easy to remove by hand.
The new bed proved extremely successful and produced prolific plant growth. We grew three plants that produced zucchinis by the boatload, some of which grew larger than a loaf of bread while were away on vacation. We also grew lots of cucumbers, two healthy basil plants, red peppers and a beautiful dahlia.
Since the use of newspapers has proved to be so successful in the elimination of grass we
are now considering expanding the existing area and/or doing another section in a
different location in our yard.
The following photographs were taken on August 20, 2015
- Author: Dustin Blakey
A friend of mine in Arkansas who is knowledgeable about these sorts of things once told me that if he were going to be stranded on a tropical island and could only bring one thing it would be a sweet potato. They are nutritious and easy to grow when it's warm. Myself, I'd rather skip the stranded part and just eat sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes are not hard to grow in the garden, but I rarely see them attempted. They're not only nutritious, but their vigorous growth habit works well to smother summer weeds in your garden.
To grow sweet potatoes you plant transplants (called slips) once the soil has warmed and nights are consistently above 50°F. Other than water, they require little care and thrive in poor soil. (Alkaline soil, such as in Chalfant, will need to be amended to lower the pH.) Sweet potatoes' growth rate is based on the heat accumulated in the plant over the season. In our climate, it will take about 100 to 120 days to raise a crop. You will probably be setting slips outside in June and harvesting after the kids have started school again.
Harvest sweet potatoes gently and allow them to cure for about 1 week to improve their storage life and flavor. To cure a sweet potato, ideally it should be stored at 85°F and 85% humidity. (We might have a hard time with the humidity here!) A greenhouse, sunroom or sunny bathroom works well for this, but keep them out of the sun. Once cured, they will store well at 55°F.
The only challenging part of growing sweet potatoes is obtaining slips. There are dozens of mail-order sources for slips; however, almost all source their slips from growers in the Southeast. California doesn't allow importation of sweet potatoes from this region to keep out pests and diseases. This leaves us three options to obtain slips:
- Order from a mail-order nursery that's not shipping from the Southeast. I am aware of only one: Sand Hill Preservation in Iowa.
- Obtain slips inside California. There are some growers around Merced that do this, but we have a hard time getting to Merced from here. Any garden centers you encounter that have slips for sale would be fine, too.
- Grow your own slips.
It is not hard to grow your own slips, but there are as many ways to grow them as there are sweet potato growers. With heat and moisture, sweet potatoes form shoots and grow roots easily.
Some gardeners use moist, heated sand beds. Sweet potatoes are placed in these beds and when the tops emerge, the slips are harvested. This is a good way to grow a lot of slips.
An easy way to just grow a few slips is to suspend a sweet potato above a mason jar partially filled with water using toothpicks just like you would start an avocado from seed. I've also seen people lay sweet potatoes down in a glass baking dish filled with about 1” of water. Either way, keep the bottom ½ wet and warm. Once the sprouts emerge, break them off the sweet potato root, and set them in a clean jar filled with about 1-1/2 inches of water to form roots. This whole process takes about 20-30 days depending on temperature.
In order to ensure this sprouting process works, you should buy Organic sweet potatoes so that they haven't been treated with any type of shoot inhibitor.
It's important to have warm soil to plant sweet potatoes outside. If the soil still needs to warm up but your slips are ready, you can plant them in containers filled with potting mix while you wait.
You shouldn't have too many problems with this plant, but even if you have a few, its rapid growth rate usually makes up for any damage. As an added bonus, they are a fantastic part of a crop rotation in the garden as they are unrelated to most other things we eat, including Irish potatoes.
No endorsement implied for businesses or products mentioned.
by UCCE Master Gardener Volunteer Viv Patterson
Around the end of March, I noticed that some of my garlic plants were completely dead while others were alive, well, and growing straight up. I checked the water, exposure, and soil. All seemed ok; I couldn't imagine what had happened. I decided to dig up the dead plants, turn the soil a bit, and plant something else. Lo and Behold....the Garlic wasn't dead; it was done growing! According to my plant label, I had planted a bit of Sonoran Garlic in this spot. I went back to the catalog and studied the description for Sonoran Garlic. The description joggled my memory as to why I purchased this variety in the first place. It read:
Hardneck variety named for the Sonoran desert that harvests extremely early. Sonoran is very early harvesting so you have garlic before anyone else. It grows well in the great American Southwest from Austin/San Antonio all the way to San Diego. Harvests VERY early - late spring to early Summer - stores until around November-December.
Sonoran Garlic is beautiful - Purple with medium-sized cloves. Tonight I plan to enjoy my first Aglio e Olio of the Season: Linguini with Garlic and Olive Oil tossed with Fresh Spring Herbs and topped with Parmigiano Reggiano. Recipe follows.
Image: Burpee Seeds.
Viv's Aglio e Olio
- 6-8 ounces dried Linguini (I like DeCecco or Barilla)
- One Head Garlic Chopped (yes, the entire head)
- Lots of really good Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
- One-Half teaspoon Crushed Red Chile Pepper
- One-Half teaspoon Kosher Salt or a good finishing salt like Maldon Sea Salt Flakes
- One Cup Minced Fresh Herbs
- Use at least four or five types of herbs. Tonight I will use whatever looks the best from my herb garden: Probably Oregano, Tarragon, Thyme, Rosemary, Italian Parsley, and Cilantro. They all are at their tenderest moment.
- Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated
- Bring big pot of water to a rapid boil.
- Drop in Linguini and start timer for one minute less than the directions call for. Try Linguini when timer goes off. It should be al dente … not quite done.
- Meanwhile, put Garlic and Olive Oil in a large sauté pan. Sauté Garlic until it is just done. Don't let the Garlic get brown. Add one-half teaspoon of Kosher Salt and Crushed Red Chile Pepper at this time. Remove the pan from the burner.
- When the Linguini is al dente, drain the pasta in a colander.
- Put drained Linguini into pan with Garlic and Olive Oil. Put on a burner with medium heat and toss Linguini until done (but not overdone). Turn off heat.
- Add Herbs and tossed until pasta is coated.
- Add more salt to taste.
- Put on serving plates and topped with Parmigiano Reggiano. Drizzle with more EVOO, if desired.
Note: If you want this to look a little bit fancier, top the finished Aglio e Olio with Grilled Shrimp, Scallops, or Chicken. Make sure you coat the Shrimp, Scallops, or Chicken with Oil, some minced Garlic, Salt, and Pepper before grilling.