- Author: Kathy Thomas-Rico
It’s been just a few days since a grassfire and embers swept over a freeway sound wall and destroyed two homes in Fairfield. In a matter of minutes, a whole neighborhood had to be evacuated, lanes of eastbound Interstate 80 were closed, and firefighters from all over the area put it in high gear and won the upper hand on this fire. A cause may never be known. Amazingly, thankfully, no one was hurt.
But this fire illustrates how quickly things can go wrong. Our very dry winter and spring have left everything super parched — the wild grasses, landscape trees and shrubs, roofs and wood siding on houses. And it’s not even fire season in California yet.
So what are you doing about it? A recent editorial in The Reporter in Vacaville (“Give credit and take measures: Fire danger is high,” Aug. 29) put it well: “The fact that this happened in a residential neighborhood well inside the city limits should be a wake-up call to everyone who lives around here. No one can do anything about the winds that drove the flames — they show up just about every afternoon this time of year — but there are precautions property owners can take to reduce the chance of damage.”
Images of the massive Rim fire in Tuolumne County came to mind. Those firs and redwoods are going up like Roman candles. We in Solano County are justifiably proud of our big, beautiful landscape trees. But when it’s this dry, are they safe to have near your house?
The Reporter editorial goes on: “Start by looking at the trees in the yard. If the foliage is touching the ground, close to a bush or hanging over the house or patio, trim it.
“And consider what is planted in the yard. At different points Tuesday (the day of the fire), the fire got a boost from oily eucalyptus and flammable Italian cypress trees.”
The editorial suggested a visit to Cal Fire’s home-safety website, Readyforwildfire.org. I recommend we all take a look, and then stroll around our homes to see what we can do to reduce our risks of losing some or all of it.
- Author: Marian I Chmieleski
A few weeks ago I was out admiring my daylilies and noticed what, at first glance I thought was a mantid. Excitedly I ran for my camera. However, as soon as I began to really look at my "mantid" I became suspicious. The forelegs weren't those I expected. And, hold on, those were definitely the legs of a jumper! So what I really had was either a katydid or a grasshopper. I was not nearly as happy as I had been a few moments before.
In doing a little research, I learned that the true katydid (Tettiginiidae) is a relative of the grasshopper, but not actually a grasshopper. The katydid is green, grows to 2 or more inches in length and has oval-shaped wings and long black-and-white antennae. It lives where there are lots of trees and shrubs, which provide its food, preferably deciduous trees, and especially oaks. The eggs hatch in the spring and the katydid goes through several molts, becoming more and more adult with each molt. Interestingly, while they can fly they do so only for short distances, preferring to walk or climb to reach their next meal.
Well, my little specimen was in our front yard directly under our Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) and fit every description of a katydid--except that I could not really identify its oval wings. So, what to do?
In checking the UC IPM website, I learned that in a healthy garden parasites will attack the katydid eggs, thereby keeping them under control. Clearly I don't have an infestation, so I guess I'll let nature take its course.
Oh, and by the way, a few days later I noticed several carefully scalloped leaves on the roses in my back yard. Hmmm....could that katydid have been feasting on a few things besides the oak! (Actually this turned out to be leaf utter bee "damage". Leafcutter bees are beneficial insects.)
- Author: Launa Herrmann
My genealogical roots deep run through many a corn field since I was born from a Nebraska-farm girl mother and an Indiana-raised father. Field corn. Popcorn. Sweet corn. You name the corn, my relatives planted it. Several decades back I even grew ornamental corn one summer to decorate Christmas wreaths. So needless to say I was riveted to a recent Wall Street Journal article about how Mother Nature is outsmarting genetically modified corn seed. (Ian Berry, “Pesticides Make a Comeback”, Wall Street Journal, May 22, 2013, p. B-1.)
Seems that entomologists at the University of Illinois and Iowa State University found corn rootworms immune to Monsanto’s Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) gene. That gene was originally designed to shield corn crops from this pest that feeds on leaves, tassels and silks; injures roots and can stunt or kill young shoots and plants.
The article also points out that last year America’s farmers planted 97 million acres in corn based on increasing prices and EPA approval touting reduced insecticide use that would give growers and farm workers “greater safety, protect water bodies from runoff and mitigate” harm to wildlife.
“Some of those gains are quickly being reversed,” said Michael Gray, a UI entomologist quoted in the story, who went on to say that next year over a quarter of corn farms plan to use insecticides as “cheap insurance.”
Makes senses now why sales are up for pesticide producers. To read the entire article, log on to WSJ online or review a similar story “Pesticides make a comeback against Monsanto seed” at
Frankly, I wanted to know exactly what this crawly critter chomping on corn crops looked like. During my research of “corn rootworms,” I discovered crop damage is not limited to larvae but includes the adult — two familiar beetles often found in our own backyard vegetable patch that also feeds on cucurbits, legumes and grasses — the Western striped cucumber beetle (Acalymma trivittatum) and the Western spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata undecimpunctata). (See UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines: Corn, plus UC ANR Publication 3443. Also UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines: Curcurbits, plus UC ANR Publication 3445.)
Photos below are of the Western striped cucumber beetle and the Western spotted cucumber beetle).
And there’s more. In fact, there’s also a banded cucumber beetle (Diabrotica balteata) and a spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi), also known as the Southern corn rootworm. In addition, there’s the Northern corn rootworm (Diabrotica barberi Smith & Lawrence), and the Western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte).
When you compare the above two photos with photographs on Purdue University’s IPM website, you’ll notice that our Western spotted cucumber beetle looks identical to the Southern corn rootworm and that our Western stripped cucumber beetle appears the same or similar to the female Western corn rootworm. Plus, there’s a photo of the larvae -- the actual rootworm. Here’s the Purdue IPM link:
- Author: Erin Mahaney
When we first moved to Benicia, our neighbor gave us some strawberry plants to grace our new raised vegetable bed. Since then, I’ve been the only person in the family who picks them (despite having a strawberry-loving son). But this summer, much to my surprise, I learned that I have competition from an unusual strawberry pest.
Although not identified on UC’s Integrated Pest Management website, Labradorus retrievous (var. yellow) is one of the furrier, larger, garden pests. This non-native species, which occurs throughout California, is quadrupedal with a distinctive rudder-like tail. The tail alone can cause considerable damage at peak rotational velocity. Possessing a large blocky head, but lacking antennae, the species has short whiskers to help it evaluate its environment. It seems drawn to human activity and, in particular, round or plush toys. Although some species have subterranean (digging) tendencies, I fortunately have not seen that particular variety in my yard.
I recently observed a particular individual of the species investigate my raised veggie bed, but I really thought nothing of it—even as it placed its forepaws on the edge of the bed and sniffed at the strawberry plants. Then, suddenly, the individual stuck its head deep in the plants, rooted around, and came up with its prize—a ripe red strawberry—that it promptly gulped down.
This would explain my unusually small strawberry crop this season.
I also have seen Labradorus (var. black) carefully stand on two hind legs and delicately pluck blackberries from a bush. Thus, it appears that this particular garden pest has a proclivity for berries of all types. But given the minimal damage that occurs, and the benefits that this particular species of pest brings to the home and garden, little intervention—other than perhaps a fence for the veggie bed—is recommended.
- Author: Karen Metz
It's been so nice to be out in the garden. Buds are starting to swell on some shrubs, weeds are growing like gangbusters. I'm so ready for spring; I just want to clean everything up and plant away. But this time of year I have to stop myself from doing one particular garden chore. Some of my plants are looking a little, okay a lot, bedraggled because of frost damage. I could make them look so much better with just a few snips here and there.
For example, here is my avocado Persea americana. I started it from seed. It lives out on my back patio just under a patio cover. On nights I anticipate frost, I cover it with a sheet along with my dwarf citrus that also live on the patio. It's not looking very happy right about now. I think most of this is frost damage, but some might also be damage from the weight of the sheet on the little tree. I'm itching to cut all that brown damage off. However in Solano County on average, our last frost date is March 15th. We may get a few more frosts, yet. Those ugly damaged parts are protecting leaves and stem lower on the plant. If I cut the damaged parts off now that will just expose more of the plant to any remaining frosts. So for right now, I just need to... step away... from the pruners.