I was out last night above the river to take some pictures, and I noticed that as the sun went behind the mountains I was joined by some unwelcome visitors: mosquitoes.
I suspect they were males as I didn't end up with any bites, and they were mostly hovering above me. A few landed so I squished them. I don't know what kind they were other than "generic mosquito." I was in the same area last week and didn't encounter any, so I think it's just starting.
All this to say, it's probably worth thinking about taking typical mosquito precautions when recreating outdoors in the evening away from town. Here is some information about mosquitoes from UC IPM.
The Owens Valley Mosquito Abatement Program has a good page on Facebook that updates progress. You can like their page to keep informed. https://www.facebook.com/OVMAP/
Sure our area is hot and dry for much of the year, but the silver lining is that we have very few fungal diseases to deal with in the garden. I swear in Arkansas you cold hear fungi growing on tomatoes from the heat and humidity. (And on roses, too, but that's a different topic.)
While fungi aren't a big deal here, we do have some serious issues with three viral diseases on tomatoes:
- Tobacco Mosiac Virus
- Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus
- Beet Curly Top Virus
Since planting season is here, I thought this would be a great time to cover these diseases. I recorded a lecture on the topic. It's a slide show, but it has useful information for you tomato lovers.
Although these diseases happen throughout California, this is aimed at gardeners in Inyo and Mono counties and reflects what we see in our area. The symptoms and prominence of each may be different elsewhere.
Hopefully you find it useful. (It's posted on our Facebook page as well.)
For more information on tomato diseases, check out this page at UC IPM
- Author: Jan Rhoades
It seems that everyone loves bees and thinks of them first thing when the topic is pollination and beneficial insects. Then, when the topic turns to wasps (and Yellowjackets) everyone changes their tune. To most people, wasps are mean, stinging attackers that can terrorize summer picnics. All of this is true, to a certain extent. That said, there is much more to know about wonderful wasps!
To start with, Aculeate wasps (those with stingers) came first. Bees are a branch of wasps that evolved to feed on pollen and nectar rather than caterpillars or flies. This transition was probably fairly smooth since many wasps visit flowers for nectar and prey items.
You are probably familiar with the paper wasps you find nesting under the eaves of your home. In addition, there are many other kinds of wasps. Some are specialists in the types of insect pests that they target, such as caterpillars or beetles. So if you want balance in your garden ecosystem and natural pest control, don't forget that wasps play a part. Here are some identifying factors and interesting facts:
Yellowjackets are 1⁄2 to 1 inch long with jagged bright yellow and black stripes. Their “waists” are barely visible. Unlike other common wasps, yellowjackets scavenge on human food. They nest in holes in the ground, inside wall cavities, or in hanging nests totally enclosed in gray paper with a single entrance. The western yellowjacket usually nests in the ground using an abandoned burrow, but occasionally nests in crawlspaces. Underground, the nest is a papery structure that provides a home and breeding area for the queen and contains cells where young are raised. Yellowjackets forage for a broad range of foods, but they often come into conflict with humans when they are attracted to meat, carbonated beverages, juices, desserts, deceased animals, and other food items.
Paper wasps have long slender waists, build paper nests with many open cells and are rarely aggressive. Paper wasps have long hind legs and a distinct constriction of the body between the thorax and abdomen. They are common in urban and suburban areas where they can build their papery nests under eaves of structures or in other protected locations. The benefits of wasps usually outweigh potential for harm unless a nest is in a high traffic area.
Mud daubers are dark-colored and thread-waisted. They build small, hard mud nests and rarely sting.
Paper wasps and yellowjackets are beneficial insects. They feed on caterpillars and other insects that could damage crops or ornamental plants in your garden. They also feed on house fly larvae.
Paper wasps aren't usually considered important pollinators, as they don't have pollen baskets or body hair that helps transport much pollen from plant to plant. For plants that require cross-pollination, like squash or melons, wasps aren't helpful. But for the many garden crops that largely self-pollinate, such as beans and tomatoes, wasps are a big help. The flowers of these plants still require “tripping,” a process that occurs when the stigma and anthers of a self-fertile flower make contact with each other due to a physical force from vibration (like wind) or, more efficiently, when an insect visits the flower. The tripping of bean flowers by visiting insects like wasps can increase bean yields .
As carnivores, wasps are not dependent on nectar like honeybees, but they do appear to enjoy a sweet drink. In fact, sophisticated “extrafloral nectaries” have evolved in some plants that encourage wasp visitation. These nectaries, commonly located on leaf petioles or near where they attach to plant stems, produce nectar that attracts wasps to protect the plant from pests. Considering that wasps are one of the most efficient predators of caterpillars in the garden, it is understandable that some plants have evolved to keep them around.
You might want to plant fava beans and cowpeas in your garden as they produce these extrafloral nectaries. Both of these plants attract not only wasps, but other beneficials as well, such as lady beetles and honeybees. Studies have shown that intercropping cowpeas with other crops reduces insect damage and is an effective integrated pest management (IPM) strategy.
This is the time of the year that wasps are re-emerging from winter hibernation and scouting for new nest sites. Unlike honeybees which produce stores of honey that see the entire colony through winter, it's only fertilized paper-wasp queens that live until the next year. These queens seek winter shelter in protected sites (such as your home), and then emerge in spring to find nest sites. If you find a wasp crawling inside your home this time of year, it is most likely a confused queen trying to find a way out. Rather than squashing her, help her find her way out, as they rarely sting without a nest to defend.
This is also the time of year that you can help wasps choose appropriate nesting sites. Their favorite nest sites will be under the eaves of your home, so consider leaving them there if not in a high traffic area. Paper wasps usually only sting to guard their nest or if they feel threatened by a human that is swatting madly at them, so give them room to feel safe. If you do not like the location that a wasp queen has chosen to begin building her nest, simply knock it down while the nest is small and new, without any defenders to protect it… she'll likely find another building site.
Most people don't want to have wasps living alongside them, but wasps are so beneficial for their pest control capabilities that, if you can possibly leave the nest alone, it is advisable to do so. If you discover a nest that needs to be removed, UC IPM has information about thier control. See this webpage for more information. http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7450.html
Wasps spend their summers seeking out aphids, flies, caterpillars and other bugs - many of them pests - to feed to their larvae. Hundreds, or even thousands, of larvae can be produced each year in a paper wasp hive, so they get through a lot of bugs!
The best way to avoid being stung is to treat wasps with respect. Move calmly and deliberately, give them space to go about their business, and they will generally ignore you. If you are stung and have an extreme reaction get to the ER fast.
I've noticed as I get older my Christmas wish list gets less interesting and more practical. I have to work harder now to think of fun stuff. Instead I end up with great ideas like silverware. I know I'm not alone.
So what do you get that special someone who insists on a practical gift?
As I was looking for ideas for my wife—a poster child for gifts practical and boring—I discovered that many people give pillows as Christmas gifts. At first I thought that was weird, but then I remembered that last year she gave me a fancy, hypoallergenic, contouring pillow. It's very comfy. Maybe I should return the favor?
This ultimately led me down the Google Search Rabbit Hole where I soon encountered dire warnings about dust mites.
As a county agent in Arkansas, I encountered dust mite complaints a few times a year. Most of the time it was a case of delusory parasitosis, but sometimes it appeared to be a legitimate complaint, especially in wet years when conditions for their growth were favorable.
House dust mites are microscopic mites that feed on dead skin. They may be allergenic or asthma-inducers to some individuals. There is a large amount of scary information about them, but the truth is most people will have little to worry about from house dust mites.
House dust mites thrive in warm, high-humidity environments. Judging from the condition of my skin right now, I'd say that I am located in the polar opposite of a high-humidity environment. Locations that experience seasonal dry spells with low humidity (think: Eastern California) have a hard time maintaining large populations of house dust mites. These mites prefer climates like the Southeast US where the air feels more liquid than gaseous. In California, they are most commonly found along the coast.
In most of the western US, you probably have little to worry about. You would do better focusing on earthquake preparedness instead of these microscopic detritivores. (Google that instead of dust mites if you're bored. It's much more helpful.)
If you are still concerned about house dust mites—because who isn't after reading about them?—there are a few easy measures that will control or avoid the problem with things you already have. Reducing inside humidity below 50% will help. Heaters and air conditioners* both lower relative humidity. Pick whichever seems appropriate.
Frequent vacuuming of suspect furniture, rugs, and fabrics will reduce mite populations by reducing food sources. This is especially helpful for pet owners. Mattresses and pillows can be encased in protective covers if you are one to err on the safe side and have extra money to spend; however, many pillows (or their cases) can be washed. Mattresses can be vacuumed, too. Mites or not, this is just a good way to keep things clean.
You do not need to use any fancy, hi-tech control gimmicks or pesticides you may find on the internet.
All this to say: if you want to get your spouse a new pillow this holiday season, get one based on comfort and be wary of diving too deeply into pointless online searches like I did.
Or you could just play it safe and get some new silverware. Just don't forget to wash it before using.
* Not swamp/evaporative coolers, but you wouldn't be using those in a humid environment anyway.
For more information on house dust mites, consider clicking on these exciting links: