A place where one woman has gathered resources and information to help her family survive in an uncertain future; together with occasional personal musings.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

fantastic herbal medicine articles

First of all, just in case the internet is still operational and you can access it:
This is an amazing site and I haven't even begun to explore it all, but I am definitely posting some of the more useful (as related to the future I imagine) articles here.

Winter Cold and Flu Care:

Pink Ginger Tea

My favorite herbs for flu care are diaphoretics, to stimulate sweating.*

I like diaphoretics because they support the body’s natural response rather than “fighting” the illness. (I’m not a big fan of the body-as-battleground theory of disease, but that’s a topic for another post.)

Some of my favorite diaphoretic herbs: lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), bee balm (Monarda didyma or M. fistulosa), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), elder flowers & berries (Sambucus nigra) and ginger (Zingiber officinale).

Elderberry and ginger make a delicious tea that you might want to drink all winter, whether you’re sick or not!

To make pink ginger tea:

Slice up 2-3 inches of fresh ginger.

Put the ginger in a pot and cover it with about a quart of water.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of elderberry (frozen, canned, juice, syrup or dried).

Simmer the mixture until it tastes strongly of ginger—usually at least 15 minutes. (The tea turns a muddy purple-brown as it simmers. Don’t worry, we’ll fix it.)

When it’s ready, remove the tea from the heat, let it sit a minute to cool, and add good quality raw honey** to taste. (Don’t boil raw honey. You’ll kill the enzymes.)

Now for the magic. Squeeze the juice from one small or half a large lemon. Add it to the tea. Watch the color change from muddy to clear pink!

Drink hot, preferably while wrapped in a blanket.

*The simple definition of diaphoretic: an agent that stimulates sweating. But as Samuel Potter points out in his 1902 Materia Medica, diaphoretic is derived from the Greek meaning “I carry through.” Diaphoretic herbs help carry heat and energy through the body, promoting excretion through the skin.

**You have to be careful with honey. Most US beekeepers use toxic miticides to keep their bees alive. Talk to your beekeeper, buy organic honey (expensive, if you can get it), or use a reliable supplier like Honey Gardens in Vermont.

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Winter cold care: lymph love.

Now that we finally have a bit of winter here in Vermont, people are starting to get sick. The symptoms are familiar: a slight sniffle, rawness in the throat, pressure in the ears, swollen lymph nodes.

Here are my favorite ways to care for this kind of winter cold:

1. Topical tinctures. I like to drip lymphatic and tonic herbs directly onto the surface of the tonsils. (If you want to try this, hold the dropper right up against the back of the inside of your cheek, with your head tilted back. Do a few drops on each side.) Some herbs I use this way: lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), red root (Ceanothus americanus), ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). (Only use cultivated organic goldenseal, NEVER wildcrafted—this is an endangered plant.)

It’s best to experiment and see what feels right, since these herbs have really different personalities. Lemon balm is soothing and stimulating; red root is strongly astringent; ground ivy is astringent too, but gentler; goldenseal is an amazing all-around mucous membrane tonic, but be prepared for bitter if you use it this way.

2. Neck massage helps the lymph system drain (pay special attention to the area under the collarbones—this is where the lymphatic ducts empty into the bloodstream).

3. There’s nothing like a good whole-body stretch or a pleasant walk to get the lymph system moving.

4. Hot herbal face cloths feel really good, and they also encourage circulation and drainage. Just soak a washcloth in strong, hot herbal tea and press it to your face. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) are lovely, but you can use any aromatic herb.

5. And, of course, there’s always chicken soup.

P.S. I’m extra geeky about the lymphatic system lately. Check out this amazing drawing.

There was a nasty, hot, lung-drying bug going around these parts this spring. Turns out the perfect thing for it is one of your lawn’s best-kept secrets: blender juice.

Specifically, blender juice made of cooling, soothing, mucilaginous plants. Plantains (Plantago spp.), chickweed (Stellaria media), violets (Viola spp.), and mallows (Malva spp.) are especially nice.

(This combination is also wonderful for hot, irritated digestive systems — think ulcers, “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” / IBS, and other inflammatory conditions.)

Making blender juice is a great way to get the fresh, green, cooling properties from just about any plant.

Here’s how to do it:

Pick your plants.

Rinse them off if you need to.

Toss them in the blender with a bit of water.


I like to let them sit for a while to infuse, then blend a little more and strain. But you can just go ahead and strain after the first blending if you need to.


(Hot tip: mallow/plantain/chickweed/violet blender juice is wonderful sponged on a sunburn.)

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Simmering: winter fun with stockpot and teapot.

This month’s herbal blog party is “Winter Recipes,” hosted by Dreamseeds.

Most of my winter herbal recipes involve long-simmering pots on the back of my woodstove. Tasty broths and teas that warm a person from the inside out, and make the house smell good too.

Winter is a time for concentrated, warm foods. Put away the leafy summer herbs, and get out the roots, seeds and spices. Valerian, licorice, sarsaparilla. Flaxseeds, cardamom, nutmeg. Cinnamon, ginger, cloves.

The best way to stay healthy in the winter is not to fight the fact that it’s winter. In winter, things move more slowly. We need to sleep more. We need richer, fattier foods. In winter, as mammals, we need to stay warm. (It’s quite common for people to forget to dress warmly enough for the season. It’s not unreasonable to wear a scarf indoors if you live in a drafty house.)

Good long-simmered bone broth is the best winter food I know. It’s rich in protein (gelatin) and minerals, and it warms you “to the bone.” Add some vegetables and call it soup. Use it to cook rice or beans. Or just drink it straight with a pinch of salt.

Here’s how to keep a stockpot:

1. Always save bones. (Yes, even bones that people have gnawed on. All that simmering will take care of any contamination.) Keep them in a jar or a bag in your freezer. You can separate them by animal if you like, or lump them all together for “mixed stock.”

2. When you’ve collected a good pile of bones, put them in a pot and cover them with cold water. (You can add a dash of vinegar if you like, to help draw minerals from the bones.) Put the pot over low heat. Let it come to a gentle simmer. If you’re using a gas or electric stove, turn the heat down as far as it will go. If you’ve got the stock on a woodstove, move it to a cool corner or put it up on a trivet. (I’m told you can make stock in a crockpot, too. But I’ve never used a crockpot, so I don’t know how that works.)

3. Leave the stock on gentle, low heat for 12-48 hours. (Yes, I know that’s a long time. It really does make the best stock, though.) Check on the stock every once in a while and add water if it needs it. If you’re using raw bones, there will likely be quite a bit of foamy scum that comes to the surface. Just skim it off — a little tea strainer works well for this. Try not to let the stock boil. Low heat is best for extracting gelatin. (Don’t kick yourself if it accidentally boils, though. Just turn it down. Your stock may be a little cloudy, but it will taste fine.)

4. When you can’t stand it any longer, strain out the bones. If there is a lot of fat on top, skim it off and save it for cooking (a little jar of fat in the fridge is a lovely thing). Now you have stock to play with! What will you make?

You can add warming winter spices to your stock if you like. But my favorite way to take warming spices is in tea. In winter, my “teas” are usually decoctions, simmered on the stove until they perfume the house.

Here are some of my favorite winter teas.

For people who get dry and cold in the winter: flaxseeds (Linum usitatissimum), cassia / cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), cloves (Syzygium aromaticum), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) and nutmeg (Myristica fragrans).

For people who get a lot of sore throats and swollen lymph nodes in the winter: echinacea root (Echinacea angustifolia or Echinacea purpurea), red root (Ceanothus americanus), marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis).

For people who feel drained in the winter: wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) (use only organic ginseng, “woods-grown” if possible).

For people who get cold hands and feet in the winter: valerian (Valeriana officinalis), cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), wild ginger (Asarum canadense) (harvest wild ginger only if it’s locally abundant; “regular” ginger can be used instead).

Oh, yes, and for everyone, because it’s so tasty: pink ginger tea. (This is, of course, one of the best things to drink when you’re down with the flu.)

Happy simmering!

Articles on plants we have growing wild like the weeds they are:

When I told the gentleman who installed our satellite internet that I’m an herbalist, he started singing the praises of Tahitian Noni Juice. Right. I told him I was sure the Noni Juice was very nice, but there were ten different just-as-useful herbs growing right by his feet in my backyard, and he could have them all for free.

See, exotic herbs with hyped-up marketing campaigns just don’t excite me. Who knows exactly what’s in those bottles anyway? And why should I give my money to big, sketchy companies when my backyard supplies just about all the herbs I could ever need?

Today I decided to go outside and make a list of the useful herbs that are growing wild right now within 20 feet of my house. The list was even longer than I thought: more than thirty very useful plants.

Here they are, with a use or two for each to give you an idea of what they’re good for. Keep in mind that many blogposts (books, even!) could be written on every one of these plants, so there is necessarily a lot left out. I just wrote the first thing that came to my mind about each one.

All Heal (Prunella vulgaris): incredible wound-healer and alterative.
Aster (Symphyotrichum spp.): valuable diaphoretic, nervine.
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra): alterative, thyroid support, skin fungus.
Blackberry (Rubus spp.): an astringent when you need it.
Burdock (Arctium lappa): liver and kidney soother, resolves scaly skin.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria): sleep for babies, stomach-calmer.
Celandine (Chelidonium majus): liver and lymphatic stimulant.
Cheeses (Malva rotundifolia): useful mucilage-laden mallow, soothes everything.
Chickweed (Stellaria media): gentle, soothing alterative and lymphatic.
Chicory (Cichorium intybus): classic bitter digestive.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): elimination balancer, alterative, minerals.
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.): good for sneezing allergies, digestive and urinary soother.
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea): alterative, depurative.
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea): another wonderful, soothing mallow.
Lobelia (Lobelia inflata): antispasmodic of the first order.
Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria): possible lymphatic.
Peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum): respiratory stimulant.
Plantains (Plantago major & P. lanceolata): stings, wound healing (inside and out).
Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana): strong lymphatic.
Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota): kidney stones, thyroid, and birth control too!
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense): gentle lymphatic, alterative.
Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis): traditionally used for mania!
Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella): traditional cancer herb, good vitamin c in salad.
Spiny Sow Thistle (Sonchus asper): cooling digestive tonic.
Strawberry (Fragaria spp.): gentle astringent, baby diarrhea.
Thistles (Cirsium spp.): liver and digestive tonic.
Violet (Viola sororia): so cooling, soothing, and comforting.
White Deadnettle (Lamium album): astringent, good for heavy menstrual bleeding.
White Vervain (Verbena urticifolia): bitter nervine.
Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella): tasty source of vitamin c, heals old wounds.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): sharp cuts, internal healing, alterative.
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus): liver stimulant, laxative.

Well, not a bad materia medica, is it? Most of these plants grow in cities, too. Medicine all around, if you look for it. (Big herb companies don’t need your money anyway.)

"Spit Poultice Herbs"

The theme of this month’s Herbal Blog Party is “Soothing recipes for irritated skin.”

Now, I can think of a lot of wonderful recipes for salves, ointments, lotions, sprays, liniments, etc. But when I think about how I use herbs in the summer for my own skin, I think of the simplest recipe of all: the “spit poultice.”

A spit poultice is exactly what it sounds like. Pick a few leaves, chew them up a bit, spit them out, and put them where they’re needed. I use spit poultices for bites and stings, scrapes, cuts, bruises, burns, and just about any other mishap my skin might encounter in the summer.

Here are some of my favorite herbs for spit poultices:

All Heal (Prunella vulgaris). All heal (also called “heal all” or “self heal”) is a great all-purpose spit poultice—no surprise, considering its name. It’s good for cuts, bruises, burns, bites, and irritations of all kinds.

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma or M. fistulosa). Also called “wild bergamot” or “sweet leaf,” bee balm is one of the best plants to poultice on burns of any kind.

Chickweed (Stellaria media). Chickweed is incredibly soothing. It’s wonderful for irritations of the eye; also stings and superficial inflammations.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Comfrey poultices are good for interior swellings (bruises and sprains) and exterior abrasions (scrapes and superficial cuts).

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea). Ground ivy is a great poultice for bruises, especially dark purple ones (think of the classic black eye).

Moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia). Moneywort (also called “creeping jenny”) is a good poultice for all sorts of wounds, especially old ones that refuse to close.

Plantain (Plantago major or P. lanceolata). Plantain is the classic spit poultice herb. A plantain spit poultice is the best thing I know of for any kind of bite or sting. It works great for redness and swelling in general, too.

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). This much-maligned plant makes a great poultice for running sores and ulcers.

Violet (Viola sororia or V. odorata). Violet’s mucilage makes it lovely for burns (including sunburn), but it’s also great for bruises, irritations, and swellings.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Yarrow is especially good for deep, clean cuts. Bruises, too. It’s one of the best herbs to stop bleeding, particularly when there’s thin, bright red blood.

Most of these are common underfoot plants. If you need a spit poultice, you can usually look around and find at least two or three of them. And most of them are good for most skin problems in a pinch. (But don’t use comfrey on deep wounds—it can cause the skin to heal over a wound that isn’t ready to be sealed off.)

Dandelion week: anatomy of the lion’s tooth.

dandelion tinctures

Dandelion tinctures, from left to right: root, leaf, flower.

So clearly dandelion is not dandelion is not dandelion.

Dandelion Root

Taste: earthy-sweet-bitter.

Temperature: cool.

Affinity: liver, gallbladder, digestion.

Action: nourishing, tonic.

Dandelion Leaf

Taste: fresh-salty-bitter.

Temperature: cold.

Affinity: kidneys, bladder, blood.

Action: stimulating, draining.

Dandelion Flower

Taste: bright-honey-sweet.

Temperature: neutral or slightly cool.

Affinity: heart, mind.

Action: comforting, brightening.

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Dandelion week: the bite of the lion’s tooth.

Like I said yesterday, dandelion’s old common name is “pissabed.” So we know it’s had a long and intimate relationship with the human urinary tract. But dandelion is so much more than a simple diuretic.

Nicholas Culpeper was on the right track in his 1653 Herbal (1814 edition):

It is of an opening and cleansing quality, and therefore very effectual for the obstructions of the liver, gall and spleen, and the diseases that arise from them . . . it opens the passages of the urine in both young and old; powerfully cleanses imposthumes and inward ulcers in the urinary passage, and by its drying and temperate quality doth afterwards heal them.

So my favorite technical word for dandelion is not diuretic but “deobstruent”: Dandelion opens what is blocked.

Now, don’t go running around giving dandelion to everyone who feels sluggish, stuck, or constipated—a lot of those people are “cold” or depleted, and dandelion is for sluggishness associated with heat and excess (the Chinese say “fire poison”). Dandelion is especially good for heat associated with dampness or “bogginess”—think Mississippi Delta on an August evening.

So dandelion opens what is blocked, cools what is irritated, and drains what is soggy.

But don’t forget that dandelion is not dandelion is not dandelion. Each part—root, leaf, and flower—works differently. (Hint: This is tomorrow’s topic.)


Dandelion week: history of the little lion’s tooth.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has been used medicinally for as long as people have bothered to write about such things. It might be native to the Middle East (but no one’s really sure) and it’s traveled to just about every corner of the temperate world by now.

Maude Grieve says in her Modern Herbal:

The name of the genus, Taraxacum, is derived from the Greek taraxos(disorder), and akos (remedy), on account of the curative action of the plant.

Now, Mrs. Grieve’s etymology is poetic for an herbalist, but the Oxford English Dictionary disagrees:

Medieval Latin from Arabic, ultimately Persian. The Synonymia Arabo-Latinaof Gerard of Cremona (died 1189) has ‘Tarasacon, species cichorei’. This appears to have been a corruption or misreading of the Arabic nametarakhshaqoq or tarkhshaqoq, itself according to the Burhan-i-Kati (native Persian lexicon), originally an arabicized form of the Persian talkh chakok‘bitter herb’.

Dandelion is of course from the French “lion’s tooth” (dent de lion), but these days the French just call it pissenlit, “piss-the-bed”—which also happens to be an old-time English name for the plant. In 1565 John Hall wrote in his Courte of Vertu, “Lyons tooth, That Chyldren call Pysbed.” (OED entry for pissabed.)

Pissabed. Remember that. It’s a pretty good first clue to how dandelion works.


Dandelion week.

dandelionIt’s dandelion week here in the Herbwife’s Kitchen. That is to say, it’s spring!

I’m scouring the yard for lovely little lion’s teeth, trying to get them before my housemate’s lawnmower does.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is one of my favorite plants. It’s incredibly versatile. Each part—flower, leaf, root—has totally different properties, and each can be prepared in so many different ways.

This week, in celebration of spring, I’m going to make dandelion every way I can think of (tinctures, infusions, food of all sorts), and write about the highlights here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What is the matter with me?

What is the matter with me?

As I do almost every fine summer/early fall evening, I was out herding the goats this evening, letting them browse on the grass, weeds and blackberries outside their pen. This is good for them, yes, but it also lessens the number of bales of hay I will have to buy over the winter. Every hour they browse saves me a few dollars.

And it was a beautiful evening. Really a picture perfect evening. The sky was (is) blue and pink; the mountain is putting on a show on the southeastern horizon; the grass is tall; the temperature is fine and pleasant; my house is secure and my children are healthy and all is seemingly right with the world.

So why am I consumed with anxiety?

The place I live in is practically Shangri-La, even accounting for the certain changes of the next few decades. Sure; there are probably a few examples of more secure, safer, more insulated and even more beautiful places (hard to imagine right now, with the sunset beaming its fiery broadcast through the northern and western windows). But this place (meaning my homestead) has nine out of ten advantages that spring instantly to mind: being situated in a country with 1) stable government, 2) high-level wealth (regionally speaking, even higher than the national average), 3) strong institutional utilities, 4) abundance of water (again, regionally speaking), 5) favorable historical climate, 6) good, fertile soil, 7) acreage (never enough, I know, but my five acres can theoretically support my family of five), 8) commanding view from the heights, 9) reasonable distance from large urban centers. I don't remember what the theoretical tenth advantage was.

And we, as a family, have rare advantages, not the least of which is a person with foresight, resources, and energy to prepare (that would be me, thank you, thank you). Also great (by global standards) personal wealth. Also an absence of the disadvantages of poor health or disability. Really, it's hard to imagine how we could be better situated for the upheavals of the proximal decades. Except perhaps to be located in Alaska.

So why am I consumed with anxiety?

Perhaps it's simply genetic. When I recently confided in my mother, she (after counseling me on the benefits of various pharmaceuticals) reciprocally confided in me that she, too, has been making preparations. I knew, of course, of the 140 remote and forested acres she had recently bought in Eastern Washington, but I did NOT know that she bought it for the same reasons that I have been fortifying my homestead. She's preparing too.

She has had a couple of three scattered wells installed. She has bought an adjacent property with a house and barn on it, and with it the essential equipment for running a farm, including a decent tractor. She is making an underground storage area for long term storage of food, water, hand tools, weapons and ammunition. She is paying for surveillance from the local constabulary (which of course may or may not survive a social breakdown). Her preparations are to mine as... well, as her resources are to mine. But she doesn't think I'm crazy.

It's only slightly discomfiting that I've always thought HER crazy.

Aside from the size, I think my place has certain advantages over hers, mostly having to do with water abundance and seasonal fire danger. But hers has the supreme advantage of remoteness and acreage. I've already told Homero that if anything were to happen here that necessitated our evacuation (attack on the refinery? Militia vying for control of the state highway? Hordes of zombies from Vancouver and Bellingham? Who the fuck knows) mom's place is where we would evacuate to.

That plan requires certain preparations of course. One I've already considered, but not yet put into motion: the evacuation kit. That would consist of a week's worth of food and water (and/or water purification supplies), warm and waterproof clothes, sleeping bags, fire making kit, propane canisters, propane cookstove and pans, the pressure canner, crank-radio and lanterns, batteries, rope, essential documents, essential toolkit, and food for the dogs. Probably three garbage cans full of stuff, plus water. It could all fit easily in the back of the pickup truck.

Okay, think about that. The pickup truck could also pull a trailer. On/in that trailer could be a cage full of chickens (including a rooster) and three or four goats (including a buck). Pickup can be kept full of fuel but we will need some extra fuel to get to mom's place, as it is about two hundred miles away by road.

Okay. It's late and I've far overspent my allotted worry time.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Armed Aimee?

I signed up for a handgun safety and training course. Now I need a gun.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


It's been quite a while since I've written her. I guess that's the Celexa kicking in. Yes; I was so afraid about the future, so awfully apprehensive, that I sought pharmaceutical aid. After all, losing sleep worrying doesn't actually help me prepare, now does it?

So here are some updates: Homero sought out an oil burning furnace and intends to convert it (simple, he says) to straight veggie oil. It will heat his shop this winter and if it works well out there, we'll switch out the propane heater next year. Also, he has been producing enough biodiesel to run about B30 in the two diesel cars. For a while we were running straight homebrew, but he has kind of slacked off and now we only have enough to fill the tanks a third full and top with regular diesel. I hope and faithfully believe that he will keep it up. Otherwise, we're just out all the money we spent on startup. AND he wants to spend another $1,000 on a centrifuge.. which is totally a necessary item IF he will actually be brewing enough biodiesel to run the cars and cleaning enough veggie oil to power a home heater, but a total waste of money if not.

Let's see what else... there was something in particular I was going to write about and it has escaped me for the moment. Oh well, while I'm waiting for my brain to turn back on, I think I have decided on a smaller, grid tied, battery backed up solar system that will power just a suite of "emergency" appliances out in the shed: the chest freezer, which will run all the time, and enough power to run a half sized fridge, a hotplate, and some lights in the case of extended power outage. That would probably be something like eight solar panels instead of twenty, and something like $12,000 instead of $30,000.

Of course, currently I'm worried about paying the property taxes this year, so what am I thinking I'm going to lay out half a year's income on solar? It's not that I don't have resources; I do. If I choose to spend my inheritance, I could totally transform this place into the homestead of my dreams. I have about a quarter million dollars: that would buy me a helluva good solar system, a big-ass rainwater collection/purification system, and all the household repairs I could want, with money left over. But it's hard to commit to spending that, especially when you realize (as I have reluctantly come to realize) that our earning potential, long term, is fairly shitty.

As I think I have said before in this forum, saving enough money to pay property taxes into the foreseeable future is priority number one. We are going to need all the land we have, and I doubt property taxes are going away anytime soon. But, what am I going to leave to my kids? If I leave them a functioning homestead, I probably can't leave them cash. And vice versa.

Okay Time's up. Gotta go.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Homesteading Articles (mostly horticulture)

Rodent Control

Use these techniques to keep your homestead vermin-free.

Rats and mice cause more damage inside our homes than any other mammal in the world. They spoil food; spread salmonella, hantavirus and 17 other diseases, and chew essential house parts such as electrical wires. Some species even kill young poultry and other livestock. Phenomenally fertile, a cute pair of mice living in your garage can grow into a gang of 20 or more in only a few months.

But you don’t have to use poisons to keep rats and mice from ruining food stuffs and livestock feed, or taking up residence in your attic. Instead, use the “seal up, trap up, clean up” strategy, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, supplemented with good common sense.

It’s important to understand that not all rodents are pests. Numerous species of small rodents are native to North America, including beneficial grasshopper mice that mainly eat insects. Most rodents prefer fields and woods to human habitats, but the opposite is true of three notorious species uniquely adapted to living around humans: the house mouse; the black, or roof, rat; and the Norway rat. These are the real troublemakers, and the better you know your enemies, the easier it will be to bring them under control.

Lining Up Predators

Ted Hazen, a third-generation millwright in Norfolk, Va., says that historically, cats have been the primary means of controlling mice in houses and in mills, where spilled grain is a constant rodent attractant. “A good mousing cat will eat 1,200 mice a year,” Hazen says, noting that female cats are usually much better mousers than males. “Like Puss and Boots, a male cat will put on his hat and go out to have fun. The female will stay home to catch the mice.”

Hazen says some cats are more gifted mousers than others, but even great mousing cats may be intimidated by big rats. In California, Tom Stephan uses Jack Russell terriers to catch rats, sometimes in combination with his trained Saker falcon (native to Europe/Asia), which picks up rats as the dogs flush them from their holes. “There is no other dog that’s better,” Stephan says. “They are a top-notch type-A hunting dog.” In addition to being willing to paw through just about anything to get to a rat, Stephan says, his Jack Russells go for the kill. “They’ll grab a rat and shake it until it’s dizzy and can’t bite back, then crush its vertebrae and rib cage.” It sounds gory, but so is removing rats from snap traps.

If you keep a barn cat or rat-minded dog, never scold them for bringing you their prey. And since rodents love pet food, it’s best to feed all outdoor animals in the morning and remove leftovers immediately. Cats and rodent-hunting dogs are great for preventing mice problems because their best talents lie in their ability to detect intruders in their home territory. But don’t expect a cat to bring a large mouse population under control, and it may take more than one dog to get rid of rats. “You need one to stand at one hole, and another to watch the other hole,” Stephan says.

His top tip for preventing rat problems in the first place is to host barn owls. “Get a barn owl nesting box or two if you have more than two acres.” Stephan has installed more than 1,500 barn owl boxes over the last decade. He usually puts them up on collapsible flagpoles so they can be taken down if needed. “The owls do an amazing job of hunting gophers, rats and mice,” he says, noting that some estimate a pair of barn owls will capture 50 rodents a week.

Building Better Mousetraps

Daytime rodent sightings, the presence of lots of droppings and chewed access holes are signs of a serious rodent problem. When rodent problems are too big for cats or dogs to handle, and you don’t want to wait for barn owls to move in and help you out, trapping is the best option.

Using poisons is a shortsighted approach with undesirable side effects, such as the accidental poisoning of dogs, cats and other animals that eat the bait. For example, in Arizona, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, hawks and owls have been brought to the Southwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center after ingesting rat poison. Another problem is that you never know where a poisoned rodent will die. If it dies in a wall, you’re stuck with its smell for weeks.

Trapping is a better solution for serious rodent problems, but controversies rage over which methods are most humane. Glue traps cause animals to die slowly, so they are considered less humane than traditional snap traps, which provide a quick kill. Snap traps are inexpensive and widely available, though you do have to check them daily. Some finesse is also needed in baiting and positioning the traps.

Multiple-capture live traps can capture several rodents at a time without harming them. But what do you do with the rodents once you’ve caught them? In some states it’s illegal to release them into the wild; in others, a license is needed to release them. Before you embark on a live rodent-catching campaign, call your state wildlife commission for guidance on what to do with your detainees. Even if it’s legal to release them, a released rat’s story might not have a happy ending. Rodents accustomed to a cushy life in your barn may be quickly snapped up by predators when forced to fend for themselves in the wild.

And, somehow, rodents know when a good habitat has been vacated, so repeat infestations are common. Especially as fall turns to winter, expect unwanted visitors to show up anywhere they can find food, water and warm shelter. Seal up well, and you won’t have to trap up, clean up or worry every time you hear a thump in the night.

Three Repulsive Rodents

House mouse (Mus musculus)

Appearance: 6 to 7 inches from head to tail with a 3- to 3&frac12-inch tail. Light brown to gray or blackish, with a lighter belly. Droppings are one-fourth- inch long and irregular in shape. Rear footprint is one-half to three-quarters-inch long.

Active period: Primarily nocturnal, eating several small meals each night. Mice also may be active during the day (when populations are large.) They build nests in a wide variety of places, usually with soft materials such as rags, insulation or paper.

Favorite foods: Grain products, birdseed, dry pet food. Good trap baits include peanut butter rolled in birdseed, peanut butter or gumdrops. When food is abundant, use nesting material, such as a cotton ball, as trap bait.

Range: 10 to 50 feet from nest; common throughout North America.
Behavior: Excellent runners (up to 8 mph), climbers, jumpers and swimmers. Mice are naturally curious, so they are easily trapped. Early control is important. Each year, females have six to eight litters with five to six pups per litter, and they are reproductively mature within three months.

Roof rat, black rat, house rat, ship rat (Rattus rattus)

Appearance: 7 to 8 ½ inches from head to tail with a 7- to 9-inch tail; tail longer than head and body. Black to brown body with paler belly. The droppings are one-half-inch long, shaped like a banana. Rear footprint is 1¼- to 1½-inches long.

Active Period: Often active just after dusk. At night, these rats can be heard squeaking and scratching in attics and walls. They tend to run upward when alarmed and build nests above ground made of hay, grass, cloth or other soft material.

Favorite Foods: Fruit, grain, insects and small animals. The best baits are peanut butter, pieces of fruit or nut meats. Black rats are fearful and avoid new traps, which should be moved no more often than once a week.

Range: 50 yards from nest; most common in Mid-Atlantic and South, and along the West Coast from Washington to California.

Behavior: Excellent climbers, often entering houses via trees or power lines. Do not use established runs, but may leave dark, greasy stains where they often climb over roof beams. Gnawing poses serious threats to electrical wires. Live in small communities headed by a dominant male. Each year, females have six to eight litters with four to 12 pups in each litter. They are reproductively mature in three months.

Norway rat, common brown rat (Rattus norvegicus)

ppearance: 13 to 16 inches from head to tail, with a furless tail about 7 inches long, shorter than the body. Brown to gray, with paler undersides. The droppings are about three-quarter-inch long, found scattered along runs. Rear footprint is about 1½-inches long.

Active period: These rats emerge from burrows or nests just after dusk and generally travel on the ground, following established routes along the edge of a wall or building to an entry point. They prefer to build nests of paper, leaves, twigs or rags in any sheltered spot, often outdoors in woodpiles or other debris. They come indoors at night.

Favorite Foods: Omnivorous, eating any type of human food as well as carrion and small animals; require a water supply. Most likely to take bait from traps placed along normal travel routes, or near where a previous food supply has been removed. Good baits include peanut butter rolled in oats, birdseed or cheese.

Range: Usually travels less than 50 yards from nest or burrow, but may range farther to eat grain in fields; found throughout North America.

Behavior: Repetitive routes are evidenced by greasy stains on walls or trails of droppings. Uncontrolled populations quickly become dangerously high, especially in urban areas. Each year, females bear three to seven litters with six to 10 pups per litter. They are reproductively mature in three months.

Seal up, Trap up, Clean up!

Rodent Proofing

• Seal all cracks larger than one-fourth inch (the space needed for a mouse to slip through) with hardware cloth, metal sheeting or mortar.

• Trim back tree branches so none come within 6 feet of your roof.

• In barns and outbuildings, seal rooms where you keep feed or put feed in metal containers with tight-fitting lids.

• Keep the areas around your house, barn and outbuildings clean to reduce or eliminate rodent hangouts, such as old appliances, trash lumber, junk vehicles, open garbage cans or dense thickets of weeds. Allow a margin of mowed open space between buildings and nesting sites, such as a woodpile.

• Inside your house, stack stored goods off the floor, on pallets or shelves, and leave some open space along the base of all walls.

• Forget about using ultrasonic devices to deter rodents with high frequency sound. There is zero scientific evidence that they work. (And when a company you trust promotes them, challenge them to show you proof they work.)

Trapping Tips

• For bait, use peanut butter with rolled oats or attach sunflower seeds to the trigger plate with a hot glue gun.

• Put out lots of traps all at once. More mice will be trapped the first night than at any other time. Use this rule of thumb: Put out twice as many traps as you think you have mice, placed in groups of two or three at irregular intervals.

• Keep a record of where you put traps so you can go back and get them.

• Trap for three days, gather up all the traps, and then do another mass trapping a week later.

• To find where to place traps, sprinkle talcum powder in likely places and check for footprints, or follow trails of droppings. Mice produce an average of 50 fecal pellets a day. You also can use an ultraviolet lamp to look for traces of rodent urine, which is fluorescent in UV light. There may be a lot, because mice do not have bladders. Their urine runs down their legs and leaves a trail wherever they go.

• To nab a rat in cold weather, attract it to the warmth of a cardboard box outfitted with a shop light. Cut an entry hole in the box, and place a baited snap trap inside. Check daily, but don’t move the trap until the rat is caught.

Courtesy McCloud Services, a 100-year-old, Chicago-based pest control company.

Careful Cleanup

• Spray the rodent and the trap with a mixture of 1½-cups bleach mixed in a gallon of water.

• Wear rubber gloves, and quickly drop the rodent into a plastic bag. Double-bag the day’s catch before disposing of it in the garbage.

• Use the same bleach solution to wet down areas strewn with rodent droppings before wiping everything clean with paper towels while wearing rubber gloves. It will kill a lot of the bacteria present, which rodents spread via both fur and feces, and will also reduce the likelihood that hantavirus will become airborne. Although it is extremely rare, hanta is a respiratory disease carried by rodents that can be deadly to humans. It can be inhaled if you sweep or vacuum areas where rodents have been active.

• In dusty barns, where rodent activity is high, it’s wise to wear a dust mask, just to stay on the safe side.

How to Build a Root Cellar for Food Storage

For food storage, a root cellar acts as a refrigerator in the spring and summer. Root cellars are an inexpensive way of preserving food.

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Learning how to build a root cellar will help your family preserve food and store food during the winter season. Not long ago, just about every family in the world's colder climes had one of these harvest keepers for food storage - a root cellar. Nestled in the earth-and away from the heat of the kitchen, a root cellar maintained a tempera ture just above freezing and provided practical food storage for root crops, apples, meats and cabbages . . . throughout a long winter.

Of course, the heyday of the homestead food storey ended a good while ago. When folks gained access to refrigerators and supermarkets, the root cellar was pretty much forgotten. In fact, by the time I was a lad, all the root cellars in our area had long since been abandoned. The deteriorating fod storage structures were used only by us youngsters . . . as "secret" forts.

Nowadays, though, there's been a revival of interest in practical, inexpensive ways of preserving food. More and more people are rediscovering the wisdom of constructing a place to store unprocessed, homegrown edibles. And, even though building a cellar requires a fair investment in labor and materials, the finished shelter uses absolutely no operating energy and .id demands no maintenance or upkeep.

The root cellar shown in the accompanying photos was recently built by m, father, Ted Roberts, in Three Lakes, Wis cousin. Dad started the project by excavating an 8' X 8' X 20' cavern using a backhoe.

The bottom of the cellar was lined with sand for drainage purposes. When building the walls, though, Father laid a concrete base that had an upwardly protruding inner lip. The L-shaped foundation would both support the weight of the cedar log walls and brace the base of those rounds against the tons of sideways "cavein" pressure the earth-banked structure would be exposed to.

Every cedar log was peeled, and then cut square (on each of two opposing sides) in order to make sure that the vertically stacked timbers would all fit snugly in place. The ceiling cedars were notched where they rested atop the wall logs so that-like the concrete base lip-the horizontal beams could help brace the cellar's sides.

Father outfitted the front of the root cellar with double doors, which were separated by an air space to keep out the cold.(He used an acetylene torch to cut the rustic-looking hinges and hasp shown in the photos.) The storage house is also wired for electricity. When especially cold nights bring temperatures as low as 40° below zero, the cellar's incandescent light warms up the inside temperature a few degrees . . . to make absolutely sure that the put-back food doesn't freeze.

With the assistance of Dad's "emergency" heater, the finished cave stays a few degrees above the ice-up point throughout the entire Wisconsin winter. And it holds its even coolness during warm March thaws-when mourning cloak butterflies migrate over gray snow-and through surprising and stark May blizzards. Around midsummer the earth-sheltered space warms up to about 55° ... but winter-stored crops are gone by then, and there are fresh vegetables in the garden.

root cellar will eventually pay for itself by allowing its owner to store up food that is either homegrown or practically free for the picking at harvest time. For just one example of economical food hoarding, let's consider apples. If you gather five or ten bushels of unblemished red fruits late in the growing season (when they'd otherwise only fall and rot on the ground), the inexpensive edibles will keep for months in the cellar and provide you with a winter's worth of fresh fruit for juices, eating, and cooking.

Grow Your Best Fall Garden: What, When and How

Here’s expert advice for the fall gardening season.

Fall harvest
Filling garden space vacated by spring crops with summer-sown vegetables will keep your garden productive well into fall, and even winter.
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Right now, before you forget, put a rubber band around your wrist to remind you of one gardening task that cannot be postponed: Planting seeds for your fall garden. As summer draws to a close, gardens everywhere can morph into a tapestry of delicious greens, from tender lettuce to frost-proof spinach, with a sprinkling of red mustard added for spice. In North America’s southern half, as long as seeds germinate in late July or early August, fall gardens can grow the best cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower you’ve ever tasted. In colder climates it’s prime time to sow carrots, rutabagas and turnips to harvest in the fall. Filling space vacated by spring crops with summer-sown vegetables will keep your garden productive well into fall, and even winter.

Granted, the height of summer is not the best time to start tender seedlings of anything. Hot days, sparse rain and heavy pest pressure must be factored into a sound planting plan, and then there’s the challenge of keeping fall plantings on schedule. But you can meet all of the basic requirements for a successful, surprisingly low-maintenance fall garden by following the steps outlined below. The time you invest now will pay off big time as you continue to harvest fresh veggies from your garden long after frost has killed your tomatoes and blackened your beans.

1. Starting Seeds
Count back 12 to 14 weeks from your average first fall frost date (see “Fall Garden Planting Schedule” below) to plan your first task: starting seeds of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale indoors, where germination conditions are better than they are in the garden. Some garden centers carry a few cabbage family seedlings for fall planting, but don’t expect a good selection. The only sure way to have vigorous young seedlings is to grow your own, using the same procedures you would use in spring (see Start Your Own Seeds). As soon as the seedlings are three weeks old, be ready to set them out during a period of cloudy weather.

If you’re already running late, you can try direct-seeding fast-growing varieties of broccoli, kale or kohlrabi. Sow the seeds in shallow furrows covered with half an inch of potting soil. Keep the soil moist until the seedlings germinate, then thin them. The important thing is to get the plants up and growing in time to catch the last waves of summer heat.

When is too late? The end of July marks the close of planting season for cabbage family crops in northern areas (USDA Zones 6 and lower); August is perfect in warmer climates. Be forewarned: If cabbage family crops are set out after temperatures have cooled, they grow so slowly that they may not make a crop. Fortunately, leafy greens (keep reading) do not have this problem.

2. Think Soil First
In addition to putting plenty of supernutritious food on your table, your fall garden provides an opportunity to manage soil fertility, and even control weeds. Rustic greens including arugula, mustard and turnips make great triple-use fall garden crops. They taste great, their broad leaves shade out weeds, and nutrients they take up in fall are cycled back into the soil as the winter-killed residue rots. If you have time, enrich the soil with compost or aged manure to replenish micronutrients and give the plants a strong start.

You can also use vigorous leafy greens to “mop up” excess nitrogen left behind by spring crops (the organic matter in soil can hold quite a bit of nitrogen, but some leaches away during winter). Space that has recently been vacated by snap beans or garden peas is often a great place to grow heavy feeders such as spinach and cabbage family crops. When sown into corn stubble, comparatively easy-to-please leafy greens such as lettuce and mustard are great at finding hidden caches of nitrogen.

3. Try New Crops
Several of the best crops for your fall garden may not only be new to your garden, but new to your kitchen, too. Set aside small spaces to experiment with nutty arugula, crunchy Chinese cabbage, and super-cold-hardy mâche (corn salad). Definitely put rutabaga on your “gotta try it” list: Dense and nutty “Swede turnips” are really good (and easy!) when grown in the fall. Many Asian greens have been specially selected for growing in fall, too. Examples include ‘Vitamin Green’ spinach-mustard, supervigorous mizuna and glossy green tatsoi (also spelled tah tsai), which is beautiful enough to use as flower bed edging.

As you consider the possibilities, veer toward open-pollinated varieties for leafy greens, which are usually as good as — or better than — hybrids when grown in home gardens. The unopened flower buds of collards and kale pass for the gourmet vegetable called broccolini, and the young green seed pods of immature turnips and all types of mustard are great in stir-fries and salads. Allow your strongest plants to produce mature seeds. Collect some of the seeds for replanting, and scatter others where you want future greens to grow. In my garden, arugula, mizuna and turnips naturalize themselves with very little help from me, as long as I leave a few plants to flower and set seed each year

With broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and their close cousins, hybrid varieties generally excel in terms of fast, uniform growth, so this is one veggie group for which the hybrid edge is a huge asset. Breeding work is underway to develop better open-pollinated varieties for organic growers, but for now, trusted hybrids such as ‘Belstar’ broccoli, ‘Gonzales’ cabbage or ‘Snow Crown’ cauliflower are usually the best choices.

Finally, be sure to leave ample space for garlic, which is planted later on, when you can smell winter in the air. Shallots, multiplying onions and perennial “nest” onions are also best planted in mid-fall, after the soil has cooled. In short-season areas these alliums are planted in September; elsewhere they are planted in October.

4. Watering Fall Garden Plants: Keep ’Em Soaked
Even short periods of drought stress can put a nasty kink in the growth curve of most fall crops. Dry soil can be murder on slow-growing beets and carrots, and any type of setback can devastate temperamental cauliflower. Your best defense is to install a soaker hose before you set out plants or sow seeds. Try laying out the hose in various patterns and turning it on to get a good look at its coverage first. If the hose won’t stay where you put it, use short stakes or wire staples to hold it in place.

Keeping newly planted beds moist long enough for seeds to germinate is easy with leafy greens such as arugula, Chinese cabbage, collards, mizuna or turnips, because the seeds naturally germinate quickly, in five days or less. But beets, carrots, lettuce and spinach are often slower to appear, which means you must keep the seeded bed moist longer. Simple shade covers made from boards held above the bed by bricks do a great job of shielding the germination zone from drying sunshine, or you can shade seeded soil with cloth held aloft with stakes or hoops. You may still need to water by hand to make sure conditions stay moist, but shade covers can make the difference between watering once a day or four times as often.

5. Go Mad for Mulch
Whether you use fresh green grass clippings, last year’s almost-rotted leaves, spoiled hay or another great mulch you have on hand, place it over sheets of newspaper between plants. The newspaper will block light, which will prevent weed growth, help keep the soil cool and moist, and attract night crawlers and other earthworms. To get the best coverage, lay down the double-mulch and wet it thoroughly before you plant your seedlings. Cover the soaker hose with mulch, too.

A root cellar is also a good place for storing your game, smoked meats, and cheeses. Such food shelters offer complete protection

from basement mice, ;marauding raccoons, and other pests. (I know of Alaskan homesteaders who find root cellars to be their only sure protection against foodstealing brown bears!) My mother even uses her cellar to store the huge potted ivies which decorate her patio in warmer months but cannot live through Wisconsin winters. The plants survive the cold season in the root cellar . . . in a naturally dormant state. The crop holders are useful in summer, too . . . for storing wine, live fish bait, and other products that profit from a cool, protected environment.

All in all, it's plain to see that folks who want the independence of being able to eat their own fresh, home-stored food will find that the notion of building a root cellar is an idea whose time has come ...back.

Mulching can have one drawback in that organic mulches are ideal nighttime hide-outs for slugs and snails, which come out at night and chew holes in the leaves of dozens of plants, and may ruin mature green tomatoes, too. Watch for mollusk outbreaks, and use iron phosphate baits or beer-baited traps, if needed, to bring problem populations under control. Visit the “garden slugs” search page to find our recent slug control update, which includes readers’ reports of slug-slaying methods that really work.

6. Deploy Your Defenses Against Garden Pests
Luscious little seedlings attract a long list of aggressive pests, including cabbageworms, army worms, and ever-voracious grasshoppers. Damage from all of these pests (and more) can be prevented by covering seedlings with row covers the day they go into the garden. Use a “summer-weight” insect barrier row cover that retains little heat, or make your own by sewing or pinning two pieces of wedding net (tulle) into a long, wide shroud. Hold the row cover above the plants with stakes or hoops, and be prepared to raise its height as the plants grow. See The No-spray Way to Protect Plants for more details on using row covers in your garden.

Summer sun can be your seedlings’ best friend or worst enemy. Always allow at least a week of adjustment time for seedlings started indoors, gradually exposing them to more direct sunlight. Even transplants that are given a week to get used to strong sun appreciate a few days of shade after they are set out, which can be easily provided by placing an old sheet over the row cover. Or, you can simply pop flower pots over the seedlings for a couple of days after transplanting. In most areas, insect pressures ease as nights become chilly in mid-fall, but you might want to keep your row covers on a little longer if your garden is visited by deer, which tend to become more troublesome as summer turns to fall.

Fall Garden Planting Schedule

There is no time to waste getting your fall garden crops into the ground, but exactly when should you plant them? Exact dates vary with location, and we have two online tools to help you find the best planting times for your garden. See Know When to Plant What: Find Your Average First Fall Frost Date to find an article that includes a link to tables showing average frost dates for cities in your state. For fall gardens, we suggest using the date given for a 50 percent chance of having a 28-degree night — what gardeners call a killing frost. (Keep in mind that cold temperatures may come and go for several weeks in late fall. In most areas, you can easily stretch your fall season by covering plants with old blankets on subfreezing nights.) Also check out our What to Plant Now pages for monthly planting checklists of vegetables and kitchen herbs for your region.

12 to 14 weeks before your first killing frost

  • Direct-sow last plantings of fast-maturing, warm-season vegetables such as snap beans, cucumbers and summer squash. Also sow parsnips and rutabagas, and begin planting cilantro, lettuce and radishes.
  • Start cabbage family seedlings indoors, and set out the seedlings as promptly as possible.
  • In climates with long autumns, plant celery, bulb fennel and parsley in the fall.

10 to 12 weeks before your first killing frost

  • Set out broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi and cauliflower seedlings, along with celery, bulb fennel and parsley.
  • Direct-sow beets, carrots, collards, leeks and scallions, along with more lettuce and radishes. In some areas, even fast-maturing peas and potatoes will do well in the fall garden.

8 to 10 weeks before your first killing frost

  • Direct-sow arugula, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, turnips, spinach, mustard, pac choi, tatsoi and other Asian greens.
  • Sow more lettuce and radishes, including daikons.

6 to 8 weeks before first killing frost

  • Make a final sowing of spinach along with mâche, which matches spinach for super winter-hardiness. (In most regions, you can expect to enjoy these crops in your Christmas salads!)
  • Make a final sowing of lettuce beneath a protective tunnel or frame.

On or around your first killing frost date

  • Every fall garden should include garlic and shallots. If you love onions, be sure to try multiplying onions and perennial “nest” onions.

Getting the Most from Your Fall Garden

High-density planting in double or triple rows can increase your per-square-foot return by 40 percent with broccoli, or up to 70 percent with cabbage. Use a zigzag planting pattern to fit more plants into less space while allowing 18 inches between plants. Use dwarf varieties when spacing plants closer together, because too much crowding can lead to delayed maturation and low yields.

Cut-and-come-again harvesting can prolong the productive lives of heading crops such as spring-planted cabbage and Chinese cabbage. As long as the primary head is cut high, leaving a stout stub behind, small secondary heads often will develop within a few weeks. Many varieties of broccoli are enthusiastic cut-and-come-again vegetables, too. After the main head has been harvested (taking only 3 inches or so of stem), varieties such as ‘Belstar,’ ‘Green Goliath’ and many others produce numerous tender side shoots. The harvest will continue until temperatures drop into the teens, which seriously damages broccoli plants. In much of Zone 7 and 8, healthy broccoli plants will keep spewing out shoots for months, and sometimes all winter.

Transplant the untransplantable if that’s what it takes to get a good stand. For example, most gardeners have read that beets, carrots and rutabagas should be sown directly in the garden, but I often get better filled, more uniform rows in late summer by starting seeds indoors and setting out seedlings when they show their first true leaf. If the seedlings are kept moist and shaded for a few days after transplanting, about 75 percent of them survive. If you feel the need to brush up on your seedling-handling skills, see Garden Transplanting: Expert Advice.

Diagnosing Apple Problems During Fall Harvest Season

In the fall of the year people are harvesting the fruits of the gardening season. However, sometimes the harvest is neither the quality nor abundance we would like. Apples have many potential problems that can accumulate during a lengthy growing season. A few problems, such as the bruises and broken skin caused by a hail storm, are difficult to avoid. However, insect and disease problems can be dealt with quite effectively. A key to proper protection of apple fruit is to understand that there are many very common pest problems of apple and that effective control of these pests requires correct diagnosis of the insect or disease that causes the damage. While the harvest time of the year is too late to protect this year’s apple crop, it is the ideal time to identify the problems present in your garden so that you can deal with them effectively in the future.

No specific control recommendations are provided in this web article, but we refer you to University of Wisconsin – Extension’s publication Apple Pest Management for Home Gardeners.

These apples (L and C) are typical representatives of the quality of fruit that can occur if the trees are not protected
from pest and disease problems throughout the year. Apples that drop from the tree prematurely (R) may be infested
with insects such as codling moth and apple maggot.

Common Apple Diseases

Apple scab. Apple scab is a fungal disease; it is common wherever apples are grown. The fungal spores are carried on the wind and fungal colonies can develop on foliage and on fruit. Scab lesions may be relatively small and few in number, but often unprotected fruit will have very large scab lesions that may crack open, exposing the apple flesh to secondary rotting organisms. On unprotected trees, literally 100% of the fruit can be damaged. Apple scab can start occurring on leaves early in the season, before bloom, and very young fruit can be infected during and immediately after the blossom period. Apple scab resistant cultivars are available, but if you have scab-sensitive varieties, you must protect the foliage and fruit with fungicides starting before bloom.

The apple scab fungus can result in small, smooth grey lesions or heavier damage that results in fruit splitting.

Flyspeck and sooty blotch. Flyspeck and sooty blotch, sometimes called "summer diseases", are caused by several different species of fungi. Fruit become infected starting in mid June, but symptoms are not usually visible until late August or September. These diseases are favored by high relative humidity and dewy nights, which are common in late summer. The fungi grow superficially in the waxy cuticle of the skin of the fruit, and in some cases can be wiped or washed off. The symptoms are primarily cosmetic and do not affect the inner quality of the apple; affected fruit are safe to eat. The term “flyspeck” refers to the appearance; the spots are not at all related to insects or insect activity.

Flyspeck (circular areas of small black spots) and sooty blotch are caused by various types of fungi. Symptoms are on the surface of the fruit and the
fruit are safe to eat.
Photos by Patty McManus.

Common Apple Insects

Apples can be attacked by insects throughout the entire growing season, from shortly after pollination until harvest. The larval stages of two insects, codling moth and apple maggot, actually tunnel through the fruit resulting in decay. Other insects feed at the fruit surface, leaving scars which often are at the surface only.

Plum curculio. This insect causes damage both early and late in the growing season. Overwintering plum curculio beetles emerge from hibernation about the time fruit trees such as apple and plum are blooming. For about 2-3 weeks immediately after pollination, when the fruit are still small, females lay eggs within the developing fruits of stone fruits (such as plum) and apples. Although females lay eggs within apple fruit, apple is not a good host plant for this insect and the growing apple fruit kills the egg or very young larva. Therefore, the injury to apple is primarily caused by the physical act of egg-laying. The female cuts a crescent-shaped slit about 1/8-3/16” across and lays her egg at the base of the resulting flap of flesh. This is a physical injury to the fruit surface, and young fruit can heal this wound and continue to develop normally. However, a surface scar will be visible at harvest. Usually beneath the surface the fruit is sound and edible.

The adult plum curculio is a bit less than ¼” long,
mottled brown, bumpy, and with a distinct snout.
The crescent-shaped egg-laying scar seen shortly after it
was created, early in the season. Although this is a plum
fruit, the scars look similar on young apples.

These surface scars were created early in the season when the fruit were small. As the fruit grew, so did the scars.

From mid summer to early fall, the next generation of adults are preparing for hibernation and will feed from the surface of apple fruit. The damage typically consists of small, rather symmetrical round holes about 1/8-3/16” in diameter and about he same depth, often near the stem end of the fruit. Such holes can be attractive to other insects such as yellowjackets and multicolored Asian lady beetles.

Late in the growing season, adult plum curculios chew round holes in apples, often near the
stem end of the fruit. L
photo by Phil Pellitteri.

Codling moth. This is the proverbial “worm in the apple.” It is the most serious insect pest of apple worldwide and is very common throughout the United States. In Wisconsin, there are two generations per year, from late spring into early summer, and late summer into fall. Damage is very diagnostic. The eggs are laid externally and the very tiny young hatchling larva tunnels into the fruit to the core area where this insect prefers to feed. Most of the damage is to the seeds and surrounding tissues in the core, but some feeding can occur outside this area. There is always a tunnel to the outside, through which the larva pushes waste material (frass) that accumulates on the fruit surface until it weathers. Often this tunnel opens at the flower end of the fruit, but it can go out near the stem, or anywhere on the side of the fruit. Infested fruit often fall from the tree. Larvae can still be in fruit well into September. When fully grown they are about 1/3” long and cream to pinkish in color.

Codling moth waste material (frass) may accumulate at the surface of the fruit, often at the flower end.
Larval feeding by codling moth is mostly in the core area.

Apple maggot. This insect has also been called railroad worm because of the tracks made through apple fruit. Apple maggot is a summer and fall pest. Eggs are laid from early July into September. To lay an egg, the female fly punctures the surface of the fruit with a hole about the size of a pinprick; just one egg is laid at a time. Soon after the egg hatches, microbial action starts to cause a small amount of decay. From the outside, this can appear as a slightly darkened, slightly sunken spot, often with a tiny pinhole near the center. Often, more than one larva occurs per fruit. These tunnel throughout the flesh of the fruit, resulting in an uneven surface and brown trails internally. Infested fruit often drop from the tree. Eventually, the entire fruit rots. When young the larvae are very tiny and nearly transparent, making them very difficult to see. Indeed, a fruit infested with a few very young larvae may look perfectly normal except for a few faint brown trails internally. Later the larvae are cream colored, without apparent legs or head, and about 3/16” long when fully grown.

The tiny punctures are where eggs were laid. Note that the area may appear sunken and darkened.
Early in an infestation of apple maggot, the fruit may appear relatively sound, with just a
few faint brown trails.
Eventually, the fruit become substantially rotted when infested by apple maggot.
Apple maggots are pale colored and about 3/16” long when fully grown.

Leafrollers and other caterpillars. There are several types of caterpillars that can feed on both foliage and fruit. Usually, the fruit feeding is at the surface, which creates a scar that will be seen at harvest. These caterpillars are the larvae of various types of moths. In Wisconsin, these include two primary groups, leafrollers and fruitworms. Leafrollers are small (usually no more than ½” long). The body color varies from pale cream to pale yellow to pale green. The color of the head can be yellowish, brown, or black. A larva will use silken webbing to fold over a leaf or tie it to another leaf or a fruit. This creates a protected retreat for the insect, where it will feed on either the leaf or the fruit surface or both. Fruitworms are larger, up to an inch when fully grown, with a fairly stout body that is usually green in color. They do not fold leaves like leafrollers, but they do feed both from leaves and fruits. Other types of caterpillars may also be present in apple trees and cause similar damage.

Most of these caterpillars are active early in the growing season; many hatch from eggs before or during bloom and feed on foliage until fruit begin to develop. They may then feed on young fruit. Smaller caterpillars feed more on the surface; larger ones may eat deeper holes into the fruit. Unless the holes are deep enough to go to the core area, the young fruit will usually be able to heal its wound and continue growth. At harvest time, these early injuries result in smooth or slightly corky tan or yellowish scars at the fruit surface. There may be a slight depression or a deeper hole. However, if no other insects or pathogens are acting, the flesh of the fruit should be sound and useable.

There may also be caterpillar feeding later in the year, from mid summer to early fall. Such late season damage usually becomes infected with microorganisms that cause fruit decay, possibly affecting the entire fruit.

These three apples were damaged by caterpillars such as leafrollers or fruitworms early in the growing season. Generally with such
damage, the majority of the apple remains useable.

Tarnished plant bug. Tarnished plant bug is a small insect with piercing mouthparts that puncture the surface of the apple allowing the insect to suck moisture and nutrients. The hole is about the size of a pin prick. Tarnished plant bug injury is usually done early in the season when the fruit are small. The fruit continues to grow naturally, except the very small area where the feeding occurred. As the apple grows, the damaged area becomes a narrow conical pit. The damage does not usually cause decay and most of the fruit is useable.

These narrow conical pits were caused by tarnished plant bug when the fruit were small. Most of
the apple will be useable.

Multicolored Asian lady beetle. This lady beetle is beneficial through much of the growing season in that it feeds on aphids and other pests. However, late in the year it seeks sources of sugar to build reserves to survive the long winter, and fruits are a good source of such nutrients. Although commonly seen feeding on apples, studies have shown that this insect will usually not break the skin of apples. However, they will take advantage of injuries caused by other factors, such as birds or plum curculio adults.

Multicolored Asian lady beetles will take advantage
of already-damaged fruit but generally are not the
cause of open wounds. The remainder of damage to
this apple is from the apple scab fungus.

General Approaches to Insect Control

There are several general approaches to insect pest management. When developing an overall pest management strategy it is helpful to consider all of the available options. Most specific insect control methods can be classified into the following major categories: cultural control, host resistance, physical control, mechanical control, biological control, and chemical control. Not all are appropriate or useful in the home garden.

Cultural Control

Planting Garlic

Garlic is best planted in the fall in Wisconsin.
Garlic is best planted in the fall in

In Wisconsin, garlic (Allium sativum) should be planted in later summer or fall, usually within a week or two after the first killing frost. This will allow the roots to develop and shoots emerge from the clove but not grow above the soil by the first hard freeze. A period of cold is necessary for bulbing, so unless given a proper cold treatment prior to planting, most garlic varieties planted in the spring will produce weak shoots and poorly developed bulbs. Artichoke types do not seem to need winter cold as much, so these would be most suitable for spring planting. (For more about garlic varieties, see Herb of the Year 2004: Garlic) Spring planting should be done as early as possible to allow bulbs to form.

Plant garlic cloves in fall to produce a wonderful harvest of bulbs the following summer.
Plant garlic cloves in fall to produce a wonderful harvest of
bulbs the following summer.

The amount of garlic to purchase will depend on the area to be planted and variety (certain varieties have more plantable cloves per bulb than others). Generally, there are about 50 cloves per pound of cloves, although the average gardener isn't going to be using that much. Single bulbs are offered for sale by many retailers. Also, locally-produced bulbs sold at Farmer's Markets or obtained from small growers can be used.

Garlic does best in full sun in well-drained soil high in organic matter. Bulb expansion can be impeded in heavy clay soils, especially if they dry out. And supplemental moisture may be needed early in the season on light, sandy soils.

Prepare the soil well before planting to provide a loose growing bed for bulb growth. Separate the individual cloves from the bulb just before planting. Choose the largest cloves since they generally will produce the largest bulbs. The large cloves of some hardneck varieties are "doubles" (actually two cloves fused together) which will produce two bulbs that become flattened as they grow together. Place the cloves pointed side up, 2-3" deep and about 6" apart. Cloves planted too shallow are prone to injury during the winter and early spring. Mulching with 3-4" clean straw after planting will help minimize soil temperature fluctuations that can damage the developing roots and shoots. Remove the mulch in the spring after the threat of hard freezes has passed; it can be replaced after the shoots are about 6" tall to help control weeds for the remainder of the growing season.


A congregation of convergent lady beetles.The beetles, order Coleoptera, constitute the single largest group of animals on earth. Approximately one quarter of all animal species known to science, and a third of all described insects, are beetles. There are almost 30,000 species known in the US and Canada and roughly ten times that number in the world. With such great diversity, the beetles have a great number of different life styles. There are plant feeders, scavengers, fungus feeders, parasites of vertebrate animals, predators, and true parasitoids of other insects. Beetles occur in virtually all habitable terrestrial and freshwater environments. Within individual families of beetles there is generally some uniformity of life history. For example, almost all ground beetles are predaceous and the leaf beetles are mostly all leaf feeders. The life histories within some families are a bit more variable. For example, although the majority of members of the lady beetle family are predators, a few species (such as the pestiferous Mexican bean beetle) are plant feeders, and others are fungus feeders.

Coleoptera means "sheathed wing," referring to the fact that the first pair of wings has been thickened into a pair of hard sheaths, or elytra, that cover the delicate hind wings. Beetles undergo complete metamorphosis, meaning that the life stages consist of egg, larva (several instars), pupa, and winged adult. The length of the life cycle varies from species to species; certain wood boring beetles and scarab beetles may take 2-5 years or more, whereas other beetles may have several generations each year. Some species have similar feeding habits as both larvae and adults, and may even live in the same environment; the aphidophagous (aphid-feeding) lady beetles are one example. In other groups, the larvae and adults do completely different things. For example, blister beetle larvae are parasitic on soil-dwelling insects but the adult beetles feed on plants.

Good Guys

Of the approximately 40 families of beetles that have members that prey on or parasitize other insects, two families, the lady beetles and ground beetles, are particularly important in gardens, home landscapes and agriculture. Three others, the rove beetles, fireflies and soldier beetles, are commonly encountered in home gardens. Of the remaining families – which are not mentioned in this article – some are primarily aquatic, a few offer natural control of pests of agriculture or forestry, and others are not common.

Lady beetles Family Coccinellidae

What About The Spots?

The color pattern can be diagnostic to determine the species of the lady beetle, as the number and pattern of spots can be quite consistent. The twospotted, sevenspotted, tenspotted, and thirteenspotted lady beetles are all distinct species. Some lady beetles have no spots, such as the tiny black spider mite predators of the genus Stethorus. Some, such as in the genusChilocorus, have the spots reversed, red on a black background. Some species are more variable, such as the introducedmulticolored Asian lady beetle, which may be unspotted, or have a variable number of spots.

Multicolored Asian ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridisLady beetles (more frequently, but less accurately, referred to as ladybugs; also called ladybird beetles) typically have round or oval, strongly convex bodies with bright contrasting colors. The elongate larvae are covered with tubercles or spines, and usually spotted or banded with bright colors. Most of the approximately 5,000 species worldwide (475 in North American) are beneficial predators, but a limited number are phytophagous (plant feeders) – the Mexican bean beetle ( Epilachna varivestis) is the most notable.

14-spotted lady beetle, Propylea quatuordecimpunctata Most lady beetles overwinter in the adult stage, and many form overwintering aggregations. Adults become active in spring when new plant growth has started and aphid colonies have begun to build. Eggs are laid near the prey. Many of the aphidophagous species lay clusters of 10-50 yellow to orange, oblong eggs. Females of aphidophagous species are capable of producing 500-1000 eggs each, over a period of one to two months. The eggs hatch in a few days, and the larvae begin feeding and continue to grow through the four instars. When the last larval stage is fully grown, pupation occurs, usually on a plant part, such as foliage or stem, where the larva was when it finished feeding. The pupal stage lasts about a week. The adults mate fairly soon after they emerge, and females begin laying eggs within about one week. On average, lady beetles require about a month to complete their life cycle. In warm tropical climates, lady beetles are active year-round. In the upper Midwest, there are generally 2-3 generations per year.

Coleomegilla maculataThe common species of lady beetles those that are larger, orange or red, often with black spots are most frequently specialized predators of aphids. The number of aphids that can be consumed by a lady beetle varies somewhat with species of both predator and prey, and also with environmental conditions such as temperature. But on average, fourth instar larvae (the last and largest larval stage) consume about 50 aphids per day, a number very similar to that consumed by the adult beetles. The species of lady beetles that are aphid predators will occasionally take other types of insects and mites as food. However, the adults generally lay their eggs only where there are large numbers of preferred prey (aphids) available for their offspring. Therefore, many of these lady beetle species are better at reducing large numbers of aphids that may already be causing plant damage, rather than keeping small aphid populations from getting larger. Adult lady beetles may require other food in addition to prey, and many feed on flower pollen, nectar, or honeydew.

In addition to the aphid predators, there are other species that specialize on other types of prey. For example, Cryptolaemus is a mealybug predator; members of the genus Chilocorus are scale predators; and Stethorus species are predators of spider mites.

Ground beetles Family Carabidae

A carabid beetle.Ground beetles belong to the family Carabidae, which is one of the largest beetle families, with approximately 40,000 species worldwide. They are generally small to large (1/4 - 1 inch or more long), and brown or black in color. As the name suggests, they are usually found associated with the soil, particularly in damp habitats. Most are nocturnal, and during the daytime they can be found under plant debris, stones, logs, and in other hidden places. At night they come out to feed. During their foraging many will climb onto plants to feed on prey such as aphids and caterpillars. Others feed primarily in, or on the surface of soil and take a variety of types of prey that are encountered there. When disturbed, they run quickly, but seldom fly.

A carabid beetleMany ground beetles have a single generation per year, but some complete two or three generations annually, and others may live 2-5 years. Usually it is the adult stage that overwinters. The larvae are also predators, but most spend their larval lives in the soil or other protected locations. Although ground beetles are generalist predators, and are frequently abundant, they may not always provide good pest control. The adults of many species will also feed on plant material, including pollen, fungi, and decaying plants; a few species feed on seeds, while a few others are considered to be damaging to agricultural crops.

Rove beetles Family Staphylinidae

The rove beetle Quedius laevigatusThis is a very large, diverse group with more than 29,000 species. They are mostly small to tiny, slender, and often black in color. The elytra (the first pair of wings in the beetles, which are hardened to cover and protect the beetle's abdomen) are very short in the rove beetles, so that several abdominal segments are exposed. Many species are nocturnal, and many are found associated with the ground, such as under leaf litter or stones, or in loose soil. Some rove beetles apparently are scavengers, but many are general predators, in both the adult and larval stages. Some have been shown to be important natural enemies of the eggs and larvae of flies that breed in manure or similar habitats. Some types occur in vegetation where they prey on plant pests.

Fireflies Family Lampyridae

An adult firefly.A dult fireflies are medium-sized, dark-colored beetles with soft and flexible elytra. They rest on foliage during the day and fly at night . The nocturnal larvae of the familiar "lightening bugs" feed chiefly on snails and slugs; other prey of this family includes earthworms, cutworms, leaf beetle larvae and various other soft-bodied insects. Luminescent larvae are often called "glow-worms," a name also used for larvae of another family, the Phengodidae. The adults use their flashing lights in the mating process. Over 2,000 species have been described, with 125 in North America. The larvae prefer damp places and are inactive by day. Mollusk feeders live in moist habitats. Other species are found under debris on the ground, beneath bark, stones or decayed vegetation where considerable moisture exists.

Soldier beetles Family Cantharidae

An adult soldier beetle.Adult soldier beetles are elongate, soft-bodied beetles similar to fireflies. They are usually found on flowers, and some species have been observed feeding on aphids and other soft-bodied insects. The larvae of most species are predaceous on other insects, including eggs of grasshoppers, small caterpillars, maggots and other soft-bodied insects. Some are omnivorous, feeding to some extent on plant tissue such as wheat grains and vegetables. Some 4,500 species are known in the world with 468 in North America.

Bad Guys

Most gardeners are more aware of the plant feeding (phytophagous) beetles than the predatory types. There are numerous beetle families that are primarily phytophagous. Many of these are found in forests, aquatic habitats, or in decaying vegetation. The four most important families of beetles with common garden pests and two additional families that have some significant pests of ornamental plants are reviewed here.

Leaf beetles – Family Chrysomelidae

This is an abundant group with about 35,000 species worldwide and 1,500 in North America. The adults are oval to oval-elongate in shape, but vary a lot in color and shape so they can be difficult to recognize consistently. Both the adults and larvae are plant feeders. Adults typically feed on flowers and foliage. When numerous, they remove a lot of leaf tissue and can cause significant damage to the plants. Although some larvae also feed on leaves, many larvae attack plant roots.

(L-R): Bean leaf beetle, Colorado potato beetle, western corn rootworm, cucumber beetle and flea beetles on turnip.

This group includes many serious garden and agricultural pests including asparagus beetles ( Crioceris spp. ), bean leaf beetle ( Cerotoma trifurcata ), Colorado potato beetle ( Leptinotarsa decemlineata ), corn rootworms ( Diabrotica s pp.), cucumber beetles (Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardii and Acalymma vittata) , elm leaf beetle ( Pyrralta luteola ) and numerous types of flea beetles. The flea beetles have hind legs modified for jumping, so they scatter quickly when disturbed. The adults chew round shotholes in foliage; the larvae feed on plant roots.

Scarab beetles – Family Scarabaeidae

Japanese beetlesScarab beetles, including dung beetles, chafers and others, are oval or elongate and convex with heavy bodies. Both the adults and larvae feed on plant material. Some of the 16,500 species worldwide feed on decaying organic matter while others prefer living plants. The most significant scarab pests in gardens are the chafers or white grubs. The light-colored, grub-like larvae live in the soil, feeding on roots of grasses and other plants for one or more years. They often are pests of lawns and some root crops. The adults emerge to feed on the foliage of a variety of ornamental plants. Some common scarabs include Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica), rose chafer (Macrodactylus subspinosus), June beetles ("Junebugs"), and May beetles.

Dynastes hercules in Tortuguero, Costa Rica.The dung beetles lay their eggs in underground chambers that the adults supplied with dung of grazing animals, where the larvae feed and pupate, emerging as adults. Some dung beetles form balls of dung that they roll about with their hind legs, sometimes for long distances and sometimes working in pairs. Eventually they bury the ball and lay eggs in it. These scarabs play a very important role in the rapid recycling of organic matter and the disposal of disease-breeding wastes.

Some scarab beetles can attain incredible sizes. In the tropics, the prominently-horned Hercules beetles, rhinoceros beetles and elephant beetles may be as big as 6" (including the horns); their biggest North American relatives generally are only up to 2½" long. Despite their intimidating appearance these beetles are harmless to people.

Weevils – Family Curculionidae

Cotton boll weevil.Citrus root weevil.The largest of beetle families, with about 48,000 species worldwide, is comprised almost entirely of plant feeders, either on plants or stored grains. They are easily recognized by their elongated snout and elbowed antennae on the snout. The beetles’ mouthparts are on the end of the snout, which they use to drill holes in fruits or seeds. When disturbed, the adults tuck their legs in and drop to the ground. The boll weevil (Anthonomus grandis) may well be the most infamous member of this family in the US. Plum curculio (Conotrachelus nenuphar) is an important weevil pest of tree fruit crops. The black vine weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus) and strawberry root weevil (Otiorhynchus ovatus) are common pests in gardens, with the larvae feeding on the roots of many woody shrubs and strawberry. The adults also feed on foliage, producing characteristic notches along leaf margins, that is often mistaken for grasshopper feeding. Euonymous is one of the plants frequently damaged by adult root weevils. The strawberry clipper (Anthonomus signatus) damages strawberries by puncturing unopened buds to deposit an egg inside. The female then cuts the strawberry bud off, preventing fruit formation.

Click beetles Family Elateridae

A click beetleClick beetles get their name from the adult’s method of righting themselves. When on their back, these beetles can snap two parts of the body together, spring up into the air, and land on their feet. The adults are slender, shiny and hard-bodied and are found on leaves and flowers.

The larvae, called wireworms, live in the soil, decaying vegetation, under bark and other situations where they are not exposed to light. There are many destructive species that feed on seeds and roots, and many others are scavengers. However, many species are predaceous, feeding on insects and other invertebrates. In the home garden, wireworms cause problems primarily in new vegetable gardens that were formerly lawns. The larvae, deprived of their normal food of grass roots, turn to any available plants to feed on and cause damage especially to root crops such as radishes, potatoes and carrots.

Long-horned beetles – Family Cerambycidae

Elderberry borer.These beetles get their common name from their distinctive antennae which are at least ½ the length of the body and sometimes even longer than the body. They tend to be elongate and cylindrical in shape, and often are brightly colored. The colorful species are active during the day, while the dark ones are nocturnal. Many of the 30,000 species worldwide are quite large. Adults typically feed on flowers. The long, white larvae bore into the stems of herbaceous plants or trees, and can be very destructive to trees – the introduced Asian longhorned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis) is a good example. Other cerambycids that may be encountered in the garden include the red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and the brightly colored blue and yellow elderberry borer (Desmocerus palliatus).

>Metallic wood-boring beetles – Family Buprestidae

Bronze birch borerMost species in this diverse group of beetles, sometimes called jewel beetles, are fairly large, usually shiny, and sometimes very colorful. Most have a bullet-shaped, very hard body. The adults feed on foliage and the larvae, called flat-headed borers, tunnel in wood. Many species are important forest pests. Some common buprestid pests of ornamentals include bronze birch borer (Agrilus anxius) and chestnut borer (Agrilus bilineatus, which causes significant problems in oak trees in the Midwest. There is a smaller species that attack raspberries. The emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) is an Asian buprestid that was accidentally introduced in the Midwest in recent years and threatens ash trees in infested areas.

– Susan and Dan Mahr, University of Wisconsin - Madison

A western corn rootworm, an insect
that can be controlled by crop rotation.
Photo by USDA-ARS.

These methods involve modification of standard farming or gardening practices to avoid pests or to make the environment less favorable for them. There are several types of cultural controls; the following are a few examples of commonly used methods. Crop rotation replaces a crop that is susceptible to a serious pest with another crop that is not susceptible, on a rotating basis. For example, corn rootworm larvae can be starved out by following corn with one to two years of a non-host crop such as soybeans, alfalfa, or oats. Crop rotation works best in larger areas where the insects can not readily move from the old crop location to the new, therefore, there are almost no common garden insect pests that can be controlled with rotation (but many diseases may be). Sanitation refers to keeping the area clean of plants or materials that may harbor pests. Examples include removal of weeds in greenhouses that may harbor mites, aphids, or whiteflies; destruction of crop residues such as corn stubble, squash vines, or fallen apples that may be overwintering sites for pests; cleaning of equipment that can spread pests from one area to another. Trap cropping is the provision of a pest insect's preferred food near the crop to be protected; the insects are attracted to the trap crop which is then destroyed. For example, pickleworms will concentrate in squash planted near cucumbers, and the squash plants can be destroyed. A carefully considered time of planting will help avoid some pest problems such as seed corn maggot.

Host Resistance

Some apple varieties are resistant to
one or more pests. Photo by USDA-ARS.

Host resistance, or plant resistance, has been used effectively for decades to reduce the impact of pests. Some plants have physical and chemical adaptations that allow them to repel, tolerate, or even kill pests. Plant breeders attempt to use these characteristics and even improve them to develop crops that are resistant. Many varieties of important crops grown today, such as wheat, rice, alfalfa, corn, and apples are resistant to one or more pests. Historically, the development of resistant varieties was often tedious and lengthy, requiring many generations of plant hybridization. Although such traditional techniques will continue, it is likely that modern methods of biotechnology will also provide pest-resistant crops.

Physical Controls

These are methods that physically keep insect pests from reaching their hosts. Barriers include window screens for keeping health and nuisance pests out of buildings and plant pests out of greenhouses, floating row covers for many horticultural crops, and plant collars to keep cutworms from attacking plants such as tomatoes. Various types of traps can be used for control, such as cockroach traps in homes. Codling moth larvae can be trapped under cardboard bands wrapped around apple trees; the bands are removed and destroyed. Some pests, such as earwigs and slugs, can be lured to their death in sunken traps filled with beer.

Floating row covers keep insects out, while various types of traps can be used for specific insects.

Mechanical Control

Large insects, such as this Colorado
potato beetle, can be hand-picked from
plants. Photo by USDA-ARS.

Mechanical control methods directly remove or kill pests. They can be rapid and effective, and many are well suited for small acute pest problems, and are popular with gardeners and homeowners. Importantly, mechanical controls have relatively little impact on the beneficial natural enemies of pests and other non-target organisms, and are therefore well suited for use with biological control in an integrated pest management approach (see below). Hand-picking can be used for large or brightly colored foliage feeders such as Colorado potato beetle, Mexican bean beetle, and tomato hornworm. Shaking plants will dislodge many pests. For example, plum curculio beetles can be removed from fruit trees by diligently banging tree limbs with a padded stick and collecting the adult weevils on a white sheet as they fall out of the trees. A strong spray of water will dislodge aphids and mites from greenhouse, garden, and house plants. Fly swatters and mouse traps are forms of mechanical control. Cultivation or tillage exposes many soil insects to desiccation or predation by birds.

Biological Control

This is the use of beneficial organisms to control pests. Many centuries ago, Chinese farmers observed that ants were helping to control insect pests in their citrus orchards by feeding on caterpillars, beetles, and leaf-feeding bugs. The farmers discovered that by collecting the papery nests of a specific type of ant from trees in the countryside and moving them into their orchards, they got better control of some pests. They also provided aerial bamboo runways among the citrus trees to help the ants move easily from tree to tree. These efforts to increase the numbers of ants in the orchard and to heighten their efficiency as predators is the first recorded occurrence of biological control of insects, which is the intentional manipulation of populations of living beneficial organisms, called natural enemies, in order to reduce the numbers of pests or amount of damage.

Vedalia beetle. Photo

In the mid-1880s, southern California's developing citrus industry experienced devastating losses from an introduced pest, cottony cushion scale. Growers tried every available chemical control known at the time, even fumigation with hydrogen cyanide, but nothing provided sufficient control; many growers removed their citrus groves because the damage was so serious. After determining that the scale insect was native to Australia and New Zealand, the U.S.D.A. sent an entomologist to that area to look for effective natural enemies. The entomologist found a small lady beetle, the vedalia beetle, which he sent to California. It rapidly reproduced in infested citrus groves and brought the cottony cushion scale under complete and lasting control. This was the first highly successful case of controlling an alien pest by introducing its natural enemies from a foreign land, a technique now known as classical biological control.

Agents of biological control (natural enemies) of insects include predators, parasitic insects, and insect pathogens. Predators may be insects or other insectivorous animals, each of which consumes many insect prey during its lifetime. Predators are often large, active, and/or conspicuous in their behavior, and are therefore more readily recognized than are parasites and pathogens.

Parasites lay their eggs in or
on their host. Photo by

Parasites (also called parasitoids) of insects are other insects which lay their eggs in or on the host insect. When the parasite egg hatches, the young parasite larva feeds on the host (the pest) and kills it. Usually that one host is sufficient to feed the immature parasite until it becomes an adult. Many parasites are very specific to the type of host insect they can attack, and they are not harmful to humans. Although insect parasites are very common, they are not well known because of their small size. One of the smallest, Trichogramma, is only about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

Caterpillar killed by Bt (dark insect)
and not infected (light insect).

Insects, like other animals, are subject to attack by disease organisms. Microbial control is a form of biological control that uses insect pathogens to control pests. Insect pathogens include viruses, bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and other microorganisms that cause insect diseases. Disease epidemics among insects are not commonly encountered in nature except when insect populations are very large or when environmental conditions favor the growth of the disease organism. Nevertheless, insect pathogens are very important in the constant suppression of pest populations. Also, certain insect pathogens have been very successfully manipulated to achieve biological control of specific pests. For example, different strains of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, commonly known as "Bt", are marketed to control many insects including various caterpillars such as cabbage loopers and gypsy moth larvae, mosquitoes, and Colorado potato beetles. Many insect pathogens attack only one species or a limited group of insects and therefore are unlikely to harm non-target species such as beneficial insects, humans, livestock, wildlife, or plants.

There are three broad approaches to biological control. Importation of natural enemies is conducted by federal and state agencies to find better beneficial natural enemies and permanently establish them into new areas. Conservation of natural enemies improves the effectiveness of natural enemies through farming and gardening practices that provide necessary resources for their survival and protect them from toxins and other adverse conditions. Augmentation of natural enemies temporarily increases the numbers of natural enemies through periodic releases, thereby increasing the overall numbers of natural enemies and improving biological control.

Chemical Control

This involves the use of chemicals to kill pests or to inhibit their feeding, mating, or other essential behaviors. The chemicals used in chemical control can be natural products, synthesized mimics of natural products, or completely synthetic materials.

Repellants, confusants, and irritants are not usually toxic to insects, but interfere with their normal behavior and thereby keep the insects from causing damage. Mothballs and mosquito repellants are familiar examples. Widescale use of synthetic sex pheromones may confuse insects sufficiently that they are unable to mate and produce offspring – using insect pheromones in this manner is called mating disruption. This is one method the WDNR is using to slow the spread of gypsy moth in Wisconsin, dropping pheromone flakes from airplanes in order to treat large acreages. A few such products are commercially available for other insects, such as for codling moth control in apples. This practice works best in large commercial plantings where it is less likely that mated females will move into the planting from outside of the treated area. Many of these types of behavioral chemicals break down or wash away quickly, and must be reapplied frequently, used in an enclosed area, or formulated to release slowly over a long period.

Insecticides and miticides include many types of commercially available toxins, some naturally-derived, others synthesized, that are used for killing insects and mites.

There are many chemical insecticides.

Chemical controls, particularly synthetic organic insecticides, have been developed for nearly every insect pest. They are widely used in industrialized nations for several reasons: they are highly effective – one product often controls several different pests; there is relatively low cost for product or labor; and generally their effects are predictable and reliable. Chemical insecticides have allowed management of larger acreages by fewer individuals because of the reduced labor needed for physical and mechanical controls. Besides their use in agriculture, chemical insecticides have been very important in the battle against disease-carrying insects, such as mosquitoes that carry malaria.

However, chemical controls have many disadvantages: most have biological activity against many forms of life and therefore can affect non-target organisms; for the same reason, they present various levels of hazard to humans, especially pesticide applicators and other farm workers; most are highly toxic to beneficial insects, such as pollinators and predatory and parasitic natural enemies; both target and non-target insects can develop resistance to insecticides, sometimes very rapidly. Over-reliance on chemicals and diminished use of other control methods have helped push agriculture away from a more natural, balanced state.

Integrated Pest Management

IPM is the blending of all effective, economical, and environmentally-sound pest control methods into a single but flexible approach to managing pests. Those who practice IPM realize that it is neither possible nor economically feasible to eliminate all pests; instead pest populations should be managed below economically damaging levels. Users of the IPM approach recognize and understand the importance of the controls provided by nature. When human intervention is necessary, the least invasive practices, such as plant resistance, biological control, and cultural control, should be used because these are the practices that fit best into sustainable agriculture. Highly disruptive or environmentally damaging practices should be used only as a last resort. Chemical pesticides should be used only when necessary, based upon frequent and routine monitoring of pest populations. Natural enemy populations should also be monitored so that their impact on pests can be determined. When pesticides are necessary, if possible, only those products should be used that are not detrimental to natural enemies.

Integrated pest management is a dynamic and evolving practice. Specific management strategies will vary from crop to crop, location to location, and year to year, based upon changes in pest populations and their natural controls. As specific new approaches are developed, these too can be incorporated into the program as appropriate. Modern pest managers will be most effective if they are knowledgeable about their pests, beneficial insects, and all of the control options available.

Dan Mahr, University of Wisconsin - Madison


Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage family.
Kohlrabi is a member of the
cabbage family.

Kohlrabi, Brassica olearcea var. gongylodes, is a hardy biennial member of the cabbage family. It was first recorded being grown in northern Europe in 1554, and had reached North America at least by the early 1800's. The name is a German word meaning cabbage (kohl) - turnip (rabi), describing the turnip-like enlargement of the stem above the soil (it is NOT a root vegetable). Leaves stand out like spokes from the edible portion, the rounded stem section, which is commonly referred to as a bulb (even though botanically it is not a bulb). Although it is quite exotic looking, it is merely a different horticultural form of the same species to which common cabbage, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower belong. Its flavor is similar to that of turnips but milder and sweeter.


There are both white and purple-skinned kohlrabi cultivars.
There are both white and purple-skinned
kohlrabi cultivars.

There are a number of both "white" (really light green) and purple cultivars. The purple types only have colored skin; the interior flesh is white. In Europe, fancy varieties with frilled and deeply cut leaves are sometimes grown as ornamentals. The number of days from planting to harvest is indicated after each.

  • 'Early White Vienna' is a standard white variety with few leaves (55 days).
  • 'Early White Purple' is a standard purple variety with flattish, red-purple (60 days).
  • 'Eder' is a tender and fast-maturing white type (38 days).
  • 'Express Forcer' is a white type with compact plants that hold up well even in heat (42 days).
  • 'Gigante' is best for fall crops, producing an extremely large bulb up to a foot in diameter and 25 pounds, that does not get woody (80 days).
  • 'Grand Duke' produces vigorous small plants that are tolerant of black rot (45 days).
  • 'Granlibakken' offers excellent texture and sweet, mild flavor (45 days).
  • 'Kolibri' is a new deep purple Dutch hybrid that produces large bulbs (up to a pound) with nearly fiberless white flesh (43 days).
  • 'Kossak' is another very large variety, producing bulbs up 10 inches across with sweet, delicate flavor (70 days).
  • 'Logo' is a super-early white forcing type used in Europe for baby vegetable production (45 days).


Grow kohlrabi in well-drained soil in full sun.
Grow kohlrabi in well-drained soil in full sun.

Kohlrabi is easy to grow in full sun in moist, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Like other cole crops, they do best in cool weather, but tolerates heat better than most other members of the cabbage family. Sow seeds directly in the ground in early spring, as soon as the soil is workable. For an earlier harvest, seeds can be started indoors 4-6 weeks before transplanting outdoors when the ground is ready. For a continuous supply through late spring and early summer, make small plantings every 2-3 weeks. Fall plantings should be sown in mid-summer. Plants are cold-tolerant and will survive in the garden long after frost. Plan your planting so harvest will be a week or two after the first fall frost is expected in your area.

Space kohlrabi plants 2-5 inches apart, or farther for large varieties.
Space kohlrabi plants 2-5 inches apart, or farther
for large varieties

Place seeds ¼-½" deep and thin the seedlings to 2-5" apart (or more if you are growing one of the huge varieties). Keep the plants well-watered, as abundant moisture will prevent the stems from becoming tough and woody. Cultivate carefully to avoid damaging the shallow roots. Fertilize before planting and again at midseason.

Pest Management

Kohlrabi generally has few insect or disease problems. Cabbage caterpillars (imported cabbageworm, cabbage looper and diamondback moth) may infest the plant, but their feeding on the leaves doesn't affect yield unless populations are very high. These caterpillars can be controlled by hand-picking, chemical sprays, or applications of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Yellows, clubroot, black rot and downy mildew are a few cabbage family diseases that may affect kohlrabi but are not common in the home garden. Plant disease resistant varieties when available and maintain vigorous plants. Avoid handling the plants when they are wet and remove any infected plants/plant parts.


Kohlrabi 'Gigante' produces large bulbs that are not woody.
Kohlrabi 'Gigante' produces
large bulbs that are not woody.

Kohlrabi has the mildest and best flavor when small. Older kohlrabi tends to be tough and woody and it may have an off-flavor except in some newer varieties, such as 'Gigante' and 'Kossak' that do not develop woody fibers in the enlarged stem. You can begin harvest when the bulbs are about one inch in diameter and continue harvesting until the bulbs reach the mature size for that variety. Pull the entire plant out of the ground, or cut it off at ground level.

To store kohlrabi for several weeks, remove the leaf stems and place, unwashed, in sealed plastic bags in the refrigerator.

Serving Suggestions

Young kohlrabi leaves may be cooked like other greens. The bulbs can be eaten raw in salads or can be cooked like a turnip. Very young, tender bulbs can be used without peeling, but larger ones should be peeled. The bulbs can be hollowed out and stuffed with a vegetable or meat filling. The peeled flesh can be sliced, diced or grated and used in recipes calling for radishes. If added to slaw, lightly salt it first, let stand for several minutes, and squeeze to remove any excess water before adding dressing. When steaming or boiling kohlrabi, peel after cooking.

Kohlrabi is a good source of vitamin C and potassium. It is low in both sodium and calories. One cup diced and cooked kohlrabi contains only 40 calories and 140% of the RDA for vitamin C.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin - Madison

What’s The Buzz?

A bumblebee searches a flower for nectar.One of the most important pollinators of fruits and vegetables is the honeybee.The days of summer are buzzing in the garden. But not all that buzzes is bad. In fact, of the hundreds of species of insects found in Wisconsin, fewer than 1% are serious threats to our ornamentals and crops. Many of those insects that don’t cause problems are actually beneficial. Their main roles are in pollination of flowers for fruit production and as agents of biological control that keep many of the potentially pesky insects under control. And then there’s the honey, the beeswax, the silk, etc.

Many “bugs” we see and hear buzzing around our gardens and flowers are black and yellow striped like bumble bees by design. Only a few are actually bees; many are really wasps and flies that mimic bees with this coloration. Most of them are pollinators and predators of other species of plant pests. A few may sting but usually not unless they are provoked – or when you scare them by flailing your arms, batting at them and screaming.

Some buzzing insects, like German yellowjackets, can be aggresive and sting.Granted, yellowjackets and bald-faced wasps sometimes need no provocation at all. But they only represent a very small percentage of what’s buzzing in the air, unless of course there’s open soda and food and its late July or August.

All those others are buzzing beneficials, worshipping each blossom and seeking out pests to destroy. They should be encouraged and conserved through wise plant selection and intelligent pest management aimed at the pests – not these welcome guests.

A hover fly adult on a yarrow flower.A tiny hover fly feeds on an alyssum flower.Some of the most common non-stinging bee mimics are probably hover flies (or flower flies, in the family Syrphidae). They are common and important natural enemies of aphids and other small, slow-moving insects. The adults are often seen visiting flowers, hovering over the flowers and darting around. There are many different species that range in size from less than 1/4 inch long to more than 3/4 inch long. Many have the typical black and yellow stripes on the abdomen that give them a bee-like appearance, but others are hairy with a long, thin abdomen. The adults need flowers as nectar and pollen sources. They are attracted to weedy borders or mixed garden plantings that are also infested with aphids. Some flowers that are especially attractive to hover flies include wild carrot or Queen Anne's lace, wild mustard, sweet alyssum, coriander, dill, and other small-flowered herbs. Females lay their tiny white eggs singly on leaves or shoots near or among aphid colonies. The larvae that hatch in two to three days are small legless maggots that range in color from creamy-white to green or brown. They look somewhat slug-like and are tapered towards the head. The larvae feed on aphids or other insects and move around on the plants in search of prey. Although hover fly larvae feed mainly on aphids, they will eat small caterpillars, thrips and other small insects.

A small, stingless wasp on a dandelion flower.A parasitic wasp feeds on an 'Autumn Joy' sedum flower.There are also many types of wasps that frequently visit flowers. The vast majority of wasp species are incapable of stinging. Many of these stingless wasps appear to have an external stinger, which, however, is the egg-laying structure (ovipositor). In the stinging bees and wasps this organ is no longer used as an ovipositor, but has become modified for defense. These small wasps are generally parasitic on other insects. The stingless wasps comprise the single largest and most important group of natural enemies of insect pests. The adult female deposits her eggs in or on the host insect, and the larvae that hatch consume the host as they complete their development, eventually killing the host in the process.

Sharon Morrisey, Milwaukee Co. UW-Extension Consumer Horticulture Agent of Fruit Trees

Prune fruit trees in late winter, before they bloom.With the spring approaching, thoughts turn to visions of lush green foliage, brightly colored flowers and fresh garden produce. What better way to get a jump on the spoils of the summer months than to prepare you fruit trees for a healthy and productive year? Late winter to early spring is the ideal time of year to prune your apple, cherry, peach, pear or plum tree.

Why Prune?

There are several reasons to prune your fruit trees. Proper pruning can be used to improve the strength and longevity, maximize fruit production and reduce problems associated with insects and diseases. In addition to the benefits to the tree, your efforts will result in a more attractive tree that is easier to harvest and maintain.

What to Prune

Proper pruning will help maximize fruit production.The strategies for pruning trees at different ages vary, but there are some basic principles that apply to all fruit trees.

The first thing to tackle is what branches to prune. It’s important in all trees to remove all dead branches, suckers (the long straight shoots growing from the bottom of the tree) and the water sprouts (the long straight shoots rising upward from the trunk and main branches). These three types of branches may be removed at any time of year and may need to be pruned several times a year to reduce potential problems.

When branches are conflicting (rub against one another), cross or grow close together, prune out the weaker of the two branches. When determining the weaker branch, consider not only the size and strength of the branch but also the angle of the branch to the tree. Branches leaving the trunk at too sharp of an angle lead to weak crotches (where the branch meets the trunk) and this may lead to breakage.

Young trees

Prune young trees so they are able to support heavy fruit.By pruning and training your fruit tree from the day of planting you can develop a tree that that is strong and has good form for heavy fruit production. To start training fruit trees, remove all side branches on the lower two or three feet of the trunk. Leave the first branch at this level that forms a 45 to 90 degree angle to the trunk. Next, select four or six branches, with wide crotch angles, spaced 8 to 12 inches apart in a spiral pattern up the trunk. Keep these and remove all others flush with the branch collar. Make sure that the leader, or top extension of the trunk, is taller than any of the side branches. If a double leader develops, remove one of the leaders.

Established and overgrown trees

The two goals for pruning in these fruit trees are opening up the canopy to improve light penetration and controlling the height of the tree. Open the canopy by removing branches growing toward the center of the tree and selected secondary branches (those extending from the main branches). Weak spindly branches, which are generally found in the lower and outer part of the tree, beneath dense growth, should also be removed. Additional branches may be removed from overgrown trees to allow sufficient light penetration. To manage tree height, remove one or two off the tallest branches at their point of origin. It is especially important in overgrown trees to remove no more than one major limb each year. Over pruning, in any fruit tree stimulates too much vegetative growth and reduces fruit production in the present season and possibly the next season as well.

How to Prune

Prune properly to assure a good fruit harvest.When pruning branches it is important to remove the branches properly to maintain the vigor of the tree. Improper pruning can lead to larger wounds that take longer to heal and invite disease or result in stubs which lead to the decay of the remaining branch.

To remove a large branch without causing damage to the bark of the trunk, a series of three cuts should be made with a saw (see picture). The first cut should be made 1 to 2 feet out from the branch collar (the swelling of the bark where the branch meets the trunk) cutting about halfway thought the branch from the underside. Make the second cut a few inches farther out from the first cut, sawing completely through the branch from the top. The weight of the branch will break to wood leaving a notched stub behind. Remove the stub by cutting flush against the branch collar from the top. This cut will be slightly angled to follow the angle of the collar.

To remove smaller branches cut them off with a pruning saw or a pole pruner. Cut right next to the collar as for a large branch.

When pruning diseased wood from trees, special precautions should be taken. The cut should be made back to an area of healthy wood, at least several inches back from the site of infection. Care should be taken to sterilize your tools after each cut by dipping them in rubbing alcohol or a solution of household bleach and water (1:9 – 1 part bleach to 9 parts water). However, the bleach mixture is highly corrosive and rapid evaporation will alter the concentration.

After pruning branches, do not paint the cut with wound dressing or tree paint. Pruning wounds heal better when left open. Also, piles of branches should be removed from beneath the tree. These piles attract mice and rabbits that may damage your tree.

By taking the time and care to prune you fruit tree properly you will add to the health, longevity and productivity of your fruit tree.

Kristin Kleeberger, UW-Extension Commercial Horticulture Educator, Waukesha and Milwaukee Counties

Corn Earworm

Corn earworms feed on the tips of sweet corn ears. Photo by Jack Dykinga; USDA-ARS image K2627-14.Top: A corn earworm moth sips nectar from a night-blooming Gaura plant. Photo by Juan Lopez, USDA-ARS image K8404-20. Bottom: A corn earworm caterpillar.Sweet corn season is here, and there's nothing like eating freshly harvested ears – unless you find a worm when peeling back the husks! That unwanted intruder is usually the corn earworm, Helicoverpa zea, a caterpillar that eventually grows to 2 inches long. They vary in color, and may be green, brown, pink, black or various shades between these colors, with light and dark stripes along its sides and back. The head is always a yellow or light brown color, without any spots.

The adult corn earworm is a grayish-brown, night-flying moth with a wingspan of about 1½ inches. Female moths prefer to lay their eggs on fresh corn silks, but will also choose buds and growing tips of young corn if silks aren't available. The tiny, light yellow eggs are laid singly. Females can lay up to 1000 eggs during their lifetime. By the time the eggs hatch in a few days, they have turned to a dark brown. The little caterpillars crawl down the silks to the end of the ear to feed on the maturing corn kernels. Since they are cannibalistic, you typically will only find one in each ear of corn. After about 2 weeks of feeding, the caterpillar crawls out of the ear and drops to the ground where it burrows a few inches into the soil to pupate.

Corn earworm spends the winter in the pupal stage, but they rarely survive our harsh winters. In most years a new infestation of moths migrates into Wisconsin on winds blowing up from the Gulf coast. They typically arrive here in late June, and only affect very early sweet corn. The second generation in mid-August to early September is generally more damaging to sweet corn.

There are a number of options for controlling corn earworm in the home garden:

  • Damage to ear of corn by corn earworm.There are some sweet corn varieties that show resistance to corn earworm damage. These include Country Gentleman, Stay Gold, Victory Golden, Silver Cross Bantam, and Silvergent.
  • Plant mid-season varieties that will mature between moth flights so the ears will be less likely to be injured.
  • Industrious gardeners can prevent moths from laying eggs on their corn by applying 20 drops of mineral oil with a medicine dropper to the silks inside the tip of ear after the silks have wilted (3 to 7 days after silks first appear).
  • Chemical insecticides can also be used to protect the ears, but once the caterpillar has entered the ear, there is no effective control. To be effective, you need to completely cover the end of the ear so that when the eggs hatch, the young caterpillars will immediately contact a lethal dose of insecticide. Treatments must be reapplied every 3 to 4 days from when silks first appear until they become brown. Consult your local county Extension office for recommendations of insecticides registered to control corn earworm in the home garden.
  • If you'd rather not treat the ears, you can always just cut off the damaged parts of infested ears, as the portion not fed on by the caterpillar is still perfectly good.

Cross section of a tunnel with a corn earworm pupa. The Diapetimorpha introita wasp is preparing to lay an egg in the pupal tunnel. Photo by Scott Bauer; USDA-ARS image K5557-9.There are a number of natural enemies that attack corn earworm eggs. A number of tiny Trichogramma, chalcid and braconid wasps parasitize the eggs, while minute pirate bugs (Oriusspp.) eats the eggs and there is a virus that may infect and kill the eggs. There are also wasps that attack corn earworm larvae and pupae, however, these beneficial insects are not numerous enough to provide acceptable control.

Corn earworm has a wide range of tastes besides just corn. Other vegetables it will consume include tomatoes, beans, cabbage, and soybeans. It is referred to as the tomato fruitworm when found on tomato, and the cotton bollworm when found on that plant. Corn earworm prefers corn, but late in the season when corn plants are not as attractive, it may damage tomatoes and snap beans by eating into the fruits or pods.

Occasionally other insects, particularly the European corn borer, may also be found in sweet corn ears. Control of these is the same as for corn earworm.

Using Manure in the Home Garden

Manure is a valuable soil amendment for home gardens.Manure is a valuable soil amendment for home gardens. It not only supplies macro and micronutrients for plant growth, but also is a source of organic matter. Increasing soil organic matter improves soil tilth, increases the water holding capacity of sandy soils, improves drainage in clay soils, provides a source of slow release nutrients, and promotes growth of earthworms and other beneficial soil organisms.

Proper use of manure will ensure that your plants will be supplied with adequate nutrients and that your soil tilth will improve. Too low a rate of applied manure can lead to nutrient deficiency and poor plant growth. On the other hand, too high a rate can lead to nitrate leaching, nutrient runoff, excessive vegetative growth and, for some manures, salt damage. It is important to understand that manure characteristics can vary greatly with animal, bedding, storage, and processing. Because of this variation, the recommended rates provided in this report should be considered as very general.

Fresh manure

Fresh manure may have high amounts of weed seeds.Characteristics of fresh manure include high amounts of ammonium or soluble nitrogen resulting in a higher available nitrogen content compared to composted manure. Salts in fresh manure also tend to be high - especially in poultry/turkey manure. Fresh manure may contain high amounts of viable weed seeds, which can lead to a weed problem. Because of the high amounts of ammonia-nitrogen in fresh manure, it should be incorporated 6 to 8 inches within 12 hours after application. Without incorporation much of the soluble nitrogen will be lost to the atmosphere as ammonia. To avoid salt damage, seeding operations should not be done until 3 to 4 weeks after application. Type of bedding or litter will usually decrease manure nutrient content by dilution. If straw or sawdust is used, nitrogen availability may be lowered by increasing the C/N ratio. High carbon relative to nitrogen (greater than 25 /1) will tie up nitrogen.

Composted manure will contribute to the organic matter content of the soil.Composted manure

Composting manure will lower the amount of soluble nitrogen forms by stabilizing the nitrogen in larger organic humus like compounds. Some of the ammonium-nitrogen will be lost as a gas during composting. Heat generated during the composting process will kill most weed seeds. Composted manure has lower availability of nitrogen and will contribute more to the organic matter content of the soil compared to fresh manure. Unless applied at high rates, composted manure alone may not be able to supply all the nutrients for fast growing plants. Since soluble nitrogen is not high in composted manure, immediate incorporation is not critical; however, to obtain full benefit from the compost, incorporation to a depth of 6 to 8 inches is recommended whenever possible.

Nutrient availability

Manure from many different herbivores - including trukeys - can be used in the home garden.The analysis of manure or compost provides total nutrient content; however, availability of the nutrients from the manure for plant growth will depend on the breakdown and release from of the organic components. Generally, 70 to 80% of the phosphorus and 80 to 90% of the potassium will be available from manure the first year after application. Calculating nitrogen availability is more complex than for phosphorus and potassium. Most of the nitrogen in manure is in the organic form. This form is considered unavailable for uptake until it is broken down to soluble forms by microorganisms. A smaller fraction of the nitrogen in manure is in the ammonium/ammonia form and is considered immediately available for plant growth. In most cases, manure application is based on its nitrogen content and estimated availability for the first growing season - see table below. It should be remembered that some manure contains high levels of phosphorus, so while plant nitrogen demands are met, soil levels of phosphorus may be building up. Use of soil tests will help in determining the level of phosphorus in the soil as well as the need for further applications.

Suggested rates of manure or compost to apply on a fresh weight basis to supply about 0.2 lb of available nitrogen per 100 square feet.

Manure typeRate to apply per 100 square ft. - lbs
Dairy, no bedding75
Dairy, with bedding90
Sheep, no bedding40
Sheep, with bedding50
Poultry, no litter20
Poultry, with bedding30
Horse, with bedding65
Poultry compost70
Dairy compost200

Simple Sauerkraut

The thing about experimentation is that it is experimental. Experimentation by definition has unpredictable results.

I have experimented widely with sauerkraut over the past seven or eight years, adding various vegetables and spices and trying different methods, fending off mold and throwing in a wild card ingredient every once in a while. Let me tell you, some of those experiments have been disastrous. And some have been divine. Such is the nature of experimentation.

We grew Early Flat Dutch cabbage (pictured above) this year and I harvested some this week to make a bunch of kraut. Having nurtured this cabbage from seed through all manner of pestilence over the past six months, I was not willing to experiment with it. Instead of letting my creative juices flow, I decided to go back to basics and make some plain, old, traditional sauerkraut.

Inside the Early Flat Dutch

Here's the recipe, very simple, tried and true:


  • Five pounds or so of cabbage
  • 3 Tbs. high-quality salt
  • A scant or hearty handful of each: dill seed, caraway seed, and celery seed (adjust amounts depending on your flavor preferences)

  1. Shred cabbage. I do this with a knife, slicing very thinly to make long, crimped strips.
  2. Layer into a ceramic crock, adding a couple of teaspoons of salt and a couple of pinches of seeds after each layer of cabbage.
  3. After each layer goes into the crock, smash it. I use a potato masher for this. Some people use their fists or a heavy wooden pestle-like tool.
  4. Keep layering salt, spices, and cabbage and smashing until the crock is full or you are out of cabbage, whichever comes first.
  5. If there is not enough water released from the smashing, add water to cover and a little more salt. Weigh down to submerge (I use a plate and a mason jar full of water as pictured below). I also use leftover whole cabbage leaves under the plate to keep the shredded cabbage from floating and thus being exposed to air.
  6. Cover with a clean, breathable cloth, and allow to ferment! I like to taste it along the way, and the amount of fermentation time depends on conditions in the room and personal taste, but I like to let it go at least a month. Keep pressing down the weight whenever you think of it, and scrape off any scum that forms on top. Once it's nice and sour, enjoy!

Top layer of kraut weighed down before topping off with water.

Simple is good. Here's to plain, simple sauerkraut, a staple of old-timey food preservation and of my fall and winter diet. Sour, crunchy, salty. Yum.

Further Adventures in Fermentation: Collard & Radish Kraut

Collard greens and dill picked this morning for fermenting.

Wanting to eat homegrown food year-round; loving simple, low-tech ways of doing things; nerding out on food traditions; and prefering to eat food without zapping the nutrients -- for all of these reasons, fermenting things in the summertime has become a big part of my gardening and cooking life.

There's almost always something fermenting in our kitchen. For the past six weeks or so, I've had a 1-gallon crock of garlic scapespickling in brine on the countertop, and today I started another ferment: the first kraut of the year.

We finally polished off the last of last summer's sauerkraut a couple of months ago, and my mouth has been watering for that sour, salty taste ever since. Our cabbage is not ready to harvest yet, so I am trying to satisfy my craving with an experimental collard kraut.

Though I have attempted fermentation of dozens of other vegetables and fruits over the years, I've never tried collards, strangely. They are such a close cousin of cabbage, the traditional sauerkraut stalwart, that it seems likely that collard greens will make a lovely kraut. I love the spicy crunch of radishes in kraut, and we have a superabundance of radishes and more coming on all the time in the garden, so they were a natural addition.

Radishes on their way to the fermenting crock.

Dilly Collard and Radish Kraut

  • 1- or 2- Gallon ceramic pickling crock
  • Glass or ceramic plate that fits inside the crock
  • Clean mason jar filled with water and screwed shut
  • A hefty bunch of collards - I used about a pound
  • Radishes to taste - I used mostly daikon, but any kind will do
  • 1 large onion
  • Fresh dill to taste - I like to use lots of dill flower heads
  • Salt
  • A handful of whole peppercorns
  • Salt water (1 Tbs salt per 2 cups water)
  1. Line the bottom of the crock with dill flower heads. Sprinkle in a Tbs. or so of salt and some peppercorns.
  2. Slice collards into very thin strips and cut radishes into paper-thin rounds. Slice the onion in half and then slice into super-thin slices.
  3. Fill the crock, alternating layers of collards, radishes, onions, and dill. Start with a layer of collards 2 inches deep or so, sprinkle on a Tbs. of salt and a few peppercorns, and pound with a potato masher. Then layer on radishes and dill, and another layer of collards.
  4. After each layer of collards, add a Tbs. of salt and pound. The pounding helps release the juices of the greens and gets the fermenting process started.
  5. Once you've used up all of your ingredients, cover with salt water and press the plate down on top of the last layer. Everything should be submerged. Use the jar of water to weigh down the plate, cover with a cloth tied or rubber-banded around the crock to keep out bugs, and let sit.
  6. Check every day or so, pressing down the jar.
  7. After 3 weeks or so, the kraut should be sour, juicy, and ready to eat. Taste it and see. You may want to scoop some out to eat at that point and leave the rest to ferment longer. Traditional krauts sometimes are allowed to ferment for months, getting stronger and stronger tasting and more and more full of beneficial probiotics. Ferment as long as you like, and enjoy!
A fat & juicy fresh onion, which will taste nice and sour after a few weeks in the crock.

Alternatives to Refrigeration

When storing quantities of food is necessary, there are lots of ways to do it that don't require ongoing use of electricity, and in some cases don't require any electricity at all. Many of these preservation methods are ancient culinary traditions that produce delicious foods.

Alternatives to refrigeration include:
  • Brining. Examples: pickles, sour kraut, relishes.
  • Salting (meats). Examples: Cured ham.
  • Drying (meats, shell beans, herbs, vegetables, fruits). Examples: raisins, dried apples, sundried tomatoes, dried beans.
  • Souring or culturing (dairy). Examples: cheese, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt.
  • Canning/heat processing. Examples: tomato sauce, canned fruits and vegetables.
  • Cellaring/Cool storage. Examples: potatoes, cabbage, apples, and all manner of root crops. This can be as simple as storing potatoes in a cool, dark basement or as complicated as building a root cellar.
  • Buying or harvesting food fresh more frequently and storing it for less time (see my comments above on what people in other parts of the world do).
  • Eating in season fresh from the garden. The taste beats the hell out of refrigerated food, too.

A Simple Rainwater Harvesting Design
by Doug Pushard

Australia mandates it. In Tucson’s 100-plus degree summer days, one well-known harvester has created a natural cooling and humidity system using it. Earthships and off-the-grid builders need it to survive. What is it? It is the next renewable revolution: rainwater harvesting. If you ask old-timers and the Native Americans here in New Mexico, they’ll tell you it is nothing new but merely coming to forefront as we take greater care to use our local resources in economical, sustainable ways.

Rainwater harvesting systems don’t have to be expensive or complicated. It is easy to get started with rain barrels and expand later. In fact, it is better to start with expansion in mind. As your budget and/or the cost of water increases, it is then easy to add on.

schematicRainwater harvesting systems have 4 major and very different subsystems:Capture, Conveyance, Holding, and Distribution(non-irrigation systems will include Filtration and Purification).

The capture system (see related links for a more complete article on capture systems) is the roof of the house. It is the one item that is typically set in stone and not expandable. I capture rain off my flat 1,700 square foot roof through four canales. It is just as easy to capture off a sloped roof attached to traditional gutters. The first thing to keep in mind harvesting rainwater is the need to keep debris out of the water system. You can install screens on each of the canales or downspouts to prevent large particulates from entering the system. The screening material I have used is available at most large hardware stores and has holes that are larger traditional window screens. This does not keep everything out, but also means they do not have to be cleaned frequently. It does require the tank to be emptied and cleaned every few years.

Getting the water from the roof to the tank is the role of the conveyancesystem. The simplest and most cost effective design is for the tank to be directly under the canale or downspout, resulting in a very short and extremely inexpensive conveyance system. At my house, I choose to bury the tank due to the extremely small lot size. The conveyance system consists of underground landscape piping that moves the water from the downspouts to the tank. Gravity and water pressure move the water through the downspouts and pipe to the tank. Optimally, the buried pipe should slope about 1 inch every 4-6 feet. I have attached my canales to standard downspouts, which are in turn attached to standard downspout boxes that attach directly to the buried pipes. The piping and downspout boxes are readily available at large hardware stores. The underground pipe I chose was standard buried landscaping--4 inch black flex pipe--that typically comes in 100 foot rolls. It is suitable for installations where the water is not meant to be drinkable (i.e. potable).

The tanks are the holding (i.e. also commonly referred to as the Storage System) system. Polypropylene tanks are the most common and widely available tanks and can be had in a wide array of sizes are that can either be buried or not. These should be sized correctly to meet your water use requirements or you can make a plan to install another tank in the future. I buried my 1,700 gallon tank in my very small 10' x 20' courtyard and plan eventually to add another 1,700 gallon tank under my gravel driveway. This should water my small 2,000 square foot xeriscaped yard for nearly a month without rain.

The last and sometimes the most complex aspect of the system is thedistribution system. I chose to keep it simple. I used an inexpensive ½ hp submersible pump available at hardware or plumbing stores. The pump is hooked directly to my sprinkler system and one new outdoor water faucet. Purchase a pump that comes with a float and automatic shut-off to prevent the pump from burning out when the tank is empty. With this simple system, I must manually turn on the electricity to the pump, but it keeps the costs and complexity way down.

This system cost me just over $2,500 and will pay for itself in about 7 years at current water rates. It is possible to do for less if you do a lot yourself and don’t bury the tank. It is also easily possible to spend substantially more by adding more storage and more controls. If your system is intended for drinking water, all the components of the system must be for “potable water”. Additionally, some type of water filtration system would need to be added to the system. This will significantly increase the cost of the system, but also make you less reliant on the utility company. Plus you get the benefit of drinking and using pure rainwater on your plants and shrubs instead of water that has not been grossly over-treated with chemicals.

If you currently have a well, keep in mind that meters are coming as the state requires more monitoring of water use, so your investment now might save you fines and costs down the line (i.e. this is a New Mexico regulation, other states will probably follow suit over time). And rainwater systems prevent heavy runoff from Northern New Mexico monsoons from running off with your soil. By storing the water and using it gradually, not only your landscaping but your surrounding lands benefit from gradual watering.

As you start your planning, start by watching your water needs. Conserve first and then start building small with an eye on the future. Water rates are not going to go down and rainwater harvesting can be a very good investment if done wisely. Rainwater harvesting can be cool, good for the environment and good for your pocketbook too!

The above is a reprint of article that appeared in taos green guide for sustainable living January 2008. Since initially written a new subsystem has been added for clarification: Filtering/Purification. An article on this portion of a system will appear in Backhome Magazine the Summer of 2009.