Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) is really at its peak right now, brightening the fading natural landscape of late summer with splashes of yellow in fields, along roadways and on the edges of wooded areas. There are many species of goldenrod and they all have yellow flowers that are produced in late summer to early fall. One common roadside species is Canadian goldenrod (S. canadensis), shown in the photo (if I’ve ID’d it correctly). Goldenrods are in the Asteraceae family and are herbaceous perennials.

J. Allen photo.

J. Allen photo.








Most goldenrods are native to North America and many people consider them weeds but certain species (and cultivars) have been gaining popularity in gardening. Some of the new cultivars are less aggressive spreaders than their wild counterparts and the flowers are very attractive to many beneficial insects including pollinators and parasites and predators of pests. In addition to these nice qualities, goldenrods are considered edible and have been used extensively for medicinal purposes.   Commonly assumed to cause allergic reactions when in flower, the pollen of goldenrods is too heavy and sticky to be airborne in large quantities that would be a problem. This time of year, ragweed is the most common culprit.

Medical ailments historically treated using this plant include minor skin wounds, tuberculosis, diabetes, gout, hemorrhoids, internal bleeding, asthma, arthritis, inflammation, high blood pressure and kidney stones. No significant scientific research has been done to date to support these uses but a few laboratory studies do suggest a benefit may occur for inflammation, muscle spasms, fighting infections and lowering blood pressure.   It also seems to have diuretic properties. It is used in herbal teas. Consult with your doctor before using goldenrod or other supplements to treat any medical condition. A University of Maryland publication on this subject recommends caution for people that have certain existing health conditions.

Bumblebee foraging on goldenrod flowers. J. Allen photo.

Bumblebee foraging on goldenrod flowers. J. Allen photo.

An interesting historical use of goldenrod is for rubber. Its leaves typically contain 7% rubber. Apparently Thomas Edison worked on fertilization and cultivation methods to maximize the rubber content and his work produced a 12 foot tall plant with up to 12% rubber content. Henry Ford, a friend of Edison’s, used goldenrod rubber for tires on the Model T he gave to him. Ford also collaborated with George Washington Carver at the Tuskegee Institute, funding work to develop synthetic rubber and/or commercialize goldenrod rubber when World War II caused rubber shortages. Unfortunately, the rubber from goldenrod was not of high enough quality for commercial use.

Traditional garden lore on companion planting lists goldenrod as a plant that seems to attract striped cucumber beetles away from the vegetable garden. No data has proven this one way or the other. Research indicates that goldenrod may have some allelopathic (harmful/inhibitory) effect on some trees, including black locust and sugar maple.   Goldenrod has the distinctive status of state flower in both Kentucky and Nebraska and is the state wildflower of South Carolina and the state herb of Delaware.

Goldenrods have been introduced as garden flowers in other parts of the world and in parts of Europe and China have escaped cultivation and become problematic invasives. There are recipes available for making goldenrod oil and vinegar. Whether you use the plant in your kitchen or just enjoy the pretty blossoms, now you know a little more about this native plant and its role in the environment.




J. Allen



furcula- gray or hourglass Mt Rd power lines on aspenAugust 9, 2014 II

Furcula with modified anal prolegs used to wave away potential predators

Many insects never make it to adulthood to complete their life cycles because in the grand scheme of things, they are low on the food chain. Between birds and amphibians, mammals and other insects, there is no lack of creatures that rely upon insects to muscle up themselves or to ensure their young survive long enough to obtain food for themselves.

But insects are not necessarily limpid little defenseless victims of a more sophisticated life form. They have strategies to overcome the odds of becoming dinner for something else. Some use camouflage, others are cryptic in manner and color, some have mastered the technique of veiling themselves with material and others simply hide. When you become familiar with specific species and their means of surviving, then it becomes easier to find them or to at least recognize them when you see them.

One of the ways insects can hide in plain sight is by coloration and feeding techniques. Spring caterpillars that feed on new leaves are often green in color. Late season caterpillars are differently colored and often have colorations or body forms that imitate the dead leaf spots and edges that occur at that time of year. Some feed along leaf edges and appear to be part of the leaf itself. Careful scrutiny will reveal the ruse. Two of the prominent caterpillars, the Wavy- lined Heterocampa and the Lace-capped caterpillar are just two examples of this behavior.


Wavy- lined Heterocampa feeding cryptically along the lower edge of a sweet birch leaf

Many assassin bugs that rely upon other insects as their food source will often lie in wait in places other insects are sure to visit. This includes flowers. Ambush bugs perch on flower heads, especially yellow and white composites, and wait for pollinators or nectar collecting insects to come to them. Ambush bugs are hard to spot on these flowers as they are the same color as the petals. They are motionless and are hard for even people to spot unless you look carefully for them. Often you will see butterflies that hang limply from flower heads. A close examination will reveal an ambush bug ( or a crab spider ! ) clasping the body and feeding off the insect’s fluids. Also, assassin bugs and predatory stink bugs often hide inside the folded seed heads of Queen Anne’s Lace and wait for other insects that use the structure as a hiding place to come inside. Opportunity may knock, but being in the right place at the right time is a better means of assuring survival.

Walking sticks are a good example of cryptic coloration and mimicry. Early nymphs are found on viburnum and filbert in New England. On these plants, both the insect’s shape and color allow it to blend so completely with that of the plant foliage that unless they move or cast a shadow, they are very hard to find. Later in the season, the older nymphs and adults change their food plants to oaks and cherries where they are able to blend in as their color changes to match the foliage of these trees. Camouflage loopers are small caterpillars that are found on composites. They take petals from the plant’s flowers and “ glue “ them on their body. They blend in so well that the only evidence of their presence will be that the flowers seems to be deformed.

walking stick blending in on filbert July 1, 2014

Early nymph of a walking stick on native filbert. Note how legs blend in with the leaf veins.

Caterpillars, especially the slug moth caterpillars, can have defense mechanisms that utilize urticating hairs or venomous barbs to ward off potential predators. Handling some tussock moth caterpillars. the familiar woolly bears, Io moth cats and others may prove a painful experience for some people. One especially to be avoided is the saddleback caterpillar- small,l but able to inflict severe pain or burning sensation that lasts for several hours or even a few days. The body is covered with hollow spines that release an irritant when brushed or touched. Handled gently, many of these caterpillars will not harm the handler, but use caution around any caterpillar having barbs, hairs or spines. While many caterpillars that have spines and hairs have no toxins, unless you know for certain they are harmless, avoid contact with the skin to be safe.


Another means by which insects can protect themselves is by mimicry. Many flies have coloration and markings that are very similar to wasps and bees. These flies can also feed on the pollen of many of the plants that bees and wasps also visit. Birds will tend to avoid any insect that may have  the potential to sting, so these bee mimics need not worry as they go about their everyday work acquiring pollen. The Virginia Flowerfly is one pollen- gathering bee mimic that is very common in Connecticut.

stink bugs hiding jpg

Stink bug nymphs hiding in grape leaf shelter


Many types of insects use leaf shelters as a means of hiding from predators by day. Besides caterpillars such as the Spicebush Swallowtail, stink bugs routinely use abandoned leaf shelters for themselves. I have especially found them by day huddling in small groups in leaf shelters on grape, which, along with raspberry, is one of the most common plants they feed on in the wild. Some spiders will use the same type of shelters, so be prepared for that surprise when you open any likely hiding places. Queen Anne’s lace is an especially good place to look for caterpillars, insects, assassin or other predatory bugs and spiders late in the year. Or look on goldenrod flowers, both for predators and caterpillars that feed on the flowers.


Slapping old molted skins on or using their own frass piled on their body is another way an insect either protect itself or camouflage itself to get clser to potential victims. Tortoise beetle larva use both methods to keep their presence unknown . All that can be seen is a small blob that looks like debris or frass. If disturbed, they may tip the mess up in the air over the body, somewhat like opening the trunk of a car. Then it is lowered again to conceal the soft body once again. Lacewing larva use their molted skins and other detritus to cover their body in a similar way. They can be found especially on white oak leaves this year. Look for a small, light tan, fuzzy pile moving across a leaf. This is probably a lacewing larva.

lacewing larva with molted skins covering it Pamm Cooper photo

lacewing larva with molted skins covering it

camoulflaged looper plus tiny looper Belding

Camouflage looper on daisy


Well, that is a brief look at some ways insects survive or attempt to survive in the world. There are many other ways and means insects employ subterfuge and the rest that could probably fill a book, but this is simply a leaf through…


Pamm Cooper

A couple of weeks ago, the Connecticut Community Gardening Association partnering with the community garden at Manchester Community College held a Summer Celebration of the gardens, the dedicated gardeners, their bounty, composting efforts and the desire to learn more about growing one’s own food. I just learned from an on-line article that only 5 % of Americans garden! That is really depressing to me (not only as a soils and horticulture educator) but because gardening affords me such a pleasant escape from my every day, real-world trials and tribulations. I look at it as free therapy – often with culinary benefits!

Manchester Community College Community Garden

Manchester Community College Community Garden

A moderate sized group of local, interested folks showed up for a tour of the gardens and an informal but insightful presentation by CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (CT DEEP) Sherill Baldwin. Some of the statistics that Ms. Baldwin presented us with were truly amazing. Food waste is apparently the largest component of municipal solid waste that goes to landfills and incinerators. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that food wastes made up 21.3 % of the total national municipal solid wastes generated in 2011. Amazingly that amounts to 36.31 million tons of wasted food each year! This represents major inefficiencies in our food system!

Sheril Baldwin from CT DEEP

Sheril Baldwin from CT DEEP

Not only are our valuable natural resources (soil, water, nutrients, etc.) wasted when edible food products are tossed into the trash but there is a monetary loss (estimated $1,365 – $2,275) when food is discarded and not eaten and if food ends up in a landfill, methane gas is produced as the food decays underground and it is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Even if the food waste is burned for energy, it still could often be put to better use, according to Ms. Baldwin.

Bob Halstead from CCGA and Bridgeport preparing a meal from locally harvested community gardens.

Bob Halstead from CCGA and Bridgeport preparing a meal from locally harvested community gardens.

A recent UConn study found that 12.7% of Connecticut residents from 2008 to 2010 were living in a household which was deemed ‘food insecure’. The USDA’s definition of food insecurity is ‘access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life”.

So Connecticut gardeners, what can you do if you have extra produce to share? Actually there are a lot of options. Contact one of the following organizations:

Or call 2-1-1

Many of us gardeners produce more that we can freeze/can/dry/giveaway before our harvest starts to lose its freshness and nutritional qualities. For those not able to grow food crops, think about planning meals to avoid waste and purchasing nutritious vegetables, fruits and meats produced locally.

Do consider finding a community garden in your community if gardening space is limited at your residence. The CT Community Gardening Association can help find suitable space in some areas of the state.

Charmaine Craig from Knox is the current president of CCGA, seen here with Steve Kovach, CCGA board member.

Charmaine Craig from Knox is the current president of CCGA, seen here with Steve Kovach, CCGA board member.

Growing one’s own food can provide a great deal of satisfaction and sustenance. While it can be challenging at times, acquiring knowledge at events like this one or contacting the horticulturists at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (860) 486-6271 or Master Gardener volunteers at your local Cooperative Extension Center will help you grow healthy and productive crops.

As far as what else to do with food waste, many gardeners add kitchen wastes to their compost piles. Composting is a time-honored method of disposing of a large amount of kitchen and yard wastes (no fats, grease or carnivorous animal droppings) and recycling these items into a wonderful soil amendment. Just so happens that UConn offers an annual Master Composter Program and this year it will be held in Stamford at the Bartlett Arboretum in October.

And on a totally different topic, I went to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in Deerfield with a friend while on vacation and purchased a Monarch butterfly chrysalis thinking I could blog about it hatching. Well one vacation day another event was planned and I noticed the chrysalis becoming transparent. I left it attached to the porch railing in case the butterfly emerged before I got home and low and behold it did! So much for that idea, but some compensation. The next day was my sister’s birthday  (she lives a short distance from me) and she told me she was so excited to see a Monarch butterfly in her garden – the first one she saw all year. Maybe it was the one that emerged from my chrysalis. But even if not, I will wish it an uneventful journey to its Mexican wintering grounds.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis just before emergence.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis just before emergence.

Happy Harvesting! Keep on Gardening!

Dawn P.

A great sustainable way to collect water for use in your garden and flower beds is to use a rain barrel. Placed beneath a down spout, these barrels will collect free water every time that it rains. We have one 45-gallon barrel placed in the front of our home and a 60-gallon barrel in the back. It is amazing how quickly they can fill up. A watering can left beside each one makes it easy to water flower beds, window boxes, and the vegetable garden. Okay, the last one may take a bit more effort but consider it free strength-conditioning! The barrels come in many different styles and sizes including a collapsible version which makes for easy winter storage.

Vegetable gardens need a consistent supply of water in order to achieve their full potential, generally 1” per week. Since Connecticut’s average rainfall is 3-4” per month it would seem that rainfall alone would be sufficient. However, sunny days with temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s and warm nights will increase the demand as will sandy soils that drain more quickly than clay soils. It isn’t easy to gauge the amount that is actually available to the plant roots.
Unless you are using soaker hoses or drip irrigation, it can be difficult to direct water to the roots of a plant. So much tends to run off to where you don’t need it. Last year I tried a new method of delivering water to the tomato plants using purchased disposable aluminum angel food/bundt cake pans.

Tomato plant with foil watering pan   Photo by Susan Pelton



With an awl or a large nail, punch holes through the flat bottom of the pan and also through the center core. Do not put any holes in the outer sides as you want the water to be directed in and down. When planting, dig a hole that is the width of the pan but not quite as deep. You will also need to dig an area in the center of this hole into which the seedling will sit. Holding the seedling in one hand gently thread the stem and leaves up and through the center cone of the pan. Place the seedling and pan into the prepared hole filling in with soil under the pan if necessary. Press down gently to seat the pan. The rim should still be about ½”above the soil line.

Water is poured directly into the pan where it then seeps into the soil. It makes it very easy to see how much water is being supplied and fertilizer supplements can be put into the pan where they will be released. As the plants are surrounded by foil it may decrease the amount of soil-borne pathogens that might splash up onto the plants. The results of this project were good enough to do it again this year.


 My second experiment at target watering was directed at the cucurbits in the garden. We all know that squash, cucumbers and zucchini are often planted in hills. Every year I get the mounds nicely set, with lovely little plants growing forth, but it seems that every watering erodes the hills until there is nothing left. And most of the water applied just seems to trickle down the sides. I punched holes into the bottom and sides of empty soup cans and pushed one into the center of each hill. Seeds were planted around the cans with the hope that the water would reach the roots. It worked to some extent but the hills still tended to erode.

This year, as I was hanging some wire-framed coco fiber-lined baskets, a thought occurred to me. Why not invert the basket and let the liner and frame hold the squash hill in place? I cut a 3” hole from the base of the coco liner, filled the basket with garden soil, and inverted it directly on the spot in the garden. I then planted the seeds in the hole which was now at the ‘top’ of the basket.



Squash mounds Photo by Susan Pelton







All watering is done directly into the center hole and the coco fibers prevent the soil from drying out. The wire frame of the basket also makes a great support for plant stakes that keep the vines up off the ground. So far this year the results of these innovations have been good and the plants are thriving.




Watering directly to the base of the Squash  Photo by Susan Pelton


There isn’t anything as delicious as tomatoes, squash and zucchini fresh from the garden! Here’s a recipe to try that makes use of these ingredients: Slice them into ½” rounds, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill until cooked through.

Fresh zucchini, tomatoes, and mozzarella  Photo by Susan Pelton

Starting with a base of fresh or grilled polenta, stack the vegetables alternately with rounds of fresh mozzarella and pesto. Enjoy!

Zucchini & Tomato Napoleon  Photo by Susan PeltonSusan Pelton


Late summer in the vegetable garden can be a time of great harvest and a time of disappointment. The spring planted lettuce, spinach and radishes have all gone to seed, and insects and disease are taking their toll on crops that have lasted til now. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are producing their bounties in large amounts and cleaned out beds hold the promise of another round of seed planting for greens. Try kale, winter lettuces and chard. Below is a visual tour of what is happening in my garden.

- Carol Quish

Eggplant ready to be picked. photo by Carol Quish

Eggplant ready to be picked. photo by Carol Quish

Sweetie Cherry Tomato plant with brown leaves stripped off of the bottom of the plant to reduce fungal spores in the tomato bed. photo Carol Quish

Sweetie Cherry Tomato plant with brown leaves stripped off of the bottom of the plant to reduce fungal spores in the tomato bed. photo Carol Quish


Red Onions beginning to have their tops fall over. Harvest after tops die back. Photo Carol Quish

Peas plants have been removed making room for Bright Lights Swiss Chard to grow. Photo Carol Quish

Peas plants have been removed making room for Bright Lights Swiss Chard to grow. Photo Carol Quish

Pole Green Beans are in need of picking! Photo Carol Quish

Pole Green Beans are in need of picking! Photo Carol Quish


Zinnia’s are keeping the pollinators happy so they continue to visit the garden. Photo Carol Quish.

Every garden needs some blooming flowers. Keep up with dead heading to the the flowers coming. Photo Carol Quish

Every garden needs some blooming flowers. Keep up with dead heading to the the flowers coming. Photo Carol Quish

Zucchini leave attacked by powdery mildew. I should remove this so the unaffected plants might be protected. Photo Carol Quish

Zucchini leave attacked by powdery mildew. I should remove this so the unaffected plants might be protected. Photo Carol Quish

Waltham Butternut Squash vining its way over the potato plants. Photo Carol Quish

Waltham Butternut Squash vining its way over the potato plants. Photo Carol Quish

Red Kuri Winter Squash pitiful harvest. Vines were killed by the Squash Vine Borer. Photo Carol Quish

Red Kuri Winter Squash pitiful harvest. Vines were killed by the Squash Vine Borer. Photo Carol Quish

Late ripening blueberry variety keeps the fruit season coming. Photo Carol Quish

Late ripening blueberry variety keeps the fruit season coming. Photo Carol Quish


The sphinx, or hawk, moths are relatively heavy- bodied and are strong fliers. Some are important pollinators of trees and shrubs, especially those having white or light- colored flowers. Most sphinx moths fly at night, so we may not see them except as they are attracting to lights outside the home. The clearwing moths, such as the snowberry and hummingbird, do fly during the day and are common visitors to home gardens.

Below left: Virginia Creeper Sphinx Moth  Below Right  Hog Sphinx ( Virginia Creeper ) Caterpillar
Hog sphinx moth and shadow on birdhouse??????????

Just as the adults are large- bodied and heavy set, the sphinx caterpillars can also become quite the behemoths when compared to other caterpillars common to New England. They usually have a conspicuous horn on the hind end, but some species start off with a horn and end up with a “ button “ ornament instead. Most of these caterpillars feed on trees and shrubs, but some, such as the tobacco and tomato hornworms and the hermit sphinx feed on nightshades or basil respectively. Because of their size, damage to host plants can be substantial as they approach the final instars.

snowberry clearwing late instar. 2011 jpg

Snowberry Clearwing Caterpillar is found on honeysuckle

If you want to find hornworms, knowing the host plants is the first step. Many species can be found on grape and Virginia creeper. These include the hog ( or Virginia Creeper Sphinx ), the Pandorus sphinx, Abbot’ sphinx and the Achemon sphinx. Look underneath leaves where feeding is evident, then look for leaf stems left behind as caterpillars get larger and move toward inward leaves. If tomato leaves are disappearing, the Tobacco hornworm may be lurking nearby. Although this caterpillar gets huge, it can be surprisingly difficult to see as its color blends in with tomato foliage and stems. The final instar can eat you out of house and home in no time. I once raised one from an egg found on nightshade and it grew to the size of an Oscar Mayer hot dog. Fecal pellets are another indicator of caterpillar feeding, and the sphinx variety are elongate and have six deep grooves and may be quite large as caterpillars approach the penultimate and final instars. Eggs are usually laid on the undersides of leaves and are large and spherical. A large, green spherical egg found on a tomato leaf is most likely that of the tobacco hornworm. If you are not interested in raising this caterpillar, crush the egg and future feeding damage can be avoided.

Blueberry or huckleberry are the host plants of the fabulous Huckleberry Sphinx. When small, its horn is striped with lemon yellow and raspberry red ( one color short of Trix™ ). Its body is granulose, looking like it has been sprinkled with large crystals of sugar. As it matures, raspberry markings develop on its sides and back. Last year I found several of these on both host plants and at various locations. Each year is different, though, and abundance or apparent scarcity of species fluctuates accordingly.

Huck Sphinx

Huckleberry Sphinx Caterpillar on blueberry

When at rest or when disturbed, sphinx caterpillars position themselves in a posture that reminds me of a seahorse. Some thrash from side to side and some may regurgitate a green fluid as well. Some actually will nip, and Abbot’s sphinx and Walnut sphinx caterpillars make sounds when threatened. All these means are probably very effective at dissuading birds, but predatory wasps seem to be able to get past all that behavior. When you find a caterpillar with cocoons all over it, the internal feeding of cotesia or braconid wasps has been completed and the caterpillar is doomed to die a slow death. It is unfortunate that many introduced parasites that were meant to control pest caterpillars are now decimating benign native species, but that is just a sad story of good intensions backfiring.

Pandorus cat small size on Va. creeper Finley St

Pandorus Sphinx Caterpillar

sphinx paw paw or whatever

Paw Paw Sphinx found on winterberry

If you raise sphinx caterpillars, make sure that final instars have a suitable pupating medium, such as abundant mulch, plant litter or soil. Or simply release onto a host plant and let nature take its course. Caterpillars tend to be sedentary more than mobile and they have a good gripping ability which makes them easy to transfer to fresh food material. Keep pupa moist over winter and provide air to containers to keep from developing mold. Be vigilant and release as they eclose. Moths emerging in small containers may not be able to expand wings fully, and will be doomed as wings will harden deformed.

4-horned sphinx on elm 9-9-13

4- Horned or Elm Sphinx

Sphinx caterpillars are very commonly seen in the fall as they travel over lawns, driveways and paths on their way to pupate. If you see them, just remove them to a safer spot and they will find their way to a good spot to pupate for the winter.

Pamm Cooper All Photos© 2014 Pamm Cooper

Promising little baby zucchini or summer squash that decide to turn yellow on one end (the blossom end): what is it?

Young zucchini aborted due to poor pollination. J. Allen photo.

Young zucchini aborted due to poor pollination. J. Allen photo.

Well, a likely culprit is poor pollination. We experienced this both last summer and again this year, mostly on the earliest fruits to form. Then, when they were only a few inches long, the blossom end turned yellow and began to rot. After researching the problem, it seemed that poor (incomplete) pollination was the problem. A few days later, armed with cotton swabs (a.k.a. Q-tips), we headed out to the garden to attempt to pollinate by hand. When we got there, we found several bees buzzing around in the squash and cucumber flowers so we decided to wait and see if things would improve on their own. They did.
Quite a few zucchinis were successfully harvested and then the plants were lost to Plectosporium blight, a fungal disease. The primary symptom of this disease is white, diamond-shaped spots on the infected stems and sometimes the fruits.

White, diamond-shaped spots on zucchini stems caused by Plectosporium blight.  J. Allen photo.

White, diamond-shaped spots on zucchini stems caused by Plectosporium blight. J. Allen photo.

The poor pollination symptom could easily be confused with the disorder known as blossom end rot which is caused by a deficiency of calcium during fruit development. More info on this: .
We’ve had a few squash bugs, too, but they haven’t caused much damage. Here are a couple of them mating in the sun on a young butternut squash. Eggs and nymphs were found too! As you can see, for me it’s almost as much fun to find problems in the garden as it is to watch the plants grow and produce a harvest.  By J. Allen.

Squash bugs mating. J. Allen photo.

Squash bugs mating. J. Allen photo.

Squash bug nymphs.  Univ. of Minnesota photo.

Squash bug nymphs. Univ. of Minnesota photo.



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