predatory stink bugs hatched 6-11-15

Spined soldier bugs, predatory stink bugs, hatching from eggs

One thing you can say for insects, there is always something going on. Whether an insect undergoes complete or gradual metamorphosis, identifying a species can be tricky. Even simple metamorphosis still requires that an insect molts from one stage to the next, and sometimes the color change between molts is striking. Here is a quick look at some insects and the different appearances they may have.

This year I was able to raise a spined soldier bug, Podisus maculiventris, from an egg through to the adult. Although its body form was definitely that of a stink bug (Pentatomidae family), the color changes went from very colorful to a drab brown at the finish. Now I know all the instars, so in the future identifying this stink bug will be easy.

predatory stink bug new instar

spined soldier bug after 2nd molt

predatory stink bug later nymph

4th molt

spined soldier bug 2014

Spined soldier bug adult

 

Caterpillars can also be hard to identify as they go through the larval stages. Most will have distinguishing forms or marks by the third instar, but sometimes the overall change may be more subtle until the penultimate instar is reached. Most identification aids show the final instar, even though a radical changes may occur throughout the larval stage. If possible, rear any caterpillars to the final instar to be certain of identification. Host plants may or may not be that helpful as some caterpillars can be found on many host plants. Others, like the double-toothed prominent, are found only on one host plant, in this case, elm. The cecropia, on the other hand, I have personally found on a variety of plants- from black cherry, alder, buckthorn and apple, just to name a few.

cecropia and its egg shell 6-25-11 on cherry

Cecropia caterpillar beside its egg

cecropia 2nd instar

Cecropia 2nd instar

cecropia 4th instar 7-12-11

Cecropia 4th instar

double toothed me and my shadow week old cat

Double toothed prominent early instar

double toothed prominent raised from eggs 2011Ii

Double toothed prominent late instar

orange striped

Orange-striped oakworms very early instar. Note black horns are present even early on.

orange striper II

Orange-striped oakworm final instar

The orange-striped oakworms can be serious pests of oaks, especially in eastern Connecticut. Eggs are laid in large rafts near the bottom  of many oak species and feeding results in severe defoliation. Note the black horns, though, which are present on caterpillars in all larval stages. The horns plus the host plant are valuable aids in identifying this pest.

 

Pamm Cooper                              All photos copyright 2016 Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

Through the Macro Lens

As the first month of 2016 nears its end it would appear that we are finally getting some true winter weather in the form of arctic cold and snow that will keep even the most ardent green thumb inside. Is it any wonder that January is a popular time for perusing seed catalogs and forcing paperwhite and amaryllis bulbs to bloom indoor? It also presents a great time to pay a bit more attention to our houseplants: cleaning the foliage, repotting specimens that have outgrown their current containers, and doing a visual inspection for insects. This year, however, checking for unwanted visitors took on a whole new meaning.

Poinsettia Flowers

I received a great present from my husband this Christmas in the form of a macro lens that clips over the camera lens of a smartphone (he knows how much I enjoy getting close-up images of insects and flowers). This tiny tool increases the magnification power of the ordinary camera lens by 10X allowing for some really incredible images from a phone camera. The first thing that I did with it was to start snapping pictures of just anything that was around such as the true flowers of a poinsettia that are usually insignificant, the new blooms of a paperwhite, and some fuzzy, cotton-like areas on a dieffenbachia.

What I saw in the lens was amazing. It was not just a cobweb substance on the dieffenbachia but a group of tiny insects that turned out to be the nymphs of the mealybug.

Mealybug nymphs 3

These tiny insects, along with scale and aphids, are a common pest of houseplants. They feed on the sap of the plant by piercing the outer layer of plant tissue with their long, slender beak. As a by-product they secrete a sweet honeydew that provides a base for the black fungus called sooty mold. Plant tissue that has been fed upon will be stunted, yellowed or malformed. A severe infestation can weaken a plant to the point of death.  I found that many of the mealybugs were in the crevices of the leaf axils or in the unfurled new leaf growth.

Mealybug nymphs 1

A bit of research showed me that one of the easiest remedies was to wipe the affected areas with an isopropyl alcohol soaked cotton ball. I did this, making sure to get both sides of the leaves as there were many nymphs on the undersides.

 

There are also many products such as insecticidal soaps and neem that can be used to control nymphs, scale, spider mites and aphids. These should be used with caution and always according to the label directions. A few more non-chemical approaches include spraying the plant with a forceful stream of lukewarm water, placing it near a cold window (only if the plant can tolerate the cold) so that the nymphs migrate to the leaf that is furthest from the cold and will therefore be easy to wipe off, or introducing a natural predator such as a ladybeetle (probably a good idea for greenhouse specimens, not plants in a home environment).

It is important to check for new generations of any insect pest that may not have been controlled with the first application. I have been scouting my houseplants every few days but I have not seen a recurrence. I can see, however, the results of the initial infestation. There are areas of foliage that are devoid of green, have turned brown and thin and almost appear like water spots. These areas are not much bigger than a quarter so I may leave that foliage on the plant and wait to see how it does.

I am really looking forward to getting outside in the upcoming seasons and getting some incredible close-up shots of flowers and insects, many of which will be shared with you in my blog posts. Happy New Year!

Susan Pelton

All images by Susan Pelton

Tip blight of juniper is a common problem and is typically caused by one of two fungi: Phomopsis juniperivora and Kabatina juniperi.  The usual symptom is browning of the scales/needles on the tips of branches.  Tiny black fruiting bodies (spore structures) of the fungi form in a grayish area at the base of the browned section.

Recently (in late fall), scattered tip browning was noticed on this juniper growing in a home landscape near the road.  Closer inspection revealed tiny black fruiting bodies in the needles, not just in the area at the base of the needles.

A microscopic look at the spores confirmed Sphaeropsis (Diplodia) tip blight.  This is an important disease of two- and three-needled pines and is found on other host trees or shrubs when they are already stressed by other problems that could be environmental or other pests and diseases.  In addition, there is usually an infected pine nearby that serves as a source of spores.

For juniper, control measures would include good cultural practices to minimize stress and avoidance of the use of de-icing salts nearby.  Juniper has only a moderate tolerance for salt.  If a heavily infected pine is nearby, that could be removed if it’s in bad shape.  On pine, other options include pruning out dead and dying twigs, branches and cones during dry conditions, clean-up of fallen twigs needles and cones, good cultural practices and fungicide sprays when buds swell in spring, again when new ‘candles’ are about half elongated, and a third application as needles emerge from their sheaths. When using pesticides, always read and follow label instructions carefully and apply only to plants and problems listed on the label.

By J. Allen

Two flowers, 5 vegetables plus a strawberry received All America Selections (AAS) Awards for 2016. Whether a novice gardener or an experienced doyenne of dirt, All America Selection winners are a great addition to the garden and many are suitable for container growing as well. They have been evaluated for their productivity and endurance throughout test sites in the United States and parts of Canada. Try them and we bet you’ll approve of their performance!

Both 2016 AAS Flower Award Winners are vegetatively-propagated geraniums. Not only do these 10 to 20 inch tall cultivars have semi-double flowers but they have banded foliage to enhance their appeal before flowers begin to emerge and later into the fall when blossoming often dwindles. Geranium ‘Brocade Cherry Night’ has semi-double cherry pink blossoms with bronze colored leaves edged in green.

Geranium 'Brocade Cherry Night' from www.all-americaselections.org

Geranium ‘Brocade Cherry Night’ from http://www.all-americaselections.org

Geranium ‘Brocade Fire’ is loaded with semi-double orange flowers, perfect for either planting beds or containers, that contrast well with the deep crimson centered, green-edged foliage.

Geranium 'Brocade Fire' from www.all-americaselections.org

Geranium ‘Brocade Fire’ from http://www.all-americaselections.org

Both of these geraniums are quite heat tolerant and also have a low to medium moisture requirement so if you forget to water them occasionally, they should survive just fine. Their flowers are 5 inches across and they will appreciate a site in full to part sun. Do remove the spent flowers for continuous blooms from early summer until hard frost.

The six 2016 AAS Vegetable Award Winners are a curious category that includes one strawberry as well. Strawberries are easy to grow and quite nutritional and I’ve been growing day neutral and pineapple ever-bearers for years. Strawberry ‘Delizz F1’ can be grown from seed or transplant and produces berries all summer. The plants tolerate heat and are compact so they work well in garden beds as well as hanging baskets or containers.

Strawberry 'Delizz' from www.all-americaselections.org

Strawberry ‘Delizz’ from http://www.all-americaselections.org

These strawberry plants are reputedly hardy to zone 3 so they should overwinter well, once established. Each plant will produce an average of 45 berries over the growing season if well kept. If growing from seed, berries will be ready to harvest in about 4 months but harvest time will be cut in half if transplants are used. Each plant has a 12 inch spread so plant on one foot centers. Plant them in full sun in a well-drained soil and make sure they receive at least an inch of water each week.

Mustard greens may not be on everyone’s top ten favorite vegetables but I think that is only because they have not tried them. For the first time, AAS has awarded a Japanese mustard, ‘Red Kingdom F1’ as one of their 2016 AAS award winners. Not only is the color just a beautiful addition to salads and stir fries, but this mild tasting green could be grown as an ornamental in garden beds or even containers. I grow mustards each year and since they bolt (flower and produce seeds) as soon as summer temperatures begin to rise, I pull all but a few plants which I allow to reseed. This gives me a second crop in the fall and sometimes new plants for the following year.

Japanese Mustard - 'Red Kingdom' from www.all-americaselections.org

Japanese Mustard – ‘Red Kingdom’ from http://www.all-americaselections.org

‘Red Kingdom F1’ is said to tolerate higher temperatures than other mustards so the new leaves can be harvested over a longer growing season. Also yields are reportedly higher so this may be a great new plant to try.

Two peppers and two tomatoes also made it to AAS winners. While I acknowledge that new studies are finding that the compound in hot peppers, capsaicin, may be slowing the growth of prostrate and other cancers, I still grow mostly sweet peppers as I like them better for salads, stir fries and kabobs.

Pepper ‘Cornito Gallo F1’ produces bright yellow fruits that have a sweet flavor. Fruits are plentiful and early and from 25 to 35 fruit are produced per plant. This seems like a lot so I will give this cultivar a try this next season. Fruits are generally used like traditional Italian frying peppers. Space plants about 18 inches apart and in full sun for maximum yields.

Sweet Pepper 'Cornito Giallo F1' from www.all-americaselections.org

Sweet Pepper ‘Cornito Giallo F1’ from http://www.all-americaselections.org

Another sweet pepper to be selected for the 2016 award is pepper ‘Escamillo F1’. This Italian roasting pepper tastes great raw, cooked or fire roasted. It has a compact habit growing a bit over 2 feet high and 18 inches wide. The peppers are about 8 inches long and 2.5 inches wide. I imagine they could be stuffed and grilled too. Yields are reputedly generous and fruits are held high for easy harvesting and less chance of rotting.

Sweet Pepper 'Escamillo F1' from www.all-americaselections.org

Sweet Pepper ‘Escamillo F1’ from http://www.all-americaselections.org

Tomato ‘Candyland Red’ is a currant tomato. Usually currant tomatoes are much smaller in size than cherry tomatoes but the plants have a tendency to sprawl quite a bit and are forever in need of staking. ‘Candyland Red’ is supposed to have a much tidier habit than the older currant tomato varieties. Fruits form on the outside of the plant for easier picking. The one-half inch fruits are sweet and rich and over 100 are produced by each plant. You can begin picking 95 days after seeding or 55 days from transplants. Plants are still vigorous and need 3 to 4 feet between them as well as staking.

Currant Tomato 'Candyland Red' from www.all-americaselections.org

Currant Tomato ‘Candyland Red’ from http://www.all-americaselections.org

The last 2016 AAS winner is a unique green tomato with a distinctive yellow blush called ‘Chef’s Choice Green F1’. The slightly flattened green globe-shaped fruits are 6 to 7 inches in diameter. The flavor is described as citrusy as well as sweet and tangy likely perfect for those green fried tomatoes, relishes, soups and sauces. The tall 5 foot plants are indeterminate and need staking. They are resistant to several common tomato diseases. Plants are only 24 inches wide and will start producing fruit about 90 days from transplant.

Tomato 'Chef's Choice Green' from www.all-americaselections.org

Tomato ‘Chef’s Choice Green’ from http://www.all-americaselections.org

Check out this year’s AAS winners. They should be available at local garden centers, nurseries as well as in seed and plant catalogs. They are sure to be winners in your garden.

Dawn

IMG_3916

January can be a disappointing month for vegetable gardeners if they are used to eating fresh food they produce. An unusual crop to get us through this  lean growing time can be mushrooms. I received an exciting Christmas gift of a home mushroom farm making it possible to grow a crop or several crops of mushrooms in my home. These kits are readily available online and sometimes at better garden centers. The one I received is sold by Backtotheroots.com. This is not an endorsement of any one product, just reporting on the one I am using. Other companies also have different varieties of edible mushrooms available. Mine grows oyster mushrooms, comes with several recipes and enough growing medium impregnated with spores for at least four consecutive crops.

Directions said to remove the front cardboard panel revealing the plastic bag filled with growing medium and mushroom spores. After cutting an X in the plastic, I removed the bag from the box, placing it in a bucket of warm water, cut side down, for eight hours. This is to moisten the growing medium. At the end of allotted time, I replaced the bag into the box, cut plastic side exposed through the hole in the cardboard. It said to scrape the exposed surface of the medium, which I did. Included in the kit was a small water misting bottle for spraying the area twice per day to keep the medium and spore well hydrated.

Mushroom Farm in a box, Day 1, photo C. Quish

Mushroom Farm in a box, Day 1, photo C. Quish

The newly formed mushrooms were growing fast. By day four, grey tips and white stems could be recognized as future oyster mushrooms. And I envisioned mushroom risotto, mushroom and pasta toss, and mushroom soup. I was not sure of the overall numbers and weight I could expect from this one foot tall box of a ‘garden’, but I had hope.

Day 4 spore germination.

Day 4 spore germination.

Day 4

Day 4

 

By day seven, the shape of the oyster mushroom was clear. I kept misting with water, kept the box on the kitchen counter pointed away from the west-facing window, and things seemed to be going well.

Day 7

Day 7

On day ten the mushrooms had grown so much the box opening was crowded to point harvest was needed. Picking was easy by just cutting off the stem at the base. New mushrooms should sprout to give another crop in 10 more days.

Day 10

Day 10

Oyster mushrooms are kind of airy, light in weight, but flavorful. After all that dreaming of incorporating my mushroom crop into many different recipes, I decided to just saute them in a little butter and olive oil, low and slow in a cast iron pan. We savored every one of them, enjoying my little harvest during January from the kitchen counter.

Mushrooms in pan

Adventures in mushrooms will continue as I keep misting and monitoring. After a second crop on this side of the bag, directions instruct to open the other side of the bag with an X and begin again to keep the ‘shrooms’ coming. I may get more adventuresome by trying other varieties sold in kits and others already grown and being sold at markets.

Mushrooms for sale at Farmer's Market, photo by C.Quish

Mushrooms for sale at Farmer’s Market, photo by C.Quish

-Carol Quish

 

 

 

sand sculpted by a wave on Watch Hill beach December 2015

Sand sculpted by a wave at Watch Hill in early December

December 2015 in New England has been a nice blend of above- average temperatures, green grass, and a few timely rains to compensate for a droughty year. Getting outdoors for some fun has been easy and comfortable this year, especially for walks in the woods. So, just for fun, here are some things I came across in the woods near my home and in a small village near the Connecticut River.

alyssum full bloom December 28 2015

Alyssum in full bloom December 27, 2015

Here’s a very common fungus in America – the “turkey tail”- which is named after its resemblance to the tail feathers of the native wild turkey which Benjamin Franklin sought to have named our national symbol. Hmm… eagle versus turkey- no contest I think. Sorry, Ben. The Latin name Trametes versicolor is a fitting name as this fungi varies considerably in color. The chestnut brown and the bold white outline make a striking contrast in this species of polypore mushroom.

turky tail polypore shelf fungi.

Turkey tail fungus

The green- hued Mossy Maze Polypore (Cerrena unicolor), is one of many wood decay fungi that are critical in nutrient cycling in temperate forests. These bracket or shelf fungi are in the phylum Basidiomycota. Large colonies of this fungus can be found going along a log. Spores get into the wood when a female horntail wasp picks them up while drilling holes to deposit her eggs into logs and trunks of hardwood trees.

Mossy maze Polypore shelf fungi 12-27-15

Sometimes the pre-dusk sky takes on a peculiar glow that bathes trees and houses in a wash of orange that is singular to the season. This happens when shorter wavelengths of light (blue) are scattered quickly, leaving only the orange-red part of the spectrum.

pre- sunset December glow 12-3-15
Human touches of the season were in evidence in rural and municipal settings, and proved amusing at times. But then, I can be easily amused. As with this driftwood and found object sculpture. Note the snake on the right, a small owl in a bole, and oyster shells that look like shelf fungi.

driftwood sculpture from found objects.jpg

Snowmen were a scarce commodity because of snow challenges this year, not that I am sorry to have it so. Someone of an original and resourceful mind bypassed the use of snow as a raw material and put on their Yankee thinking cap instead. The result was a monumental “ snow” man made of hay baled in plastic and topped with a hat made of drainage pipe material. Good job!

snow man made of hay bales wrapped in plastic and drainage pipe hat

And let us not forget the decorations. Some people have a more aesthetic bent than others, and it is nobody’s fault. Comparing efforts (or lack thereof) is not always an admirable enterprise, but still can provide some amusing moments. Look at how holly has been used to spruce up a window box…

great use of holly in a windowbox

 

Pamm Cooper

It’s that time of year when we want to show our love and appreciation for our family and friends. If you have an avid gardener on your gift-giving list then here are a few ideas for last-minute gifts or stocking stuffers (most the following images are just of things that were available at local garden shops and a big box store and are not meant to be endorsements of any specific brand).

pic

 

 

The easiest and most common gift is gardening gloves. Although they may seem to be the horticultural equivalent of a tie I find that I am continually in need of work gloves each season. There are so many styles and fabrics to choose from that you want to keep in mind the type of gardening that your recipient does. Are they fond of roses? Then you want to get some heavy-duty gloves such as suede that will cover the forearm. If a lot of pruning is in the future then a pair of gloves that has reinforced stress points and padding will be appreciated. Weeding and planting require dexterous gloves and those that have the palms and fingers coated with nitrile are great and most of them are machine-washable.

Speaking of pruning and planting, there are many great tools that will make gardening chores easier. One of my favorites is a folding pruning saw. It can be carried around without the teeth getting damaged and can handle a wide variety of pruning jobs, cutting quickly through branches up to 4” in diameter. Lopping pruners also work well for pruning small branches where the saw can’t be easily used. Some hand tools that would slip easily into a stocking or gift basket are floral shears, pruning snips and bypass or anvil pruners.

Is your gardener fond of potting up planters and hanging baskets? How about a vertical gardening kit that is both decorative and functional? Or a selection of planters in coordinating colors and sizes? Include a bag of good-quality potting soil and a gift certificate to a local garden center and let your gardener dream of spring.

Want to keep them busy until then? There are many indoor projects that will keep their green thumb busy. A grow-your-own mushroom farm provides food and entertainment. A glass terrarium kit will provide years of pleasure.

Houseplants are always a welcome gift, from bromeliad to orchid there is something for every taste and style. Keep in mind if your gift recipient is also a pet owner as many houseplants can be toxic to pets. For a compilation of toxic and non-toxic plants visit the ASPCA site.

Some other fun gifts that are more outdoorsy than gardening-specific are hummingbird feeders, rain gauges and barometers. And a very practical and yet still awesome gift would be a rain barrel.

Consider making a donation in their name to a non-profit organization. Community Gardens As Appleseeds is a group that provides help and equipment to community gardens all over the US. The Hudson Valley Seed Library is a source for heirloom and open-pollinated seeds and each seed packet is a work of art.

IMG_20151218_163237520_HDR

Happy Holidays!

Susan Pelton

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