Insects and Pests


Japanese Beetle

Beetle control in the garden is a constant battle during the month of July. They appear in large numbers seeming to eat everything in the vegetable and flower garden. Daily scouting for damaged plants and adult beetles helps win the war against them and salvage the plants. The first line of defense is to identify the enemy. Just which beetle is eating the specific species and is it eating different plants is clue to controlling the different beetles.

The life cycle of all beetles have four stages: egg, larva, pupa and the adult beetle. Japanese, Asiatic garden and Oriental beetles lay eggs on the soil, where they hatch into white grubs and feed on plant roots. Pupation takes place under the soil, too. The adult beetles emerge after pupation, rising out of the soil in large numbers, looking to feed and mate, and then females will lay the next generation of eggs back on to the soil. There is one generation per year for most of the garden pest beetles. The most common garden pest beetles are also lawn pests as white grubs feeding on grass roots, but grubs can also be found in the vegetable and perennial gardens. Control grubs in the lawn by using conventional grub control. Organic options are parasitic nematodes and Bt galleria. Milky spore disease will only kill the Japanese beetle grubs. Bag traps to catch and contain adult beetles are available. They are specific to each variety of beetle and use a pheromone lure as an attractant. Place the trap away from the garden to keep the beetles from finding your plants. The organic options are a good choice for the soils in a vegetable garden. Other natural control measures are already in the environment. Tiphia wasps feed on the grub stage killing them. Hand pick beetles and drop into a container of soapy water. Attract birds to the garden to feed on the beetles by providing lots of perching spots with sticks and plant supports. Place a saucer of water or birdbath in the garden to invite them for a visit and meal. Floating row covers can be used to keep beetles off until plants flower and need pollinators to reach the flowers.

Japanese Beetle in hand

Japanese Beetle

Japanese beetles are cosmopolitan feeders. They have over 300 different host plants, but prefer some over others. Roses, sunflowers and beans are favorites of this metallic green and cooper colored winged beetle. The white grub is C-shaped with a tan head. The adults are active during the day and hide nearby at night.  Japanese beetles were brought to New Jersey accidentally in 1916 from Japan, and have spread up and down the eastern states. They are steadily moving westward. Japanese beetle feeding results in ragged foliage and distorted flowers. They are even known to chew on fruits and vegetables. Their damage can be extensive, especially when there is a large population.

Oriental beetle retry

Oriental Beetle

Oriental beetle is a mottled tan and dark brown beetle, active during the day also. They are native to Asia and are in many eastern states. They feed on a wide range of plants, especially the blossoms. Oriental beetles are most active in the afternoon and early evening before it gets dark.

Asiatic Garden Beetle 2

Asiatic Garden Beetle

Asiatic garden beetle are cinnamon brown in color and a little smaller than Japanese beetles. As the name implies, they are native to Asia, brought here around 1920. These beetles feed at night and hide in the soil below plants during the day. Scraping through the soil below night damaged plants will reveal the sleeping beetles. Flooding the area with a good soaking will also bring them to surface for capturing and killing.

Favorite plants for Asiatic garden beetles  are basil and roses.

 

Squash beetle and damage

Squash Beetle

Squash beetle eggs

Squash Beetle eggs.

Squash beetles are another big pest in my garden. They are yellowish-orange with 14 black spots. Their life cycle is different than the other three beetles mentioned above.  Adults overwinter in leaf litter and under loose tree bark, flying to the garden during the end of June. Squash beetles lay their eggs on the underside of squash, pumpkin and cucumber leaves and hatching out into a yellow, spiny larval grub to feed directly on the leaves. The adult and larval stage can destroy a crop quickly. Monitor daily for adults and turn over leaves to look for eggs which can be crushed or removed with sticky tape. I find clear packing tape and blue painters tape wrapped around my hand with sticky side facing out works well without ripping the leaves. Less eggs means less larva and adults eating the plants.

-Carol Quish

frass on leaf

Frass left on leaf after beetle feeding. Frass is insect poop!

 

 

 

 

Given the Coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to focus on viruses to share a little more on these infectious agents.

A virus has a very simple makeup. It is just a piece of DNA or RNA, a protein coat, and in some cases a fatty (lipid) layer. The protein coat provides protection for the piece of genetic information (DNA or RNA), and can code for different functions when the virus infects a host organism.

Viruses are considered neither alive nor dead. Viruses do not consist of cells or have any components to carry out basic functions on their own. They rely on the cell functions of their host to replicate. They hijack their host’s cells to operate in a way that allows the virus to thrive.

For this exact reason, viruses have a biological incentive to keep their hosts alive. If their hosts die, the virus can no longer replicate. Viable virus particles can exist on a surface, such as a table. But without a host, the virus can not cause disease or infection.

The first virus to be crystallized and therefore each of its parts were able to be studied, was actually a plant virus, Tobacco mosaic virus. Rosalind Franklin made this discovery in 1955. Since then, thousands of new viruses have been described.

TMV CaptionAs a plant pathologist, I work with plant viruses. Let’s take a look at Potato virus Y as an example. Potato virus Y (PVY) is one of the oldest known plant viruses, and the 5th most economically important plant virus in the world, meaning that it can cause a lot of damage. Hundreds of plants can infected by PVY including potato, tomato, pepper, eggplant, tobacco, and many species of weeds.

Historically, PVY has been easy to detect in fields because of the beautiful mosaic symptoms it causes on foliage. On potatoes, other symptoms include veinal necrosis, deformed or rotting (necrotic) potatoes, and up to 70% yield losses.

symptoms blogHowever, new strains of PVY have evolved to make it more difficult to notice an infection until it is too late to do anything about it. Viruses are capable of evolving to change the symptoms they induce in hosts in order to continue to thrive.

Just like COVID-19 disease (SARS-CoV-2 virus) is spread from person to person, plant viruses are infectious and spread from plant to plant as well. The mode of transmission varies depending on the virus.

Most plant viruses require a vector to be spread among plants. A vector is an organism that does not cause disease itself, but carries an infectious agent from one host to another. Examples can include insects, parasitic plants, nematodes, and even humans. Other means of spread include infected vegetative propagates or cuttings of plants; infected seed; and mechanical transmission through infected plant sap (like pruning an infected tree and using the same tools to cut a healthy tree).

In the case of PVY, it is vectored by over 50 species of aphids. When probing plants for a tasty morsel to eat, aphids insert their needle-like stylet mouth parts into the stems and foliage. If the plant is infected, PVY particles adhere to the aphid’s stylet, and it only takes a few seconds of feeding for the aphid to be infective to new plants. And, because hundreds of species of plants can be hosts to the PVY, weeds surrounding gardens or potato fields can be important sources of PVY.

Thistle blogThe other way PVY is spread is through infected seed. When infected seed potatoes are planted, they result in infected plants. These infected plants then are a source of PVY inoculum for aphids.

Once plants are infected, there is no cure for the virus. PVY does not kill plants, but can cause potato defects that render them unmarketable for potato growers and in some cases inedible for home gardeners. PVY also can decrease yields significantly.

The best management recommendations for PVY include:

  1. Scout your plants regularly and often for PVY. Symptoms can change rapidly, and early observation is crucial for limiting spread of the virus.
  2. Remove any infected plants when you see symptoms arise. Do not compost infected plants because potatoes can easily regrow in your compost pile. If you’re not sure if your plant is infected, send a sample to us for diagnostic testing.
  3. Control weeds around plantings to limit alternative hosts of the virus.

-Abby Beissinger

Amidst the chaos, we’re happy to invite our colleague Nicole Freidenfelds, coordinator of a UConn Natural Resources Conservation Academy Program, to tell our Ladybug readers about an exciting summer program that you won’t want to miss! Take it away Nicole.

-Abby Beissinger

____________

I am excited to have this opportunity to share with you a free statewide UConn program that is perfect for anyone who gardens or even simply enjoys spending time outdoors among nature. It’s also great for Master Gardeners looking to satisfy their volunteer hours.

The Conservation Training Partnerships (CTP) partners teens and adult community volunteers together and supports their conservation efforts by providing training during a two-day field workshop and guidance as they conduct any local conservation project they want to tackle.

The teams are paired prior to the workshop. During the workshop, each team learns how they can apply innovative, user-friendly mapping and web technology to address local conservation issues through hands-on fieldwork. We have workshops scheduled in Stamford, Waterbury and Eastford this June.

 

After the workshop, the team carries out a conservation project that addresses a local environmental issue in their hometown, using their new skillset. The projects are developed by the team at the workshop and CTP instructors provide support to help the team along the way.

Examples of past projects include planting pollinator gardens, cleaning up local parks, removing invasive plants, and installing rain gardens. Below I highlight a few specific projects.

This Glastonbury CTP team chose to install a monarch waystation at Wind Hill Community Farm. They planted native monarch-friendly plants in a small patch of earth on the farm property, but the plants got eaten by a pesky rabbit. After a second planting that included protective fencing, they were ecstatic to find a monarch caterpillar happily munching on a milkweed. I consider that a huge success!

wildflower map

This CTP team created an interactive map of Benjamin Wildflower Preserve, a property of Aspetuck Land Trust in Weston. They created a map that can be accessed by anyone and used to help identify a number of different wildflower species along the trail.  Check out their project poster and online map to get inspired by the possibilities for your town could be.

hebron

A multi-part project in Hebron involved both digitizing a nature trail and native planting for pollinators at the RHAM High School Memorial Garden. Their goal was to engage the local community and get more people into nature. They used technology to excite and make the public aware of a school trail, and planted a native garden in a school park to attract both local community members and pollinators.

CTP teams typically showcase their projects in the form of a poster or video at a conference in March, but unfortunately the conference has been postponed due to concerns about COVID-19.

The good news is that we’ve decided to host a virtual conference to highlight their hard work and you’re invited to attend! Come learn first-hand about the program and how you can help make a difference in your community. The virtual conference will take place this Saturday, 3/21. For more information and to learn how to attend, check out:  http://s.uconn.edu/fevcc.

If CTP sounds like the right program for you, check out our website for details on how to apply: http://nrca.uconn.edu/students-adults/index.htm . Feel free to contact me with any questions at nicole.freidenfelds@uconn.edu.

By Nicole Freidenfelds, 2020

 

black etched prominent Cerura scitiscripta

Caterpillar of the black-etched prominent has highly modified anal prolegs that it can flail to defend itself against predators

 

I love insects. They are amazing.

-Andrea Arnold

 

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 fellow insects, there is no lack of creatures that rely upon insects as a food source. Insects are not necessarily limpid little defenseless victims of a more sophisticated life form, though. They have strategies for survival. Some use camouflage,  are cryptic in form and color, veil themselves with material, have weapons they use when threatened or they may simply hide. 

rose-hooktip-moth Oreta rosea-cryptic

Rose hooktip moth hidden by day by blending in on a leaf

P1270059

Pine sphinx caterpillars blend in with the green and white striped needles of white pine

One of the ways insects can hide in plain sight is by coloration, body form and feeding techniques. Spring caterpillars are often light green and feed on new leaves of similar color. Caterpillars that feed on mature foliage often have colorations or body forms that imitate the dead leaf spots and edges that occur later in the year.

cocoon structure of caddisfly- possibly Climacia areolaris

Spongillafly pupates inside this structure it made

Warning coloration protects many insects from being eaten, especially bright reds and oranges. Also, insects may have warts that sport hairs that repel some birds and other predators. One such insect having both is the red-humped caterpillar.

red hump caterpillar Pamm Cooper photo

Red- humped caterpillars Schizura concinna have warning colors and warts with hairs that detect air movement

Some caterpillars 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-heteocampa-2-on-leaf-edge

Wavy-lined Heterocampa caterpillar hides in plain site feeding along the edge of a sweet birch leaf. It blends in also with cryptic coloration.

Walking sticks are a good example of cryptic coloration and mimicry. Both the insect’s shape and color allow it to blend in with leaf veins and twigs  so that unless they move or cast a shadow, they are very difficult to see.

walking stick 6-29-14

Early instar walking stick blends in with leaf vein color

Camouflage loopers are small caterpillars that are found on the flowers of 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.

camouflaged looper plus tiny looper Belding

Camouflage looper sitting atop a flower head from which it has cut and pasted the flower petals upon its body

Caterpillars like woolly bears, Ios, slug moths and some tussocks have defense mechanisms that utilize urticating hairs or venomous barbs to ward off potential predators. Handling these caterpillars may prove a painful experience for some people. Especially to be avoided are the saddleback slug moth and the spiny oak slug caterpillars, which are very small but able to inflict severe pain or a burning sensation that may  last for several hours or even a few days. Use caution around any caterpillar having barbs, hairs or spines.

small saddleback

Tiny saddleback caterpillar has both urticating spines and coloration similar to the host plant leaf for defense

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, especially syrphid flies. 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.

syrphid fly

This syrphid fly resembles a wasp and birds will leave it alone

Many insects use leaf shelters as a means of hiding from predators by day and then feed at night. They may tie leaves together with silk or fold a leaf. The caterpillar of the  spicebush swallowtail and the poplar tent caterpillars do this. Stink bugs routinely use leaf shelters abandoned by other insects.

spicebush ready to eat

Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars hide by day in a leaf folded lengthwise

red admiral

Chrysalis of the red admiral butterfly is made inside a leaf shelter where it was protected as a caterpillar

Some insects feed as immatures inside plants such as gall makers, borers, leafminers and others. Safely inside plant tissue, success rates of surviving to a mature adult are very high.

Pine Cone Willow Gall, caused by a gall midge, Rhobdophaga strobiloides. 9-16-19

Pine cone willow gall houses a midge larva, Rhobdophaga strobiloides

thief weevil

Thief weevil female laid an egg inside two a tightly rolled structures they made by cutting the leaf edge lengthwise while still remaining attached to the pedicel. Larva will feed safely inside on the leaf tissue.

potter wasp pot

A potter female wasp made this small clay pot and inserted food and its egg inside. Larva will be safe inside.

The larvae of tortoise beetles, 3-lined potato beetles and the infamous lily leaf beetle pile their frass on their bodies to escape predators.  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 in late summer appearing like a small, light tan, fuzzy pile moving across a leaf.

tortoise beetle larva waving frass hood

Tortoise beetle larva raises a “hood” made of frass when disturbed

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

 

Pamm Cooper

The weather has definitely turned its thoughts to winter here in New England. Snow and ice have blanketed our landscapes several times already and it will be months before most plants are actively growing, putting out flowers to attract pollinators.

Honey bees, Apis mellifera, are clustered in their nests or man-made hives for the winter. Unfortunately, during prolonged cold spells, many bees may die off. If the nest has enough stored pollen and honey then the queen may begin to lay small numbers of eggs early in the new year to help the population recover. Once fresh sources of food are available in early spring brood rearing can begin in earnest. Early spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, lilac, and witch hazel and perennials like bloodroot, trillium, and Lenten rose are great plants to have in your yard as early sources of nectar. Additional early-flowering perennials can be found at our fact sheet Perennials. Clockwise from the upper left are witch hazel, Lenten rose, and lilac.

In April, a colony will be able to collect enough pollen and nectar to begin honey production. Commercial hives world-wide produced over 4 billion pounds of honey in 2017. The chances are pretty good that you consumed some honey last year, either as a sweetener in a beverage, in cooking or baking, or on bread or toast. A trip to a grocery store or a farmer’s market provides so many choices, from locally-sourced, single-origin honey to trendy products such as Mānuka honey, a honey that is sourced from the Mānuka tree that is native to Australia and New Zealand, or ‘prebiotic’ honey. All honey has prebiotic and antibacterial properties, even if it isn’t marketed that way. Raw and organic honey are also available. These products are usually not as clear as commercial pasteurized honey.

Also available in many stores is honeycomb. Honeycomb, or comb honey, consists of the hexagonal wax cells that are constructed by bees to contain larvae and the honey to feed them. This form of honey is not generally used in cooking or beverages. It is more of a novelty, a point of interest on a breakfast table, to be spread on bread or toast. During honey production when the honey is spun out of the comb by a centrifuge the wax cells may remain stable enough to be returned to the hive intact. Returning the wax cells to the hive allows the bees to expend less energy creating the structures as manipulate the wax. They need to consume more than 8 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax.

Humans have gathered honey since ancient times and began fermenting it more than 9,000 years ago in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Mead, also known as honey-wine, is a fermented beverage that at its simplest is made from honey, water, and yeast. Around the world it has more than 4 dozen names based on the local language or the variants that are used in its production. These can include the addition of fruits, herbs, and spices. My son Luke began the process of mead fermentation back in April so that he would have a special gift for the groomsmen at his wedding this past October.

In a simple yet multi-step process, honey is dissolved in just-boiled water and then additional cool filtered water is added to bring the temperature to a level in which yeast can thrive. The yeast that may be used is similar to brewer’s, winemaker’s or baking yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

 

Some other equipment that is helpful are a hydrometer, to measure the alcohol content, and an airlock for the neck of the container, to allow gas to escape but keep bad bacteria from contaminating the ‘must’, another name for the honey mixture.

Once this is set up the must needs to ferment for at least a month. As this happens you can see the fermentation actively happening as gas bubbles continually rise to the surface.

6-fermentation bubbles

The mead is ‘racked’ to smaller, airlocked containers so that any sediment remains in the initial container. Another month of fermentation and then it is ready to bottle and cork. Butterfly-pea blossom petals, from the flower butterfly-pea, Clitoria ternatea, added during the second fermentation turns the liquid a lovely shade of purple.

Speaking of weddings, bees also made an appearance at the ‘Flower Power’ bridal shower for our future daughter-in-law Jamie in the form of cookies and decorations.

The popularity of bees is evident in their presence of many household goods, from shower curtains and towels to honey pots and pictures. They even made an appearance on Jamie’s birthday cake recently!

It is easy to say that 2019 was the Year of the Bee for our family. Those little pollinators made their presence felt in many of our celebrations and in all of our gardens as they went from blossom to blossom, fertilizing fruits and vegetables that we would enjoy long into the new year.

Susan Pelton, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

P1000305II

The fabulous Luna moth

Thus hath the candle singed the moth.

-William Shakespeare

Anyone who has lived in New England and been around outdoor lights in May or June may have encountered some of our giant silkworm moths which  .are members of the Saturniidae moths. The diminutive slug moths, Limacodiae, are perhaps not as well known, but they are commonly attracted to lights as well. Both are natives here in Connecticut and are spectacular in their own way.

luna moth puparium

Luna moth puparium inside the leaf shelter made by the caterpillar

The Cecropia moth and its caterpillar are likely the champs, the Goliaths of their peers. The  moth may be as large as a man’s hand, and the caterpillar comes close to the same size, at least in length. Late instar caterpillars can be heavy enough to cause small branches to droop. Caterpillars feed on locally preferred plants, especially cherry, ash and apple, but also other woody plants. Cocoons are made of leaves tied tightly together lengthwise along twigs or small branches, where they may remain all winter. Pupation takes place inside this structure.

cecropia on elderberry 7-11-16

Cecropia caterpillar is over three inches long in the final instar

cecropia female 9p.m. same day as emrged from cocoon 5-31-13 - Copy

Female Cecropia moth

 

Luna moths are probably the most recognized giant silkworm moth with their light green color and a pair of long tails streaming from the hind wings. Polyphemus are another species that have beautiful blue and yellow eye spots on the hind wings. Late instar Polyphemus caterpillars have striking white dots along their body that shimmer with silver at certain angles in bright sunlight.

 

polyphemus just out

Polyphemus moth just after emerging from its cocoon

Promethea moths have a strong preference for spicebush, sassafras and cherry for caterpillar host plants. Along with Io moths, their caterpillars follow each other in the very early instars, forming a train-like procession as they travel over a leaf. Both species also feed together for much of their life as a caterpillar.

promethea cats

Promethea caterpillars still hanging out together

Promethea moth female 2010 raised from egg found on sassafrass Belding

promethea moth cocoon

Cocoon of the Promethea moth is inside this leaf tied to the host plant

All silkworm moths lack fully developed mouths and cannot feed. They mate soon after emerging from their cocoons, as their life span as a moth is short. All overwinter as pupa and most emerge mid- May and onward the following year. Eggs are large and smooth. Somewhat flattened, and may be laid singly or in small to large rafts, depending upon species.

On the opposite side of the spectrum as far as size goes are the slug moths and their caterpillars which may be only one centimeter in size. Often found in late summer or early fall, the caterpillars often resemble galls or something else of uncaterpillar-like. They have medial suckers instead of legs and they glide along like slugs.

Red-eyed Button slug september 13, 2009 on small black cherry 12 tee GHills

Red-eyed button slug caterpillar

Always be careful not to touch caterpillars of the slug moth as many have spines that can inflict a painful sting that feels like being stabbed with dozens of hot hypodermic needles. One of the worst stings is from the aptly named saddleback, which has both its rear and tail ends covered with stinging spines. This year, green briar was a preferred host in the north central part of Connecticut, but they can be found on a variety of other plants including oaks, cherry, blueberry and sometimes herbaceous perennials.

saddleback on green briar a favorite host plant in 2019

Saddleback is aptly named

Slug moths are attracted to lights, and if identified, a search of larval host plants nearby may yield some caterpillars. Feeding takes place along leaf edges, and sometimes a shiny trail is left where they have glided along the leaf. Adult sightings peak in midsummer, with caterpillars found from June- October. Like the giant silkworms, adult slug moths do not eat.

smaller parasa caterpillar

Smaller Parasa slug moth caterpillar

 

The smaller parasa reminds me of a Shar-Pei. They have retractable spines, but they are mostly hidden inside warts along the back. When threatened, spines protrude in small clusters from the warts. I have found these most often on oaks, but they will feed on other woody plants also.

Smaller Parasa attracted to light

Smaller parasa moth

 

Skiff moth caterpillars have steep sides and have a short, sharp tail on the rear. Various brown markings help them blend in with dead plant tissue, so they may be hard to find. This slug cat is often found on the upper sides on leaves, though, rather than the undersides where other slug caterpillars are found. Moths can be found early in the night around outdoor lights near woods.

skiff moth back deck July 25, 2009

Skiff moth

skiffy
Skiff moth caterpillar

spiny oak slug caterpillar

Spiny oak slug caterpillar

crown slug on oak ruby fenton 10-2-11

crown slug

Next year, be on the alert for our native slug moths and giant silkworm moths. Check around outdoor lights in May- June for the moths, and look on specific host plants for  the different species of these interesting caterpillars. The excitement never ends…

 

Pamm Cooper

Dawn before the storm November sunrise Pamm Cooper photo

Dawn before a November storm

 

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

-Albert Camus

November is the time of falling leaves and bare trees, perhaps a first snow, woolly bears and the arrival of northern birds that come down to stay for the winter. Geese fly overhead in their v-formations, remaining autumn fruits are visible on trees and shrubs and the weather is definitely shifting toward the colder end of the spectrum.

wooly bear in November 2018 Pamm Cooper photo

Woolly bears travel late in the year and the amount of rust or black is only indicative of its stage of development, not the severity of the coming winter

Most northern birds that migrate here for the winter typically arrive in late September or early October. This year many stayed in the north until recently as temperatures there remained warmer than usual and food was abundant as well. The first juncos I saw arrived on October 30, but that is just in my area, but it is the latest arrival of that species since I started keeping track of such things.

cowbirds on fall migration Horsebarn Hill UConn

Cowbirds on migration Horsebarn Hill UConn

This past October was one of the warmest on record, and anyone with some annual flowers in their gardens may still have some blooms now in  November. I had Mandevilla vine, Thunbergia, salvias, Cuphea ( bat-faced heather), Mexican heather, Tithonia sunflowers, Cosmos, balloon milkweed, ivy geraniums, fuschias and several more annuals still blooming  on November 5. Native witch hazels and some perennials like Montauk daisies, butterfly weed and some hyssop varieties are also blooming. As of today, though, with temperatures in the low 30’s, most annuals should fade away into the sunset.

fuschia still blooming November 3 2019

Fuschia still blooming on November 3, 2019

Mandevilla vine in bloom November 3 2019

Mandevilla vine still blooming on November 3 2019

geraniums blooming November 2 2019

Geraniums still blooming in Manchester on November 3, 2019

October being so warm, many trees still have some leaves, although oaks, dawn redwood and Bradford pears are the main ones with leaves right now. Some sugar maples slow to turn color this year are fading, but many Japanese maples are still full of colorful leaves.

maples

Sugar maple on left and Japanese maple on right

old-house-with-bittersweet-and-japanese-maple-rte-154-november-13-2016-pamm-cooper-photo

Old house with bittersweet and a Japanese maple in full autumn color

This is the time of year when it becomes evident where paper wasps built their nests. According to farmers in earlier times, perhaps mostly by experience and observation, the position in height of these nests was an indicator of the amount of snow to come during the winter. The lower the majority of wasp’s nests, the less snow, and vice versa.

paper wasp nest in chute of wood chipper November 2019

Paper wasp nest in the end of a wood chipper chute

There are many plants that are great to use for fall interest. Fothergillas has a wonderful orange-yellow leaf color into November, and Carolina spicebush has a nice yellow color right now. Several viburnums, winterberry, many Kousa varieties and native dogwoods have fruits that are of  interest for fall and even winter color. Red osier dogwoods also have red twigs that are a standout in the winter landscape if pruned periodically.

cranberry viburnum berries

Viburnums can add colorful interest in the landscape for both fall and winter

blueberry fall color

Blueberry fall leaf color

Honey bees and some syrphid flies are still active as long as food sources remain. Witch hazel is valuable as a food resource for many late season pollinators. Also, the American oil beetle, a type of blister beetle, can sometimes be seen crawling over lawns in early November on its way to find a suitable spot to overwinter. Stink bugs and other insects are still out, but soon should be seeking shelter for the winter as temperatures drop. The invasive brown marmorated stink bugs seek shelter indoors, while native species remain outside.

honey bee on Montauk Daisy

Honey bee on a Montauk daisy

syrphid fly on Cosmos November 2019

Syrphid fly visiting Cosmos flower November 2019

Animals like deer and coyotes may sometimes be seen out and about on sunny fall days. Deer will eat crabapples and acorns, as well as smorgasbord items like Arborvitae hedges and other plants that pique their interest and taste buds. Sometimes they will nibble on young crabapple twigs and those of other small trees and shrubs. If this is a problem, consider wrapping lower branches loosely with bird netting or something else breathable for the winter. Squirrels have been known to clip off the flowers of hydrangeas and cart them off to line their nests.

coyote hunting during the day in fall 2019

Coyote hunting for voles and chipmunks along a small brook during the day

When autumn leaves are just a memory, sunrises and sunsets can provide a spectacular display of color during the fall and winter months. Sometimes there will also be a pre-glow red or orange color in the sky that will light up trees and houses just before dusk. The color will only last for minutes and changes can get more brilliant as the sun settles down over the horizon. In the morning, colors are at their peak just before the sun arrives over the horizon.

pre- sunset December glow 12-3-15

Orange glow just before fall sunset

The warm weather is retreating into fond memories, and the cold and bare landscape is coming to stay for a few months. As Clyde Watson wrote in his poem-

“November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows…”

Pamm Cooper

cobrahead weeder and red gloves

It is harvest time in the vegetable garden, doing end of season gathering of squash this week. The vines of the honeynut butternut and spaghetti squash have all withered and dried signaling the squashes are ready to be picked. Once the color deepens and skins toughen the fruit should be cut from the vines and cleaned up. I wash them in a slight bleach solution to remove any fungi and bacteria that might cause rot once they are placed in storage in my cool hatchway to the basement where they will not freeze. Wrapping each in a sheet of newspaper to keep them from touching is an added measure to help retard decomposition.

Squash harvest 2019

Back in the garden I pulled all of the vines to add to the compost or burn any diseased plant remains. Insect problems from this year might over winter in the plant debris so cleaning up the beds is recommended. While I am there, I scrape the soil with my 20 year old CobraHead hand-weeder, my favorite tool. When held horizontally it only disturbs the top inch or so of soil while I remove any weeds without bringing up many weed seeds from deeper in the soil which might germinate next year. Even though I am only disturbing shallow depths of the ground, some insects come crawling, wiggling and moving out of what they thought was a safe place to spend the winter. It is amazing to sit on my little garden stool and watch the life emerge from what at first glance, appears to be lifeless or dormant.

cobrahead weeder

First to emerge from the soil was a crazy snake worm, (Amynthas agrestis). They are an invasive species from distant lands of Korea and Japan, and do not belong in my New England garden. They move in an ‘S’ pattern and rather quickly, but they are no match for my fast, gloved hand to grab and toss into a repurposed ricotta container rescued from the recycle bin to live another life as a worm container of death. A few more swipes of the CobraHead and several more make an appearance only to be promptly deposited to the dreaded, dry plastic vessel too tall from them to slither out.

snakeworms 2

Normally worms are considered a beneficial being in the soil, but not snake worms. They damage the soil by eating large amounts of organic matter and leaving behind their castings (poop) which resembles Grapenuts cereal, small granules of black matter. Their castings change the micro biome of the soil making plants less likely to survive. There are not legally allowed control measure for obnoxious invaders except for hand removal of them. There is some research work being done at the University of Vermont and more around the Great Lakes as the snake worms are having a very large detrimental effect on the forest floor in those areas. Crazy snake worm adults will die when the ground freezes, but they leave behind their eggs, called cocoons, which will survive the cold to hatch next spring.

The next critter that made an appearance was an earwig. My gardens have always had a lot of these brown decomposers of dead plant material, but occasionally I they will feed on live leaves, flowers and fruit. Normally they do very little harm, despite their fierce looking pinchers on their butt end. They use their forceps for defense and offense, and will pinch skin if you hold one in your hand. Earwigs overwinter in the adult stage, coming out of their dormant period in the spring to ensure their population continues yet another year.earwig 10-19

Grubs are the larval stage of beetles. There are many beetles which inhabit soil and above ground spaces. Most lays eggs in or on the soil, which hatch into grubs that feed on plant roots. Grubs in the lawn can cause significant damage, so do grubs in the vegetable garden when they feed on the roots of my vegetable plants. As a general rule, I squish grubs when I find them in my vegetable beds, even though some adult beetles may be considered beneficial by feeding on other pests. In my garden, the Asiatic garden beetle is the predominate one, causing lots of feeding damage on my leaf crops. They love basil, effectively stripping plants seemingly overnight.

The vibrations of my scraping the soil seemed to bring armies of squash bug nymphs and adults to surface where I was working and to adjacent areas yet to be disturbed. This was the squash bed and I expected the squash pests to be where the cucurbit crop was grown, but I didn’t anticipate the crowd that came to see why I was unearthing their winter abode. Only the adult stage is listed as overwintering, but I found many nymphs not yet developed to their mature adult stage. I hope the cold will kill them so I don’t have to squish many more.

squash bug adult 10-19

Adult Squash Bug

 

The final insect I found while digging wasn’t crawling or moving. It was the resting stage of a moth, which species, I do not know. It was the pupa without many identifying features. I have yet to find a book just on moth pupae, but I am still looking. Once I found the pupa of a tomato hornworm, identifying itself by the hookshaped ‘horn’ on the end of the pupal case. I wish I had taken a photo of that one!

pupa, moth 10-19

-Carol Quish

 

zinnias 10-19

 

We have had a home compost bin going in our backyard for a good twelve years now. We a started out with a bottomless, stacking, heavy-duty plastic bin that has three open square sections that fit one on top of the other with a jointed lid that opens halfway. The method of that system was to open the lid on its hinge and dump in whatever was being fed to the compost pile. As the level rose in the bin (let’s call it bin 1), you were supposed to remove the cover, take the top section, which is basically an open square, and place that on the ground. It would then become the bottom layer of bin 2.

We would scoop the composting matter out of bin 1 with a pitchfork or shovel, turning it over and dumping it into bin 2. The process was repeated until the level in bin 2 rose to the top of the bottom square and the amount in bin 1 decreased enough to remove the second level. This was then placed on the bottom tier of bin 2 and the shoveling process was repeated until the third tier could be placed onto bin 2 and then covered with the lid. Needless to say, it was a fair amount of work and in order to use any finished compost that it might have generated involved another step. In the process of transferring the pile to the new ‘bin’ we would screen it for any usable finished compost. What I liked about this system was that the open base sat directly on the ground which made it easy for the earthworms to get in there and do their thing. It’s still in use in our yard but more as a holding bin at this point.

We received the gift of a tumbling composter from our daughter and son-in-law a few years ago (it’s the same model that they have) and it has made the composting process much easier. The fact that it rotates means that we don’t need to continually turn it over with a shovel, we simply give a few good spins each time we add raw material to it. It also has two compartments, one for new material and one for compost that is in the works. When the new side is full the ‘in the works’ side is usually ready to be used. You simply place a tarp or low bin under the barrel, rotate it so that the opening is at the bottom, slide the door open, and the compost dumps out. OK, sometimes it doesn’t just fall out and needs a bit of encouragement, especially if it is still pretty moist. We will add this to the tiered bin if we aren’t ready to use it right away.

Our bins, side by side

Dog waste composterOur son and his fiancée returned to Connecticut this year and they have embraced all things gardening and environmentally friendly, including composting. They even have an in-ground dog waste composter as they have two adorable fur-babies who provide plenty of material for it. It’s basically a septic system for dog waste. Dog waste shouldn’t go into a home compost pile that is used in a vegetable garden as it doesn’t get hot enough to destroy the harmful pathogens that may be present. Additional info on composting do’s and don’ts can be found at the UConn Soil and Nutrient Laboratory’s Composting Basics fact sheet.

However, what I really want to tell you about is a beneficial visitor to Luke’s backyard compost bin. It started with an image that he sent to me of a little black flying insect that he said were all over the outside of their first compost bin which was simply a 30-gallon plastic storage bin that they had drilled holes into. What I saw was a little bluish-black fly with two wings so I immediately suspected that it was a member of the order Diptera.

Adult fly on storage bin, image by Luke Pelton.jpeg

Further investigation revealed it to be a black soldier fly, Hermetia illucens. I got to see it in person the next time that I stopped over and the first thing that I noticed was that its shiny body seemed metallic and almost wasp-like with a very narrow ‘waist’. It may remind you of the mud dauber wasp Trypoxylon politum with its shiny blue-black exoskeleton. And there is a good reason for that. The soldier fly is considered a mimic fly, using its appearance as a form defense as it tricks predators into thinking that it is capable of stinging them. But these harmless flies do not sting; in fact, they don’t even bite since they don’t have mouth parts or digestive organs. They subsist on nectar and water, living off of fat reserves from their larval period. The adult female will lay her eggs, up to 500, near decaying matter but not on it so that she does not transmit any pathogens from the waste. And then the really interesting stuff happens.

The larvae of the soldier fly are among some of the most efficient waste-consumers ever to exist. As soon as they hatch they begin to consume waste, double their body weight per day, a process that they can extend for up to 6 months if the conditions are unfavorable for their development. They start out 1 mm, .04 inches, in length and can reach up to 27 mm, 1.06 inches, within two weeks. The image below shows many different sizes cohabiting.

BSF larva 1 image by Jamie Zimmerman.png

Their diet can be any kind of organic waste; kitchen scraps, animal manure, and even coffee grounds, although coffee grounds alone aren’t good long-term as it boosts their metabolism and makes them overly active (does that sound familiar?).

As they eat they can actually raise the temperature of the compost pile, a benefit as higher temps also help to speed up the composting process. They eat waste before it has a chance to decompose and start to smell. Their frass, or poop, is an odorless residue.

BSF larvae 3 crop

When it is time to pupate, the larvae go through a stage known as prepupae wherein they stop eating, empty their guts of any of any undigested remains, and then their chewing mouth parts become climbing mouth parts as they head to drier areas to pupate for the next week or two before the adult fly emerges to begin the cycle again. Some of the larvae in Luke’s bin may be emigrating to a new home in our bin this weekend so that we can also employ their amazing abilities, at least until the temperatures descend below 32°F. Black soldier flies do not survive the extreme cold of a Connecticut winter so we can only hope that they will return to the area in the spring. As I tried to get images of them I learned two things about them: The larvae prefer to be out of sunlight as they moved very quickly into darker areas and the adult flies are even quicker!

Getting a good image was difficult as they do not sit still but fortunately Bugwood had some great ones, as seen below. The image on the left was taken by Marilyn Sallee, Bugwood.org and the image on the right by Johnny N. Dell, Bugwood.org.

The black soldier fly is an amazing little creature that is quickly emerging as an important economic and ecological member of our world. The grown larvae are high in protein and fat making them a desirable food source for poultry, some livestock and even humans. If they are fed a diet of fish-trimmings they can actually contain omega-3 fatty acids. Although Diptera species account for only 2% of the edible insects consumed worldwide as of 2012 this number may increase as the wonders of this little marvel are researched further. Just in case you want to start searching for recipes.

Susan Pelton

Images by Susan Pelton, Luke Pelton, & Jamie Zimmerman except where noted.

UConn Home & Garden Education Center

8 fritillaries on milkweed

Some milkweeds are still blooming. Look for butterflies, like these great spangled fritillaries , on the flowers

Taking a walk around the yard, garden and woods, we are never at a loss of finding interesting, and sometimes annoying, plants and insects. Below are a few favorite and fun things that we found last week.

wineberry upclose

Wineberries, Rubus phoenicolasius, are non-native plants with edible fruit.

Wineberry is native to China and Japan and is a relative of raspberry and blackberry. It was originally brought to this country in 1890 as breeding stock. Today it is classified as invasive due to its aggressive tendencies. https://www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/invasive-plants/wineberry

Tobacco hornworms shown above are actively feeding on tomato plants. If you find a stem of your tomato plant with few or no leaves, scout for this caterpillar. Remove and dispose of as you see fit.

Hibiscus border

This hibiscus border is colorful in August

Many plants can make a suitable border, as seen above on this property featuring a hibiscus border. Perennial hibiscus Hibiscus moscheutos is easy to grow and gives a tropical, colorful look in the summer.

Check undersides of squash leaves for the egg rafts of the squash bugs. If, found, you can crush or use the sticky side of tape to remove them from the leaf. Dispose of tape in the garbage.

red spotted purple on clethra alnifolia

Clethra alnifolia and red spotted purple butterfly

 CLethra alnifoilia is a native shrub often found on edges of ponds, streams or in other places where soils are wet. Flowers are very fragrant and attract many pollinators and butterflies.

 

juvenile red- tailed hawk on rock wall late summer

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

This juvenile red-tailed hawk has found an ideal spot on top of a stone wall to wait for prey like chipmunks, voles and squirrels. Young red-tails have blue eyes.

grapevine beetle 2019 Pamm Cooper photo

Grapevine beetle resting on a grape leaf

The grapevine beetle, Pelidnota punctata, is often found on or near wild or cultivated grape. The beetle is attracted to lights and is frequently found in swimming pools where lights are on for part of the night. Although it feeds on grape leaves, it is not considered a pest. Larvae feed on organic matter.

 

In the spirit of ” gung ho” (Gung ho!, motto (interpreted as meaning “work together”)  Carol Quish and  Pamm Cooper did this blog together

Next Page »