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

 

European Earwig, Forficula auricularia

This wet spring has brought a high number of earwigs to the lawn, garden and even in homes.  Earwigs do not hurt people. They feed on vegetation outdoors. They can crawl inside homes by going underneath siding and through cracks and crevices.  Thorough vacuuming will remove them from inside the house as well as banging on the siding outside to disturb their nesting sites. Perimeter insecticidal sprays aimed at the cement foundation just below the bottom of the siding will keep them from going back up the siding.

Earwigs have pincers on the end of the abdomen called cerci. These are strongly curve in the males and  are straight-sided on the females. Earwigs have a gradual metamorphosis hatching from an cluster of eggs laid in the soil into white  nymphs that looks pretty much like the adults shape-wise. They will gain the brown color after their first molt. The mother earwig feeds the newly hatched white nymphs until their first molt after which they forage for food on their own. There is usually one generation per year, but each female will produce two broods of eggs. Some populations will overwinter as adults.

Earwigs are nocturnal, mostly, preferring to feed at night and hide under anything during the day. Personally, they love my mailbox requiring me to shake out the pile of envelopes and newspapers before bringing them into the house! Earwigs will eat just about any plant, flower and fruit. They love tender new seedlings, causing considerable damage to later planted vegetable seeds.

Control measures are to eliminate hiding places such as mulch, boards and garden debris. Sanitation goes along way in removing their nesting sites. Or create areas where they will likely hide and then hand pick or crush them in the morning or shake them into a bucket of soapy water. Pesticides are normally not warranted after cleaning up the garden and creating traps.

The University of California has a unique trapping system quoted below:

“Trapping
A key element of an earwig management program is trapping. Scatter numerous traps throughout the yard. Traps can easily be hidden near shrubbery and ground cover plantings, or against fences. A low-sided can  such as a cat food or tuna fish can, with 1/2-inch of oil in the bottom makes an excellent trap. Fish oil (e.g., tuna fish oil) is very attractive to earwigs or vegetable oil with a drop of bacon grease can be used. Dump captured earwigs and refill cans with oil. Other common types of traps are a rolled-up newspaper, corrugated cardboard, bamboo tube, or short piece of hose. Place these traps on the soil near plants just before dark and shake accumulated earwigs out into a pail of soapy water in the morning. Continue these procedures every day until you are no longer catching earwigs.”

-Carol Quish