Ron Kujawski: Downpours, diseases and pests, oh my!


What a week! We've had a plethora -- don't know what that word means, but I like the way it rolls off the tongue -- of pests, development of devastating diseases and a deluge of downpours.

Among the pests receiving the most attention is the Japanese beetle. I should say "beetles" since they are out in huge numbers this year. What's one to do, besides move to Japan where the beetle population is kept in check by natural predators and parasites? Since my passport is not up to date, I'll try these options:

n Handpicking: The best time to handpick Japanese beetles is early in the morning while temperatures are cool and dew is on the beetles, conditions that keep the critters from flying away. Making a collection of live beetles is probably not a good idea, so drop them into a bucket of soapy water. Since they have an aversion to personal hygiene, they'll drown.

n Pesticide application: Apply an insecticide to plants where the beetles are dining. Among organic options are products containing neem oil or pyrethrum. These products have to be reapplied at weekly intervals to be effective. An option for fruit crops is to spray foliage and fruit with kaolin clay, sold as Surround WP. The clay does not harm the fruit but does discourage beetles from feeding on it. Kaolin clay is safe to humans, but wash it off harvested fruit anyway; the fruit may be more appealing to fussy eaters without a coating of the white clay.

n Trapping: This method involves setting up traps containing lures to attract the beetles. If using traps, place them upwind and far from the plants to be protected -- your neighbor's yard is a good location.


One of the devastating diseases brought to my attention by Charlie Ferris of Great Barrington is downy mildew of garden impatiens (Impatiens walleriana). I've written about this disease in the past, but here is a refresher course.

The first symptom is sudden wilting of impatiens plants, followed by appearance of fluffy white mold on undersides of leaves, flower and leaf drop, and eventually the collapse of entire plants into a mushy mess. Since there is no effective control for this disease at present, pull up the affected plants, put them in a plastic bag and deposit them in the trash. Do not plant garden impatiens in previously infected garden beds.

As far as deluge of downpours is concerned, my recommendation is to buy an umbrella.


Keep your umbrella handy as you engage in these tasks:

n Keep picking beans, cucumbers and summer squash, even if you have more than you can use now. If you don't pick them, the plants will stop producing. Give the surplus to neighbors and friends, or to the local food pantry. Surplus produce can also be preserved by freezing, canning, pickling or dehydrating.

n Pull up spent pea plants that are no longer producing. However, don't leave the space empty. Plant more vegetables or sow a green manure crop. Buckwheat, annual sweet clover, sorghum and millet are good green manure crops. These are called green manure crops because they add organic matter to soil when turned under. Legumes such as the sweet clover also contribute nitrogen to the soil. Also, green manures are less smelly than ... never mind.

n Continue to remove side shoots (suckers) from staked tomatoes. I remove some suckers from my caged tomatoes since too many stems will slow the development and maturation of the fruit.

n Cut stems of parsley and cilantro at the base when harvesting for kitchen use. This will allow the plant crowns to regrow leafy stems.

n Cut flowering stems of yarrow for fresh bouquets. They also make excellent dried flowers. Cut flowers from yarrow and other plants early in the day while the shoots are still turgid.


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