Pesticide-free? Forget It!

059 fruit @PikeMarSea LAHI was at the market picking out some grapes when a large woman ran up to me and grabbed my arm. “Don’t buy those!” She looked alarmed. “They’re not organic!”

Thankfully, I’m rarely accosted in the produce department , but I frequently hear the same lecture from many of my friends. Don’t take man-made drugs. Don’t use artificial sweeteners. Don’t eat food that isn’t organic. You’re poisoning yourself. Natural is safe. Everything else isn’t.

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Seeds for Colorado

Glass Gem Corn. Photo: Seeds Trust Facebook page
Glass Gem Corn. Photo: Seeds Trust Facebook page

I love getting seed catalogs in the mail. The flowers are so big and bright, and the veggies are worthy of blue ribbons. Everything looks absolutely perfect. Just order these seeds and you too can have results like this!

Except, we live in Colorado. There’s a very good reason most seed companies are situated in places like South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Oregon, where the soil is fertile and the climate is conducive to growing most crops. With our erratic weather, often we don’t have time to ripen those luscious tomatoes. Long-season flowers freeze before they bloom. Isn’t there a seed company for us?

Yes, there is. Appropriately named High Altitude Gardens specializes in short season, cold-hardy varieties that thrive at higher elevations. If you live in the mountains, this is the seed catalog for you!

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Rethinking Lawns

Useless turf_ColoSpgs-CO_LAH_8420Lawns—it seems we either love them or hate them. I was surprised when an informal survey of around 100 Colorado Master Gardeners revealed that only two people (2%) were very interested in growing lawns. Yet, half of the callers to the master gardener help desk ask for advice on growing turf grass. Clearly there’s a major disconnect here! Why are lawns so popular among the general public, yet loathed by many avid gardeners?

I unhesitatingly admit that a lovely lawn sets off the rest of the landscape. Flower beds, shrubbery, and other garden beds often look their best when they’re bordered by grass.

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Stop Fighting Mother Nature

Penstemon 'Red Rocks' @ExtDemoGarden 2008sept25 LAH 264Alkaline soils, sparse rainfall, extreme temperatures, low fertility. Colorado doesn’t exactly sound like a gardener’s paradise. Few places do. Lamenting the current drought and expected summer water restrictions, I often dream of gardening in a place with ample rainfall. Wouldn’t it be wonderful?

Then I visited my daughter in western Washington. She and her husband live in Everett, north of Seattle. They have a view (on a rare clear day) looking east to the Cascades. These impressive mountains form a barrier blocking clouds that would otherwise move on into eastern Washington and Idaho. As a result, my daughter’s area gets a lot of rain.

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IPM: Pest-eating Vertebrates, Part 2

Mountain Bluebird_Johnson'sCorner-CO_LAH_2843Last month I explained how amphibians, such as frogs and toads, and reptiles, such as snakes and lizards, are beneficial to our gardens. This time I’ll focus on birds and mammals. Inviting these wild animals into ours gardens is yet one more way that we can control the pests that dine on our flowers and veggies.

Birds
As an avid birder, I have up to a dozen feeders scattered around our yard. It may seem as if I’m doing the birds a favor, but it’s really the other way around! While most birds attracted to feeders eat seeds, many of those same species switch to bugs, with their higher protein content, during the breeding season.

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IPM: Pest-eating Vertebrates, Part 1

Eastern Collared Lizard_DesertMuseum-AZ_LAH_4796Here it is the middle of winter, and garden pests are out of sight and out of mind. Yet, we know that those critters are out there, waiting for warm weather to bring out the first sprouts of spring—just so they can gobble them up! It’s a very good thing, then, that there are other creatures biding their time, waiting to eat those garden pests! I’ve already talked about bug-eating invertebrates. This time I’ll focus on those animals with some backbone, so to speak. Being biologically minded, I’ve sorted these helpful vertebrates by which taxonomic class they belong to.

Amphibians
Toad_ColoNat'lMon-CO_LAH_3622One of the most helpful animals to welcome into your garden is a toad. Like frogs and salamanders, their close relatives, toads eat tons of bugs, and they don’t need a pond to live in. Experts say they eat up to 100 bugs every day, and while they don’t discriminate between “good” bugs and bad ones (they’ll nab anything that moves), it’s nice to see cutworms, grasshoppers, flies, and slugs disappearing into their wide jaws.

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IPM: Good Bugs and Other Garden Heroes

spider_dbg_lah_7406If we set a thief to catch a thief, then why not set a bug to eat a bug? Sometimes the best way to control an outbreak of an insect pest is to use another insect, or a close relative (such as spiders). Ladybugs, the most famous of these insect killers, are wimps compared to some of the other predatory critters in your garden. Lacewing larvae, ground beetles, praying mantises, wasps, hover flies, spiders… there are plenty of beasties who are more than happy to keep garden pests under control.

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Ladybug, Ladybug

ladybug-on-fernleaf-dbg-19sept05-lah-193The quintessential “good bug,” ladybugs (aka ladybird beetles) are the poster child of the beetle world. Everyone knows that ladybugs eat aphids and other “bad bugs” (especially scale insects) and should be welcomed in the garden.

Actually, not all ladybug species are red. Some species are orange, yellow, white, black, brown, or gray. And not all ladybug species eat aphids, although most do. Some are even agricultural pests, such as the infamous Mexican Bean Beetle. Still, most ladybugs are red, and they eat vast numbers of aphids, as well as scales, mealy bugs, leaf hoppers, mites and other soft-bodied insects and their eggs.

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IPM: Physical Barriers

apples_browns-tacoma_20091016_lah_4005Let’s say you want to grow apples in your Colorado garden—a perfectly reasonable option for this area. You’ve selected a variety that’s resistant to fireblight (I discussed disease-resistant varieties in May), and your tree is thriving. In fact, after several years, it’s finally beginning to bear fruit. You pick your first juice, red apple, take a big bite, and… oh no! Yup, you find half a worm. Ewwww.

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IPM: Cultural Control

caterpillar-and-leaf-damage_blkforest_20090729_lah_7823The best way to ward off insect and disease problems is to grow a healthy plant. Just as a wolf pack will target the weakest member of a herd, insects seem to zero in on a plant that is under stress. Good gardening practices—choosing the right plant for the spot, soil preparation, proper planting, feeding, watering, mulching, and the like, all go a long way to keep our gardens free of damaging pests.

But cultural control goes further than just having a green thumb. Sometimes our yards are invaded by insects no matter how good a gardener we are. In that case, it pays to know the enemy.

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