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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To Spray or Not to Spray?

pcoccasional_invaders_clip_image035During a recent visit to a local business, a tiny little beetle was discovered making its way along the baseboard, laboriously climbing over each bump in the carpet. Alarmed, the owner rushed over and glowered at the intruder, commenting that it was the second one she’d seen in as many days. She promised to pick up an insecticidal “bomb” to set off that evening after closing. I rescued the pint-sized ground beetle and carried it outdoors before it got stepped on. I’m sure it was relieved to be deposited in the grass, where it could go back to preying on smaller insects.

With winter approaching, many insects are looking for a place to shelter until spring. They don’t know the difference between a bark crevice and a door frame, and they unwittingly end up in our houses. Most are completely harmless, and can be simply redirected back outside. Instead, we reach for the can of bug spray.

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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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IPM: Resistant Varieties

dbg_lah_6794Is your garden being bugged? While 95% of all insects are either beneficial or benign, that last 5% can eat us out of house and home—or at least out of cabbage and broccoli. If insect invaders are on the attack, sometimes you just have to fight back.

Pests may be persistent, but we gardeners are not helpless. I like to remind myself that I am smarter than an aphid and more cunning than a flea beetle. When it comes down to a battle for the harvest, there are lots of tools at our disposal. As a master gardener, I was taught the principles of Integrated Pest Management, or IPM. Rather than just reaching for a spray can, this approach is multifaceted. There are many ways to outwit a weevil.

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Subscribe to Good Eating

264-wheelbarrow-of-veggies-closeup-nxMy daughter supports it in Idaho. My brother-in-law supports it near Denver. My friend supports it here in Colorado Springs—maybe it’s time I join the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement too.

Let’s say you’re eager to enjoy locally grown, organic produce but you don’t have the time or room for a garden (or you just hate yard work). Your first inclination is to head for the neighborhood farmer’s market. But there’s another option. You can buy a share in a farm.

This is how CSA works: one or more small, family farms grow a variety of produce. How much variety depends largely where they are and what will grow there. The growers estimate how much they’ll harvest over the season, and divide the yield into family-sized portions.

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Too Much Compost?

 

veggie-garden-student-run-csu-perc-lah-094-1When I first encountered this concept—that a gardener could use too much compost—I immediately thought, “Is that even possible?” As an organic veggie gardener dealing with soil comprised of decomposed granite punctuated by lumps of sticky clay, too much compost seemed an impossibility. Isn’t compost the answer to all our gardening problems?

It’s true that “add compost” (or other organic matter, such as peat moss or leaf mold) is the best advice for gardeners dealing with either clay or sand. Organic matter opens up the solidly packed clay particles, allowing air and water—and therefore roots—to penetrate what would otherwise be an impervious substrate. In sand, organic matter acts as a sponge, holding on to both water and nutrients that would otherwise quickly drain away.

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Green Solutions to Garden Pests

grasshopper-bf-lah-007Oh no! My organic garden is being consumed by organic bugs! Now what do I do?

Green is definitely the color of the decade, and more and more gardeners are turning to organic gardening principles for their landscapes and kitchen gardens. But what do you do when the hordes attack? Just because your harvest is in danger of premature consumption, doesn’t mean you have to abandon all your “green” principles. You are not defenseless!

Before reaching for the sprayer, consider all aspects of the problem. Chemicals, even organic ones, are only one weapon in your arsenal.

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Japanese Beetle Invasion

Photo: David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org
Photo: David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

Stunning in their metallic shades of vibrant copper and emerald green, Japanese Beetles might seem like welcome immigrants to our state. However, anyone who has lived in other parts of the country knows how destructive these voracious scourges can be. Until recently, Japanese beetles were unknown in Colorado. Unfortunately, they are now prevalent both in southern Denver and in locations along the Western Slope. It is only a matter of time before they spread southward to El Paso county. Gardeners here can prepare by learning how to identify these beetles and protect their landscapes.

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