Thursday, July 30, 2009

Emerald Ash Borer Found in Indiana County

Bob K. forwarded this press release from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture announcing discovery of the Emerald Ash Borer in Indiana County. That brings to 10 the number of counties in Pennsylvania where it has been found. A quarantine has been put in place.

State and federal Emerald Ash Borer quarantines restrict the movement from the quarantine area of ash nursery stock, green lumber and any other ash material, including logs, stumps, roots and branches, and all wood chips.

In addition to Pennsylvania, the beetle is attacking ash trees in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin, and is responsible for the death and decline of more than 40 million trees.

You can download the DCNR brochure here. The University Entomology Department has more information here.

Blue Birds Grow Fast

Dang, them cute little fellers look like they're ready to fledge, already! The nest sure looks crowded.

UPDATE: 6:35 PM on Thursday 7/30/09 - The nest appears to be empty.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Perry's Perennial Pages

Linda S. sends this link to Perry's Perennial Pages at the University of Vermont. I've added it as a permanent link in the sidebar.

Mosquito Repellent

A side discussion at the General Meeting Tuesday night involved the new OFF Clip-on mosquito repellent. I bought the product today to test, and I did some research on the active ingredient, metofluthrin. Metofluthrin is a relatively new synthetic pyrethroid, that is, a substance with a similar chemical makeup based on the naturally occurring chemical pyrethrum, found in a certain species of Chrysanthemum - Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium. There are several different compounds on the market today that are chemically similar: permethrin, resmethrin, pyrethrin, etc. As a general rule of thumb, if the active ingredient on the label ends in –thrin, it’s in this category of compounds.

The active ingredient that I use in mosquito control operations (Ultra Low Volume sprays) is usually permethrin. Permethrin is also used as a repellent in hunting and camping gear, and in mosquito bed netting in tropical regions to prevent malaria. It is sprayed or impregnated into the clothing, not on the skin - an important distinction. It is the active ingredient in several over the counter treatments for head lice, as well.

Pyrethroids fall into the category of Botanicals, if you remember your IPM training, although sometimes a distinction is made between the synthetics and the naturally-occurring compounds.

Metofluthrin seems to be more volatile (it evaporates into the air more readily), than other compounds in this category, which probably (I’m guessing) is the reason Johnson and Johnson chose it for this application. Here are the pertinent links about the product:

Product Description from the supplier, Johnson and Johnson.

US EPA Fact Sheet on the active ingredient.

Here’s a product review (and a good discussion about mosquitoes) from a Michigan State University Entomologist. Scroll down to The summer of our discontent item in the newsletter. Excerpt:

A recently available personal barrier repellent, OFF clip-ons, also uses a pyrethroid type of insecticide (metofluthrin) dispersed with a small fan as a repellant. I recently tried using one of these units, but it was ineffective against the swarms of A. trivittatus that attacked my dog and me when we walked near the edges of the lawn or along country roads. It did appear to inhibit landing/biting attempts when I used it while sitting on the patio, but it did not eliminate repeated mosquito attacks to my head, face, and lower legs. I doubt most people will want to wear three of these units for full “coverage” and I suspect no one will want to wear one as a necklace to keep A. trivittatus away from the head and neck – the packaging label warns against inhalation of the vapors (something that’s probably hard to avoid, in my estimation). Unfortunately, there are no great options for barrier repellants yet. Landscaping plants and citronella candles have not been shown to be more effective than smoke producing candles in keeping mosquitoes at bay. However, research of area-wide repellants is a hot area, so expect to see more products of this type in the next few years.
A recent review published in the Baltimore Sun from an LA Times columnist.

Off! Clip-on is unlikely to offer much relief to hikers or golfers or any other active people in mosquito country, Paskewitz says. As the product website warns, "if you move, allow a few minutes for the unit to rebuild its protection." In other words, it works best if you stay in one spot. "This sort of thing might be helpful if you're reading a book on a patio," Paskewitz says. "I wouldn't even bother trying it for backpacking."
Linda S. found it very effective keeping those pesky gnats away while picking black raspberries.

Additional Johnson and Johnson information.

This PSU handout has some excellent general information on insect repellents. And here are the CDC and EPA links on them.

Here are investigations into some of the home remedies for mosquito repellents you may have heard about. Snopes. Rutgers University. University of Wisconsin.

I've been bothered a lot by the gnats this year while gardening, so I plan to use it and see if it provides relief. It does appear to be a popular product in terms of sales.

As always when using pesticides (repellents are classified by EPA as pesticides), read the label and follow the directions.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Landisville Pics

Laurie C. took some pictures at the Landisville Summer Garden Experience on Saturday 7/25/09. Here's a subset.

Hummingbird on cardinal flower.

New trialed zinnia - looks like a winner to me.

I think this is another butterfly weed, Asclepias spp.
If so, I look forward to the subsequent seed pods.

Don't know this one. Beautiful, though. Can anyone help identify it?

Alex S. helps folks build beeboxes.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Turf Wars

The 19 comments generated at the Public Opinion to Bob K.'s item about treatments for white clover in lawns made me wonder how much of a growing movement there is (amongst us MG's, anyway), for changing the way we view lawns and their care in our landscape. As a starting point for discussion, here's anti-lawnist Elizabeth Kolbert in a July 21, 2008 New Yorker piece.

Here's a relevant Penn State Fact Sheet: Neighborly Natural Landscaping: Creating Natural Environments in Residential Areas .

Friday, July 24, 2009

Swallowtail Caterpillar

Taken Sunday, 7/19/09 by Laurie C.
Our resident photographer and pollinator person, Laurie C., sends in this great picture of a swallowtail larva (caterpillar) munching on a dill plant. Also, see the updated entry below of the eyed click beetle, now illustrated with Laurie's picture.
(I guess that evil West Nile/Gypsy Moth guy hasn't killed all of them.)
Here's a PDF of the Penn State brochure on Gardening for Butterflies.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Organic or Conventional?

Steve B. sent me this article from the LA Times that jives completely with my views about farms and their produce, whether organically or conventionally grown. Some excerpts:

Whether something is grown organically might be one of the factors you use when you're considering what to buy, but it is by no means the only one: For me, seasonality, locality and -- above all, flavor -- trump it.

And it certainly is not a surefire solution to all of life's (or even agriculture's) ills. You can be a bad farmer growing organically, and you can be a good farmer and still use chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

The article concludes:

But most important, I've tasted the fruit that comes from them. Because if there's one thing I've learned in more than 20 years of covering farming, it's that you can't fake flavor. You can fudge on almost everything else, but really delicious fruits and vegetables come only from talented, careful farmers doing their very best work.

And that's true regardless of the label that's attached.

Read the whole thing.

Chestnut Trees

Professor Craig H., center, leads a tour of forestry professionals to
the front of Penn State Mont Alto’s chestnut grove.

The local Waynesboro paper highlights efforts by faculty and students in the forestry program of Penn State Mont Alto to aid in the research to breed blight resistant Chestnut trees. An orchard at the University that was planted in 2000, includes American chestnut trees, Chinese chestnut trees and trees that are a hybrid of the two. Way cool side note: Both Beth B. and her husband Craig H. have signed up to become Franklin County Master Gardeners. Woo Hoo!

Adding the efforts of our own retired forester Lionel L. at the Miller’s farm, and genetic seed stock collected annually from trees in Michaux and Caledonia, to the Mont Alto efforts and it’s clear that Franklin County will be well represented when chestnut trees become available for reforesting.

Here’s an archived article from 2005 from main campus at Penn State describing their research and breeding efforts.

Purdue University has been conducting research, as well, and recently published this press release about the potential for chestnut trees to provide a major source of carbon sequestering.

I’ve added links to the American Chestnut Foundation and the Pennsylvania state chapter in the sidebar.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tomato 'Evangelist'

This fellow sounds rather opinionated about tomatoes.

UPDATE: I googled around for a reliable source to the Mortgage Lifter story, and found this one, which includes an interview and transcript from a tape-recorded conversation between 'Charlie' and his grandson. Both German Johnson and Mortgage Lifter are being grown as part of the tomato trials this year. Enjoy.

UPDATE II: I should also make clear, because the article makes it sound otherwise, I have nothing against hybrids - I grow several including Brandyboy, Ramapo and Conestoga. If you attended the Tomato class this Spring, you know I heartily applaud the efforts of Rutgers University, for example, to rediscover the commercial hybrids that made the "Jersey Tomato" famous for flavor. We have a handout (can't find an on-line version) that explains the situation well: "Heirlooms and Hybrids: Together in Today's Garden". Look for it at the information desk on Tomato Day.

This fact sheet from the University of Illinois covers the same subject.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Where Are The Butterflies?

An email came into the office asking about the dearth of butterflies this year. Donna B. noticed the same thing, and asked me about them this morning at the workday (BTW, Thanks Jane, Donna, Nancy and Ken!)

I got to thinking about the subject, and related it back to the gypsy moth situation. We’re having a good gypsy moth year (in that there are a lot fewer of them around this year) because the cool, wet Spring was very conducive for the growth of a fungus that kills gypsy moth caterpillars. It turns out that those same cool, wet conditions could also be responsible for causing a drop in butterfly populations, and for the same reasons. Fungal pathogens of Lepidoptera larvae (caterpillars) thrive in the cool, wet weather we had this Spring and early Summer. The cooler weather, may also affect whether or not you’ll see butterflies. They are cold blooded, and so must bask in the sun to get warm enough to fly. These are just speculations, of course. If anyone has heard other reasons, put them in the comments section below the post.

Of course it could just be that evil West Nile guy killing them all!

Here is a googlebooks excerpt on the topic.

Creating a Wildflower Meadow

Today's Washington Post Real Estate section had an article on creating a wildflower meadow. Here's an excerpt:

Summer is prime time for wildflower meadow displays. You can see them along many interstates and along hiking and biking trials. They are fashionable in roadside design, adding lovely focal points to otherwise featureless areas, and, because they are rarely mowed, they lower the cost of road maintenance. They provide habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife, and they reappear every year.

These qualities are desirable in home settings, as well -- who doesn't want low-maintenance, dependable flowering and a profusion of birds and butterflies? You don't need a prairie-size yard, either. A small, sunny patch, a side yard or a bright corner will do.

I didn't realize that Cleome serrulata, Rocky Mountain beeplant (I knew it as Spider Lily), was native (West of us), and therefore acceptable in our Wildlife area. If any of you folks are growing it and want to save seeds, they'll be welcome. Here's a fact sheet on them. I found the section on uses interesting:

Lewis and Clark collected Rocky Mountain Beeplant in South Dakota in August of 1804. At that time the plant was new to science.

Rocky Mountain Beeplant has many medicinal uses. It was highly used by Native Americans, and was probably cultivated and grown by them. They would allow the plant to produce seed when it was growing wild in the cornfields in order to ensure a supply the following year.

The seed can be harvested and eaten raw or cooked. It can be dried and ground into a meal then used as a mush or mixed with flour to make bread etc. The seedpods can also be cooked.

An infusion of the plant is drunk in the treatment of fevers and stomach disorders.

A poultice made from the pounded, soaked leaves has been applied to sore eyes. A decoction of the leaves has been used as a body and shoe deodorant.

A black dye is obtained by boiling down the whole plant. It is used as paint for decorating pottery. The young plants are harvested in mid-summer, boiled well in water, the woody parts of the plant are removed and the decoction is boiled again until it becomes thick and turns black. This thick liquid is then poured onto a board to dry in cakes and can be kept for an indefinite period. When needed it is soaked in hot water until the correct consistency for paint is achieved. The hardened cakes of dyestuff can be soaked in hot water and then eaten fried.

Other self sowing annuals welcome in the wildlife area: Cosmos and larkspur. According to Dr. Goldman of Renfew, larkspur seeds were used in the 1800's as a treatment for head lice. It makes sense - the plants are also highly toxic!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Edible Landscaping

Bob K. sends this link to a demonstration garden blog by a research fellow at the University of Minnesota. Incorporating Fruit and Vegetables Into the Home Landscape.

Speaking of Bob K., here's a link to his latest weekly column.

UPDATE: I didn't realize how controversial lawn treatments for white clover could be. Check out the 19 comments at the site. Bob K. also received email from Mercersburg venting on the subject.

Discover Life

I added another permanent link to the sidebar - Discover Life. It was recommended during the Bee/Wasp class yesterday as a good site to help with insect ID. Might also help with Evelyn's plant ID request.

Public Opinion Article

Look for an article in Sunday's Public Opinion about tomatoes. The Hort Center gardens were photographed and I was asked some questions about growing tomatoes at home. We talked about Tomato Day, our Monday vegetable garden class, and Steve's container garden trials. I'll link to it when it becomes available on-line.

Bee and Wasp Class

As mentioned in the previous post, Franklin County Extension, was host to the latest regional advanced master gardener class taught by our own Alex S. Here are some pictures from the class. As an aside, it was nice to have our fellow MGs and home horticulture educators from other counties in the region, here in Franklin County, admiring and using our gardens and wildlife areas for educational purposes. Our new leader, Linda S. and I, took the opportunity to promote some of our activities, and invited them all back for tomato day.

Haploid Diploid

If you attended the "Gardening With Good Bugs" class this Spring, you know of my love of, and fascination with, honeybees - Apis melliflera. Yesterday, I attended a class taught by Alex S. for the regional advanced master gardener diagnostic training, and learned something new about these way cool insects.

Their genetic structure is described by scientists as haploid/diploid, a system where the male honeybee, the drone, has only 1/2 the genetic makeup of his female counterparts (queen and infertile females - workers). If the queen lays an unfertilized egg, i.e., without any sperm that she's been carrying around since her mating flight, it will always develop into a haploid male, with only 1/2 the normal complement of chromosomes. And, all of those chromosomes come from his mother - the queen. If the queen decides to lay a fertilized egg (no one knows how she makes that determination), it will grow into a diploid female with a full complement of genes. In most cases, that female will grow into a regular, infertile worker. More on that later.

This system leads to a weird situation where male honeybees have no fathers, and can't have sons, but can be grandfathers, and can have grandsons. It also means that the female worker shares 75% of her genetic makeup with her sisters - more than with her mother or father (in the same way that identical twins share 100% of their genetic makeup with each other - more than the 50% each they get from Mom and Dad.) In both cases, the siblings are more closely related to each other, than they are to either of their parents.

Another oddity of this system, is that if the workers decide (no one knows how they make that determination), that they want or need a new queen, they'll feed a developing, fertilized egg (a female sister), a rich combination of honey and pollen, called royal jelly, which will provide enough protein for their sister to develop ovaries, and become a fertile female, or a new queen.

So, the main way for a queen to spread her genes to future generations, is through her sons, the drones, who have 100 % of her genetic material. The main way for infertile sisters to spread their genes, is through the creation of a new queen sister, who will share 75% of their genetic material.

The situation gets further complicated by the fact that a queen retains sperm from multiple males during her mating flight, so within the same colony, there may be different subgroups of related sisters, depending on who the dad was.

The complications keep coming. The description of the worker as infertile, is not exactly accurate. If a colony loses a queen, a worker can, and will start laying eggs. However, the eggs will always develope into a haploid male drone.

Weird, but way cool, stuff.

Here's the wikipedia entry.

UPDATE: Alex informs me it can get even weirder. Sometimes, on rare occasions, a diploid male is produced. If that happens, however, he is sterile. The more you learn, the more you find out how little is really known ...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


From Linda H.'s inventory of the Wildlife area and the Extension Entrance.
If you have others that you want to share with folks, send them to me, and I'll post them. JPG or GIF files seem to work better with the software.

Eyed Click Beetle

Laurie C. sent in a picture of an interesting insect that she found. After some research, we identified it as an Eastern Eyed Click Beetle, Alaus oculatus. An excellent site for images to help with identification is Bugwood, sponsored by the University of Georgia. I've added the main site to the links to the right, along with a link to Cornell's plant disease diagnostic site, and a link to the MG reporting site.

Bluebird Nest Box

Watch a bluebird nest box, live. Two of the three eggs have hatched.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Another Article on Late Blight

This time from Reuters. Here's an excerpt:
The disease, known officially as Phytophthora infestans, causes large mold-ringed olive-green or brown spots on plant leaves, blackened stems, and can quickly wipe out weeks of tender care in a home garden.
McGrath said in her 21 years of research, she has only seen five outbreaks in the United States. The destructive disease can spread rapidly in cooler, moist weather, infecting an entire field within days.
"What's unique about it this year is we have never seen plants affected in garden centers being sold to home gardeners," she said.
This year's cool, wet weather created perfect conditions for the disease. "Hopefully, it will turn sunny," McGrath said. "If we get into our real summer hot dry weather, this disease is going to slow way down."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Late Blight

As a follow up to Bob Kessler’s column from last week, here’s a Washington Post article discussing late blight on tomatoes and potatoes.

The article also references the University of Maryland Blog (Growit Eatit) that was mentioned at the steering committee meeting.