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The Milkweed Ecosystem

These are some pictures taken by one of our Master Gardeners, Lisa LaRue, back in mid-August. We always love our butterfly and pollinator bed because it is beautiful and beneficial to the environment of our garden. These pictures take a closer look at everything that is going on in that garden.

44625915202_b52652e825Of course, this is one of the things we are hoping to see when we plant milkweed in our garden. Lots of happy, monarch caterpillars munching their way through life.

43766023875_3ca52f18e3What many people planting milkweed don’t realize is that you can get a whole bunch of other insects as part of the bargain. It is very common – and completely normal – for milkweed to be justĀ coated with bright orange aphids during the summer. They also will often get milkweed bugs (the black and orange bugs pictured). So…what to do? The thing is that you can’t spray anything without causing harm to the caterpillars you are trying to encourage. The good news is that the aphids and milkweed bugs are really not causing any harm to the milkweed, or anything else in the garden. By this point (a month later), the aphids are completely gone and no harm was done.

29737327267_965959af87_zThe other benefit of leaving those aphids where they are is that they provide a food source for hungry ladybugs. The hoards of aphids are a feast for ladybugs, and by letting the aphids stay on a plant that isn’t being hurt and that really doesn’t matter for anything other than looking nice and feeding caterpillars/butterflies, you are actually “farming” more ladybugs for the rest of your garden. This picture shows two ladybug pupa (the stage between the larvae and the adults) on the milkweed.

This is how ecological gardening is supposed to work, and a great example of how lots of diversity in your garden is beneficial. We certainly aren’t eating the milkweed, and if you were strictly focused on what you could harvest from the garden to eat, it would seem like a waste of space. But by growing something that benefits our beneficial insects, we now have a higher population of ladybugs in the garden for when there are aphids on something we DO want to eat.

43766024035_d54d486668_zThis has nothing to do with the rest of the post, but I wanted to show the swallowtail chrysalis just for fun. We have had a great time this fall finding all the places that both the swallowtail and monarch caterpillars go to make their chrysalis!

Troubles in Vine-Land

As I mentioned in passing on Tuesday, we have several different things going on with our vining vegetables – cucumbers, squash, etc. Actually, the melon plants are all still in good shape, so the problems are restricted to the cucumbers and various squashes.

Here’s the first one:

The cucumbers in the Family of 4 Garden are coated with these…any ideas? I’ve seen numerous samples of vine plants come in this month with the same signs and symptoms. I think what tricks folks is all of the white flecks. This is actually a severe aphid infestation. If you look closely, especially in the upper left corner of the picture, you can see the green buggers. In the middle of this picture is an ant…and ants like to “farm” aphids and protect them from predators so the ants can feed on the sticky honeydew that the aphids excrete as they feed. The white flecks? Those are the aphid “skins” as they grow and mature they “molt” and leave those white skins behind. I’m sure there’s a technical term, but I can’t remember off the top of my head.

To make matters worse, the cucumbers also have these terrible looking insects on them! Can it get any worse? Well, actually, you might recognize the one as a ladybug, and the black and orange lizard-like bug…that’s the larvae of the ladybug! These are the good guys that are enjoying quite a feast of aphids!

So, what are we doing about the aphids on the cucumbers? Well, honestly, the answer is nothing. We’ve gotten quite a bounty of cucumbers, and the plants are still doing pretty well overall. The ladybugs aren’t controlling the aphids at this point, although given a couple of weeks they might get there. Spraying would kill the ladybugs and may not do much to prolong the life of the cucumber vines. We’ll probably let them go and pull the plants out in a few weeks if they become completely unproductive.

On to the next problem… An observant Master Gardeners saw this on the underside of one of the squash leaves on Tuesday. Theses are squash bug eggs. I’ve gotten several questions about why we aren’t having problems with squash bugs in the garden this year. The answer has pretty much been that we’ve been lucky. The renovated garden may have helped that situation too. At this point, we aren’t going to bother spraying, since most of the squash will be leaving the garden soon due to the third problem we’re seeing…

Ugh…powdery mildew. This is a disease that we often see on zinnias and other common garden plants about this time of year. Usually you start out seeing round, powdery white spots on the leaves. It seems like most of our squash went from 0 to 60 in almost no time flat, because the leaves are pretty well coated on several different varieties of squash. There are treatment options, but they are most effective as preventatives or very early in the infection period. These plants just aren’t worth saving at this point. Besides, we’re tired of zucchini! There are powdery mildew resistant varieties, but they can still get the disease in a bad year.

As you can see, a lot of things are starting to go downhill fast in the garden this year. Luckily we’ve got some seeds started inside and garlic on order for later this fall!