Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011 Year of the Rabbit, I think not!

This is supposed to be the year of the rabbit. But then again this is from a Chinese Zodiac calendar, not a Texas calendar. I do believe that if we were going by the Texas Zodiac Calendar you'd find that this is the year of the Pest!

Not until I stopped and really looked around myself, did I realize just how bad the pests are this year.

The Ants: The first battle I waged was about a month ago was with ants. Every day I'd find a steady stream milling about on my desk. And if I left a glass of water or an empty juice was ANT Partayyy!

I put an end to their capers with my bottle of Orange Guard but unfortunately though that stopped the ones already on my desk, it didn't stop the search parties that came looking for their brethren. Right outside my office window was a huge prickly pear which I was in the midst of removing. I could finally get in behind it to see if I could find the source of the ants and I did find a trail. I sprayed those with my Orange Guard and my problem was no more.

Squash Bugs: I've already posted about finding these pests in my gardens (link to previous post) . Be forewarned: Do not and I repeat do not give them a chance to get the upper hand! These garden pests won their battle with me. I believe I discovered their presence once too much damage had been done. So if your little squash plants suddenly start wilting, inspect them closely for these pests.

Houseflies: Living on my farm I'm used to having flies in the house, it's a part of life and I put up with it. I keep a fly swatter handy and go on fly killing rampages from time to time and that takes care of it. I don't use any fly sprays as I have a Hahns Macaw in the house and birds are particularly sensitive to pesticides.

This year the house flies are just plain ridiculous. My swatter can't keep up. Swatting flies is now an actual chore I've assigned to my DD. We literally swat scores each day only to awake to double the reinforcement troops. I'm so tempted to vacate the house and spray...

Fleas: Each Spring my dogs usually pick up a flea or two. Annie and Selena must be allergic to them because if they have just one flea on their body you know about it. They practically tear their skin off with the scratching. I had to start the spot-on applications unusually early this year . I also have to repeat them much sooner than I normally do ( I can usually get at least a month between treatments but I've already done them at least 4 times and it's only the end of June!

Ticks: Ticks are the new pest on the block and I'd really like them to leave. Over the years I might have found maybe one tick a year on the dogs, they really haven't been a problem. Ticks are supposed to like moist ground so what gives? We're experiencing the 3rd driest summer on record and were just pronounced a disaster area by the USDA because it's so dry, so why are these pests surfacing this year? I think it's because it's the year of the pest.

If I hadn't just put Advantage on the dogs last week, I'd just buy a flea/tick spot-on product -but I really hate to double up on the poisons. It's bad enough putting it on every 3 weeks let alone twice within a week. Yesterday I picked off about 1/2 a dozen of these pests off of my dogs. They really gross me out and with the all the diseases they carry they need to leave-now.

Yesterday I searched for organic tick remedies. I found quite a few. The one I made follows. I chose it because it's the simplest and I had all the ingredients on hand and wouldn't leave the dogs stinky and greasy:

Homemade Tick Repellent:

2 cups of water
20-25 drops of peppermint essential oil.

Mix well together and spray on.

I put some on the dogs yesterday and they did smell lovely! I can't smell it on them today so I imagine it needs to be reapplied fairly often.

Another herbal remedy I will be trying for repelling ticks is Rose Geranium Oil and its sister oil Palmerosa . I didn't have any of this oil on hand to try it straight away but it does sound promising. Supposedly just a few drops on the dogs collar is supposed to repel them. Here's the recipe for making this repellent:

2 TBSP vegetable or nut oil (almond oil contains sulfur, a repellent itself)
10-25 drops of Rose Geranium Oil (or Palmerosa Oil)
Combine in a glass jar. Shake to blend. Makes 2 tablespoons. Shelf life: 6 months.
Application: Dab a few drops on skin or clothing making sure to avoid eyes.

GRASSHOPPERS: I battle these guys each year but this year all I can say is Wow. I didn't realize just how many there are out there until I actually really opened my eyes and looked. My butterfly bush is covered with them and I mean covered -scores of them on one single plant. My remedy of choice is to squish them, but these guys are smart. I've never seen such fast grasshoppers, catching them is a feat unto itself. Annie, my dog helps as much as she can as she considers them a delicacy but her stellar efforts don't even make a minuscule dent in their populations. I've starting free ranging my hens but they haven't quite grasped the principal of foraging for themselves yet. I found a recommendation for a product called "NOLO" or "Semaspore" which is organic and takes down the larvae of the grasshoppers -it isn't a miracle solution but it allegedly it will reduce your grasshopper populations overs time. I intend to try it
It's trying to get me!

Mealybugs: I'd say these guys were cute if they didn't devour my plants. I saw my first mealybugs on my brand new Meyer Lemon tree. They are little white fluff balls - I wish I'd taken a picture of them before squishing them and spraying the tree.

Aphids: I thought I'd finished this post but another pest while watering my meyer lemon. I haven't yet ID'd it but I'm sure it's part of the aphid family. It posed before I zapped it with my insect soap.
Can any of you ID this pest?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Chicken Run

Egg white and chocolate our two game chickens given to us in April seem to be what I call "welfare" chickens. I've nicknamed them "Useless" and "Useless Too". Why do I talk about them like this you wonder?

Well I got these chickens as laying hens. All seemed OK -not great the first couple of weeks. They laid about 6 eggs in two weeks -not super laying numbers by any means but I figured they needed to settle in and get used to life at our farm.

Then they stopped laying. I blamed it on their quarters, we hadn't finished their chicken tractor yet and had to use a dog x-pen and dog carrier as their temporary home for a couple of weeks. Meanwhile we had some hard rains and the chickens got wet. I wasn't about to blame them for not laying under those conditions.

Then they moved to their new chicken tractor and still they didn't lay. But I gave them the benefit of the doubt- afterall they had moved twice in less than a month. Finally we found an egg or two in the tractor and we thought all was well.

Then things heated up in Texas. It seems these chickens don't lay when the temps are above 90 degrees nor do they lay when it storms. In Texas conditions are either stormy or hot or both about 75% of the time. I won't be counting on these two chickens for my egg needs much longer.

I was going to put an ad on Craigslist offering two free game chickens (my dd would never forgive me if we ate her first chickens), but then I had an idea! I've been battling bugs and pests in my gardens as I do every summer -what better to demolish the grasshopper population then a couple of chickens?

This morning I opened the coop. Chocolate instantly took off running (her wing feathers haven't grown back in sufficiently to fly). She ducked under the horse fence and kept on running. Wild thing. I figured she was gone forever. Egg White meanwhile came out and wandered around, then ducked through the electric fence pen where the sheep are. I didn't think anything of it until an hour or so later, when I look out to see Jasper, the pyreness puppy chasing her. She beat a hasty retreat under the fence and then hung out for the afternoon. I think Jasper was only trying to play but he could have killed her in a heartbeat if he had got hold of her.

I just went to put Egg White back in the coop and thought I should at least make an effort to find Chocolate. I looked into the horse field and there she was poking about. I climbed the fence into the pasture and maneuvered past where she was and then approached her. She took off to hide under some Cedar bush. I grabbed a stick intending to beat the bushes, but then the horses came to investigate what the commotion was about. They scared her out and she took off running toward the fence and the coop on the other side. She ran along the fence line looking for a spot she could duck under and found one, only to find Jasper on the other side. He didn't do much but she took off in the other direction-right towards the coop. She ducked through the fence and jumped into the coop.

With a grin I closed the coop door and thought Day one free ranging done! I wonder how day two will go?

Safely back in the coop for the night

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Garden Bounty or not...

This year I planted: Squash, Zucchini, Cucumber, Eggplant, 3 Varieties of Tomatoes, Fingerling Potatoes, White Onions, Walking Onions and Potato Onions.

I am sad to report that despite my valiant attempts to save them, the squash, zucchini and cucumber have all succumbed to the squash bugs.

It's too hot for the tomatoes to set -and according to Neil Sperry many gardeners in North Texas are suffering the same fate with their tomatoes. At least I'm in good company.

I will be harvesting the fingerling potatoes next week -it looks like the plants are succumbing to the heat. I'm trying the bucket method with them and just used store bought potatoes as my starts. The plants have grown well but I'm not sure what's happening below!

My harvest this week consisted of about 2.5 #s of Eggplant, 4 cherry tomatoes and not quite 2 #'s of onions. The onions were a disappointment considering I planted about 50 sets. The eggplant is doing well. It loves hot weather and there is no lack of that. I'm worried the squash bugs will attack it now that they have run out of actual squash plants to eat. Something has been actively chewing it's leaves but so far it's withstanding the assault.

Eggplant Harvest-they not the most beautiful specimens but hopefully they will make good eggplant ziti

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Things are heating more ways than one...

It's only the middle of June but it's hot here in North Texas and has been hot for a while now. Yesterday the thermometer finally stopped rising at 94 degrees and with humidity of 67% felt even hotter. More of the same is expected today and tomorrow and the day after that.... Even the evenings can't be called cool anymore with lows of around 75.

I've been managing to keep my gardens watered as I'm bound bent to get some kind of vegetable crop this year after having very dismal results last year. In 2010, I planted tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, beans, peppers and eggplant and my only yield was some end of the season peppers and some kind of squash hybrid I called "pumpaloupe" (this was an accident -it self-seeded, I thought it was a pumpkin but as time went by I could tell it wasn't a pumpkin but some kind of "mutt" plant).

"The Pumpaloupe"

For 2011 I have planted tomatoes (super sioux, some kind of zebra, and mexican midget), eggplant (black moon hybrid) , onions, egyptian onions, and from seed I started green zucchini, butternut squash and cucumber. I did attempt broccoli and spinach but the seedlings perished quickly once planted outside.

To date my results again have been less than stellar. Last year some kind of bug ate most of my seedlings before they were able to get well started so this year I have been much more diligent about spraying with insectide soap. Yes still the seedlings haven't really taken a hold. They start growing, start to look promising then shrivel up.

Today I had had enough. I choose these crops because they are supposed to LIKE the heat. I've watered. I've sprayed. I've fertilized yet still they won't grow? I decided to do a closer inspection and By George I think I've found the culprit.

Here are some photos of what I found on my pathetic zucchini plant today:

An adult squash bug

A baby squash bug

Squash Bug Eggs

Hiding in the tomato leaves...

Who's been eating me?

After a morning of research, I have concluded that it is squash bugs that are bringing my squash family of plants down and perhaps even getting my tomato plants. These innocuous pests suck sap from the plants, causing leaves to wilt and collapse, exactly the fate of my plants! I found an organic recipe (orginally from Organic Gardening) that is supposedly effective against squash bugs:

Organic Bug Soap

Two cups water
One cup rubbing alcohol
One tablespoon neem oil (or veg oil)
One tablespoon liquid soap (like Dr Bronners, not dish detergent)
25-30 drops of mint oil or cinnamon oil (or both).

Shake well and spray on bugs with a hand sprayer (not a hose). This will kill all bugs and caterpillars upon contact, even Japanese beetles and grasshoppers.

The battle is heating up, this round goes to the gardener!

These have been spared, it looks like I'll get to enjoy some eggplant

Something has even been nibbling the tops of my walking onions. I sprayed them today but will be keeping a vigilant eye on them this week. Bugs beware...the war is on!

This is almost the entire 2011 Onion Harvest (I have a couple bulbs left growing). Not very impressive. An entire bunch of slips resulted in this? But better than the zero onions that grew last year!