Tag Archives: Insect Pests

2019 Reading Challenge: Sustainable Agriculture

2019 Reading Challenge: Sustainable AgricultureStart 2019 right with some fresh inspiration! Try a reading challenge!

This year’s theme is sustainable agriculture. To complete the challenge, all you have to do is read 12 books, one from each of the categories listed below, by the end of the year. If you can read an average of one book per month, this should be no problem.

The categories are:

  1. A book published by SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program).
  2. A book written by Joel Salatin.
  3. A book about soil health.
  4. A book about sustainable practices written prior to 1950.
  5. A book about sustainable agriculture published in 2019.
  6. A book with the word organic in the title.
  7. A book about composting.
  8. A book about real food.
  9. A book about agripreneurship.
  10. A book about environmentally friendly farming.
  11. A book about natural pest control.
  12. A book about rotational grazing methods.

A few rules:

  • Books in electronic formats count.
  • Both fiction and nonfiction books count.
  • You can read the books in any order.
  • Books cannot be counted twice, even if they fit into more than one category.

Need some help finding the books? Check out The Homestead Bookshelf to browse our favorite titles. Then sign up for On the Range, your free weekly country living update (learn more here). At the end of every month, we’ll suggest a book for one of the categories.

Let us know what you decide to read! We’d love to hear from you!

6 Tips for Keeping Plants Going Through the Summer

6 Tips for Keeping Plants Going Through the SummerSummer can be a tough time to garden. The heat is challenging to many plants. Coupled with dry weather, it pulls the moisture right out of the ground and wilts leaves and stems. Paired with humidity, high temperatures may stress plants and foster fungal diseases.

But never fear! Gardens can continue to be productive in the hot summer months!

Here’s how to keep your plants in peak health despite the heat:

  1. Water deeply and infrequently, but regularly. It stands to reason that plants will need regular watering in the heat of summer. However, it is important to avoid weakening them by watering shallowly and thus encouraging their roots to grow near the surface. By watering deeply and allowing the surface of the ground to dry out in between waterings, the plants will put down extensive root systems less prone to damage from rapid soil moisture evaporation.
  2. Mulch. Mulch helps the soil retain moisture longer. This will allow to you water less frequently, and will help protect the plants from stress due to water deprivation. In a hot, dry, windy summer, an unmulched garden may literally require watering every day, and even that may not keep it alive.
  3. Protect cool-season plants with shade cloth. Still have broccoli or lettuce persisting through the summer heat? Increase your chances of a successful harvest and give these cool-weather plants a helping hand by shading them from the intense sun. Shade cloth is sold specifically for this purpose.
  4. Avoid excess nitrogen. Heat and humidity promote plant diseases, and so does excess nitrogen. A quick boost of nitrogen will indeed result in large, lush plants, but there are hidden side effects. The new cells grow very quickly, resulting in soft tissue susceptible to the invasion of pathogens. If your plants need nitrogen, apply it in a slow-release form, such as compost or well-rotted manure.
  5. Grow vines vertically for better airflow. Not only do sprawling vines take up space and promote weed growth, they are prone to disease and attract insect pests looking for a hiding place. Growing vertically exposes the entire plant to light and air. While this means that it will require more water (again, a mulch is recommended here), the trade-off is typically beneficial because the plant is healthier overall.
  6. Pull dead and dying plants. Not every plant will be able to keep going through the summer. Leftover cool-season plants will succumb, and even some hot-weather plants, such as bush beans, will eventually reach the end of their productive lives. Trying to keep dying plants going through the summer rarely produces miracles—in fact, it typically just attracts pests. Do the rest of your garden a favor and remove sickly vegetables.

With these tips in mind, your garden can continue to produce bountiful harvests throughout the summer.

The Attack of the Squash Bugs

The Attack of the Squash BugsSquash bugs can devastate garden cucurbits in an amazingly short amount of time. While they typically leave the melons and cucumbers alone (unless they’re really hungry), the pumpkins and squash of all varieties collapse and die as massive amounts of squash bugs suck their juices. As they feed, the bugs also release bacteria that further weaken the plant. Squash bugs may even ruin squash fruits by poking them full of holes with their needle-like mouths.

One female squash bug can lay up to 40 eggs at a time. Multiply that by the number of female squash bugs in your garden—or not. Crushing the squash bug causes it to release a disagreeably pungent odor. Picking one up will stain your hands an orange-ish color.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, some gardeners report that the squash bugs continue to make themselves a nuisance during the winter months by moving into the house.

 

Where Did They Come From?

The squash bug’s native range extends from the Atlantic to the Rockies and from Canada to South America. For reasons that remain unclear, squash bugs are becoming increasingly prevalent across the entire United States. They can occur anywhere a garden can be found and are now considered a real threat to squash in most states.

 

Preventing Squash Bugs

Garden sanitation is an essential line of defense against squash bugs. Any dead or diseased plant matter left lying around the garden will attract them, so prune and compost anything that is not green and healthy. Keep the weeds cleaned up, as well. At the end of the season, destroy the old squash plants and let the chickens pick through the soil.

Row covers will physically block squash bugs from plants. However, they must be secured well to prevent access. They will be ineffective if placed on the plants later in the season, as the chances are pretty good that there will be bugs hiding in the soil or mulch.

Growing your squash vines vertically on a trellis helps to some degree, as it provides fewer hiding places for the squash bugs to lurk.

And, of course, remember that bugs are far less likely to infest healthy plants than weak ones. Maintain plant health in your garden through proper watering and soil nutrition.

 

Controlling Squash Bugs

The most effective method of control on an existing squash bug population is to hand-pick and destroy as many bugs and eggs as possible—every single day. Washing the soil around the plants first will drive the bugs up off the ground into the open where they are more easily discovered.

You can increase your chances of success by combining this technique with the use of diatomaceous earth (DE). A generous coating of DE will kill squash bugs. Sprinkle it liberally on all of the plants and also across the surface of the ground to deter new bugs from moving in. A solution of dishwashing liquid will also work, but has the potential to severely damage the plants if not completely rinsed off the foliage after the bugs have died.

Unfortunately, once an invasion begins, it is very difficult to control, so prevention is the best solution. As long as the cause of the recent national squash bug invasion remains unidentified and unaddressed, however, American gardeners will likely be doing battle every summer.

 

Helpful Resource

Dustin-Mizer
A useful tool for applying diatomaceous earth in the garden.

K-State Entomology Newsletter

K-State Entomology NewsletterWhat bad bugs are invading your area? The K-State entomology newsletter may have the answer.

This newsletter keeps Kansans informed about the comings and goings of a wide range of insects of economic importance, particularly those that impact field crops. Pests of corn, soy, wheat, sorghum, sunflower, and alfalfa are regularly discussed.

However, this newsletter also can assist you in the garden or even around the house. Topics of interest from past issues include:

  • Cabbageworms on cole crops.
  • Japanese beetles on roses.
  • Sawflies on pines.
  • Scales on landscape trees and shrubs.
  • Clover mites in dwellings.
  • And even desirable insects, such as painted lady butterflies.

As you might expect, chemical control methods are the emphasis in the K-State entomology newsletter. But no matter what practices you rely on, you will find valuable assistance in insect identification in each issue.

You can subscribe to the K-State entomology newsletter via email, or you can regularly check their website for PDF versions of new issues. The newsletter comes out roughly weekly, but the schedule is dependent on insect activity across the state.

Keeping a Garden Journal

Keeping a Garden JournalGardening season is finally upon us! If you’re like most gardeners, you are looking forward to planting seeds with the full expectation of making this the best gardening year yet.

While much of gardening comes down to experience, diligence, and creativity, having the right tools makes a big difference. One handy tool is the garden journal.

 

Advantages of Keeping a Garden Journal

  • Permanent record. While you can keep gardening notes on loose sheets of paper or sticky notes, the chances of you finding and referring to these notes in the future are slim to none. When your notes are in one place, whether that is a binder or a real journal, you have access to valuable information.
  • Memory aid. Really, are you going to remember what’s going on in your garden from one year to the next? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably not. Write down important information. It will save you a few headaches.
  • Simplicity. Writing in a garden journal gives you an opportunity to condense your thoughts and observations into key information that you can use.
  • Learning tool. By noting our successes and mistakes, we have a road map to use in future years. This helps us build expertise quickly, since we are not wasting time repeating mistakes.
  • Sharpen observation skills. Part of becoming a green thumb is observation. If you have a journal that invites you to note your observations, you might just find yourself looking for new ways to fill the pages. Your powers of observation improve, and so does your understanding of your unique garden.
  • Proof of progress. You really are developing a green thumb, and your garden journal contains proof. A review of past journals can keep you motivated and spark ideas for overcoming current challenges.
  • Gardening memories. If you have gardened long enough, you have undoubtedly made some great memories. A glance through an old journal can bring recollections back as though the events happened yesterday.

 

What to Write in a Garden Journal

  • Garden plans. Did you know that a garden journal can double as a planning tool? You can use your journal to keep track of seed lists, garden maps, and planting dates. This is an especially good use of a journal, since it keeps all of your gardening information in one place.
  • Frost dates. While you can find average first and last frost dates for your area easily enough, you will have much better results if you track the frost dates in your own garden. After several years, calculate the average. Does your garden tend to be warmer or cooler than the surrounding area? It makes a difference!
  • Signs of the seasons. Let nature be your guide. Every spring comes a little earlier or later than the last one. With practice, you can learn to plant in sync with the seasons. A journal can help you keep track of signs to look for.
  • Crop rotations. Don’t let diseases or nutrient deficiencies build up in your soil! Hang onto your map and planting records. Having access to last year’s information is a big help. Having access to the last three years’ information is even better.
  • To-dos. Keep track of gardening chores and how often they need to be done. While you’re writing down what you observed today, jot notes on what you need to do tomorrow or in a week. Staying organized is suddenly quite easy!
  • Experiments and their results. Are you trying something new this year? Write it down, and be sure to note the results as they arise. Not only does the process of writing cement information in our heads, but even if we do forget we have a permanent record to refer to.
  • Notes on favorite plants. Need to remember when to cultivate the asparagus bed? How to prune the blackberries? Where to plant nasturtiums to take advantage of their pest-repelling properties? Keep pages in your journal specifically for notes on plants that you grow every year. Now you don’t just have a journal—you have a personalized reference book!
  • Favorite varieties. Likewise, keep track of your favorite plant varieties. Note which tomatoes were the easiest to grow and which lettuce tasted the best. When it’s time to buy seeds again, you’ll already know what kinds to get.
  • Pests and diseases. Every gardener (particularly every organic gardener) has a list of “bad guys” that they count on battling every year. Improve your warfare strategy by recording the habits and preferences of the bug or fungus in question, then list ways to deter or destroy it.

 

A Final Tip

The most important thing to remember about keeping a garden journal is that it should be simple. If wrestling with a bulky binder feels complicated to you, you may very well give up on your journal before the season ends. If writing a detailed essay on your garden every day feels complicated to you, you probably will avoid the task like the plague.

Find a journal that invites you to jot down your thoughts. Then write down only what you are interested in remembering.

 

Helpful Resource

The Family Garden JournalThe Family Garden Journal
Our 466-page journal offers room for both planning and observing, featuring a shopping list, a planting schedule, a garden map, a maintenance page, a daily journal, and pages for notes on plants, pests, and diseases. Preview sample pages and more information here.

Top 10 Books for Beginning Farmers

Top 10 Books for Beginning Farmers

Just getting started?

Whether you are still in the early planning stage or are trying to overcome your first obstacle, one of the best things you can do is to read extensively. Many others have walked the path before you. Why not smooth your own learning curve and take advantage of their experience?

While there are many excellent books we could recommend (just check out our bookshelf), we have picked out 10 must-reads to get you going.

10.  Wildflowers & Grasses of Kansas

Need to identify a plant in your pasture? Start here. Although a little technical, it is well organized and supplied with a glossary and illustrations for ease of use. The plant descriptions include useful notes on suitability for livestock where applicable. (Not from Kansas? Search Amazon for a guide tailored to your state or region.) Read our full review.

9.  Insects in Kansas

To solve problems with insect pests, you must first be able to identify the culprit. This guide offers descriptions of 850 species, liberally illustrated with color photos. Bonus: It includes a section on beekeeping! (Not from Kansas? Search Amazon for a guide tailored to your state or region.) Read our full review.

8.  Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business

Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business

How to start a farm business in 10 steps. This is a concise introduction to the questions you will have to answer as you get started. Learn how to write a business plan, find funding, choose venues, price products, meet legal requirements, market effectively, and more. Helpful resources are provided each step of the way. Read our full review.

7.  HomeMade

Need equipment for your farm? See if you can build what you need before you buy something. This book offers ideas for projects useful around the farm, the garden, and the house alike. Whether you need a fence, a compost bin, a simple animal shelter, or just an easy way to bale hay on a small scale, you’ll find plenty of inspiration here. Read our full review.

6.  Veterinary Guide for Animal Owners

Great starting point for animal health research. Covers the basic care of cattle, horses, goats, sheep, swine, poultry, rabbits, dogs, and cats. Each chapter begins with the basics of animal housing and feeding specific to the species in question, and then moves to a discussion of the symptoms and treatment of the most common health problems. Advice on home vet care basics, such as first aid and administering medication, is also provided. Read our full review.

5.  Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening

Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening

Is a garden or orchard part of your plan? Make sure you have this encyclopedia on your shelf. If you have a question, whether about the needs of a specific plant or about implementing a sustainable gardening practice, you will find a concise answer here. No wonder this book has stood the test of time! Read our full review.

4.  Stocking Up

Whatever type of food you need to preserve, it is almost certain that you will find directions in one of the editions of this classic. The original edition offers good old down-home cooking, while the third edition was made for the health-conscious crowd. Both include substantial information on making the most of your harvest, whether it be fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk, or meat. Read our full review.

3.  Kansas Crop Planting Guide

If you intend to grow field crops in Kansas, this one is not optional. (Good news—it’s free!) Multiple charts tell you when to plant and at what rate. (Not from Kansas? Check your local extension service to see if they offer a similar resource.)

2.  Building a Sustainable Business

Building a Sustainable Business

This one is a must! Even if farming is your hobby, you can still benefit from the valuable planning tools provided in this book. In five straightforward steps, learn how to write a business plan that you will actually use. Identify your values, recognize your current position, develop your vision, examine your options, and choose your path. Worksheets and examples help you through the process. Highly recommended—and it’s free! Read our full review.

1.  You Can Farm

Need inspiration or ideas? Give this one a try. Joel Salatin shares valuable tips for successful and profitable farming, drawing from his experience along the way. Learn how to choose enterprises that will work for you, then develop your farming philosophy and dive into direct marketing. You don’t need a large land base or a well-filled wallet to get started. Salatin demonstrates that it is your mindset that makes the difference. A must for all beginning farmers! Read our full review.

Pierce’s Disease

Pierce's Disease
Sharpshooter leafhopper

Pierce’s disease (PD) is a bacterial disease of grapes named for Newton Pierce, who described the disease in 1892.  The bacterium species is Xylella fastidiosa.

A grape plant is infected when insects, particularly sharpshooter leafhoppers, carrying bacteria bite the plant.  Bacteria then take up residence in the vascular tissue of the grape and reproduce, forming large colonies that block the transport of water and nutrients.  Symptoms typically first appear in hot, dry weather.

 

Symptoms

  • Scorched leaf margins.
  • Leaf drop, leaving stalk behind for a characteristic “matchstick” appearance.
  • Patches of immature bark on stems.
  • Dieback of cordons, the “arms” of the vine.
  • Shriveled grapes.
  • Death.

 

Treatment

There is no effective treatment for Pierce’s disease.  The outcome depends on the variety.  Grape varieties fall into three categories:

  1. Susceptible: Varieties that will eventually die if infected with Pierce’s disease.
  2. Tolerant: Varieties that may recover if the winter is cold enough to kill the bacteria.
  3. Resistant: Varieties that will recover, but may still spread the bacteria to other vines.

Susceptible varieties showing symptoms of Pierce’s disease should be destroyed.  Tolerant varieties should also be destroyed if the symptoms appear two years in a row.

 

Prevention

Purchasing varieties that resist or tolerate Pierce’s disease is a critical first step.  Muscadine grapes naturally resist Pierce’s disease.  Other PD-resistant varieties have been developed within the last few years, but they are still in the experimental stages and not yet readily available.  Home growers, therefore, still have to rely on tolerant varieties.

Further control of Pierce’s disease consists of eliminating sharpshooter leafhoppers.  Besides using pest control methods as necessary, keep the vineyard mowed.  Also, locate your vineyard away from woods where the bacteria might be lurking.

 

Complete Series

Garden & Orchard DiseasesGarden & Orchard Diseases

 

Fire Blight

Fire BlightFire blight, found across North America, is a disease to be reckoned with. Caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora, this blight affects:

  • Pears.
  • Quinces.
  • Apples.
  • Crabapples.
  • Cane fruits.
  • Roses.

The disease is most likely to appear after a mild winter and during a wet spring. Insects transport fire blight bacteria from plant to plant when the hosts are flowering.

 

Symptoms

  • Brown leaves with a singed appearance.
  • Dead leaves clinging to tree instead of falling.
  • Shoots curled downward, similar to a shepherd’s crook (see photo below).
  • Amber droplets on shoots.
  • Sudden shoot death.
  • Wet, oozing bark.
  • Fruit death.
  • Rapid plant death.

 

Fire BlightTreatment

Unfortunately, there is no effective cure for fire blight once it strikes. The best option is to cut down and burn the affected tree, bush, or canes to avoid the spread of the disease.

If you want to make an attempt to save a valuable fruit tree, you will have to prune heavily, but cautiously. Choose a dry day to work so that bacteria spread is minimized. Cut off blighted twigs and branches at least 12 inches below the sites of decay. Collect the infected wood in a plastic bag to be burned when you are finished. Sterilize your pruning tools between each cut with a strong bleach solution.

 

Fire BlightPrevention

Because pears are extremely susceptible to fire blight, growing pears on a large scale is not advised in Kansas. While you may be able to grow a few pear trees, doing so will make growing apples very difficult because of the increased disease risk. If apples are your priority, destroy all pear trees in the vicinity.

To further prevent fire blight in your orchard:

  • Select plant varieties resistant to the disease.
  • Avoid weakening the tree through excessive pruning.
  • Spray trees and canes with copper or white vinegar in the spring.
  • Keep insects in check.
  • Avoid the use of high-nitrogen fertilizer, which encourages the rapid growth of soft, disease-prone tissue.

 

Complete Series

Garden & Orchard DiseasesGarden & Orchard Diseases

 

The Changing Face of American Agriculture: Part 2

The Changing Face of American Agriculture: Part 2Agripreneurship

Young people continue to enter agriculture, according to the last USDA census.

Most young farmers have limited capital to work with, and they frequently find outside financing difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. With land prices remaining high, they typically buy small properties when they first start out and purchase additional land as they save money. This paradigm leads naturally to the rise of intensive farming methods and profitable agripreneurship.

Many millennials find the standard commute-work-commute routine to be unfulfilling and unappealing. They are actively seeking meaningful opportunities to make their living, work that will enrich them more than just monetarily. Not surprisingly, these young farmers are also bucking the commodity system. Their goal is not just to get by financially—their goal is to make a difference. These agripreneurs are raising value-added food that they can believe in. They seek quality every step of the way, even if they do not obtain USDA organic certification. Most agripreneurs meet customer needs through direct marketing, and they actively take part in building their communities.

One common characteristic of agripreneurial businesses is a reliance on streams of income. Instead of focusing on a small handful of commodities, agripreneurs frequently raise a wide variety of plants and animals on the same farm, often including specialty crops such as vegetables and exotic livestock such as llamas. Furthermore, they often incorporate other types of businesses into their operation, dipping into agritourism or supplementing their farm income with book sales, for instance. Some agripreneurs, particularly women, augment their income with an off-farm day job. Surveys suggest, however, that most prefer to avoid taking government subsidies whenever possible.

 

Nature’s Way

Environmental issues have dogged agriculture ever since the advent of industrialization. Some issues have attracted the attention of the average American, not just the environmentalist watchdog.

In response to public demand, many commercial pork producers predict that more attention will be given to animal welfare over the next few years. Scientists will continue to improve the humane livestock handling facilities that they have developed so far. Steps will be taken to eliminate the buildup of odor-producing wastes. Livestock may even be slaughtered on-site to avoid the welfare issues associated with trucking live animals to distant packing plants.

In the field, integrated pest management (IPM) already has a steady following among producers of all stripes. However, its focus continues to shift with time. Growers of field crops are using IPM to reduce their pesticide inputs, resorting to chemicals only when crop damage approaches the economic injury level. More producers may start using IPM in the near future to tackle chemical-resistant pests.

Even in conventional circles there is excitement over the potential of naturally derived biologics. For example, natural bacteria can be used to protect roots from nematodes. Major chemical companies are expected to continue developing their lines of biological products for battling a host of pests, weeds, and diseases.

Meanwhile, water usage for irrigated crops continues to increase. Researchers are scrambling to find solutions that will protect the long-term viability of critical aquifers such as the Ogallala Aquifer in the Kansas High Plains. New highly efficient irrigation systems are already in the field. However, it remains to be seen if improved irrigation systems can counteract the increase in water usage due to an expansion of irrigated acres.

The last USDA census also shows that more farms are producing their own renewable energy. In fact, on-farm renewable energy production more than doubled between 2007 and 2012.

 

Part 3: High Tech, Research and Development

Cucumber Mosaic Virus

Cucumber Mosaic Virus Cucumber mosaic virus does not affect only cucumbers. It also targets:

The disease is primarily spread by aphids, but it can also be spread by cucumber beetles and on gardening tools. The virus overwinters in perennial weeds.

Cucumber Mosaic Virus

Symptoms

  • Stunted, unusually bushy plants.
  • Thin, rough, curled leaves with mottled coloring.
  • Reduced yields.
  • Small, bumpy, misshapen fruits.

 

Treatment

There is no cure for cucumber mosaic virus. Diseased plants should be destroyed immediately. Nearby weeds should be pulled and destroyed, as well.

 

Cucumber Mosaic VirusPrevention

If cucumber mosaic virus is a recurring problem in your garden, switch to disease-resistant varieties. Also try to avoid planting host species in close proximity; separate the cucumbers and the tomatoes, for instance, with another vegetable that is not susceptible to the virus, such as corn.

To break the life cycle of cucumber mosaic virus, destroy any weeds that it might hide in, particularly catnip, milkweed, and ground cherry. Also control aphids, cucumber beetles, and other potential insect vectors.

 

Complete Series

Garden & Orchard DiseasesGarden & Orchard Diseases