Monday, July 2, 2018

Fighting Those Garden Pests: Tomato Horn Worm, Cabbage Worms and Squash Bugs and How to Control Them

Summer is the time that the insects (garden pests) come out in force.  I don't mind sharing a little with them, but sometimes images from The Very Hungry Caterpillar enter my dreams and suddenly I'm waking up in cold sweats.  My hankering for a TRUE garden tomato begins to far outweigh my generosity with my little garden friends.  I am sure most gardeners are feeling the same right now as you probably went out recently to peruse your beautiful garden and found your cabbage eaten to pieces or whole branches on your Super Sonic tomatoes with no leaves.  Not to worry.  All your work is not wasted, that is as long as your still checking on your veggie babies in the hot temps!  You are, right?! With a little diligence and helpful hacks you can still savor a great harvest.  Here are 3 common pests you will encounter at some time in your garden careers and the basics how to combat them, Organically and Economically.  I emphasize Organically and Economically.  Many Organic pesticides exist but I am trying to use what you may already have at hand or can get easily. 

Cut Worm eating tomato

Tomato Horn Worm

These vicious little creatures are the caterpillar (larva stage) of the Five-Spotted Hawk Moth.  The moth will lay eggs on the leaves of your tomato vines.  The horn worm then hatches and proceeds to fill up his belly on your beautiful tomato vine.  They are voracious eaters.  They eat the entire leaf and stem and even the tomato as the picture illustrates.  Damage can be quite rapid, so it is best to check your plants daily for evidence of damage. They will start out as small green worms but will increase in size quickly developing the tell-tale horn and white stripes. Often times you will find white capsules on their backs as well which are the eggs of a parasitic wasp. You may also find piles of their frass (excrement).
Tomato foliage after worm ate it!

 If you're not too squeamish, my favorite (because it works) way to control this pest is to inspect the plant thoroughly (ALL over the plant!) and remove all worms and eggs and destroy.  They are camouflaged quite well so as the plant gets bigger this can be a little more daunting and problematic.  An infusion or tea made from Calendula (Pot Marigold) flowers mixed with dish soap, to help it adhere to the leaves, is a great deterrent.

Large Tomato Cut Worm
RECIPE Steep 1 cup crushed up dry or fresh Caledula flowers in 2 cups of water.   After cooled, add 1 1/2  quarts water and 1/2 tsp dish soap.  Spray on foliage.

You can also use a similar concoction by making a tea from Cayenne peppers, which are a natural insecticide.  Companion planting Insect Deterrent plants such as Dill, Calendula, Lavender, Petunias, and Thyme is also a great way to protect your beauties and harvest the benefits as well.


Cabbage Worm

Very much like the Tomato Horn Worm these worms are a larva stage and very voracious eaters. They can be controlled much the same way as the Tomato Horn Worm, but keep a close eye out.  These worms are typically much smaller and tend to come in droves.  You can identify them by their solid green color, which nearly matches the color of the foliage on their Brassica family hosts.  You can also find them by small and round, black or brown droppings, and the sections missing on the leaves from their dinner.  You can remove and destroy them but since they come in such large quantities all at once, it is best to try preventative measures first.

Make your garden an inviting place for beneficial insects by planting flowering plants and avoid using chemical insecticides designed to kill every moving insect in sight.  You can spray your plants with Tansy oil mixed in water which will deter eggs being laid on your plants.  You can always plant plants that are insect deterrents like Pot marigolds, members of the onion family, and Tansy.  Garden netting as row covers works quite well as the fruit that you will harvest will not need pollinated.  The plant will flower and seed after you harvest so using a good garden cloth to cover your plants will work nicely.

If they have already been invaded you can of course remove them as aforementioned.  If you are too squeemish for that task and  have chickens you are in luck.  Chickens love them and will eat all of them. You can also dust with a light powder of Diatomaceous Earth.  The worms will eat it and die.
Squash Bug eggs on bottom of leaf


Squash Bug

Like the others in this garden criminal line up, these pests are hungry and can cause severe damage to your squash plants.  They also appear in large groups seemingly overnight.  The first thing, if you are lucky, is to locate a mating pair.  2 to 3 of these mating pairs can lay enough eggs in a very short time to create an infestation so if you can destroy these early interlopers you might have them licked.  Others will more than likely appear, though, so keep an eye out.  They will mostly lay their red colored eggs on the underside of the squash leaf but you may find them on the top if lucky.  If found, remove the eggs and destroy. Often each bunch of eggs will probably total up to nearly 50, so be careful to inspect the whole plant and destroy all of them.  Missing one batch could result in allowing a small hungry army.  If they have hatched you will find small black or gray, soft shelled nymphs.  They are unable to fly at this point, so catching them might be easier than adults but both the nymphs and the adults will eat the foliage and fruit of the squash.  If they have hatched spraying them with a mild solution of dish soap water will slow them down making them easier to catch and may even kill them on contact. 

Beyond destroying the eggs, nymphs, and adults, a light coating of Diatomaceous Earth on the plant might do the trick.  You can also try a light spraying of Organic Neem oil or Horticultural Oil to deter them from your plants.  Of course my favorite go-to's are my cayenne pepper powder or tea and insect deterrent plants like mentioned earlier.  Nasturtiums, Petunias, and Dill planted nearby provide a deterrent for Squash Bugs, as well.

Overall Insect Prevention Methods

As always there are some very good general practices that you can start today that will work for most if not all insect invaders.
1) Visit your garden regularly.  Inspect for damage and identify the culprit.  Early detection can help to prevent major damage before it occurs.
2)  Keep your garden neat.  Remove diseased plants.  Control weeds and avoid planting your plants too close.  This allows for air circulation and helps for visually detecting the invaders.
3)  Practice staggered planting.  By planting a small amount of a crop several times over a period of time, you can hopefully eliminate the pest from the earliest plants before they invade your later plantings increasing your chances for a harvest.
4)  In the earliest stages of planting, you can use a row cover or netting.  This garden fabric will allow for light and moisture while keeping the door closed on invaders.  As the plant grows you will want to remove the cover as it keeps all insects out including beneficials and pollinators.  As your garden plants bloom they will need these insects for fruiting to develop.

Follow my blog and check back regularly for more helpful garden and lifestyle tips for creating that Sustainable Homestead!

Sustainable in Suburbia

Thursday, June 21, 2018


  5 Things That Might be Plaguing Your Garden

The Garden is in the Ground!

Whew!  You finally have gotten your plants in the ground.  Perhaps you've harvested those earliest Spring crops for a great fresh garden salad.  It's been so nice spending time outside after that long Winter.  Now it's time for a cold refreshing drink by the pool and just watch your garden flourish.  Tomatoes, Zucchinis, Cucumbers, Corn on the cob...You can barely contain yourself.  All the hard work is done.  Now, FINALLY, you can sit back and just wait for the dividends.

Ah Oh!  What is that?!

It's finally cooled off for the evening and dinner is eaten.  Hey!  What would be better than a casual walk around your Garden of Eden?  Ahhh, the Tomatoes...BUT...Why are some of the leaves yellow and brown?  And what happened to the top of that plant?  It's gone!  Just a cut stem!

The Green Beans...BUT...All the leaves have holes in them?  On to the potato plants, beautiful and blooming...BUT they look like they've been shot up with a tiny shot gun!  Tiny holes on nearly all the leaves!  This could be you, but in fact, this was me over the last two weeks.  Minus the pool (my wife is still asking why we don't have one yet!)

You Need Help!

All is not lost.  With a little investigation you can discover what is wrong with your beloved plant and fix it!  Here are 5 possible culprits and how to ID the suspect 



It could be insect damage.  Many different varieties of insects love your vegetables just as much as you do.  Typical culprits are caterpillars, beetles, and bugs .  Cut off leaves, holes in leaves, damage trails in leaves and webs on leaves are common signs that an insect has feasted or set up their new apartment in your garden.


Too much water or a lack of hydration could be the problem.  As a general rule of thumb most garden plants need enough water to soak the top inch of soil per week.  Periods of drought for your plant weaken it.  If discovered in time watering it can revive it but the more stressful situations your plant goes through the harder it is for it to recover.  Repeated droughts can permanently stunt its growth if not out right kill it.  Likewise, too much water can make the plant's roots rot killing its source for minerals and food from the soil.  Also ALWAYS, ALWAYS water your vegetables at the ground level.  More on this in the next point.


There are many diseases out there that may plague your plants.  The roots of these can be found laying dormant in your soils, airborne, on the plant when it came from the garden center, or even brought to your plant by an insect!  Luckily the list of diseases can be narrowed down for each individual plant.  Damage from disease can be identified by discoloration, foliage drying out, and wilting.  A great preventive measure is to water your plant at ground level.  Many of the spores for disease are laying dormant in the soil.  All they are waiting for is the right temperature, moisture, and contact with your plant to start their life cycle of destruction!  You can't stop the rain from splashing these spores on your plants, but you can stem the tide by not helping give the diseases a free ride.


Garden plants need food and nutrients.  Most of this is obtained through the soil. Plants need both Macro and Micro or trace minerals. The Macronutrients include; Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Sulfur, Magnesium,Carbon , Oxygen, and Hydrogen.  The Micronutirents or trace minerals include; Iron, Boron, Chlorine, Manganese, Zinc, Copper, Molybdenum, and Nickel. When a plant has too much or too little of a nutrient, it will show physical signs,  Often the tricky part is that different minerals will show the same sign.  The only way to know for sure is a complete soil analysis.  All is not lost though.  Many nutrient problems can be identified and corrected with soil amendments from many Organic sources.  Discoloration, stunted growth, leaves drying up or dying are often signs of a nutrient problem.


Most garden plants, especially vegetables, will need full sun.  Many of your flowers and herbs will as well, but not all. First know your plants lighting needs.  So I'm sure most of you knew this when you planted your garden.  You chose a great sunny spot for your plot that got a good 6-8 hours of full sun every day.  So how could my full sun loving plants be suffering from light deficiency?  How much shade did you incorporate into your garden?  Psst...plants grow.  Some perhaps taller than their neighbor that they are now shading?  This will more than likely have to be chalked up to a planning issue.  Record it in your journal and make sure you don't plant that tall plant where it will shade that short plant next year.  Also, how are your weeds growing?  Weeds by definition are successful at living; easy to germinate and quick to grow, flower and seed.  Keep up on those weeds.  Put to practice as many weed prevention methods as possible and weed when the weeds are small!

If you like to know more about identifying that plant problem and how to fix it, contact me about my  class, GARDENING WHODUNNIT: INSPECTOR GREEN THUMB AT YOUR SERVICE and subscribe to Survivalist in Suburbia, for more upcoming articles with Garden tips that you can use today!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

EarthShaper Arts: Dolmas: Grape Leaf Wraps

While Waiting for the Grapes Recipe (Dolmas)
BY:  Earthshaper Arts
        When growing our own grapes there was a harsh reality this little tree-hugger had to come to terms with; healthy grapes means less leaves. Bringing myself to pull off all the enormous, sprawling leaves and whimsically reaching, but fruitless, vines took a leap of faith. I couldn’t believe this much waste could have even been a practice of the ancients, till I remembered an authentic Greek restaurant called the Greek Islands that we once went to in Indy back before we had our own kids. They had a belly dancer and everything! The dish I ordered was Dolmas, which looked like a Greek style lettuce wrap, off the menu. So I put my Chef Hubby to work making Dolmas with our grape leaves for the family. The results were even better than I remembered, as food from our own garden always seems to be. (Am I wrong? ha)

Turns out you can even purchase preserved grape leaves if you don't have grape vines of your own. This may be a new skill to learn on down the road.

12- 4 to 5 inch wide grape leaves
4  cups water
1 cup salt
1 cup white rice
1 ¾  cup water
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter
½ cup golden raisins
1 lb ground beef or lamb
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup diced onions
2 thinly sliced garlic cloves
½ tsp red pepper flakes
¼ cup chopped fresh dill weed
Finely crumbled feta cheese
Black pepper
Approximate time: 35 minutes

Pick grape leaves with no insect damage, no chemical spray, 4-5 inches wide in late Spring, sometime in May or June. Avoid fuzzy thick leaves. Wash in cold water and drain thoroughly.

Blanch the leaves in a brine of 4 cups water with 1 cup salt. Bring brine to boil. Drop leaves 12 at a time into boiling brine. Bring brine back to boil and remove leaves immediately and immerse in ice cold water. This will set the color in the leaf better. Dry off leaves and store in olive oil.

Make stuffing mixture. Start 1 cup of rice, 1 ¾ cup water, 1 tsp salt, and 2 Tbs butter cooking in rice cooker. Meanwhile cover ½ cup golden raisins in hot water and soak. Brown 1 lb ground beef or ground lamb seasoned with salt and pepper and 1 tsp cinnamon, ½ cup diced onions, 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves, and ½ tsp red pepper flakes. Drain ground meat and set aside. When rice is cooked add meat mixture, ¼ cup chopped fresh dill weed and raisins with juice in rice. Mix well.

Lay out grape leaf and put 1/3 to ½ cup rice mixture and finely crumbled feta cheese in center of leaf. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Wrap up like an eggroll or burrito. Put on plate and garnish with a salad of mixed olives, med size crumble feta cheese, slices of pepperoncini peppers, diced tomato, diced cucumber, diced red onion with a dressing of salt, pepper, olive oil, ½ tsp chopped dill weed and red wine vinegar or lemon juice.