Who Spit on My Plants?

Spittlebug bubbles on lavender stem.

It’s the season for spittlebugs (Cercopidae family). You may see what looks like spit on plant stems but don’t blame it on the neighbor kids or the guy next door. The spittle, or foam, is made by a tiny insect that's so small you will likely never see one. The bug likes lavender, strawberries, salvia, rosemary and a variety of other plants. The spittle is a protective covering for the nymph of this insect. It attaches itself to a plant stem, then secretes a liquid that turns into bubble-like foam, around itself. This foam hides the spittlebug from predators, insulates them from temperature fluctuations and keeps them moist.

Spittlebug eggs are laid in late summer and overwinter on plant debris. The eggs hatch in spring and the young nymphs then crawl up plants and attach themselves, then make their protective covering of “spit.” These insects do little harm to plants. They feed somewhat on the plant’s sap, but unless you have large amounts of these little clumps of spittle, there’s no need to use any kind of poison on them. The easiest control is to use the spray from a garden hose and wash them off the plant with plain water onto the ground, where predators can easily eat them.

The "spit" is a protective coating around the tiny nymph inside.

So don't despair when you see the cluster of bubbles on your lavender or other plants. The spittle is made by a tiny insect to protect itself from birds and other insects. Spray it away with a garden hose and forgive it for looking like spit. Who knows what our house looks like to it?

Happy gardening!


Garden Full of Life

Caraway thyme in full bloom. Try it in homemade crackers!
I like when my birthday comes because it coincides with all the blooming things in the garden. Yesterday when our ad person from Mother Earth News, Jan Meyers, and her friend, Cheryl were visiting, one of their jobs in the garden was to prune back the taller thyme plants (but not the caraway thyme, which grows close to the ground). (You probably see our ads in Mother Earth News for my Nail Fungus Soak product). When the Orange Spice and Lemon Chiffon thyme plants bloom, it's time to prune them back to prevent die-back. That will keep them producing lots more thyme to harvest rather than letting get scruffy.

Orange Spice and Lemon Chiffon thymes plants after pruning.
Jan pruning thyme, Cheryl watching carefully.
They put lots of the trimmings in brown paper bags to carry back to Kansas in their car. It will dry somewhat on the way and they'll finish drying at home.
Stunning orange iris. Sorry, don't know the name.
This has been probably the best blooming year for iris I can remember in years. In spite of rain and some wind, the irises have held up beautifully.

Anthony tilling fennel bed.
Anthony, our resident WWOOFer, tilled up the last of the empty beds for planting. When this one is finished, the garden will be 95% planted. We're mulching some of the beds but with the recent regular rains, leaving some of the soil exposed to dry a bit.
Little fences don't keep out determined Jack Russels. Molly simply hops over the fence to look for frogs. Cricket checks out the leek bed, below.
Cricket things the hose guard might be a ball.
Chives in full bloom, oregano ready for a haircut in the background.


Ultimate Plant Support for Container Plants

The Ultimate Plant Cage trellis kit.

If you haven't found this nifty device yet, check it out on the Global Garden Friends website. The Ultimate Plant Cage trellis comes as a kit, with telescoping stakes, expanding as the plant grows. This is perfect for supporting plants in patio pots.
Use it with plants like these Little Prince eggplants, available from Renees Garden. This variety is bred especially for patio pots and planters and you can grow lots of eggplants on your patio.

The Ultimate Plant Cage trellis kit comes with everything you need. The collar goes around the base of the plant, the stakes go into the ground to keep it stable and the expandable stakes (that are attached) can grow with the plant.

Global Garden Friends also makes this amazing little clip for attaching vines, roses, whatever, to any kind of trellis. They easily go around the plant, and snap closed. Better still, they can be reused many times so you don't have to use string or twist-ems.

I've been using the Ultimate Plant Clips on my climbing roses, keeping them tied to the arbor. The way they're attached between your finger and thumb, also protects you from the thorns!

The Ultimate Plant Cage is great for anything you grow in pots that need support and the trellis can be reused, moved, adjusted, many times. It will also work in most any size of planter.

When you go to Global Gardening  Friends website and order the Ultimate Plant Cage, enter the special discount code: jimlong at check-out for a special 25% discount on your order, only for people who follow my blog posts. You will love this great kit for your plants!
Happy gardening!


Safe, Organic Garden Pest Controls

Anytime I can find a safe control for pests in the garden or yard, I use them. Rather than using a chemical that kills everything, I choose methods that only target a specific pest. Here are some simple pest controls I use.

Packrats and mice in the riding lawnmower: buy a little bottle of mint oil - spearmint or peppermint, and soak a cotton ball. Place it somewhere around the motor and wiring where it will stay put. Rats and mice hate the smell of mint and will stay away. Replace the cotton ball and mint oil every 3-4 weeks. Mint cooking extract works, too, although the smell disappears faster than the mint oil.

Cabbage worms: once the worms start, you can control them with a safe, non-chemical spraying once a week of bacillus (available at garden centers, feed stores). To prevent the worms, make a simple paper barrier early in the year, as soon as you plant cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower or kale. To do that, cut a square of heavy paper or cardboard, about 4 inches by 4 inches square. Make a slit halfway across the square, then slip it around the base of the plant, flat with the ground. Cabbage worms start out as cabbage moths, which lay their eggs at the base of the plants, then they hatch into cabbage worms. By preventing the egg-laying, you are preventing a good many of the worms you would have later.

Soft-bodied insects, such as mites, aphids and mealybugs: Mix 1 tablespoon canola oil and 4 drops of Ivory soap (Ivory works best) into a quart of plain water. Pour into a spray bottle, shake well and spray the leaves of the affected plants both on top and underneath the leaves. 

Mites: mix 2 tablespoons of hot pepper sauce with 5-6 drops Ivory dish soap into a quart of water. Let the mixture stand overnight, pour into a spray bottle, shake well then spray affected plants. Shake container often during application.

Slugs: Little lids of beer placed under the plants that are affected works well. Diatomaceous earth (a natural finely-ground shell) scattered around the plants works on slugs, snails and other soft-bodied insects. The tiny shell particles, called diatoms, work by puncturing the outsides of soft-bodied pests but are not harmful to pets or humans.

Fungal diseases: Mix 2 tablespoons baking soda into a quart of water. Pour into a sprayer bottle and spray affected areas. Repeat application every few days.

Hollyhocks: the bugs that riddle the leaves of hollyhocks can be stopped before they destroy the plant buy using this formula I first learned about from Sharon Lovejoy: combine 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 tablespoon canola oil, 1/2 teaspoon dish soap (Ivory works best), 1/2 cup white vinegar in 1 gallon of water. Shake well and pour into a sprayer. Spray the underneath sides of the leaves at the first signs of holes in the lowest leaves. Repeat, spraying underneath all of the leaves each week.

Caution: sprays which kill harmful insects may also kill beneficial insects. Use the homemade formulas selectively, only spraying plants that are infected. Always apply early in the morning or just before dark to avoid bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. Apply again after a rain. 

Happy gardening!

Copyright May, 2013, Jim Long


Snow, May 3, 2013

Snow, that's what we woke up to this morning. Our official, last, really last, frost date for Southern Missouri, is May 1. Seldom do we have frost later than mid-April. But snow? Never, in my lifetime. I assumed it would leave in a few minutes, but instead, it has snowed all day long. The soil is too warm, so is the soil, for it to stick. But on the roof of the Herb Shop, and the tops of the planting beds on the left side of the first picture above, the snow has stayed all day. Normally by this time in spring, I have my hot pepper and tomato plants in the ground. All I've planted thus far are my achocha plants, which do well in coolish weather. But not snow.
Hot peppers on the left, achocha plants in the center, for outside.
So I dug up the achocha vines and brought them back indoors for the night. It's not supposed to reach freezing, but even close to that temperature can ruin the achochas. Mine are from Bhutan, although they are native to Central and South America.
Morel mushrooms.
Just 2 days ago we were finding morel mushrooms. A neighbor found some yesterday and it's been an especially good year for finding them. Friends saw a farmer on the side of the road last week with multiple pounds of the mushrooms, and was selling out at $35 a pound.
Supper, just 2 nights ago.
Our intern, Anthony, and I, spent part of the day today making hot sauce and canning some that I'd already made.
Wiping jar rims before putting on the lids.
Canned hot sauce.
This spring has already seen records broken. Latest snowfall, late crop of mushrooms, late planting. And, the earliest I have ever seen potato beetles! It's a crazy season so far and the snow is still falling!
Happy spring.
Hot sauce book available from my website if you'd like to make your own hot sauces.