Archive for the ‘Pest Control’ Category

Several readers e-mailed me regarding safety concerns of the vermiculite used in Mel’s Magic Mix, the soil-less potting mix used in raised bed gardens featured in the “All New Square Foot Gardening” book.

Author Mel Bartholomew addresses this issue on his Web site, www.squarefootgardening.com. Click on frequently asked questions (FAQ) and type “safety of vermiculite” in the search box. I also did a Google search and am satisfied it’s safe to use, but aspirating the dust can cause lung irritation and should be avoided.

Breathing in dust of any kind, whether it comes from vermiculite, peat moss, fertilizers or just topsoil is bad for your lungs. This is especially true if you’re asthmatic or have any kind of immune deficiency or lung issues.

So when pouring bagged materials, wear a paper facemask. They’re available at drugstores and are very inexpensive. A light spray of water over the material will cut the dust. Also, always work upwind of the product

Safety precautions should also be taken when working with liquids of any kind. Paper facemasks are not effective for use when spraying liquids. Fine vapors sift right through the material.

A professional-grade face respirator with replaceable filters is the only safe way to go any time you spray liquids, including fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides or pesticides. They are available in the paint departments of big-box stores. Remember, if you can smell the product you’re breathing it into your lungs.

Dust particulates and liquid vapors also cling to clothing, so the pros recommend wearing a protective covering. Those inexpensive white Tyvek coveralls are great for this purpose and can be reused many times. Priced under $10, they range in sizes from XS to XXL. Be sure to take them off and hang them up in the garage or potting shed before going into the house.

For hand protection, wear nitrile disposable gloves, very inexpensive and available at drugstores.

When messing with chemicals, wear waterproof boots and wash them with soap and water when finished. Also, take them off when entering the house so you don’t spread contaminants to carpets and upholstery.

The Rosemania catalog at www.rosemania.com, (888) 600-9665, carries a complete line of safety equipment at reasonable prices, and shipping is free for orders totaling more than $15.

Blog Alert! Be sure to check us out on Saturday for the first of the weekly “Nancy’s Tomato Chronicles”.  Timely tips and advice for having terrific tomatoes this year.


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Bats benefit man by consuming immense numbers of flying insects. However, when they roost in numbers in our home, their accumulated droppings, odors, mites and lice cause problems. There is also the potential threat of rabies, but this is rare

Bats have been the subject of many horror stories and films and consequently suffer from a number of inaccurate myths.

Contrary to what you may have heard:

  • Very few bats become rabid (less than half of 1 percent).
  • Bat droppings in buildings usually are not a source of histoplasmosis.
  • Bats are not filthy and will not infest homes with dangerous parasites.
  • Bats are not aggressive and will not attack people or pets.
  • Bats in the United States do not feed on blood. (The vampire bat, which does feed on blood, lives in Latin America.)

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Puttering In The Potager – Week 1 of 2010

(Week 1 is January 4 to the 11th)

It’s the middle of winter and there is not much yardening to do outside except to keep the bird feeders filled.  With the recent snow and ice, it is really important to keep those feeders going once you have started the cafeteria for your songbirds.

Except for Cardinals, we have the usual band of highwaymen hustling sunflower seed and black thistle seed like professional thieves.  The main crew includes chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, finches (goldfinch and house finch), and the woodpeckers (Hairy, Downy, and Red Bellied).  While the House Finches will move back up north come late spring, the rest of that crew are year round managers of pest insect eggs left in the crevices of tree bark.  Just because you feed them doesn’t mean they stop their daily hunt for insect eggs.  By feeding them you just have a higher number of birds working the tree trunks on your property.

You all might be surprised to know we have no sparrows and no starlings raiding our bird feeders here in the boonies.  We live in the middle of the woods, and those two gangsters are definitely city and suburban dwellers. To be perfectly truthful, I don’t really miss them all that much.

In the spring the other regulars in the pest insect platoon come back with sun tans.  The Robins, House Wrens, and Catbirds swing in to begin yet another season of raising kids and eating bugs.  We also get a pair or two of Flycatchers which are not so often spotted in the burbs.


Last week we had an unwanted visitor to our bird feeding station and it wasn’t a squirrel.  I work in front of second story window overlooking the bird feeding area, and my eye caught some movement that was not normal. I looked up and darned if there was not some kind of a hawk going after the songbirds around the feeder.  It was an amazing display of aerial prowess.  What turned out to be an American kestral or Sparrow Hawk, it was almost able to make turns in the air as tight as the chickadees.  He didn’t get any lunch that day, but he has returned a few times when I was watching and has snagged one of our fuzzy beauties a few times.

I never considered having to worry about a hawk threatening my bird feeder visitors, but this ace is definitely a threat.  Now the population of songbirds visiting the feeders are aware of the hawk’s existence, so they seem to be much quicker in evacuating down low to the ground when it shows up.  The American Kestral is about the size of a Blue Jay and works the edge of fields and woods.  In the summer, it eats mostly insects, but in the winter it will go after songbirds as well.  It is able to hover in the air giving it even more tools to secure its prey.

Squirrel Stopper Support For Bird Feeders

Those other rogues, the squirrels, are no longer a problem for our bird feeders since we installed the “Squirrel Stopper” bird feeder post assembly (www.squirrelstopper.net).  The Squirrel Stopper is easy to set up and holds four bird feeders up five or six feet off the ground.  The secret to foiling the squirrels is an elongated bell that is suspended on the main post with springs.  We’ve watched squirrels try all kinds of tricks and they can’t beat that bell system.  The rig costs about $125 and is made with extremely high quality materials.  It should last for decades.  You can buy one online from Duncraft (www.duncraft.com) or check them out in the Detroit area at Wild Birds Unlimited in Grosse Pointe Woods ((313) 881-1410).

Winter is the time when access to fresh water can be a very difficult challenge for these very same songbirds.  Puddles, small ponds and streams, and bird baths are often frozen over completely.  Getting water from eating snow takes enormous amounts of their energy reserves.  Check out the many different bird bath heaters available from Duncraft on the web or around the city at one of the six Wild Birds Unlimited Stores (www.wbu.com).

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Timely Tip: Before the kids, cats and dogs have a chance to get out and romp in newly fallen snow, walk the landscape and look for signs of foot traffic. Four-legged foot traffic that is. Rabbits, voles and deer that are grocery shopping in your yard today will be dining on spring bulbs, newly emerging perennials and tender young seedlings in a matter of weeks, so now is the time to ask them to leave. Live trap the rabbits, mouse trap the voles and fence out the deer.

If asked to pick the toughest plant in my garden, I’d name the hosta. When I moved from my old house I discovered three live hostas, still in their containers, hiding beside the compost bin. As the saying goes, out of sight out of mind.

I figured those tough little plants had spent at least two years hidden away in those pots, yet they were none the worse for wear.  So I packed them up, trucked them out to the country and planted them in front of my new home. I’m pleased to say they are growing like crazy.

This summer I received a couple of emails from readers asking why their hosta suddenly up and died.  The only pests that ever attack my cast iron characters are deer and slugs, but the damage is only cosmetic. Voles have been known to munch on hosta roots, but their presence is easy to detect. The roots of the plants are missing.

At the time, my best guess as to the cause of the readers’ sudden hosta demise was crown rot, caused from over-watering and poor drainage.  But according to an article in the January/February edition of the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association publication, The Michigan Landscape magazine, there may be much scarier explanation – Sclerotium rolfsii var. delphinii or Hosta Petiole Rot.

According to Mark L. Gleason of the Department of Plant Pathology at Iowa State, author of the article on Host Petiole Rot, this relatively new fungal disease, has begun to rear its ugly head here in Michigan,

If you are a hostaholic, you should know that this nasty stuff, once established in the landscape, has the ability to wipe out your entire collection, so I recommend you become familiar with it and be on the lookout for it.

Infected hosta develop soft brown areas at the base of the petioles or leaf stalks, followed by withering and the collapse of the leaves. Within a short period of time the plant dies.

To date there is no fungicide available to kill the disease so the best defense is to keep it out of your garden. Whether you receive new plants from friends or buy them from a garden center or nursery carefully inspect every hosta crown for signs of the disease.

Because Hosta Petiole Rot is a sleeper disease that remains dormant in the upper Midwest most of the year, infested hostas with otherwise healthy looking crowns may be sold in May through July. However, upon close inspection, Gleason says infected plants will display sclerotai – tiny B-B like spheres, which may be white, tan or brick red in color and closely resemble mustard seeds.  He describes them as little spaceships that encapsulate and protect the dormant fungus until the weather conditions are right for it to thrive.

However, don’t mistake slow release fertilizer capsules, such as Osmocote, as signs of the disease, says Mark Gleason. These plastic coated fertilizer spheres often found in container plantings are three times as large as the fungal spheres and lack their colorations.

When the disease is active, only is warm wet weather when day time temperatures reach into the 80’s and 90’s and night time temps climb into the 70’s along with evening rains or irrigation, the leaf stalks begin to turn brown and mushy.

If you have a plant that you suspect may be infected with Petiole Rot Fungus, send a sample into the plant-testing laboratory at MSU for proper id. In the mean time, quarantine the area and avoid tracking surrounding soil to other areas of the garden.  If the diagnosis is positive, Mark Gleason recommends carefully removing the infected plant and destroying it. Gleason also suggest removing the surface soil and mulch surrounding the plant and either burying it 6 to 12-inches deep in an area that will remain untouched for at least a year or disposing of it in the trash. Under no circumstances, add it to the compost pile.  Fungus buried in the ground will become food for the beneficial microbes that live in the soil.

After working with the infected soil, be sure to wash all tools, shoes, gloves and clothing clean of any soil to prevent tracking the fungus to other areas of the garden and spreading the disease.  Tools should be disinfected with alcohol or bleach.

Unfortunately, hostas aren’t the only plants this fungus attacks. According to Mark Gleason, HPR can travel from hostas to other nearby plants. Iris, delphiniums, astilbe, ajuga and aconitum are among the list of 20 other plants that have succumbed to Hosta Petiole Rot.

Unlike other kinds of fungus, HPR does not produce spores so it is not carried about by the wind. When the conditions are right, it travels along the surface of the soil in search of fresh petioles. Water droplets crashing into the earth during rainstorms and irrigation also disturb the soil, facilitating fungal movement.

Mulching with several inches of mulch, taking care to leave a six-inch ring of exposed soil at the base of the plants has proven to help contain the spread of the disease.  However, the HPR fungus does not appear to spread in pine needle mulch says Gleason.

Skilled gardeners are good detectives, they’re always looking for trouble.

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Next week is when all the final preparations are made for all those wonderful meals we expect to enjoy on Christmas and the days that follow. I’m suggesting now is a good time to start accumulating the kinds of leftovers that songbirds will just love after the excitement of our own holiday season.

Set aside a good-size plastic container which can store stale fruitcake, crumbled cookies, shriveled cranberries, busted pinecones and that one handful of nuts at the bottom of the can after the party is over. These tidbits make wonderful treats for your bird buddies at a time when the access to food in the frozen snow covered outside might be limited. Store the treats with no cover so they dry out.

Chickadee devours cookie crumbs

After New Year’s, set up the old dried-out Christmas tree outdoors and get the kids to string cranberries and popcorn into edible garlands for snacking. Apples and oranges that are a bit past their prime are also good choices. Cut them in slices and string them with a needle and thread. The Christmas tree will serve as shelter for the birds as well as a fancy feeding station.

Old pinecones slathered in cheap peanut butter and rolled in birdseed make tasty treats for our fine-feathered friends. To keep things tidy, remember to tie on the attaching ribbon before you add the peanut butter.

Cardinals are the last to leave the feeder

The live berries from Christmas greens, including holly, juniper, bittersweet and rose hips, are a big treat for city birds. Layer the berry-covered greens atop a small pile of brush or tie bunches together and hang them from a tree or on a fence.

Old fruitcake makes a great snack for birds. Set it out on a feeder tray or tie it up with a ribbon in mesh feeder bags. Cookies and crackers are also appreciated.

Bacon grease is another treat that larger birds enjoy. After cooking the bacon, pour the liquid into an empty tuna can and place it in the refrigerator to harden. Before you fill the can with grease, punch a hole in the sidewall with a nail. When the grease has solidified, thread a piece of wire through the hole and make a loop for hanging.

When putting out birdseed, don’t forget to include crushed eggshells. The birds need calcium as much as we do. But the crushed shells also act as grit that help the birds digest their food.

In some ways suet is a more important addition to the bird’s lunch counter, promising instant energy in cold windy days. Having more than one suet holder and bird feeder will help to share the wealth of holiday treats.

Be sure to place your feeding stations in accessible locations. If you have to trudge through snow banks to make refills, you will soon lose interest and stop filling the feeders.

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Moving Firewood May Be A Bad Idea

I had a discussion (think argument) with a friend a few weeks ago about the details of the firewood quarantine that is effective in the entire lower peninsula in an effort to prevent the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer.  I believed that even if all the counties had a quarantine, you could not take firewood out of one county, such as Lapeer, and move it to another county such as Genesee, even though the quarantine was effective in Genesee.  My friend disagreed and promptly went to Google and proved m wrong. I can assure you, it’s tough being an “expert” and be proven downright wrong.  Firewood can be moved within all counties of the lower peninsula, but not to the UP, Canada, or any other state.

I still, being obstinate at times, stick to my position.  I don’t believe firewood should be moved to any other county, ever.  The simple reason is that the Emerald Ash Borer is not the only invasive foreign pest insect to be found in firewood.  Such pests as spores of Beech Bark Disease, Asian Longhorned Beetle, Sirex Woodwasp, and a new brand of Gypsy Moth can be unknowingly spread by moving firewood.

If you need firewood at a vacation spot out of your county, you should always try to buy firewood local to your vacation site and you should try to burn all you buy.  It may cost more money, but reducing the spread of invasive destructive tree pests is an investment for the future.

From bobshowto.com

Storing Firewood at Home

Speaking of firewood, I am a person very knowledgeable about how to make a serious mistake in choosing a place to store firewood at my own home.  Years ago, when I was young and not always swift, I stacked five cords of split firewood right up against the back of my house, thinking it would be handy to the backdoor when I needed more wood for my wood stove.  I was very lucky in discovering that some of that wood, still remaining in the spring, contained the eggs of carpenter ants and the eggs were hatching.  I moved the wood immediately away from the house and we suffered no house damage from the carpenter ants.  Lesson learned?  Never stack firewood against the house.

The guide is to stack firewood at least 25–50 feet away from the house. Bring on two or three days supply of firewood to your deck or back porch at a time. The wood will not be infested or release adult pests in three days time.

It is best to stack your firewood at least six inches above the soil to insure some pests don’t move into the pile during the year.  Yes, a spider or two might hitchhike into the house on firewood from time to time, but they are harmless and easy to control.

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At a social gathering recently I was a bit upset hearing one of the guests brag about trapping six raccoons in his back yard in just three weeks.  It was what happened after the animal was trapped that upset me.  When I asked, he reported proudly that he had taken all six out to a state park and released them.  What seems like an act of kindness is really a very bad thing to do. It also happens to be illegal to move wild animals anywhere in Michigan.

When you add another of any of the pest animals such as raccoons, squirrels, and rabbits to a new wooded area, you have just caused an imbalance in the food supply for all the other similar animals already resident to that area. Generally the number of any of those animals in any territory is controlled by how much food is available in that piece of land.  Add just one more critter, much less six more critters, and the population exceeds the food supply and only bad things can happen.  Usually the stress from hunger leads to disease which kills enough of the animals to get the population down to where it is again supported by the existing food supply.

The best way to get rid of pest animals is to hire a local wildlife removal company.  They come in, trap the critter, and remove it safely for a fee.  For a list of available companies go to http://wildlife-removal.com/state/Michigan.htm.

If you insist on handling the problem yourself, you need a proper cage trap that is properly baited.  And then you need a method for disposing of the animal in a humane fashion, usually by drowning or dispatching with a gun.

Woodstream Company has just come out with an updated version of their traditional Havahart trap.  It is called the “Easy Set Cage Trap” and comes in two sizes – one for skunks, rabbits, or squirrels, and the other for raccoons, woodchucks or oppossums.  While you can use your own secret bait, such as cat food for raccoons, it is easier and more effective to buy bait designed for catching the critter at hand.

Revenge Animal Bait Kits are commonly used with success.  For about $10 you can get a bait that attracts each of the six animal pests I named above (Google “Revenge Bait Kits”).  These baits will be good for about two weeks which is usually a lot longer than you need.

All these animals are a problem because people have eliminated their natural habitat with development and they have gotten real used to eating people food thrown out in the trash.  It seems like an oxymoron to say the humane way to deal with pest animals is to kill them, but that is the sad truth and we all should respect it.

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