Friday, February 26, 2010

Random tidbits you'll want to read

My friends and acquaintances in real life who know I am going through the master gardener program have this look as they ask me about my class. It's a sort of - yeah, this is kinda cool, but really geeky at the same time look. And this is when I stand a little taller, relay how fun it is to geek out with others who have a passion for gardening, and fully believe it as sit for hours, enthralled by the lectures on asexual plant propagation, dangerous fungi, and the horrific habits of parasitoids.

Today I rebel against structure, organization, and flow. Today I will pass along totally random tidbits of information I've learned and have been reminded of in the past couple of weeks. Hope you enjoy!

  • Insects have been around for 350 million years and share 80% of our genes.
  • If bees get sick, they won't go back to the colony (isn't this moving?).
  • Certain wasps are an example of parasitoids. They will lay an egg in an insect. The larva will feed on the host essentially making a mummy out of it. Here's what you do in the garden. If you see tons of aphids for example, look for the mummies. If you see 10% mummies, check back in a week. If you see 20% mummies, just leave it alone. The beneficial parasitoids are taking care of the problem for you.
  • Beneficials are good...they're insect pest predators in the immature stage and pollinators in the adult stage. Lure them to your garden!
  • Lacewings are wacky but beneficial creatures. They'll gather tiny pieces of bark and lichen on top of themselves and hide under it, waiting for aphids to approach. But the ant, a friend of the aphids (aphids give them honeydew), will go right over and knock the disguise off of the lacewing.
  • Be a detective in the garden. If you have pest problems, look for evidence of beneficials. Look at the damage. Do you see chewing damage (like random holes, bites, shoot dieback) or sucking damage (yellowing leaves, distorted leaves, branches, etc.)? This will help you determine what do to about it. Chewing insects can be controlled by applying a substance to the leaf. Sucking insects can be controlled by something systemic that will be taken up by the plant and deter or poison bugs.
  • Reminder: as the snow defrosts, and it starts to warm up, do not start digging around while the soil is wet (I do this every spring when I'm overly eager to get outside). You'll compact the soil and literally turn it to bricks. It's possible to ruin years and years of good built up soil in 5 minutes by pulling stunts like this. Anyone else guilty of this? This is one habit I really don't plan on doing anymore.
  • Don't use cat or dog poop in your compost. We've all heard this, but here's one very good reason why: dogs and cats have intestinal parasites that like people. They get in the soil, and get into our food. It's a very big human health risk. Yuck.
  • Fun fact: it's not cow farts, but cow burps that give off the methane gas we blame cows (among other things) for.
  • Plant viruses are big time. Really really big time. I thought I would have nightmares about insects after my entomology class. nuh-uh. I'm still afraid to close my eyes after the plant pathology class. All I can say is this...I am going to seriously consider cleaning my pruners with alcohol after each cut just like we always read about. I'm surprised fungi haven't taken over the world. Do you gardeners clean your pruners after each cut? I'm going to be OCD about this now.
  • Finally, I will just ask this: why does there always have to be that one person in every class who thinks it's a personal class just for him/her? You know the one - who blurts out questions while others have their hands raised? Who will piggyback off of someone else's question, turning it into his/her question before the instructor even gets to answer the original question? The one who has so much to add to the class you wonder why he/she is even taking the class if he/she thinks he/she is so smart? It's making it hard for me to fully geek out when I'm spending increasing amounts of time annoyed by this...


  1. Cow burps... oops I better stay away after their meals... this is one funny but interesting news :-D Thanks for sharing such fun facts and you have a funfilled weekend yeah.

  2. "If bees get sick, they won't go back to the colony" - How I wish some people have this bee sense too.

    My sister who has two chihuahuas kept insisting I use her dogs' poop as my fertilizer for my garden. I am so gonna forward her this post :)

    "why does there always have to be that one person in every class who thinks it's a personal class just for him/her?" They're called attention seekers. We have them in the workplace too.

  3. I like all your reminders (will not dig in the wet soil, will not dig in the wet soil, but it's so hard), and oh yes, I had that person in my Master Gardener class too!!

  4. Fun post!

    Is your class specifically organic? I got frustrated with our local Master Gardeners because most of them scoffed at the idea of organic.

    I'm terrible about sterilizing my equipment. Like, I don't ever do it really. :-\ Maybe I'll think about starting this year, especially with the blight we fought last season.

    LOL @ what you had to say about the know it all in your class. Isn't there always one like that? Don't let them get to you too much!

  5. Couldn't stay away from your blog...too much good information here.
    I will be better about cleaning my garden tools.


  6. That is incredibly moving about the sick bees. I love bees, and the more I learn about them the more I want to have my own hives. :)

    I am so guilty of digging when it's wet in early spring -- and I didn't realize it was so bad. (Yet another reason why impatience is actually a vice.) I'm quitting that habit cold turkey, and I thank you for the valuable heads up, Wendy!

  7. Wendy~~ You're too funny! I think the answer to the annoying class member has something to do with Murphy but I'm not clever enough to figure it out. I just know that during my class s/he was there and let everyone know it!!

    I felt the same way about plant pathogens when I took the course. Actually the whole course, although extremely beneficial, was kind of depressing. I likened it to being a health care worker or vet clinic employee. You know? When the vast majority of your experience is dealing with the negatives in life. I admire those people greatly. They must have learned somewhere along the line to distance themselves for the sake of doing their job. I didn't learn that.

    I love your random factoids. I knew I never liked ants. Now I know why. :)

    I hope your weather continues to allow for rapid defrosting. It's time for spring already.

  8. Thanks for all the info, I will be sure to clean my blades since I am sure what you are saying is true and I don't want to know the details. Glad to know about the cows and good for you for geeking out. I have thought about taking the classes also but I don't know how I could fit it in amongst the other 5 trillion things I already agree to doing. I will be anxious to hear how you enjoy it.

  9. Wendy, I am very thankful for all the useful tips you share with us today. As a DIY gardener, I need this. Now, I too look forward to your class!

  10. Nothing wrong with some occasion randomness, especially when it's so interesting...

    At a recent event with a few dozen gardeners in attendance the topic of sterilizing pruners came up. Almost zero percent of people there said they did it. I fall in that camp myself, but was much more careful when I was growing orchids, which had issues with a couple common viruses.

  11. Wendy, first thank you, thank you for all those random facts, some made me laugh, some made me groan, and some made me uncomfortable.
    And I want to know why the annoying woman from my garden design course went all the way down there to annoy you, was it not enough to ruin my course!

  12. Great tidbits Wendy! I love all those interesting random little facts. I am so making sure to wipe down my tools now! It sounds as if you are really enjoying your class =)

    I had to laugh at your last comment about your classmate. I've just started a course (baking/pastry =)) and have one of those too! Your right, there always has to be one ;)

  13. Hi Wendy,
    I didn't realize how deep they get in those classes. I kept thinking about taking them, but now that we have our grandson every Saturday, I don't have time to. Thanks for all those tidbits. I try to clean my pruners after each session, or if I something looks like it may be diseased. I better start dong it more often.

    Those darn ants are smarter than we think, moving the leaves off the lacewings. I wish my wasps would limit their diet to aphids and beetles. I don't know if they eat beetles. I have lots of wasps that love my white blooming mountain mint. I haven't seen many caterpillars the last couple of years, and wonder if it's because of all the wasps. I am considering whether I should quit growing mountain mint.

    I hope spring gets here soon. It's probably real close where you are.

  14. I love your tips and love your recipes and growing info even more!

    Job well done in producing a wonderful read.

  15. Thank you so much for the tips.
    Would really like to know few questions if you don't mind.

    1) What are these beneficial pest predator insects and how to lure them into the garden.

    2) How to get rid of ants.

    3) What damage does plant virus do - how to note them?

    4) Mummies - where? how to see them?

  16. I enjoyed the facts! I bet I need to clean my pruners. I enjoyed taking my class, too. I guess in every class there is that one person that knows everything. Do they search these people out and get them to enroll just to annoy the others? Why is there usually just one? :) Thanks for sharing your info!

  17. Great tips! Glad to see you're enjoying the MG classes. They're a lot of fun...

  18. Nice of you to wade through all that info, then pass along a few pithy, entertaining, amusing highlights.
    I have encountered a rare few leaders/teachers with a talent for diffusing the class boor. There should be a class for THAT.

  19. One word on systemics - be careful what you use on food plants.

  20. Btw Wendy, I have an award for you. You can check out my latest post to find out about the award. Have a great day!

  21. Thanks for commenting everyone! I'm glad others can relate to the person in my class!

    Julie, the class is not specifically organic, but it seems that the students are definitely all of the persuasion, and the instructors seem to believe you go with organic methods before you try anything else. It's possible this is because this is a Washington DC program. In a non-city, I wonder if the philosophy would be different.

    Rosey - I'm glad you're back!

    Meredith - One of the instructors was saying that the one true hope for saving the bee population is for more regular people out there to keep bees. Perhaps you should look into it!!

    Grace - I totally hear what you're saying. It's like a loss of innocence! :) I do seriously wonder how fungi have not taken over the world. And now after my herbs class, I wonder how kudzu has not taken over the world.

    Teresa - it's been hard fitting it in. It's doable, but the week seems to speed by superfast, and I'm super busy on MG days. It's a long day - up at 5am and going and going literally all day. It's very tiring actually.

    James - I always though cleaning pruners with alcohol was one of those things people suggest but never do. I guess it can be a really bad thing if there's some sort of disease or fungus, and I guess we'd never know until all the plants start to die!

    James Missier:
    1) What are these beneficial pest predator insects and how to lure them into the garden. certain wasps, lacewings, ladybugs, etc. You can actually buy beneficials from mail order companies, but can definitley attract them by planting native perennials.

    2) How to get rid of ants. We didn't learn about this, but from my understadning, ants aren't really an enemy and can actually help to pollinate plants. I don't think it's necessary to get rid of ants (unless they're on your kitchen counter!!)

    3) What damage does plant virus do - how to note them? My notes are in my car, but I believe a plant virus will often have a pattern - unlike insect damage. A plant virus will kill the tree eventually. And the difficulty is that it often spreads quickly and is difficult to catch. One thing to do is cut of the diseased portion. If we're talking about a tree branch, cut off about 10 inches beyond the damaged section, then throw away, do not compost.

    4) Mummies - where? how to see them? Just with the other aphids congregating. They'll look like little dried up specks.

    Thanks for the important tip Ilona!

    Stephanie - thanks so much!! Will go visit!


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