Sunday, August 26, 2012

Groundhog Day All Over Again . . .

Speaking of pests in the garden, we have another new arrival this summer - a groundhog. Some weeks back, I went out to the garden to harvest some squash, only to find our Swiss chard looking like a lawn mower had run it over. It was eaten to the ground. Upon further inspection, the collards looked pretty pitiful too, chewed down to the stems. My first thought was deer. Granted, we live in a suburban neighborhood, but we are bordered by a large golf course, and patches of woods. I have seen deer within a block of our house, so I figured it's only a matter of time.
The next day, the squash itself was untouched, but their leaves were definitely nibbled upon. And the cherry tomatoes had been smacked around, dropping some to the ground, little teethmarks as evidence. This was no deer.
By the third day, Bill was keeping a lookout (with camera in-hand) to see if anything ventured out during the day. AHA! It didn't take long. In bright daylight, there he was. I answered the phone at work; it was Bill. "We have a beaver!" he excitedly tells me. There is a road about a mile away called Beaver Dam Road, so it is a possibility, I thought. "Look at his tail - is it furry or flat?" I tell  him. He tells me it's hard to tell, but he's got photographic evidence.
Only The Tomato Plants Are Hanging On . . .
That night, we review the picture, consult with a friend, and still can't ascertain for sure if it's a beaver or a groundhog. Whatever it is, it's HUGE. Further sightings over the next few days make us pretty certain it is a groundhog. A very happy groundhog, cavorting in the backyard at all hours, no doubt rejoicing at the all-you-can-eat-buffet he has stumbled upon. He's really cute, you know, so it's hard to hold a grudge. We tried fox urine granules, supposedly a sure-fire way to deter them. It appeared he never met a fox he didn't like, because he was back the very next day, chomping away. Only our appearance coming out the door deters him; he scampers away to wherever it is he lives and awaits his next chance to dine.
 Now a few weeks later, the squash is gone, the kale gone, the cucumber vines died as a result of his indiscriminate digging. Only the tomatoes are hanging in there.
Looks like a fence (complete with chicken wire and sunk into the ground) is on the drawing board for next year's garden project. I suppose we're lucky; we made it four years without any major pest damage. Hopefully we won't be re-living groundhog day again next summer.

The Heartbreak of Bagworms

 This has been a somewhat strange summer in the garden; hotter than usual, and it has brought it's share of pests not seen before. Back in July, one of my neighbor's beautiful arborvitae started to decline quite rapidly.  Around the same time, I noticed some very small pinecone-like objects hanging off said arborvitae, seemingly spinning in the wind, almost like little Christmas ornaments, made of the very leaves themselves. Knowing these trees don't generate pinecones, I did some research. Sure enough, a quick search of the internet revealed the problem - bagworms.
The little "bags" that I saw actually contain these caterpillars, hanging from the branches by their own silk threads. This pest can quickly decimate an arborvitae, as it has done here. This is the first time I've seen this pest. It can also affect junipers and pines. Often, it will concentrate on one plant, leaving others in close vicinity somewhat untouched.
In July I applied the organic, biological control BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) which is a bacteruim known to kill the caterpillars, but which is safe for birds, animals and other insects which are not caterpillars (be careful near known butterfly colonies, as it will kill them). It appeared most had died after the application (as the spinning I noticed earlier was not the wind, but their own wriggling - nasty!), but short of hand-picking all of the "ornaments" off the tree, there is still the threat of a new infestation next year. This is because when allowed to mature and drop to the ground, each of the bags can contain literally hundreds of offspring for next year's crop.

Here is a close-up of the bags themselves. The best time to spray BT is before they get larger than a half or three-quarter inches long (even better, in May - June, before they appear). These have matured to a length of almost two inches long. At this point (Aug/Sept), the only control is to hand-pick them off the trees.
The jury's out on whether this arborvitae will survive; the others adjacent to it only had small infestations, so they have a good chance, especially with an application of BT next spring before they are attacked again. So if you're out in your garden, and see these bags, start pulling them off. It's recommended that you burn them, but I'm not a big fan of fires in the garden(!). So I just dropped mine in a bucket of water laced with organic insecticidal soap. Good riddance, bagworms! Hope I don't see you next year!