Sunday, August 19, 2007

Insect Days of Summer

During the 30 yrs I spent in Northern California I never heard the expression “dog days of summer”. Now that I’m living in Virginia that expression pops up frequently in the media especially when our heat index last week reached 116 degrees Fahrenheit. The expression originated from the “Dog Star” Sirius which from July 3rd through August 11 rises with the sun. These days are often the hottest muggiest of summer.

In our gardens during August, we need to respond to the heat and insects. When the temperature increases so does the water needs of our plants increase. Container planters and window boxes often need to be watered everyday.

Garden and flower beds need twice weekly soakings unless they receive rain. Watering should be of sufficient quantity to soak deep into the ground which encourages deep roots. Frequent shallow watering discourages the development of deep roots. Deep roots protect the plant from drying out between watering. Organic mulch cools the soil and reduces water evaporation from the soil. During a long spell between rains, young trees and shrubs also need a long drink from your water hose.

Insects rule in August. Pollinators, such as butterflies, bees, wasps, etc., are necessary for the development of fruits and nuts. Destructive insects such as Japanese beetles, chiggers, mosquitoes, and some caterpillars make our garden chores miserable. Early mornings I shake Japanese beetles off branches into a pail of soapy water. I only have one crepe myrtle, a favorite of Japanese beetles. I would need a ladder to reach all the branches, but killing just one mating pair of beetles can reduce the number of next season’s beetles.

Yesterday I was picking small caterpillars (smashing the really tiny ones) from my miserably mulched kale and chard plants. I gathered about twenty caterpillars and their white cocoons, probably cross-striped cabbage worms, in my hand and carried them inside to flush them down the toilet. I keep forgetting to sprinkle organic insecticide powder on my vegetable garden. Partly, because I have to cross chigger covered grass to reach my garden.

My vegetable garden needs improvement. But, my zinnias, butterfly bushes, lavender, lantana, and cleome (all which are thankfully deer proof) are blooming profusely and supporting masses of butterflies.

Recommendations: “CalaGel” lotion, or , will quickly relieve the itch and swelling of chigger and mosquito bites and poison oak and ivy rash. Place biological “MosquitoDunks” in all standing water to kill mosquito larvae. For the cabbage looper caterpillar spray or dust. Safe products to reduce mosquitoes and cabbage looper caterpillars can be ordered at .

Saturday morning found me at the Goochland Rural Market to buy fresh local produce (usually organic) which I have yet to grow. For guides to farmers markets and pick-your-own farms in Virginia visit . For farmers markets in other states visit .