Stinkbug Surprise

A couple of weeks ago, I read a funny a very comprehensive post about the brown marmorated stinkbug over at a blog I follow called The Chatsworth Lady. You can read that post (and I recommend you do–it’s funny and very informative–here.)

If you live in a part of the country where you don’t have this little critter, be grateful. Here in Connecticut, so far, at least in my yard, it has not proven to be an “agricultural problem,” shall we say. In other words, I am not finding them on my trees, shrubs, flowers or vegetables.

I do occasionally find them in the house in the winter. And just shortly after I read The Chatworth Lady’s post about finding her stinkbug in her shower, I found a stinkbug in my own shower (which led me to wonder, what exactly it is about stinkbugs and showers?)

I employed a completely different remedy for removal. I know, from most of my dealings with insects in the house in the winter (not to mention the fact that my house is kept quite chilly) that these darn things are slow and dumb–or at least slower and dumber than I am.

So I knocked it from over the shower head to the floor of the shower (for those of you who didn’t take the digression, you can’t just squash one of these things. They do stink to high heaven). Then I just simply picked it up in a tissue and flushed it in a low flow toilet. Not the most environmentally friendly solution, but most people say to vacuum them up and then dispose of the vacuum bag and that, to me, is a less-environmentally friendly solution–all for one bug?

So to each his or her own solution–just don’t crush the bug in your house!

Wordless Wednesday–Bug-pocolypse?

I bought this plant in early April. It was an impulse purchase when I went to get some organic soil that I couldn’t find. I got it around the same time I got the mushroom kit I posted about in an earlier Wordless Wednesday (which for me is never Wordless)

Schefflera bonsai

The “bugs” appear a few days after I got it. There aren’t many–one or two at a time. But they’re large–3/8″ to 1/2″ as you can see by the ruler next to this one. And they are clearly some sort of weevil, which is not quite so obvious from this photo.

Mystery weevil

So here’s where the fun comes in. I look this thing up in all the usual places. I start on the computer with search terms like “invasive weevil” or weevil in house. I get the usual suspects that might be in my area: strawberry weevil, rhododendron weevil, things like that.

So I break out the bible of all bug books, Whitney Cranshaw’s Garden Insects of North America. If it’s not in there, it’s not to be found. I do find something similar–the Pale’s weevil–but of course, that’s only found in the Midwest and I am in New England.

But of course, I’m not sure I should be deterred by that. In the mid-2000s, I made what I thought was a positive ID of an Assassin bug. So I go grab my bug book to be sure and I look it up and they say it’s not found in Connecticut. So I shrug and say, “Well, it must be some look alike relative.”

A full 2 years later, at one of those 1 day Bio-blitz things where they try to ID all the species in a given locale, I read that they have found the “first ever” Assassin Bug in Connecticut. And I think, “Oh no, you haven’t” but of course, what can you say about that?

So if I have some new invasive weevil, what should I be doing? Stomping on them, I suppose. I’ve already thrown 2 out the window, thereby forever altering Connecticut’s delicate ecosystem. This is how invasions start. Let’s hope it was too cold for them to survive–or that my trusty birds ate them for me!

Later searching led me to this fact sheet that reassured me that these things were in fact native to my region so I hadn’t brought on a bug-pocolypse after all. They’re native to the “eastern” United States from Texas to Nova Scotia. That’s some definition of “east!” Anyway, I feel relieved that I haven’t started a new invasion. I just hope I haven’t now imperiled my trees!

Stopping the Spread of Invasive Plants

I seem to be on a bit of a roll with the invasive plants and bugs theme, so let’s end the month that way.

I was surprised to read last week in the New York Times that there was a weevil that was being used to control the spread of Mile-a-Minute vine (persicaria perfoliata). I had posted a week or two ago about the beetle that has been used for almost two decades in the control of purple loosestrife, but this weevil was new to me–and very welcome news.

Thankfully we don’t have a lot of Mile a Minute vine in our state but we find more of it each year. While it doesn’t literally grow a mile-a minute, it is a fast grower, growing as much as a foot or more a day in our climate. And the truly delightful feature of it is the hooked thorns on its stem, making hand pulling quite the adventure.

This year, it was found at 6 new sites in Connecticut; last year it was found at 8 new sites; overall it is currently in 37 of our 169 towns so it is certainly not running rampant but it is spreading steadily. News of a weevil to stop the spread–or even slow it–would be welcome, especially since the article in the Times seems to show that certain places in the Bronx are infested with it and it’s just an easy “fly” as a bird goes from there to here.

This page, on the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group web site, hosted by UConn, has photos of the plants in all its stages for information. It also has a map showing all the affected towns and the newly affected towns over the last two years.

Perhaps when I muse aloud about why I have so many invasives in my yard, I should be grateful that this isn’t one of them!

For Once, I Say Bring On The Herbicide!

What?! Isn’t this an organic gardening blog?

Yes of course–and I’m not talking about using herbicide in my yard. When we must, we use iron phosphate.

I’m referring to an editorial I read recently in my local paper, the Hartford Courant. The writer was decrying the use of herbicides along the highways. A version of that letter from the Courant’s online site can be read here.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve done entirely too much driving lately. As it happened, the day that letter appeared, I had to take a north/south trip across the state. So to confirm my suspicions about what was happening, I tried to glance out the window every time I saw dead brown foliage along the roadside.

Sure enough, what was–or had been–growing there was that noxious invasive plant, Japanese knotweed (fallopia japonica).

Japanese knotweed, for those lucky enough not to have encountered it, is one of those invasive plants that will take over quite quickly. I’ve seen it coming up through asphalt.

The state, in this case, is being quite a good steward* in managing its grassy verges by blasting the knotweed with herbicide. The letter writer, while good-intentioned, unfortunately has no idea of the destructive effect of invasive plants in general or this particular plant, it seems.

And while the true discourse on the destruction that invasive plants are wreaking on our ecosystems is well beyond this post (or any series of posts) suffice it to say that invasives choke out native vegetation that our wildlife need to survive.

And while we certainly do not want wildlife close to the highway, unfortunately, the invasives don’t stay put. I think everyone has seen examples of them running throughout the forests, creating monocultures of inedible or barely edible plant life for our wildlife. Habitat destruction is bad enough as it is–we don’t need the competition from invasive plants (which we already have in droves!)

So while I surely applaud this letter writer’s sentiment–who doesn’t enjoy a lovely view while driving? I say let’s keep killing the invasive plants–and if we must, let’s use herbicide to do it!

*Most of the town land trusts in our state try to manage invasives with “pulling parties” and not with herbicides. I suspect the state has decided that a better use of its limited manpower is to use herbicides–and I’m not sure I disagree, particularly when these are along interstate highways, where pulling parties would require that the shoulder be shut down to assure the safety of the workers.

Also, some of these areas of knotweed are literally miles in length. Pulling would be fairly impractical–and drivers would lose their minds sitting in traffic jams watching state employees pull “weeds.”

This Is No Joke!

At my last garden club talk, (to the Branford Garden Club, apparently the largest Garden Club in Connecticut–who knew?) I happened to mention that I had found a dead Brown Marmorated stink bug while doing my spring cleaning and that I almost would have preferred finding a rat because I would have known how to deal with a pest like that.

Needless to say, that was a fairly shocking statement (but it really is how I felt!) and a lot of the women wanted to know what this ghastly pest was and how I could feel so strongly.

So despite the fact that I want to devote most of the rest of the month to herbs (a category that I think deserves more attention because everybody eats and these little “unassuming plants” can be grown just about anywhere and can make meals so much tastier), I thought I’d touch on this first.

For the most part, even thought the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB from now on) has been around since the mid to late 90s, we haven’t been too bothered by it here in New England they way the rest of the country has. I’m not sure if it’s our cold winters (that would be some solace) or their migration patterns, but they just haven’t been the huge pest that other nearby states like Pennsylvania, and to a lesser extent, even New Jersey, has found them to be.

The problem with these invasive bugs (to be distinguished from our naturally occurring stink bugs) is that they are voracious eaters, they will eat almost anything, they have no natural enemies here because they’ve been imported and they are even resistant to most of our insecticides.

Organic gardeners like me don’t really stand a chance against a huge infestation. Against smaller infestations we might be able to hand pick them. But the usual weapons in the organic arsenal are useless. There are even reports–probably anecdotal–of Sevin being sprayed on these bugs and the bugs fall down, and then get up and resume eating. Nasty creatures!

Unlike with Japanese beetles there is some suggestion that a scent lure trap may work.

Until we know for sure, vigilence is going to be key!

Wordless Wednesday

The headless bug you see here on the backside of a coleus leaf is the invasive pest, the Western Sed Conifer Bug.  He’s not too much of an outdoor pest, but he and his brethern do overwinter indoors and about this time of year they wake up and start to emerge indoors.

I show this bug for two reasons (and there’s a better photo in a moment).  For all those who do have the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, these two look remarkably similar.  The BMSB is shorter and stouter, however, and doesn’t have the distinct “leaf feet” as its rear appendages.

For those of us in Connecticut, where the BMSB has yet to appear, do not be alarmed if you see one of these and think it is the BMSB.  These really are just harmless indoor pests.  In fact, I just picked up the plant, carried it outdoors, and flicked the little guy off.  Because although these guys can fly, they rarely do.

Here he is after he landed on my slate walk outside.  Since he is pointing away from us, you can clearly see the back legs with the “leaf footed” appendages, at least on the left side.

So if you have one of these things indoors–or even several–just carry them out.  It’s better to do so since they too are in the stink bug family and do have an odor when squashed.  On the rare occasion when I’ve had no choice but to kill them, I didn’t find the odor offensive–I thought it smelled like grass–but I may have gotten lucky.  I don’t push my luck–and I figure the birds are glad to have a find like this in the middle of winter.

What’s Bugging Me?

A few weeks ago, during our first cold snap, I was remarking that I had pulled down the storm windows on our double-hung windows.  My walking partner was absolutely appalled that I still had such an old-fashioned thing at my house–apparently she’s upgraded all her windows to newer thermopanes.

We’ve upgraded a lot of our windows too and you know what?  I’ll take my old-fashioned double hung windows with the storm windows any day of the week!  They keep a lot of the cold air that radiates off the glass from getting into the house.

Better yet, they seem to keep a lot of these Western Seed  Conifer Bugs out of the house.  I see a lot of them walking between the outside storm window and the inner screen–but they don’t get into the house.  That’s fine with me.

Interestingly enough, I wonder what this means.  Two year ago I had a lot of these in the house.  I was carrying them out on a regular basis.  Last year I had almost none–maybe one or two.  Was it too cold?  Was it too hot and dry in the summer?

This year looks like it will be another banner year for an “invasion.”  And that being the case, I thought I would post about it so folks could see what these bugs look like–and so that they would know that they don’t have the brown marmorated stink bug invading (which hasn’t yet made it to our region thankfully, and which is shorter, plumper and does a lot more damage).


Here is the Western Seed Conifer Bug, courtesy of Bugguide, whose images are better than mine.

Notice the lovely shields on either part of the body–this is the part of the bug that causes it to be confused with the brown marmorated stink bug.

Now this is the brown marmorated stink bug, again from Bugguide.  You’ll notice those same little shields at the bach of the body, but notice that the body is much plumper.

If you’re a true bug aficionado, you’ll notice that there are no protrusions on the hind legs–the Western seed conifer bug is a “leaf-footed” bug, meaning that it has protrusions that are shaped like little leaves on its rear legs.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, Connecticut has not yet felt the brunt of the invasion by these pests.  I hope it never does because they have been a scourge to farmers and home growers alike.  They are indiscriminate feeders that make Japanese beetles look finicky in their tastes.  Let’s hope we find some means of control before they head north!

Gardening’s Best De-Bunker

Yesterday I mentioned at the end of my post the University of Minnesota and professor Jeff Gillman.  He is, without a doubt, gardening’s best de-bunker.  I have read and reviewed two of his books for the Connecticut Horticulture Society, The Truth about Garden Remedies and the The Truth About Organic Gardening Remedies.  

He has a new book out called How the Government Got in Your Backyard: Superweeds, Frankenfoods, Lawn Wars, and the (Nonpartisan) Truth About Environmental Policies which he has co-written with Eric Heberlig.  I have not yet read it but I can’t wait to do so. It’s been reviewed on Garden Rant  and it sounds as if it is a fairly well written and once again thoughtfully devastating condemnation of the things we take for granted in gardening like invasive plants.

I’ve been gardening for almost 50 years (if you figure that my first gardening experience came at 3 years old) and I’ve been an organic gardener for almost 20 years and Gillman’s book on organics certainly opened my eyes.  It didn’t necessarily change too much about the way I do things because I’m not a big “sprayer” even with organic remedies.

But what Gillman does in that book was fairly revolutionary (I thought).  He assigned a rating to all garden remedies, organic and non-organic.  Then he used the same scientific method to rate all the different herbicides, fungicides and insecticides based upon how long they linger in air, soil, water–you get the idea.

As it turns out, some of the organics are far more “toxic”–or at least harder on the environment–than the synthetic pesticides–at least if the synthetics are used properly (and that, of course, is a big if!)

I’ve been reading that the same may be true of some of our “natural” cleaners–that some of the oils like lemon and orange may actually be toxic to us and the environment, may cause asthma attacks in certain individuals and the like.  Some days, you can’t win for trying.

But as gardening season winds down, if you want to read some well done, thoughtful and thought-provoking books, you’ll never go wrong with Jeff Gillman!

Is There Such A Thing As A True Locavore?

John Tierney, writing a column for the New York Times, reviewing the book 1493: Uncovering The New World Columbus, remarks that its author, Charles C. Mann, knows better than to think he can eat like a locavore.  After all, he knows that tomatoes really come from South America and that the other vegetables in his CSA food share have similarly far-flung pedigrees.  Does that mean they haven’t come from the farm down the road?  No.  But Mann thinks that locavores should think a bit differently about the origins of their food since most of our foods–and even the earthworms we use to make fertilizer–are imported (some might say invasive).

Mann calls this “homogeneity” and he argues that the havoc wrought (my take on it, not his) by the “Columbian Exchange” of plants and diseases between the New World and Europe changed the balance of power forever.  His book reads like an inventory of the spread of invasive species–scale and fire ants to Hispanola, earthworms to Jamestown, malaria to Britain, potato famine to Ireland, gypsy moth to the United States–well, you can see the pattern here.

Mann wrote a prior book covering just North and South America called 1491 arguing that the Americas were not the backwaters that most of us were taught in our high school history classes.  He argues–and again, much of this is only supported by pottery and other archeological remnants–that the two continents had sophisticated cultures and lifestyles and when the Europeans arrived here they would have encountered thriving civilizations and cultures.

What does all this have to do with your backyard tomato or garden?  Just that these thriving cultures that the Europeans encountered became part of the trade routes–the spice route that Columbus was seeking.  And that breeders and hybridizers the world over (much to some of our dismay) have as much to do with what’s growing in that CSA farm down the road as do the farmer!

A Good Wildlife Tale for a Change

Over the weekend there was a story in the New York Times online about the re-release of bighorn sheep in Pike National Forest 9 years after a disasterous fire that burned 138,000 acres.

Why this is a good story is because usually all we read about wildlife is about its destruction–the corralling and destruction of wild horses (which, I understand are an invasive species in their range–but the idea of killing horses is still upsetting.  It’s not like wiping out a weed).

Then there is the impending slaughter–perhaps completed by now–of the bison in Yellowstone.  Again, intellectually, I understand the reasoning.  But the distinction between understanding something intellectually and being okay with it are two different things.

So reintroducing the bighorn sheep–admittedly a species that wasn’t always there but has done well there–is a “happy” story for a change and I’m pleased to share the news.