Leon County’s Seed Library Program Continues On

Leon County’s Seed Library Program Continues On

Join us via Zoom on Saturday, August 8, for our Leon County Seed Library Virtual Workshop. Graphic by Molly Jameson.

Join us via Zoom on Saturday, August 8, for our Leon County Seed Library Virtual Workshop. Graphic by Molly Jameson.

Leon County’s Seed Library Program Continues On

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives. In Extension, we have learned new ways to be innovative in our programs, and we have made adaptations to continue to reach the community through technology. While these technologies have allowed us the opportunity to connect with clientele and continue to allow important discussions related to the life sciences, there is no substitute for hands-on learning.

For this reason, I am thankful that the Leroy Collins Leon County Public Library System is proceeding with the Leon County Seed Library Program this fall. Since the spring of 2015, the Leon County Public Library has provided Leon County community members with sample vegetable seed packets to take home and plant in their gardens. While many aspects of the Seed Library Program will be altered this season, seeds will still be available to be “checked-out” from all Leon County library branches.

While face coverings and other safety precautions will be required, Leon County residents can still "check-out" seeds starting August 8. Photo by the Leon County Public Library.

While face coverings and other safety precautions will be required, Leon County residents can still “check-out” seeds starting August 8. Photo by the Leon County Public Library.

As we continue to strive to keep ourselves and our community safe, many of us have used gardening as a way to relax and find some peace during these turbulent times. Planting vegetable seeds is a great way to learn about agriculture and our natural environment and gives us an opportunity to spend some time outdoors.

As an Extension Agent in Leon County, I have had the pleasure of partnering with the Leon County Library to help pick out the Seed Library Program seed selections, plan kickoff events, and provide hands-on workshops at various library branches. While “checking-out” seeds at the library this season will be a socially distanced activity, we still want to provide an opportunity for the community to engage with UF/IFAS Extension and learn about planting seeds, growing vegetables, and how to incorporate vegetables into snacks and meals to stay healthy.

Whether you are located in Leon County or not, everyone is welcome to join us Saturday, August 8, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., our Leon County Seed Library Virtual Workshop. Via Zoom, agents with UF/IFAS Extension Leon County will discuss vegetable gardening techniques and the importance of eating healthfully. We will also be doing a live virtual cooking demonstration featuring vegetables available in the Fall 2020 Seed Library Program.

For more information about the Leon County Seed Library Virtual Workshop, please visit our Eventbrite page: https://seedlibraryworkshop2020.eventbrite.com. There is no cost to attend the workshop, but registration is required.

If you are a resident of Leon County, all you need is your Leon County library card to check-out the vegetable seeds. Don’t have a library card? No problem! Leon County residents can apply online at the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library online card application page here: https://lcpl.ent.sirsi.net/custom/web/registration/.

Here is the list of the vegetable seeds that will be available starting August 8: Calabrese Broccoli, Cosmic Purple Carrots, Georgia Green Collards, Lacinato Kale, Buttercrunch Bibb Lettuce, Giant of Italy Parsley, Easter Egg Radishes, and Silverbeet Swiss Chard.

Assassins of the Garden

Assassins of the Garden

Wheel bugs have large beaks and a distinctive semicircular crest on their backs resembling a cogwheel. Photo by Gerald J. Lenhard, Louisiana State University, Bugwood.org.

Wheel bugs have large beaks and a distinctive semicircular crest on their backs resembling a cogwheel. Photo by Gerald J. Lenhard, Louisiana State University, Bugwood.org.

As a gardener, the summer is the season you might feel it takes knightly status to grow fruits and vegetables. You put on your metaphorical armor, hold up your shield, and draw your sword to battle the stink bugs, squash vine borers, armyworms, green peach aphids, and more.

In these instances, it may feel like nothing in nature is on your side. But alas, there are a few insects out there that carry their own defenses. One of them is the ferocious assassin bug. These insects are predacious, loaded with powerful curved beaks called proboscises that pierce their unsuspecting prey. Once pierced, the assassin bug injects a toxin that liquefies the muscles and tissues of the prey. It then sucks out the liquefied tissue, killing its host.

Although milkweed assassin bugs vary in appearance worldwide, those found in the United States are distinctly orange and black. Photo by Gerald J. Lenhard, Louisiana State University, Bugwood.org.

Although milkweed assassin bugs vary in appearance worldwide, those found in the United States are distinctly orange and black. Photo by Gerald J. Lenhard, Louisiana State University, Bugwood.org.

Assassin bugs feed on a wide range of insects, including many types of caterpillars, stinkbugs, aphids, flies, beetles, and even mosquitoes.

While assassin bugs are our garden allies, be mindful, as their injection does pack quite the punch! Fortunately, although a “bite” from an assassin bug is painful, they do not generally require medical attention. But do seek medical attention if it causes any type of allergic reaction such as swelling, itching, hives, or difficulty breathing.

There are nearly 3,000 known assassin bug species, including many in Florida. Common species you may come across in your Florida garden are the wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) and the milkweed assassin bug (Zelus longipes). Give them their space but know that they are on your side.

Learn more about wheel bugs and milkweed assassin bugs at the UF/IFAS Featured Creatures website:

The Mighty Squash Vine Borer

The Mighty Squash Vine Borer

Adult squash vine borer moths are easy to identify, as they are reddish orange and have black dots along their upper abdomen. Photo by Theresa Friday.

Adult squash vine borer moths are easy to identify, as they are reddish orange and have black dots along their upper abdomen. Photo by Theresa Friday.

It’s been a few weeks, and your squash seedlings are really starting to take off. The days are blushing with summer warmth and the flicker of lightning bugs in the evening indicates the cool nip of spring is winding down. In your garden, this has culminated in lengthening cucurbit stems that now show off a beautiful bright shade of green. Squash blossoms appear overnight and begin to expand and take shape, nestling themselves under the backdrop of slightly darker green squash leaves.

Black beauty zucchini blossom in the morning sun. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Black beauty zucchini blossom in the morning sun. Photo by Molly Jameson.

A few more nights go by, giving you a chance to explore some recipes. Maybe it’s time to fire up the grill and make grilled summer squash, sprinkled with fresh mint or thyme. Perhaps you’ll make a summer squash pesto pizza. Afterall, your basil is ready for its first harvest. If you are ahead of the game, you might even have some vine-ripening tomatoes that would pair nicely with squash in a creamy pasta sauce.

Your culinary dreams are running wild when you start to notice the wilt. You panic, and think you’ve forgotten to water the garden. But no, you’ve given your garden a consistent dose of water every morning. Your basil looks fine. Your tomatoes look great. What is going on?

Squash vine borer adult in flight. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Squash vine borer adult in flight. Photo by Molly Jameson.

You have fallen prey to the dreaded squash vine borer (Melittia cucurbitae).

These garden pests rely strictly on plant species within the genus Cucurbita. If the squash vine borer didn’t wreak such havoc in your summer garden, you might find its striking red and black features fascinating. Unfortunately, if your squash plants are wilting unexpectedly, this daytime roaming moth may have already done its damage.

Adults lay single reddish-brown, millimeter-long eggs on the lower end of the main stem – or on leaves, leaf stalks, fruit buds, or in the soil near the squash plant. Within one to two weeks, larvae hatch, bore into the stem of healthy cucurbits, and begin to chew their way up. Multiple larvae can infect a single plant. This blocks the transport of water and nutrients, leading to the dreadful wilt that often signifies that it is too late.

A squash plant severely damaged by squash vine borer larvae. Photo by Molly Jameson.

A squash plant severely damaged by squash vine borer larvae. Photo by Molly Jameson.

So, what can be done? Once the wilting has begun, you may be able to reap a small harvest, depending on the timing of infestation. Adult females emerge from cocoons from May to October in Florida and have two generations per season. They prefer cucurbit varieties with large tubular stems, such as yellow squash, zucchini, and pumpkins, but can also infest watermelon and cucumbers.

If you have some cucurbits that do not show signs of infestation but others that are on the decline, it might be worth removing and destroying the infested plants. At the end of the season, cultivate your soil one to two inches deep, as this is where they overwinter in cocoons. Destroying infested plants and cultivation can help reduce the overwintering population.

Squash vine borer larvae inside a squash stem. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Squash vine borer larvae inside a squash stem. Photo by Molly Jameson.

In North Florida, try seeding squash indoors in March and plant seedlings in the garden in early April. The earlier you plant, the better chance you have of beating the borers. Of course, you must balance the risk of borers with the risk of a late frost.

You may also want to install lightweight floating row covers that can prevent the female from depositing her eggs. But again, it’s a delicate balance, as you do not want to prevent beneficial insects from pollinating your squash once it is producing blossoms.

Scout your plants diligently each day and keep on the lookout for eggs and adults. Adults are attracted to the color yellow, so yellow sticky traps or yellow bowls of water may lure them in. Build up the soil around developing plants to act as a shield against egg laying and boring.

A healthy straightneck squash plant beginning to set fruit. Photo by Molly Jameson.

A healthy straightneck squash plant beginning to set fruit. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Once your plants slow their fruit production and you’ve had your fill of grilled squash, squash pizza, and creamy squash pasta, go ahead and remove the plants to prevent late infestations that can then overwinter. Lastly, rotate areas in which you plant cucurbits each year to break borer life cycles.

Vegetable gardening involves innovation and ingenuity. A clever gardener is always striving to balance weather, timing, insects, plants, soil, and everything in between. With a little planning and persistence, I know you can prevail against the tenacious squash vine borer.

For more information about squash vine borers, check out the UF/IFAS EDIS publication, Squash Vine Borer Melittia cucurbitae (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in1068).

Stocking Your Garden Arsenal During COVID-19

Stocking Your Garden Arsenal During COVID-19

During the COVID-19 crisis, many of us have found that we have more time for activities at home. One activity that can be beneficial to your mental and physical health is gardening. Not only will gardening get you moving physically, but simply being outdoors can help you feel more relaxed during these stressful times. By vegetable gardening, you get the added bonus of becoming more self-sufficient by growing your own healthy food.

You can still gather your gardening supplies at local garden centers during COVID-19. Photo by Brenda Buchan.

To grow vegetables successfully, you will need some basic gardening supplies. This includes seeds or seedlings, fertile soil, gardening tools, and irrigation materials. If you are an avid gardener, you may already have these items at your house. But if you are new to gardening – or if you are simply missing an essential item in your everyday gardening arsenal – where do you go?

Thankfully in Florida, industries regarded as essential during these tough times include food, agriculture, and infrastructure support services. This means farmers, farm workers, farmers’ markets, produce stands, food banks, agribusiness support services, and landscaping services can continue to operate.

But for these essential services to operate safely, they still need to follow social distancing principles to protect the health of both their customers and workers. Therefore, many of our agriculture and horticulture industry personnel are finding ways to adapt. Although this involves making many adjustments, operations such as garden centers and plant nurseries are changing how they function to meet the demand of their customers while remaining safe.

Become more self-sufficient by growing your own healthy food in your backyard. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Become more self-sufficient by growing your own healthy food in your backyard. Photo by Molly Jameson.

For example, Native Nurseries in Tallahassee has temporarily closed its doors to the public, but they offer pickup and delivery options that are consistent with social distancing guidelines. Customers can either email or call the nursery and provide their contact and billing information, their purchase requests, and specify either pickup or delivery. Pickup orders are placed in a labeled designated parking space for the customer. For a fee, Native Nurseries also offers delivery of purchased items.

If you plan to make a trip to a garden center or plant nursery, call ahead or check the company’s website to learn about its social distancing policies, pickup and delivery options, and any potentially reduced hours of operation.

By continuing to support our local agriculture and horticulture businesses, we can ensure that they can weather this storm and continue to provide us with their essential services long into the future.

So, gather your supplies, stay home, and get your spring and summer vegetable garden growing!

For more information about essential services in Florida, visit: https://www.floridadisaster.org/.

Cutworms, the Moonlit Garden Vandals

Cutworms, the Moonlit Garden Vandals

Larva of the granulate cutworm (Feltia subterranea). Photo by John L. Capinera, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

Larva of the granulate cutworm (Feltia subterranea). Photo by John L. Capinera, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

 

One of the biggest predicaments growing vegetables in my backyard garden is dealing with cutworms. Cutworms are a type of nocturnal moth larvae that feed by wrapping themselves around seedling stems at the soil surface. They then cut the stem of the seedling in two – as if Edward Scissorhands dropped by for a visit – killing the plant. There are multiple species, but one of the most common in Florida is the granulate cutworm (Feltia subterranea). They are distributed most frequently in the tropics but can occur as far north as Southern Canada and regularly occur in the Southeastern United States.

My plan was to install cutworm collars the next morning. But that night, cutworms chewed through the stem of this tomato seedling in two locations. Photo by Molly Jameson.

My plan was to install cutworm collars the next morning. But that night, cutworms chewed through the stem of this tomato seedling in two locations. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Since cutworms feed at nighttime it is particularly frustrating, as you will find plants which appeared fine in the evening destroyed by morning. What’s even more frustrating is they feed in multiple seasons on a very wide range of crops, including tomatoes, beans, corn, eggplant, lettuce, peppers, watermelon, celery, broccoli, cabbage, and kale, to name a few. This fall and winter, I even found they had attacked my carrots and onions, which I thought would be more resistant.

One approach a backyard gardener can take in combatting cutworms is to use physical barriers. Netting or row cover can help prevent mature moths from ovipositing their eggs. But if you already have larvae invading, this technique will be ineffective.

For plants with stems less than pencil-width thick, make cutworm collars to help protect young seedlings from attack. Photo by Molly Jameson.

For plants with stems less than pencil-width thick, make cutworm collars to help protect young seedlings from attack. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Plants with stems that are less than pencil-width thick are most susceptible to cutworm damage. A useful tactic is to make what are called “cutworm collars.” Surround individual seedlings with toilet paper rolls, taking care not to break fragile stems as you position the rolls over the plants. Materials such as soda cans or cereal boxes can be cut into strips to encircle seedlings if toilet paper rolls are too small to safely fit over the plant. Try to extend the cardboard two inches below and two inches above the soil surface. In this way, the cardboard acts as a barrier, and can help keep cutworms from accessing the stems.

Unfortunately, if cutworms are already hiding in soil close to the plants, the collars might not be effective. Another technique to try, especially if cutworms are already present, is the toothpick method. Place two toothpicks vertically in the soil on each side of the stem. They should be right up against the stem. In this manner, the toothpicks should prevent the cutworm from wrapping around the stem to chew through.

This onion start was given a moonlit haircut by feasting cutworms. If you are lucky, you may be able to find the culprit by digging around the soil adjacent to the afflicted plant. Photo by Molly Jameson.

This onion start was given a moonlit haircut by feasting cutworms. If you are lucky, you may be able to find the culprit by digging around the soil adjacent to the afflicted plant. Photo by Molly Jameson.

It can also be helpful to scout your garden for cutworms. Carefully dig one to two inches into the soil near afflicted seedlings. The caterpillars are small, growing from a few millimeters up to less than two inches in length, but tend to stay curled up near the soil surface within about a foot radius of their vegetative victims. Crush any cutworms you find, or for the squeamish, simply drop the cutworms into soapy water.

Applying the bacterial insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (Bt for short) may help control cutworms but be sure to apply in the evenings and not before a rainfall or irrigation event, as sunlight and water render Bt useless. And keep in mind, cutworms must digest Bt to be effective, so you may need to apply multiple applications. As with any insecticide, always remember to follow the directions on the label. Once seedling stems grow larger than pencil-width, they should be safe from cutworm mayhem. That is… until the next garden vandal comes along!

To learn more, visit the University of Florida Entomology and Nematology Department’s Featured Creatures page about the granulate cutworm (http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/veg/granulate_cutworm.htm). You can also search for cutworms on the UF/IFAS EDIS website to learn about additional cutworm species found in our area (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/).