April is Safe Digging Month

April is Safe Digging Month

Call 811 before you dig. No one wants a weekend project to be the cause of Internet, phone and cable outages. Worse yet, what if someone gets hurt from contact with natural gas or electrical lines? That’s why it is so important to have buried utilities in the yard located and marked before digging. Sunshine 811 coordinates each individual company to clearly mark where the service lines are located. Homeowners are required by law to contact 811 three days before any soil removal is done. The service is free.

Have information prepared before making the request. Describe the work to be performed (e.g. fence install, landscaping, irrigation install), including the type of equipment that will be used. Specify the exact location on the property and how long the work will continue. Finally, provide all the contact information (e.g. name, phone number, e-mail), should there be any additional questions.

Call 811 or request a single address ticket online. Receive a ticket number and wait two full business days, not counting weekends or holidays. Then contact 811 again. Make sure that all the utilities have responded in the Positive Response System (PRS). Sometimes that may mean that the company doesn’t have anything to make in the area.

If there are utility lines running through the yard, they will be marked with specifically colored paints or flags. Red is used for electrical lines, orange indicates communication lines, yellow means gas, blue is used for potable water, purple is reclaimed water, and green indicates sewer lines. White lines may be used to outline digging areas and pink are temporary survey marks. This is the APWA Uniform Color Code.

Every effort is made to locate the lines as accurately as possible. But, the safest thing to do is hand dig to expose the utility line before using any mechanized equipment. Lines can vary up to 24” from the marked line and depths can be less than 5”. Remember there may be access lines running through the property even if that service isn’t utilized at that address.

Keep safe this spring. Call 811 before digging.

Northwest FL Pest Management Conference

Northwest FL Pest Management Conference

The UF/IFAS Extension and FAMU will be bringing the Florida Pest Management Conference to Milton on April 17th.  Attend to earn CEUs for your PCO License.  Attendance is free and we are currently seeking sponsors at $80 per sponsoring business/organization.  For more details and to register, please visit the conference webpage at Northwest Pest Management Conference.

Planning the Garden: Crop Rotation

Planning the Garden: Crop Rotation

With spring on the horizon, many of us are planning or have already began to plant our spring gardens. If you’re still in the planning process like me, one very important thing to consider is the importance of crop rotation in the garden. Crop rotation is a concept that’s been used by farmers for many years but it’s a concept that gardeners need to adopt as well!

What is crop rotation?

Crop rotation is a method used to reduce insect pests, disease and manage soil fertility by changing the planting location of vegetables within the garden each season. Each vegetable is grouped into a plant family. Vegetables in the same plant family typically are able to harbor the same kinds of insect pests and diseases, and have the similar nutrient requirements. When vegetables belonging to the same plant family are planted in the same location over and over again, pest populations can build up and productivity of the garden decreases. In addition, fertility issues can arise from planting the same crops, in the same area over again. Since different crops require different types and amounts of nutrients, crop rotation can help even out the loss of soil nutrients.

List of common vegetable families.

How should I plan for crop rotation in my garden?

First, consider the vegetables you would like to grow this season then group them by their families. Vegetable crops in the same family should NOT be planted in the same area year after year. For example, if squash is planted in a bed or one area of the garden one year, cucumbers or watermelons should not be planted in the same area of the garden the following year because these plants belong to the same family (Cucurbitaceae).

Divide your garden according to the number of plant families you want to grow. This could be in rows or even separate beds. From there, you will want to think about your ordering sequence. For example, if you are planting a legume (beans or peas) that fixes nitrogen back into the soil this spring, you’ll want to plant a heavy feeding crop like broccoli this fall. Heavy feeding crops can be followed by light feeding crops such as carrots or onions. Be sure to keep a gardening journal as a reminder of what is planted each year and season.

Crop rotation is one of the most effective methods we have to manage the many pests and diseases we have here in Florida. If you’re struggling with a particular pest or disease in your garden, consider using crop rotation to help manage it. For more information on crop rotations for the home garden, contact your local extension agent.

Improving Soil Health, Suppressing Weeds, and Attracting Good Bugs

Improving Soil Health, Suppressing Weeds, and Attracting Good Bugs

Many gardeners plant a spring vegetable garden with a number of different vegetable types, which is excellent because a diverse and varied garden is proven to improve soil health. Intercropping is a gardening practice of growing different crops in the same field.  When planting a mixture of crops in the same field year after year, it is important to rotate the location of each type of vegetable.  This is a practice known as crop rotation.  Intercropping and crop rotation will help reduce insect pest populations, increase beneficial insect populations, and reduce weed populations .

Crop Diversity

Including plants that pest insects don’t like to eat in a garden forces the pests work harder to find what they find palatable. Studies have found reduced whitefly numbers on squash plantings mixed with a crop of buckwheat when compared to squash planted alone.  Another crop mixture that may be unintentional, but may be favorable, is a crapemyrtle stand along a garden’s edge.  Crapemyrtles will attract the crapemyrtle aphid which will attract predatory insects. When the predatory insects run out of crapemyrtle aphids to eat, they will move to the vegetable garden and begin to hunt pest insects.

Squash with living mulch of buckwheat. Photo Credit: Oscar Liburd, UF/IFAS Extension

Trap Cropping

A trap crop is a plant that attracts a pest insect away from your food crops.  Trap crops work best when planted at the garden’s edge, along a fence row, or in movable containers.  A bare space, let’s say 5 feet or so, should be kept between trap crops and vegetable plantings.  This will help keep the pests from moving desirable crops plants.  When a large population of pests are found on the trap crop then it is time to spray them with insecticide, or cut the crop down and remove or destroy the debris. If trap crops are planted in containers, then it makes them much easier to remove from the garden when necessary.

Cover Crops and Green Manure

Soil organic matter can be increased by the use of green manure and cover crops.  Cover crops are generally planted during the off-season, but they can be planted in between vegetable rows and tilled in at a designated time as a green manure.  Both cover crops and green manure improve garden production by:

  • Suppressing weeds by competing for water, light, and nutrients;
  • Holding the soil in place and preventing erosion;
  • Scavenging for nutrients that can be utilized in future crops;
  • Reducing nematode populations;
  • Providing a habitat for beneficial insects.

A mixed plot of cover crops and trap crops. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, UF/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

A number of different crops can serve as cover crops or green manure crops.  Most are legumes (bean family) or grasses.  A few that should be tried are:

  • Cowpeas
  • Sunn hemp
  • Sorghum-sudangrass
  • Winter rye

More detailed information on cover crops and green manure can be found at this link: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/aa217.

Beneficial Wasp is Effective Control for Tomato Hornworm

Beneficial Wasp is Effective Control for Tomato Hornworm

This tomato hornworm is being parasitized by beneficial wasps. Photo credit: Henry Crenshaw

Why would anyone allow dozens of wasps to thrive in their garden? Why would they let caterpillars keep moving through their pepper bushes? Don’t they know you can spray for that?

As Extension agents, one of the tenets we “preach” in gardening is the concept of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This technique involves a series of insect control measures that begin with the “least toxic” method of control, using chemicals as a last resort. One of those least toxic measures is “biological control”, in which a natural predator or parasite is recognized and allowed to remove a pest insect naturally. It is important to be able to recognize some of the more common garden predators and parasites. Many times these insects look strange or dangerous, and they are mistaken for pests and killed.

One such beneficial insect to the home gardener is the braconid wasp (Cotesia congregatus). Most people shudder at the mention of wasps, but these tiny (1/8 inch long), mostly transparent wasps are of no danger to humans. Quite the opposite–they are an excellent addition to gardens, especially if you are growing tomatoes or peppers. One of the major pests to these favorite vegetables is the tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata), a fat green and white-striped caterpillar.

The beneficial wasp can control hornworms because females lay eggs under the caterpillar’s skin, after which the eggs hatch and larvae feed on the hornworm. After eating through the caterpillar, they form dozens of tiny white cocoons on the caterpillar’s skin. The tomato hornworm is rendered weak and near death, and the vegetable crop is saved.

If you happen to find a tomato hornworm covered in these small oval cocoons, consider yourself lucky. Let the process continue, allowing the new generation of beneficial wasps to hatch and continue their life cycle. They will control any future hornworms in your garden, and the whole process is fascinating to watch!

For questions on integrated pest management, beneficial insects, or growing peppers and tomatoes, call your local County Extension office.