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aphids

Vegetable Garden

How to get rid of Mealy Cabbage Aphids on your Greens without Chemicals

June 12, 2018

How to get rid of Mealy Cabbage Aphids on your Greens without Chemicals

Mealy Cabbage Aphids on Brassica Crops

There are a vast array of aphids in the natural world. We usually think of greenfly on our roses or black bean aphids on our broad beans but there are many more varieties of these little pests, including Mealy Cabbage Aphids. They are all unwelcome visitors to our vegetable, community gardens and allotments but there’s an easy way to dissuade them. Creating great soil conditions that keep your plants healthy and attracting beneficial insects is a start.

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Aphids have a tendency to head for the soft tips of our plants, reducing yields as they munch their way through flower and growing tips. They leave their skins, wax and honeydew in situ as they move from one plant to another, often killing young plants and attracting ants who like to farm the aphids for their sticky excretions.

How to get rid of Mealy Cabbage Aphids on your Greens without ChemicalsMealy Cabbage Aphids can transmit virus, including turnip mosaic virus and cauliflower mosaic virus as they pierce the leaves with their proboscis, sucking the sap and then depositing the virus into the next plant as they move around. They can smother leaves, flowers and stems, look unsightly and make the vegetables quite unappealing and unappetising.

One of the first and most important steps in Integrated Pest Management is prevention, making the crop walk a necessary and vital element of organic gardening and growing. If you do it regularly, you’ll notice changes in your plants before major problems occur. If you’re not sure what to look for, invest in a good book such as the RHS Pests and Diseases by Pippa Greenwood. An invaluable asset on any gardener’s bookshelf.

Unfortunately, we missed the attack of the Mealy Cabbage Aphids on the kale plants photographed above. We were leaving the plants to set seed in Gleann na Bearu community garden, hoping to save the Irish Seed Saver seeds for the next growing season. By the time we spotted the little pests, we were only able to rescue a handful of seed pods, the rest of the plants were too late to save.

How to recognise a Mealy Cabbage Aphid Attack

The first symptom of an attack in vegetable Brassica that include greens such as kale, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, swede, broccoli and calabrese are small, bleached patches on the leaves. You will then notice that the patches become yellow and the leaves crumple. Small, wingless, bluish-grey aphids up to 2.6mm long cluster together, often on the undersides or tips of the leaves.

Non Chemical Control for Mealy Cabbage Aphids

How to get rid of Mealy Cabbage Aphids on your Greens without ChemicalsVigilance is the number one control.

If you spot aphids of any kind early enough, you can rub them off with your finger tips or blast them with the hose if the plants aren’t too delicate.

Remove and destroy infected leaves and stems, don’t compost them; the pests will simply move from your compost heap back to your plants.

Provide Habitats

Providing habitats for natural predators such as parasitic wasps, ladybirds, hoverflies, lacewings, spiders and predatory flies will help with organic pest control. Herbs such as Calendula, chives, feverfew, yarrow, dill, fennel, marigold, angelica and caraway will attract ladybirds, as will leaving patches of stinging nettles. Avoid sprays of any kind. Even ‘natural’ soap sprays are indiscriminate, killing the beneficial insects as well as the pests.  There’s a lovely list of plants that attract beneficial insects on the Permaculture News website.

I hope you haven’t suffered a serious aphid attack in your garden but if you did, which ones have been the most problematic for you?

Vegetable Garden

12 Garden Pests We Don’t Want To See In Our Veggies

April 30, 2014

Sometime’s it seems there are more bad guys in the garden than good. When we emptied a large strawberry container this week in a HSE garden that caters for adults with intellectual disabilities, we found four of the ten pests listed below in one container alone! When we’re gardening without chemicals it can be a challenge but not impossible to either get rid of, or contain the pests and the first step is identifying the good guys from the bad, something covered a couple of weeks ago with the 12 Friends We Want to See in Our Gardens blog post.

Companion Planting Nasturtiums

Companion Planting Nasturtiums

To identify the pests we need to see them first so the first rule of thumb when dealing with pests organically is vigilance. Check your vegetables regularly, daily if possible and if you spot anything unusual, try to find out what it is and deal with it immediately – it’s very unlikely it will go away on its own.

One of my favourite books to help identify pests and diseases is the RHS Pest & Disease book and I’d recommend it for all gardeners shelves. After vigilance there are several things we can do to prevent a build up of pests, from good soil management, hygiene, crop rotation, companion planting as well as learning pest life-cycles (the weevil below is a case in point), using fresh compost and encouraging beneficial wildlife – all topics covered in my workshops. To help you begin the pest ID, here are a dozen I’ve come across, though there are many more.

Leatherjacket

Leatherjacket – root eating cranefly larvae

1. Leatherjackets

Not the ones we wear, but little grey-brown grubs. Leatherjackets are the larvae of crane fly and are root eaters. They’re fleshy with no legs and can grow as big as 50mm. For more information on how to identify and get rid of them, take a look here.

photo credit: E_Journeys via photopin cc

photo credit: E_Journeys via photopin cc

2. Cutworms

Cutworms are moth larvae that generally live under the soil and are again, root feeders.

They’re larger than the leatherjackets mentioned above and are a green, grey, brown colour about 2.5 cm long. Supernemos are available online if you’ve noticed a particular problem with these grubs or the leatherjackets.

cabbage white caterpillars3. Caterpillars

Cabbage white butterflies and moths start appearing around May and lay their eggs on the undersides of Brassica leaves (kale, cabbage, broccoli). The eggs hatch and the caterpillars feast on the leaves of seedlings you may have lovingly grown, leaving gaping holes and if left unchecked, no leaves whatsoever.

There are a few ways of dealing with caterpillars organically. First of all cover the bed your Brassica are growing in with netting made with holes small enough the butterfly can’t squeeze through to lay her eggs. Make sure the net is fixed to a frame and not sitting directly on top of the plants or the butterfly will lay her eggs through it. If you do spot signs of caterpillars, pick them off the plants and destroy them or move them to a sacrificial plant such as nasturtiums where they can chomp away without damaging your precious leaves.

snails4. Slugs & Snails

I could spend every lesson in every workshop discussing slugs and snails as they’re the bane of gardeners lives! Instead I wrote a blog post that has 15 ways of dealing with them organically and a few more comments have been added to the list. Take a look if slugs & snails are your nemesis.

Carrot Root Fly Damage

Carrot Root Fly Damage – spot the larvae

5. Carrot Root Fly

I think I’d heard about carrot root fly long before we began growing veg but only came across this pest recently. Boy does it do some damage. I won’t go into detail here as I dedicated a blog post to it after we discovered it in Callan community garden, but trust me, you really don’t want this pest in your garden.

aphids7. Aphids

Greenfly, blackly – most of us are familiar with aphids in one guise or another.

They love our roses and they love our broad beans and they breed like mad. Here’s a post all about them with a few suggestions on how to keep on top of them.

spidermite8. Red Spidermite

My polytunnel became so infested with red spidermite last year I had to take everything out and wash the tunnel and everything it contained from top to bottom because the spidermite had infected it all. It was a demoralising experience that I don’t want a repeat of, ever. How did it happen? I took my eye off and didn’t spot them early enough. It was a hot summer and I didn’t keep the polytunnel damp enough – red spidermite thrive in hot, dry conditions. There’s no excuse as I’ve seen infestations a couple of times. Here’s a post about a red spidermite attack we spotted early enough in Goresbridge Community Garden a couple of years ago you might like to look at for tips and suggestions.

weevil grub

photo credit: Scot Nelson via photopin cc

9. Weevils

Whether the weevils are after your legumes as in pea and bean weevil or after your strawberries, as in strawberry weevil, they’re a curse as the distinctive orange headed larvae eat the roots and the adults eat the leaves. The Irish produced Supernemos are said to be effective against strawberry weevils and may well be the answer.

Beet leaf miner10. Leaf Beet Miner

Beet miner’s are maggots that have hatched from fly eggs laid between the layers of leaves. There’s no cure, organic or otherwise, other than vigilance. Once you spot them, remove the infected leaves and the plants will recover. This post explains them in more detail.

Cockchafer (May Bug) aka root eater11. Chafer Grubs

The first time I came across one of these grubs (cockchafer pictured on the left) it reminded me of the enormous widgedeygrubs our children are fascinated with on ‘I’m A Celebrity’.  Almost the size of your thumb they eat roots and once they pupate the cockchafers will become Mays Bugs or Billy witches. We tried watering Supernemos onto the raised beds in Leighlin Parish Community Garden the first year we came across them and didn’t see them again as a result.

12. Gooseberry Sawfly

gooseberry sawfly

gooseberry sawfly larvae

Lots of people were tweeting about gooseberry sawfly larvae damage last year – a caterpillar than can literary strip bushes bare in just a couple of days. They’re also partial to currant bushes which I learnt when they took a liking to our red currant bush. Here’s a post on how to deal with them. I heard a tip recently suggesting laying rhubarb leaves at the base of bushes to deter this fly – something I’ll be trying soon.

There are many more pests and just when we think we’ve seen them all, along comes a new one. Lots of people have mentioned the weevils this year and ants seem to be causing a problem too. Ants won’t damage your garden but they do harvest aphids, a sprinkling of cinnamon or semolina powder seems to sort them out however.  I have a general rule of thumb in our garden – as long as the bugs aren’t trying to eat our vegetables, they can stay.

Have you come across any pests that have had you hopping mad at the destruction they’ve caused?

Vegetable Garden

12 Beneficial Creatures We Want To See In Our Gardens

April 22, 2014

Gardening for Beginners

When we began growing our own food in the Greenside Up garden, one of the early problems we encountered happened when we were trying to identify the ‘good’ wildlife from the ‘bad’. This was before the days of Google and we had no idea whether we were looking at friends or foe scampering across the plants and soil. It’s much easier to check today, but to help you encourage beneficial insects and other creatures into your garden, I’ve compiled a list of a dozen that might help you to ditch the chemicals for good and garden more sustainably.

List of 12 Friendly Creatures in Our Gardens

Ten facts about earthworms1. Worms

The hardworking invertebrate of the soil, worms are one of our number one friends. A lack of worms indicates a poor soil but adding lots of home-made compost or well-rotted organic matter will soon encourage them back. Here’s ten facts about earthworms you may not know. I was particularly surprised to learn that light paralyses them.

photo credit: bleu.geo via photopin cc

photo credit: bleu.geo via photopin cc

 

2. Solitary Wasps

Not all wasps are bad guys intent on stinging us. Solitary wasps tunnel out nests in rotten wood and sandy soil. They fill their nests with aphids, flies, weevils or other insects to feed their young.

 

photo credit: Derek.P. via photopin cc

Song Thrush: photo credit: Derek.P. via photopin cc

3. Birds

Song Thrushes like to eat slugs and snails and Blue Tits eat caterpillars. Buying bird feed that specifically encourages these species into your gardens will help to keep a check on the pests activities.

 

 

photo credit: Dluogs via photopin cc

photo credit: Dluogs via photopin cc

 

4. Beetles

Carabid Beetles (or ground beetles) live mainly on the soil surface and are mostly black, brown or metallic green. The larvae prey on many insects, including slugs and pest eggs. If you’re laying beer traps to attract slugs and snails, always make sure the traps are positioned just above the soil line so that the beetles don’t accidentally fall in.

The majestic Devil’s Coach Horse Beetles are often found under stones, logs or pots. They eat slugs, cutworms and leatherjackets among other things.

photo credit: sankax via photopin cc

photo credit: sankax via photopin cc

5. Wolf spiders

Have you ever spotted spiders scampering around as you weed? I’m slightly nervous of spiders but always leave these guys alone as they eat many insects.

 

 

photo credit: Gilles San Martin via photopin cc

photo credit: Gilles San Martin via photopin cc

6. Ladybirds

Newcomers to gardening may be forgiven for thinking that ladybird larva look like something that will cause damage. If you do kill them, you’re ridding yourself of an
insect that can eat between 200-400 aphids before it pupates into the more familiar ladybird we’re accustomed to.

 

 

7. Hoverflies

photo credit: mausboam via photopin cc

photo credit: mausboam via photopin cc

Only the larvae of hoverfly eat aphids but planting flowers such as limnanthes (poached egg flower) or any other yellow or white flowers that happen to be particularly attractive to them, will encourage hoverflies into your gardens and help to keep the aphid population down.

I know I’ve mistaken these for caterpillars in the past, a pest we don’t want on our veggies, so do look closely before you automatically rid your plants of all insects.

 

photo credit: nutmeg66 via photopin cc

photo credit: nutmeg66 via photopin cc

8. Lacewings

Again, ferocious eaters of aphids, the delicate lacewings can be attracted into your garden by careful  planting. The female lacewings can lay up to 400 eggs. As they hatch and the larvae grow they can eat up to 600 aphids before they become adults, about a month later.

If you have an aphid infestation, try spraying a plant or two with a sugar-water solution (1 tablespoon sugar per 200ml water) which may help to attract lacewings.

Garden centres often sell lacewing attracting pheromones and bug houses too.

photo credit: Mick E. Talbot via photopin cc

photo credit: Mick E. Talbot via photopin cc

9. Centipedes

I often have to check twice whether centipedes are friend are foe as they don’t look especially appealing! However, if you do spot them in your garden, leave them be.

Centipedes live in the surface of the soil and shelter in pots, logs and under stones. They prey on several different small soil animals as well as their eggs.

 

Beneficial Bee10. Bees

Hopefully by now everyone is aware just how beneficial bees are to our very existence. It’s been said that if the bees die out, the human population will only survive for another four years. Here’s a post I wrote recently that suggests five ways we can help bees survive. Number six on the list would be to become a beekeeper, a hobby many are taking up to protect and help them.

 

Permission: British Hedgehog Preservation Society

Permission: British Hedgehog Preservation Society

11. Hedgehogs

One of the most viewed posts on this blog is about getting rid of slugs organically. Hedgehogs love to eat slugs so if you can find a way of encouraging them into your garden you’re on to a winner. They do however, like to eat worms so perhaps encourage them away from your compost heap!

 

froggy12. Frogs and Toads

Adding a pond has been on our list of garden improvements for a long time and hopefully we might manage it this year because frogs and toads just love to eat slugs and snails. Whether you have the space for a pond or just a small water feature, by it into your garden you are likely to attract more beneficial wildlife into your garden.

Stop using chemicals

If you’ve used chemicals of any description in your garden in the past, it may take a while for the natural balance to restore itself. However, by planting a broad range of insect attracting flowers, native hedgerows, adding organic matter on a regular basis or leaving out specific feeds to attract different creatures, you’ll begin to encourage all the beneficial creatures to return to your garden, helping to keep the bad guys at bay.

There are many other gardeners friends, from bats and ducks to parasitic wasps, did any in the list above surprise you? You might not like the idea of sharing the outdoors with a few of these but it’s unlikely you’ll come across too many of them as most are tiny and they like to keep themselves to themselves. Have you come across any creatures that could be added to the list? I’d love to hear about them.

 

Vegetable Garden

Not everything green in the garden is good…

July 24, 2013

The beans have them, the chives have had them, the weeds have them and the windowbox lettuce is full of them…. do you have them? We’re talking aphids, greenfly or blackfly as they’re more commonly known and due to the warm weather there’s been a population explosion in the garden this year!

aphids2013 might go down in the record books for high temperatures and fabulous fruit harvests but in many gardens it will also go down as the worse aphid invasion for many years.

Despite planting lots of companion plants to attract beneficial insects, hoverflies and ladybirds have been very scarce in our own garden this summer. We spotted the first of both only a week ago which is way too late to handle this kind of infestation.

Greenfly on roses

Aphids on roses

In an attempt to control them, during the heatwave I washed the aphids off the roses and broad beans with the hose every other evening, holding the buds in my hand and rubbing the flies between my fingers as I sprayed to ensure that water wasn’t wasted. However, I soon realised that wasn’t enough to stop them reappearing a couple of days later so made a garlic soap spray for the first time in years which was carefully applied to rose buds and bean tops to halt the aphid breeding cycle. I haven’t removed the bean tops just yet which is usually recommended as the seeds were planted late and we need to see a bit more height in the plants before we halt their growth. Any day now I’ll be nipping the tops off and feeding them to our pigs! In the meantime the recent rain will help to control the aphid infestation.

Dealing with aphids and greenfly without chemicals is more labour intensive than the chemical alternative but it can be done. If you’d like to know more about their rapid breeding cycle take a look at an old Wednesday Wiggler blog post here. There’s also a blog post written here about mealy cabbage aphids you might like to check out.

Have you noticed a particularly troublesome bug this summer?

Vegetable Garden

Wednesday Wigglers ~ Aphids

March 28, 2011

The aphid group includes all aphids, blackfly and greenfly and are definitely FOE.

Greenfly on roses

Aphids on roses

They vary from green, pink, and yellow, black, greyish-white to brown and are about 2mm long. Most of us would be familiar with greenfly on our roses or blackfly on our  broad beans.

Blackbean Aphid

Black bean Aphid

What are aphids?

Aphids are sap sucking insects and produce honeydew that sooty mould can form on. They attack exposed parts of plants and roots. They can spread virus and ants farm them.

Aphid Life cycle

A newborn becomes a reproducing adult at one week old and can then produce five offspring per day for up to 30 days.  Aphids can reproduce asexually. As it’s babies all have babies after just one week, by the time the first newborn reaches the end of its reproductive life there could be 1,590,155 of the little devils! Just to make matters worse they can overwinter too unless we experience very cold temperatures.

How can we manage aphids?

Limnanthes (poached egg flower) excellent companion flower as attracts hoverflies

Limnanthes (poached egg flower) excellent companion flower that attracts hoverflies

Companion planting can encourage beneficial insects and predators such as hoverfly and lacewing larvae into gardens. Insecticidal soap is very effective but kill beneficial insects too so should be used with caution. Protective cloches can be places over crops to prevent aphids infesting them but as the little insects are so tiny they would be very difficult to stop.  Squashing them between your fingers or spraying them off plants with a blast of water from the hose works well too but you have to check the plants daily to prevent a major infestation occurring.