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MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS

A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH

Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.

6421 W. Poinsettia Drive

Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419

623-334-8014

 

WATER AND PESTS

 

One reader asked about squash borers and whether a lack of water had something to do with their predation. That was a good question, because it brought up two important topics.

 

Insects will attack weak plants, and weak plants will easily show the effects of insect damage. One response is to lay down enough insecticide so that nothing moves in the garden. Some also use pre-emergent weed killer (a poison, read the package) to wipe out weeds as well. One featured gardening expert almost made me barf when he talked about using pre-emergent weed-killer and hosing down the garden with bug poison. He was sensitive enough to avoid times when bees might be trying to make a living.

 

What do I do to avoid insect damage? Nothing. OK, I work fairly hard at letting God do all the work.

 

A.    Soil. All of human, animal, and plant life depends on healthy soil. That means an abundance of soil micro-organisms, water, and humus. The micro-organisms are the foundation of all life. Dry out the soil and the micro-organisms will cease, starting a chain reaction ending in the Sahara Desert. The glue that holds soil together depends on moisture. Humus is formed from the rotting of organic mater, and that rotting must have water. The soil may be sandy or clay, but in either case water and organic matter will create the foundation of micro-organisms used by soil creatures and the ultimate earth-mover, God’s little gardener, the earthworm. In the case of squash borers, they like a plant that needs plenty of water and nutrition. Squash are called heavy feeders. Stress them with low water or poor soil and the resistance to insects will decrease. Tissue splits. Insects stop by to take advantage.

B.    Birds. One can never do too much to encourage birds to feed in the yard all day. Some of the best bug eaters are those birds who haunt the suet all winter: chickadees, starlings, black birds, nuthatches, and so forth. If I had squash pests, I would make sure that the plants had plenty of organically enriched soil, plenty of water, plenty of mulch. Then I would toss popcorn, crackers, cookies, and bread near the plants, to encourage birds to stroll along and look for food. Starlings—common, hard-working, and unappreciated—are especially good at preying upon insect pests at the garden level. I would have at least 5 shallow bird baths in various places in the yard and piles of brush or a compost area.

C.    Companion plants: notably garlic. The best books on this subject are – “Carrots Love Tomatoes”, and “Roses Love Garlic.” The squash entry says that icicle radishes are good. Nasturtiums will repel squash bugs. Cigarette ash and tobacco leaves will also help. (Note – if you use tobacco leaves to mulch tomatoes, the veggies will get wilt from their cousin nightshades.) The author suggests planting squash either early or late. “I find fall-planted squash almost entirely insect-free.” I wouldn’t try that in Minnesota, planting squash in the fall.

  1. Garlic is the best all around companion plant. The individual cloves from the garlic bulb can be planted in the fall or spring. Insects hate the aroma of garlic and there is evidence that chemicals emitted from garlic and other companion plants will strengthen neighboring plants.
  2. Garlic chives are a fine companion plant when using wood mulch. The chives, like any tall growing or grass-like weed, will poke through the wood chips and thrive. Plenty of water and sun. A large bed of garlic chives will emit a cloud of garlic gas. Store fresh garlic in a hot car and you will discover why insects head in the other direction.
  3. Garlic and soap (real soap, not detergent) can also be spread on plants to deter insects. Insects like eating soap as much as we do. They cuss AFTER eating it. Ivory snow can be added to water and sprayed on plants. (To tell you the truth, I have never chopped garlic or soaped my plants. But it can be done. You can also put cigarette butts in water and use the nicotine water to kill bugs. Unfortunately, this clever tactic requires a smoking habit and creates a pot of poisonous water for kids and pets, so I would not advise it.)
  4. In general, opposites thrive together – the perfumed rose and smelly garlic, the tap-rooted dandelion and the shallow-rooted grass, the carrot root and the tomato fruit.
  5. Cultivate a variety of herbs, including mints. Most herbs will grow anywhere and produce various beneficial effects. Most of them are bee plants.

 

Rainwater, Compost and Manure Tea

The advantage of living in Minnesota was an abundance of rainwater. Anyone who loves flowers will place large plastic garbage pails under the eaves to catch rainwater. Victorian homes still have cisterns to catch and hold rainwater for washing. Chlorinated tap-water can be improved by letting it sit for several days. That will even make a difference for houseplants. My mother’s plants at school all thrived, because she let her water-pot age. The other teachers used chlorinated water straight from the tap.

 

Water can also be enhanced with manure or compost. The idea is to let the micro-organisms thrive in the water a few days and then pass into the soil. The water will also carry some of the nutrients into the roots.

 

If you like playing around with roses, you can sink a gallon plastic milk jug in the soil when the bush is planted. Be sure to put plenty of nail holes in it first. When I did this, I put a few holes in the bottom and one on each side, about halfway up. Bury it up to the neck. Now when you put water, manure tea, or compost tea in the jug, the fluid will leak slowly into the roots of the plant.