Thursday, September 30, 2010

Marmorated Stink Bugs!

There is little we sufferers can do to deter the stink bug infestations we're experiencing this year, beyond caulking every crack, opening, window, baseboard to seal the house. Once they've gotten inside, cats have been helpful as have vacuum cleaners (if you don't mind the lingering scent) and tissues and toilet bowls (my weapons of choice). Insecticides not only have proven ineffective but also are known to upset the beneficial insect population, especially valuable to fruit farmers. But help will be on the way. Read below.

From Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences:

On the Trail of the Stink Bug

Posted: September 23, 2010

On Wednesday, September 22, nearly 14,000 people visited our college’s website to learn about the brown marmorated stink bug.

On the Trail of the Stink Bug

The brown marmorated stink bug

This brown marmorated stink bug (the BMSB, from here on) is relatively new to Pennsylvania and the United States. It is known to be a pest in its native range in Asia, but it was first noticed in Pennsylvania only in 1998. The bug (and this is a case where “bug” is the right term – insects related to the stink bug are, indeed, true bugs) has been a nuisance to homeowners for several years. It spends the winter as an adult in sheltered locations, so it begins to congregate on the outside of homes this time of year, and it can find its way inside, to the chagrin of residents.

This summer, however, we’re seeing a different side of the stink bug. It has emerged as a significant pest of food and feed crops. Fruit growers are noticing serious injury – the stink bug feeds by sucking plant fluids through its beak, and the damage at the feeding site leads to rejection of the fruit by the consuming public, even though the damage is cosmetic only. In addition to fruit, the BMSB is attacking a range of vegetables and even agronomic crops such as soybeans: farmers may well notice some significant loss of crop yield as harvest progresses.

The real danger of the BMSB, in my opinion, is that it is such an important pest in apples that growers may feel compelled to apply additional pesticides to protect their crop. This could basically take us back 30 years in our efforts to work with orchardists to reduce pesticides based upon the principles of integrated pest management, or IPM. We’ve helped apple growers drastically reduce their pesticide use over recent decades, all based on research that led to improved understanding of pest biology and the use of natural enemies and alternatives to chemical pesticides to manage the pests. These alternatives don’t control the BMSB, so a return to pesticide treatments targeting this new pest could completely disrupt our IPM progress.

We don’t know a lot about this new bug yet, but this example illustrates the capability of our land-grant system here in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Whether we are talking about our role in managing and eventually helping to eradicate the fruit disease plum pox virus, our efforts to get to the bottom of colony collapse disorder in honey bees, or even our education and research efforts on Marcellus Shale natural gas on behalf of Pennsylvania citizens, time and again faculty, educators, staff, and students in our college step up to tackle new problems and find solutions. The combination of Cooperative Extension and agricultural research, which together bring fundamental discoveries down to earth as solutions to real-world problems, is the power of the Land-Grant.

We don’t have the answers on the brown marmorated stink bug yet, but stand by. Our team is on the job. Connect with us on Facebook for additional information as it becomes available.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More Fall

a few posts from past years about fall maintenance and spring-flowering bulbs.

Oy the Lawn

Summer was cruel to our well-intended lawns. Even with regular and responsible irrigation, the combination of record-breaking heat and few real rains wreaked havoc and provided weeds and critters with optimal conditions.'s the time to regain our emerald glory before the temps drop.

To begin...mow the lawn, short (1 to 1.5 inches). This will make the tasks to follow easier and more successful.

De-thatch. Take a hard rake to the lawn, remove the build-up of thatch, exposing soil between areas of healthy lawn. You might as well remove large weed colonies as you see them and rake those areas, too.

De-bump. While you're de-thatching, check for bumps, depressions, unevenness in the soil and correct with good topsoil. if those imperfections reside underneath good sod, lift it and correct, then reposition the sod.

Test. Now is a very good time to check your soil's ph which will likely be low if you haven't checked it in a while. We live in an area of primarily acidic soil which is why we can grow so many wonderful broad-leafed evergreens. But that condition is not optimal for grass. Take a soil sample, in baggie, to your local garden center for a quick ph test and adjust as recommended with a simple application of lime (too much can be too much, so make sure to adjust according to their recommendation based on the test result). You can use a spreader but do not mix the lime with fertilizer in the spreader! Water well after it's applied. it's unlikely that a soil test will indicate a too-high ph reading. If so, your garden center will recommend a sulphur product (be careful not to use too might burn the turf) to lower the ph.

De-weed. Walk the lawn and stop to remove, by root, the weeds. On our properties, we remove large areas of weeds and apply sod. On smaller areas we seed. This is the ultimate organic weed removal!

Compost. On all cleared areas, apply a layer of mushroom compost or composted leaves that you might have stored on your property. Rake into the existing soil, smooth (mix may want to apply a mix of topsoil and compost). Not only will the compost fertilize the lawn but it will help to break down clay and add beneficial microbes to the soil structure which will digest grass clippings, dead roots, other green waste over time.

Aerate. Every few years, consider renting a core aeration machine or hire a service. Or strap on a pair of aeration sandals and get some exercise. Aeration allows roots to penetrate deeper, and fertilizer/compost and moisture to work further into the soil. The effect for just the first few days is like having a team of dogs doing their business everywhere.
Seed. Use a premium mix for shade and sun, available from a number of seed companies...choose a mix that is not too heavy on perennial rye. Primex carries some top quality seeds. Apply according to directions. Be sure you've loosened and composted your soil first, and added lime if needed.
We apply seed first to those areas we've prepared, and then to the rest of the lawn right over the existing turf. A walking seed spreader is the easist way to apply the seed, but be sure you've gotten enough of it to the spots in need.

Water!!!!! And a few more exclamation marks as well. Immediately after applying the seed, soak the areas well. Twice a day thereafter, a light watering so that the seeds don't move into clumps. Morning and late afternoon, unless of course it's raining. If the soil dries out, the seeds won't germinate or will die once they have. When the new grass is at least 2 inches tall, resume your normal watering schedule and mow with a sharp blade at any time thereafter.

Fertilize. Create a schedule for regular ongoing fertilization of your lawn. A number of excellent organic products are available.

Many folks remark that a lawn is impractical and unnecessary. Though it's true, a lawn also provides cool green on a hot summer's day. A soft carpet for walking barefoot. And it affords a house and property the look of being well-loved and cared for. Enjoy yours!

And please call if you can use our help.