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Letters To The Editor

Dear Editor,

I have been noticing gardeners writing in for consultation on insects (more directly squash bugs), disease, etc., in their gardens. I am part of a biological company that gives recommendations on plant and soil health. A major problem with plant health is soil health! With soil health there are two different areas to consider—nutrition and biological. I, for one, used to have squash bugs greater than anyone could have attempted to “squash” when we moved to a new location. A new buzz phrase out there is “BALANCED NUTRITION” that was started about twenty-six years ago by one particular individual who has recently passed. Fertilizer companies are now using it without knowing what it truly means. They hear it so they use it, attempting to keep up with the competition.

We look at the levels of nutrition and make a recommendation to balance the soil, and this may happen in one year or may take three or four years, depending on the needs. If nothing is growing in a small plot, you can come close to balance in the first year by applying the recommended rates and making sure your biological levels are increased to healthy height to make that nutrition available to the plant before the garden is planted.

The deficiencies once known can also be addressed by foliar applications every week or every other week. The deficiencies can be discovered by tissue samples (which have to be done correctly) that are then sent to a lab. The other way is to take plant sap and determine the plant pH and refractive index. The tools to do this are $100 to $300 (+/-), depending on the type and the complexity of the instrument.

Squash bugs would indicate to me that it is likely a deficiency of calcium or nitrogen or the level of biological activity on the soil. These are the three most common.

Plant disease, on the other hand, is a different nutritional deficiency. The majority of the time, you will not have both a disease and an insect attack unless your plants are already dead!

Hope this bit of information helps understand things a little better.



Thanks for that bit of information. Our soil is a complete eco-system that has many components that need to be in balance to function adequately and help provide plants protection from pests and disease.

The Editor



Dear Editor,

I have seen your response to “Squash Bugged” and would like to know if the board method will also work for blister bugs/beetles. I would love to find out a way to get rid of these plentiful pests. They have invaded everything in my garden.

Also, I have heard that a tobacco tea, made from chewing tobacco, can get rid of bugs, but have not tried it yet. Do you know anything about what it does and how to make it?

Many thanks,
Blister Bugged

Dear Blister Bugged,

Yeah, just as our tomatoes, beans, and other crops are coming in, those blister bugs invade. The one advantage of blister bugs is that they eat grasshopper eggs. However, the adults then go on to strip the leaves of every available plant in our gardens! Because of the toxins in their bodies, hand picking them is not really a viable option.

Pine branches have been used by old-time gardeners to sweep the bugs into water-filled pits, but that is time consuming as well. A natural, organic product out there is Monterey Garden Insect Spray with Spinosad. Spinosad is an insect killer made by fermenting a naturally occurring soil-borne bacterium, one that was discovered from soil in an abandoned rum distillery in 1982. It can be used on outdoor ornamentals, lawns, vegetables, and fruit trees to control caterpillars, thrips, leafminers, borers, fruit flies, and more. Spinosad must be ingested by the insect and is relatively fast acting. The pest insect dies within one to two days after ingesting the active ingredient. Also, Spinosad will not persist in the environment. Sunlight and soil microbes break it down into carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen.

Tobacco tea can be toxic to bees and ladybugs. It’s pretty broad-spectrum and kills beneficial as well as insect pests. I would hesitate to use it as a first resort. However, for those persistent pests that just will not respond to anything else, here is a solution you can make up that is entirely biodegradable. Brew about a three-finger pinch of natural chewing tobacco per gallon of water for only thirty to sixty minutes (and no more). This is the least toxic brew for our beneficial insect populations.

Good luck with those blister bugs!

The Editor

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