insecticidal soap

Picky Eater?

Okay, call me crazy (most folks do), but I have a finicky eater chomping away at the greens in my garden.  This little pest is devouring my Brussels sprouts.  Not my broccoli, mind you, taking up residence in the very same row.  Only my Brussels.  Chomped this one clear to the stem.


Black Leaves

It’s a depressing sight when your plant leaves are covered with black mold–sooty mold to be more specific.  It’s nasty stuff and comes from the secretion of tiny bugs (think aphids, white flies, mealy, scale).  Makes you think your entire plant is about to die.

But fear not.  The stuff just looks gross.  Okay, it IS gross but it won’t kill your plant, unless of course you allow these beasts free rein and they suck every last drop of sap from the leaves.  Remember, plants need leaves to make their food from the sun and air so don’t let it go too long.  The cure?  Simple.  Wash both bugs and leaves off with soapy water.  Yep, simply suds those puppies up, rinse and you’re good to go.

Now I have a dog and outdoor washing is no easy business.  It’s hot, it’s sticky, and not the place I want to be during the summer months.  So I’ve found an easier fix–because in my book, gardening should be easy and fun–and it only requires a spray bottle.  Use the insecticidal soap you buy at the store, or you can make your own by mixing a teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap and water in a spray bottle, and drench the leaves with the soapy solution.  I mean, really soak them good and the mold will literally slide right off your leaves.

If you’re the impatient type, you can help the process along by wiping the leaves, but since this resembles washing way too closely, I prefer to apply before rain is expected.  That way, Mother Nature can do the washing for me!  A heavy squirt from a hose will work wonders, too, but either way, bugs and mold will disappear.  And if it doesn’t look perfectly clean after the first application, relax.  The effects will eventually become visible.  These are my gardenia leaves after treatment without any extra effort from me.

As to prevention, full sun and plenty of wind will help keep this mold off your plants.  I know–doesn’t make sense if it’s caused by bugs.  However, both my gardenia and viburnum are mold-free on their sunny side and mold-filled on their shady, non-breeze side.  I’m no master horticulturist, but I can be logical (when I’m not knee-deep in my fictional world, that is!)  Anyhoo, you can see the difference and decide for yourself.  Viburnum on sunny side:

Viburnum on shade side (albeit I took this photo capturing as much morning sun as possible):

It’s that simple.  My gardenia are actually located in a sunny spot with plenty of breeze, but they’re a bit crowded making it hard for the wind to dig in, hence their mold issues.  On the bright side, most look like this one:

And yes, I realize my babies could use a bit of greening, but it’s been a busy summer.  🙁  Now back to the mold–you can always invest in some ladybugs.  They’ll take care of the varmints secreting the nasty black mold, or try spraying a mix of stale coffee on your leaves.  White flies hate the stuff. 

Now until next time, let me leave you with more “happy” thoughts.

I do love Gerbera daisies and this sunny little gal beckoned me over this morning.  Isn’t she a beauty?

Hornworms and Tomato Curls — We Have Issues!

BIG issues.  Look at this fellow, chomping away on my tomato plant.  Pig.  He’s the sixth one in two weeks!  Not only does he favor tomatoes, but he’s partial to peppers, too. 

Then I strolled by the black bean plants and spotted this little beast.  Can this kid eat, or what?

Of course there are the usual flies in an assortment of colors.  This one is blue, but they come in gold and green.  Lovely if they weren’t hurting my plants.  I’d show you the crickets hopping through my beds, but they’re a tad more agile than caterpillars and worms and hard to photograph.  Hmph.

Oh.  And don’t forget the aphids.  Pests.  On a brighter note, I did harvest my first two squash today — this one included.

My sweet peppers were happier on the patio.  Screens do a lot to keep the bugs away.  This transplant went into the ground green and healthy and now look at him.  Poor thing.

What’s a gardener to do?  I’ve sprayed with insecticidal soap.  I keep them watered, fed and healthy.   For the most part

Vigilance.  That’s the answer.  I make bug watch walks twice daily now, just to be sure.  And if the bugs weren’t enough, I have leaf curl. 

My tomato plants are curling at the leaves and I don’t know if it’s due to a virus or the climate.  Could be either, but hopefully not both.  That would be bad.  Very, very bad.

But I won’t despair.  The “middle” of any growth cycle is always trying.  Do you know what happens to your body during middle age?  It isn’t pretty.  It’s difficult.  Everything becomes harder; harder to lose weight, harder to retain muscle, harder to see, harder to hear…  

Not to mention sagging middles in your novel!  (That’s writer talk.)  The period between sprouts and harvest is no different.  It takes work.  Maintenance.  Weeding, feeding, watching and waiting, but then comes harvest.  One of my favorite times in the garden!

For now, I work, I watch, I prune, I pick (worms right off my leaves) until the time comes when I can pluck, and pull — and EAT! 

Yes.  Harvest is a great time in the garden, but it won’t happen if I don’t work through the middle.  Neither will my golden anniversary.  Or my golden years, my gold-rimmed glasses…

Golden, like this squash.  Okay, it’s yellow but you get the point.  Life is golden, no matter how you slice it.  Beats the alternative, anyway.

Share the adventure with a friend


Mandie’s garden is doing SO well — why, look at those tomato plants grow!   They are awesome and healthy, except maybe for a few bugs here and there.  But wildlife is to be expected.  But when caught earyly, completely manageable.  Exercising due diligence, she went in to investigate immediately upon spotting the leaf damage. 

Ugh.  Tiny caterpillars are the varmints of late.   Awfully industrious little beasts, aren’t they?  But that Mandie’s on top of them, refusing the critters the run of her garden.  Removing damaged leaves, she quickly sprayed the plant with insecticidal soap. 

Conch peas are flourishing, despite the battle with aphids.  But it’s an easy problem to solve.  Mandie needs ladybugs.  Ladybugs LOVE aphids and if I had known she needed some, I could have pulled a few from my garden and handed them over!  Always willing to share

Speaking of sharing, I did bring her some sweet potato slips.  Now that the weather is warm, they’re thriving on my patio and simply aching to be planted.  Yes, sweet potatoes ache, I’m sure of it.  They yearn to be in the soil where they can spread like underground melons, enriching the world with their golden bounty of sweet, healthy goodness.  

Now that her lettuce and broccoli are gone, I thought she could use a littler “filler” plants.  Sort of a pick-me-up to tide her over the hot summer season.  And because they’re so easy to grow, we placed one just outside her planter box, anxious to see how they spread.  Besides, it will make for a lovely ground cover — so long as the boys don’t venture in that direction!  But of course they won’t.  Their playground is clear on the other side of the yard, along with Lucky’s run.  Kinda sounds like the name of a snow ski run, doesn’t it? 

Don’t mind me.  Just a dip into cooler territory (much needed this time of year).  Either way, it should be a safe environment for the sweet potato plant to stretch out and develop some tubers.  Of course, a bit of tilling in the area wouldn’t hurt matters.  Soft dirt is always good encouragement for growth!

A good thing.  These boys are having so much fun with their new garden, I know they’ll want to swim for sweets come fall.  Whether it’s more thrilling than carrots, one can’t be sure, but I’ll go with the notion that digging for treasure is digging for treasure, no matter what kind of gold you discover.

And if this carrot looks to be on the “thin” side, it’s because we may not have “thinned” the plants well enough prior to the growth spurt  —  a must if you want plump, rich carrots.

A fine example of why you should follow instructions and do as the Master tells you.  (Still love the whole “master” thing.  Considering persuading my kids to start using the term!)

Good luck with that.  

Though to their credit, they have been preparing my morning coffee for me!   Ah,  but it’s the little things in life…


Time for Action

Here we see our first casualty of a busy woman’s schedule.  No dirt.  But don’t dismay — with the kids out of school this week, she’ll be filling this baby in no time!

Okay.  Empty planter aside, everything is blooming, sprouts are bursting and the bugs are feasting.   

Not good.    No insecticidal soap at the hardware store and as a dedicated localavore on both food and material levels, Mandie doesn’t want to hit the big warehouse stores, but at this point — she may have to if she’s going to save her peas!  

Either that, or coax some ladybugs into her garden.   These little beasts are doing her babies NO favors.   This conch pea sprout is too young to tolerate this kind of devastation.  Once mature, I wouldn’t worry too much.  A few aphids can be wiped off the leaves and stem with ease — a very organic system of bug removal! — but not from this delicate creature. 

Number two on the action list are the potatoes.   Aren’t they grand?   Growing beautifully full and robust, they now need “hilling.”  

Hilling is the process by which you mound dirt around the plant as it grows, fostering healthy and continued production.   Once they reach about 12 inches, hill the soil around them so that only a few inches of the plant remains above the soil.   

This growth habit is the reason they do well in “box production” for the smaller square foot gardens.   (I believe Yukon Golds, however, set fruit only once and are not conducive to this method of growing.)

Number three.   The tomatoes look much better but need some pinching.  

This tiny sprout  (more commonly known as a sucker) growing at the base of the two larger stems must be “pinched” off, directing nutrients to the main stem of the plant.   Once the entire plant reaches the top of its support apparatus, Mandie will need to prune it back even further, ensuring all the plant’s energy goes toward the developing fruits.   

But we have time for that discussion, later.   Right now, she’s got to get snipping!

P.S.  Mandie has added a new member to the family.   A friendly Chihuahua in need of a good home has found one.   (Did I mention she’s not only an earth lover, but an animal lover, too?) 

Running the edge of insanity, she’s fired up and ready to take on the challenge.  Atta girl!   Just don’t let him near the garden.  

Dogs are cute, but not when trampling through the garden.  Soft dirt, delicate sprouts, weeks of backache — bad, bad, BAD combination!


“Hey,” came the insistent voice over the phone line.   “We’ve got bugs.”

Recognizing her voice and the panic within I replied, “What kind of bugs?” 

This is, after all, is my job.   Mandie has a problem in the garden, it’s my job to respond.   Remember:  Master is a term to which I want to become accustomed.   (Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?  Besides, no one else is calling me master.  Might as well be the master of the garden, right?)

“It’s a black bug with six white legs.”

“Number one, you’re too close to the thing.   Step away from the bug.”   I mean, really.   Who can see eight tiny legs well enough to know they’re white, if you’re not nose deep in the beast?   When I looked, they didn’t look that bad to me.

What is it?” she persisted.   “It’s destroying my conch peas.”  

“It’s a bug.   Doesn’t matter what kind.”   Logic; from one who doesn’t deal in species specific pest invasion.   “Use your insecticidal soap.”

She muttered intelligibly.

“You got the insecticidal soap I told you about, right?”

“Gary,” she turned from the mouthpiece.   “Did you buy the insecticidal soap?”

A blither of replies goes back and forth before it becomes apparent he did not.   “Okay,” she said back to me.   “We’ll get the soap.   But what do I do in the meantime?   The bugs are devouring my peas!”

“Use the soap,” I replied calmly.   “If the bugs persist, you may want to spray them again and then cover your peas with cheese cloth.   Do you know what that is?”

“Cheese cloth?   Sure.   I have some.”

“Okay, watch for bugs.   If it looks like you have a major infestation, spray again and cover your peas – over your trellis cage – with cheese cloth.”   Common screen material will do.   Anything with very small openings to prevent the bugs from flying through, yet still allowing sunlight to permeate.

Next crisis.   “And I wanted to mention, your tomatoes look weak.   Have you been fertilizing them?”

“Sure, but it’s the cold.”

“True, the cold will stress them.   Did you get the fish emulsion?”

A flurry of doubt flitted through her tone as she replied, “Yeah, we fertilized them.   You think they need more?”

“Yes.   And water.”   Now that our steady rain had ceased, I wanted to be sure she was doing the job.   “Have you been watering?”

“Oh, yes.   Gary’s been watering.”   She called out over her shoulder again, “Right, babe?   You’ve been watering the plants?”

Apparently playing with the boys in the background, all of them boisterous and romping about, he replied, “Watering?   Yes.   I watered the plants.”

“Deeply?” I interjected.   They’d rather be watered deeply every other day than a light splatter with the hose each and every day.

Mandie repeated my concern, to which Gary seemed hesitant.   Frustration welled.   “Babe, you have to water them deeply, every other day.” 

Boy, she sounded like an expert.   Atta girl!

“And we have ants,” she informed me.   “What do we do about the ants?”

Panic again.   “No problem.   Go to your local hardware and look for the garden safe ant killer.   It’s a white powder you sprinkle around the trouble spots.”

“Is that the diatomaceous earth?”

Kudos, again.   “Well, yes, that is a garden safe material, I don’t know if it’s the same material as I didn’t check the label ingredients.   I have used diatomaceous earth before, but I don’t think my results was that great.”

“Okay.”   Relieved, she sounded ready to tackle any obstacle coming her way.

Good, I thought privately.   Because there will be more to come.   But in the meantime, let’s celebrate our progress.   I mean, c’mon.  Look at these gorgeous potatoes!