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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Partial Knowledge

A comment from George Africa who owns a commercial nursery in Vermont, U.S.A. made me face my spotty knowledge. My last post was about moles and related problems. George left a comment about his experiences with them. George can be found Here, and also Here. His nursery website is Here.

Following is part of my reply to George's comment:

Let me explain some of my dilemma, for you see it is true that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. I am afraid of the power of which I am capable, example: I know how to use "Dunk" (Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israaelenses called BTI) to kill mosquitoe larvae in a little pool; I know how to use Nematodes (Steinernema carpocapsae and Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, and possibly BT) that will mortally infect iris borer larvae; and, I know how to use bacteria Bacillus popilliae spores on my lawn to infect grubs with Milky-spore disease bacteria. So, what is my problem?

I treasure Dragon Flies: Dragon Flies lay their eggs in the little pool. Will the "Dunk" kill the baby Dragon Flies, (the babies, that, by the way, eat the mosquito wrigglers)?

Will the Nematodes Steinernema carpocapsae and Heterorhabditis bacteriophora stay where I put them close to the iris plants or will they migrate into the lawn?

If I treat the lawn with BT spores to get rid of the grubs (that attract moles), even if, as it is advertised, they do not harm earthworms, what will it do to my beloved Fire Flies that rise from the sod by the hundreds every evening and entertain me from June to late summer with their wondrous ethereal presence?

Does anyone know? Really know?

P.S. Don't tell me to ask the Horticulture or Agriculture Extension Agents. That is the organization which (decades ago) told farmers Multiflora roses would not spread and are not invasive. Partial knowledge?


Anne said...

Hi Barbee,

That's the problem with "pest" control -- its indiscriminate. I don't know of any way to kill unwanted insects without killing the ones we take delight in.

Myself, I use as few things as possible, the only exception being Spinosad to control citrus leaf miner on my baby lime tree. Since i haven't noticed any other critters on it, i figure i'm hitting a small target.

My bottom line: I treasure the critters more than the flowers and lawn. When the lawn started to be a maintenance hog, I reduced the size of it by adding flagstone sitting areas and paths.

When aphids perpetually attacked certain plants, much as I hated to lose them, I 'shovel pruned' them and replaced them with plants that were less attractive.

For mosquito larvae in the pond, I added "mosquito fish" that were provided free by the county extension office. And the dragonflies still managed to implant some babies.

Its taken several years and lord knows, a lot of money! but i've gotten the garden into equilibrium...

So I say, keep the dragonflies and fireflies!

Barbee' said...

Anne (California, U.S.A.): Thank you for your interesting and thoughtful feedback. If I don't get the iris borer under control, the iris are going to get "shovel pruned"! I understand you do not have that pest on the west coast. Hope it Never gets there.

Blossom said...

Wow, this really brings home the fact that partial knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Thanks so much for sharing this!

Roses and stuff said...

Lots to learn in our post today!
Thanks for your visit and please feel welcome to join Blooming Friday!

George Africa said...

Hello Barbee;

Your questions are great and I have to say, represent a thought process that should be taught more in schools today. Your questions are also very encompassing and any answer could omit something important.

I have been using Milky Spore long enough to know that earthworms abound, fire flies light up my skies and butterflies and moths absolutely amaze visitors, especially the hummingbird moths which many have never seen before.

I had the hope that milky spore might just do what you question and control the lily leaf beetle. This small red beetle finally arrived in this part of Vermont two years ago (via Montreal 1945 and Boston 1992) and has now covered the entire US from the Rockies east and all the way to Nova Scotia. We grew lilium since the early 80s and seven years back were one of the biggest retailers in New England. The milky spore did not appear to work but dormant oil spray, same thing used by fruit orchardists did. Another story though.

Again, I like people who raise questions as this makes use all better gardeners. As I look to the skies in the summer and see osprey and now bald eagles, all too easily I recall DDT and the journey we have traveled to get back to some sanity. It's not always easy.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Philip Bewley said...

Gosh, Barbee,
Milky spore and whatnot... That is not to say I am not I awe of such expertise, but I think I need more education or glasses or something...whew!
Makes me want to plant Martian flowers that are only underground!
I hope you see my post in the spirit of true friendship, as I cannot give any good advice here: only to say , Hi Barbee!
I love your blog, and you, but I am hopeless at milky spore kind if things!
Hey! Happy Thanksgiving!
Best regards to you and yours

Barbee' said...

Blossom (Canada): And, thank you for stopping by!

Roses and stuff (Sweden): I appreciate your visit.

George Africa (Vermont, U.S.A.): I am glad to get your first-hand report about milky spore. This year for the first time I read about the red lily leaf beetle. Several people wrote about the problem they were having with them. Too bad milky spore didn't work on them, but thank you for sharing your information about your success with the dormant oil spray. If it didn't work on those beetles, surely there are others that wouldn't be harmed.
I remember DDT and 'Silent Spring'. I remember when the Mockingbirds began to reappear... and my joy to see and hear them. That was a close call... too close!

philip bewley (California, U.S.A.): Don't panic, Philip! You don't have iris borers there on the Pacific coast, so maybe do not have to deal with nematodes. And, it's kinda yucky to mention milky spore and Thanksgiving in the same post, isn't it! So let's forget it LOL. But, do have a nice holiday.

Pomona Belvedere said...

Very useful information from both post and comments. It's nice to see that my lazy gardening techniques (i.e., don't struggle to grow something that doesn't want to grow here) have a basis in science. And it's so true about scientific expertise: it's certainly good to listen to it, but it's also good to remember that these were the folks who were telling us (a few decades ago) that pesticides would never turn up in the water table.

Good to hear the milky spore/firefly/earthrworm report from an actual gardener. Also happy to hear the lilies of New England have a chance with dormant oil spray--I hadn't heard about the lily leaf beetle.

It is truly good to think deeply about the consequences of putting even nontoxic items in our gardens. Hadn't heard about the multiflora rose caper. In our area it's pestiferous star thistle, which was brought in as a honeybee crop that grows without watering. It does that, all right.

Barbee' said...

Pomona Belvedere, thank you for your thoughtful comment. Always good to hear from you. I am not familiar with the star thistle, so I am going to Google it right now.