Monday, July 29, 2013

The $5 Deer Fly Trap

Here's the deer fly trap I made for about $5.  I found a large blue ball at Walmart for $2.99 (the ball is maybe 2 foot diameter), constructed a twine harness, which I painted blue to retain the effect of the solid color that deer flies are attracted to, and suspended it between two small trees so that when the wind blows, the trees sway and the ball with them (that supplies movement, which attracts flies).  Finally, I coated the top with sticky Tanglefoot.  I already had supplies of the blue paint, twine, and Tanglefoot, so the trap didn't cost much. 

It works! After only three days, there are 30 deer flies trapped by the ball, and not one deer fly swarmed me while at the garden for the first time in weeks. Success!  

The trap was also catching black flies. Yes!!! As far as I could tell, no beneficial insects were getting trapped (like butterflies).   So this trap seems to be effective.  I also checked a couple of small mosquito traps I made with plastic soda bottles, brown sugar, and yeast, but these do not seem very effective so far, possibly because too much liquid was in the bottom. When the yeast started creating bubbles, it just foamed up and blocked the opening.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Mission Impossible: Kill the Flies and Mosquitoes

There are WAY too many deer flies and mosquitoes at Eklund Garden. This is a very common complaint of visitors, especially the non-hiking ones. The Nells Rock area swarms with them because of all the swamps. The vernal pool below Eklund Garden teems with salamander larvae precisely because the baby salamanders have so many mosquito larvae to eat. This being a garden for native species -- not just native plant species, but native animals species as well -- it would be wrong to spray toxic pesticides to kill off the nuisance species.

So the challenge is to try to reduce the number of swarming deer flies and mosquitos without eradicating them from the vernal pool and without poisoning the environment or hurting other insects like bees or butterflies. What we are looking for are some kind of traps that are inexpensive and do not require electricity.

CHALLENGE #1  DEER FLIES.  In July, simply pulling a car in the parking lot results in a dozen deer flies swarming the car before you even get out. Bug sprays like DEET do not help. So the deer flies will be the priority.  In doing some web research, it appears that deer flies are attracted to:

  • Carbon dioxide
  • Movement
  • Solid colors, especially blue or black
  • Heat
This would explain their attraction to my blue car as I pull in the parking lot. It's a solid color, warm, exudes carbon dioxide, and is moving. There are various commercial traps that make use of these attractants, usually costing several hundred dollars each. The Horse Pal is an example:  The flies are attracted to the solid object, land on it's "back", then fly upwards into a trap. This looks like something that would get stolen. For homemade traps, a large solid blue or black object that moves in the wind and is covered with sticky Tanglefoot is another option. 

There are also some lower cost options, such as a bait bag trap, which uses a smelly bait to attract flies. Although designed more for biting houseflies, reviewers say they also trap deer flies. The trap is under $20. 

CHALLENGE #2 MOSQUITOES.  I don't think there is any way to really get rid of all the mosquitoes, but if the numbers could be reduced to more tolerable levels, that would be a significant improvement. Mosquitoes are also attracted to CO2,  Here's one low-cost type of trap made from a soda bottle and using a mixture of sugar water and yeast in the bottom to create CO2 as an attractant: Maybe we could have a line of these between the garden and the pond. 

Another tactic is to entice females to lay their eggs in a container of water and then kill the larvae. That can be tricky, because if you don't kill the larvae promptly, the traps just become breeding tanks. 

Full Bloom!

This is the best year so far for the main bed at Eklund Garden.  A reduction in the winter vole damage and plenty of rain through June really helped things along.  The garden is teaming with butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Enjoy!

Garden phlox, bee balm, and rudbeckia

Swallowtail on purple coneflower (Echinacea) 

Butterfly on bee balm
Garden phlox
Rudbeckia - brown eyed Susan
Gailardia  or Blanket Flower
Purple coneflower



Friday, July 19, 2013

Soil Analyses

Click to enlarge
Here are the analytical results for three soil samples taken at Eklund Garden. One was taken in the main bed, one back by the Wild Ginger, and another in the Marble Bed, which has plants requiring a higher pH.  I was concerned the pH might not be high enough in the latter bed, but discovered it was fine, but the nearby Ginger bed is too neutral. The main bed also needs some lime. 

The beds could also use more fertilizer, but the surprise was the high phosphorus level in the two back beds. I suspect the leaf compost I've been adding is the source of that, since those beds had a LOT of compost added last fall. Those beds also had "very high" levels of organic matter. The plants there have been doing much, much better this year due to the addition of the compost.

Friday, May 24, 2013

New Plants: Lupine & Yellow Lady Slipper

Wild Blue Lupine
Picked up replacement Wild Blue Lupine from Twombly Nursery in Monroe today.  The previous lupine succumbed to the voles last year. Twombly does have a good selection of native plants IF you know exactly what you are looking for and are familiar with which plants are native and which just look like they should be native. Twombly does have a habit of mixing them up. Earth Tones is normally my choice for natives because    when you absolutely want a native plant, you can't screw up and grab something non-native. 

Small Yellow Ladyslipper
Today they had some beautiful Small Yellow Ladyslippers available, so I purchased one for Eklund. These are not your normal Pink Lady Slippers, which we already have up on top of the hill under the pines where the soil is very acidic. The Pink Lady Slippers cannot be transplanted and we were just lucky they happened to be growing there. Yellow Ladyslippers are native to the northeast, but you probably would not find them in Shelton because they prefer neutral, damp soil.  There is one section of the back beds that I have been adding dolomite to for those types of natives, so that's where I put it. It is a shady spot but right on the edge, so it might get an hour or two of sun. Hopefully it will be moist enough. Water does seep out of the hill for much of the year. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Swamp Azalea Pest Revealed

Every year the poor little Swamp Azalea out front next to the main steps mysterious loses all its leaves. Nothing but the leaf veins are left.  It's able to grow new leaves, but it is definitely hard on the shrub. 

This year I finally caught the culprits, which appear to be Azalea Sawfly larvae, which originated in South Africa. They are very well camouflaged and I crushed dozens if not hundreds, but kept finding more.  Some were very tiny and just hatched, so I stopped at home and grabbed some insecticide.

The active ingredient is Pyrethrin, which qualifies as organic, but it's an insecticide of last resort since it does kill just about every bug you spray it with. Normally I do not use pesticides in the garden, but in this case it seemed necessary. The Swamp Azalea has not evolved with the Azalea Saw Fly and has no natural defense.

After several hours weeding, transplanting, and weed-whacking, the garden looks pretty good. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

In Bloom

Red Trillium
Pink Lady Slipper up on the Heath Walk

Spring Beauties

Bellwort, with Violets and Mayapple. 

Foam Flower, with Woodland Phlox and Jacob's Ladder in the background

This Jacob's Ladder came up naturally from seed.


Wild Columbine

Jacob's Ladder  loves the garden and keeps expanding

Virginia Strawberry

New Plantings

The spring dry spell has ended, allowing some new plantings to replace those lost from voles or from being in the wrong spot.  Experience has shown that some parts of the garden are shadier or dryer or wetter than first thought. Plant the right plant in the wrong spot and it just won't take.  Funding came from gift certificates.

Wild Ginger, added to the garden in a new location (far back right side)

We already have some Wild Ginger in the garden, but I wanted to expand this plant to a second location. It likes partial to full shade and moist conditions. I know of one small patch of Wild Ginger growing wild in Shelton, and it would be nice to expand this native. Sadly, it is a plant that foragers dig up for cooking. The roots smell exactly like the regular ginger you cook with, which I discovered while dividing a clump.

Heartleaved Skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) 

Skullcap has attractive foliage and can handle both shade and dry conditions, which is hard to find.  It may die back when it gets too hot out.  This is a new species for the garden.

Oak Leaf Hydrangea
Oak Leaf Hydrangea can grow to more than six feet tall, but we're starting out tiny.  I was looking for a part to full shade location that would be moist but not waterlogged, and where the shrub would block the view of the other plants. The spot I chose had horrible soil -- nothing but compacted clay and rock, so I had to dig out a big hole and mix a lot of leaf compost in. All the rocks in the photo were originally in that hole.  This hydrangea is native in the southeast Appalachians.

Field Pussytoes
All our field pussytoes mysteriously vanished over the winter, so these are replacements. This time they were planted on a dry spot out front rather than on the strawberry hill, which can be soaked for weeks at a time.

Wild Pink (Silene Carolininiana).  Previously planted on a spot that was too wet. 
Wild Pink is another plant that we previously had on the wet/dry strawberry slope, but it perished there. Just too shady and wet.  This time it's out front to the right of the front steps.

Wild Pink growing wild at Indian Well State Park
Coincidentally, I found the same species growing on the Paugussett Trail two days later, growing out of shear rock, near the overlook at Indian Well.  The flower was literally growing on the trail, getting stepped on. And yet it died when planted in a spot that was too wet.

Sundrop (Oenothera 'Cold Crick'). Adding to what we have. 
Sundrops is a favorite at the garden. This is a natural primrose hybrid that doesn't spread all over the garden. The voles took their toll on this plant over the past few years.

Thread-leaf Bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii). 
 Thread-leaf Bluestar is a new one at the garden.  Is is drought tolerant and can handle full sun to part shade, and is deer resistant.
Two Leaf Miterwort (Mitella diphylla)  
Two Leaf Miterwort is another new species for the garden with attractive foliage. Handles dry to moist soils in part to full shade.

Canada Anemone
And finally, more Canada Anemones.  Love the foliage, and they will spread in the right location. This one and the miterwort prefer a higher pH than what we normally have in Shelton, so they will need to be limed.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Voles Defeated!

Last fall I very carefully cleaned out the garden and surrounding area of all leaves and dead vegetation that might provide cover from predators. There were dozens of vole holes. This spring...all the voles are gone, and I'm not seeing any vole damage so far.  A great big 'thank you' to all the owls and hawks.

The deer fence was down in three places due to Hurricane Sandy, which dropped a tree the fence was attached to, and the February blizzard, which dropped 3 feet of snow and pulled the netting off the wire.

I've just added a "wish list" page to this blog. It should show up on the left margin.