Sunday, February 21, 2010

English Ivy and Soft Scale


My poor, poor ivy.  I have been so busy preparing to move that I didn't even notice that my english ivy, which was actually quite long, had been infested by something.  Of course I noticed a few dry leaves here and there, but I attributed that to forgetting to water it  very much.  Another problem is that its normal resting place is on the ledge next to the stairs.  The ivy looks very pretty trailing down the wall in the foyer.  Unfortunately, it also makes the leaves far above my head.  I went over a couple of days ago to look at it, and wondered why it looked so 'crispy', in spite of stepping up my waterings lately.  What I found was a very devastated plant!


In addition to many dry and dead leaves, I found many that looked 'weak' and 'wilted'.  This piece is a good example, the leaves are still green, but it just looks sad and pathetic. 


You can see looking at these pieces that by the time I noticed the problem it was pretty bad.  However, I still had to do some investigation to find out what was wrong.


I flipped the leaves over and this is what I found.  Little flat red specks, mostly aligned along the veins of the leaves. They did not appear to move at all.  When I attempted to touch them, I noticed they scraped off with my fingernail, leaving a waxy substance.  I got on the internet and did some research.  At first, I really thought it was red spider mites.  I found several sites talking about english ivy having red spider mites as a common problem.  However, I still wasn't sure, the red specks under the leaves did not look like the pictures I found of spider mites. 


I figured it wouldn't hurt to give it a good spray.  Blasting the leaves with water to send the buggies to kingdom come is an excellent organic pest removal method.   While the plant was drying, I got back on the net to figure out what I had.  I finally came across the likely culprit:  soft scale, or (hard) armoured scales.  There are several different kinds, and evidentally, going along with what I experienced, they are also one of the most misidentified pest problems among houseplants.

Some scale insects produce 'honeydew' or a sticky, sweet substance.  This insect often appears to be nonliving, which is part of the problem.  I never did see one move, the whole time I looked at them.   The reason they damage plants so much is because they insert their hairlike mouthparts into the plant tissue and siphon out the plant's sap. Infestations of the soft scale can cause leaves to yellow, die and fall off prematurely, and limbs and entire plants to die.  So, what do I do about it?

 In some cases, I would be apt to let the insect's natural predators take over.  At this point though, I am suffering from a severe lack of natural predators inside my house.  This time it is going to have to be neem oil. This product mentions scale insects specifically on the label.   It is also ready to spray, which makes it much easier to use.  That brings us up to now.  I am going to try the neem oil spray, and hopefully, my first experience with soft scale will be my last.  

Do you have any experience with these scale insects, or had trouble figuring out what was killing one of your plants? I would love to hear about it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Setting Up My Seed Starting Rack

This year I decided to ramp up my seed production.  Of course this requires bigger and better equipment.  Living in a house with small children, space is at a premium, so I needed somewhere better to stack seed trays.  Hence the new seed rack.  Lots of vertical room to place many trays.


My fiance helped me put the rack together. We carried it down to the laundry room so it wouldn't be in the way.  It wasn't too hard to set up.  I bought two 48 inch shoplights so far.  I plan on buying two more, so that a shoplight will hang from underneath each shelf. Each shoplight gets one warm and one cool bulb. 

This year I got smart and wet the seed mix BEFORE I put it into the trays.  This is messy, but prevents floating all your seeds later when you try to water the soil.  Tweezers are excellent for placing tiny seeds into the right places.


So far, I am using two shelves.  I didn't want to get too crazy before we moved.  The two shelves I am using are really full though.  Don't mind the dying houseplant underneath. 


These are the indoor herb pots that my son got me for Christmas.  Probably some of the basil will get transferred outside after the frost is done later in the spring. 


I am really excited about the onions I started.  I have two different kinds, and they are growing really fast.  I've never done onions before, so I'm excited to see how they work.  The onion seeds were hard to place in the open tray.  I used a ruler to place them equal distances apart.  I might use a homemade seed tape next time.

Some of my pepper seeds are popping up through the soil.  I pre-germinated all the pepper seeds using an idea I got from @getinthegarden on twitter.   I put all the seeds on a wet paper towel and folded them up carefully.  The paper towel goes into a bag in a wet, warm place, with the bag open just a bit for ventilation.  You check daily to air it out and see if seeds have sprouted.  When they sprout, you can just pop them into the soil.  I germinated my pepper seeds in around a week!

The little pepper seeds put out a root, I set them on the soil as I took them out of the paper towel, then I gently pushed them down into the soil at the proper depth.

I get a kick out of just walking in and looking at the healthy, bright glow above the seeds.  The laundry room is a good place for them because it is usually fairly humid in that room.  I also use the 'greenhouse' lids to help maintain the moisture.  If they seem like they are too wet, I crack the lid a little or take it off for a few hours.  Once most of the seeds are germinated, I remove the lid entirely.  Watering is easy, you can water underneath, or spritz with a water bottle from above to avoid damaging the seedlings. 

Do you start seeds indoors too?  If not, you should. It can be a little intimidating at first, but once you have success, you will be so encouraged you will have to start more!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wordless Wednesday (with a short wordy explanation)

Just in case anyone was wondering why I haven't posted in FOREVER, you may remember that I am moving.  My life has been nuts, and my house is a MESS.  So, hopefully in a few weeks I will be back to posting on a regular basis.  Now, back to wordlessness. 



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