Uninvited guests may bring unintended benefits

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse — if you believe that line of bull, I would like to sell you a bridge in Brooklyn. In case you were not aware or were just plain clueless, your house is a gigantic bug habitat, in addition to a home for all the little furry creatures that have set up housekeeping.

What can you do to keep them out? Absolutely nothing if the creatures are of the “bug” variety. Many of the insects that we encounter are the results of having the ability to travel on our clothing, our pets or through an open door or window. The ground floor of a house, especially ones with carpets and a lot of windows and doors, makes for ideal living conditions for your tiny guests. Basements are a totally different environment with different inhabitants.

Is this really bad? For the most part, no. So put the pesticide can away. It is thought that in today’s world where kids spend less time outside building up immunities to allergies and other diseases, insects in the home play a role in spreading microbes that are healthy. They may be somewhat beneficial, but I would draw the line at trying to give them names.

WHY FALL

DIDN’T HAPPEN

I do consider myself to be somewhat observant of my surroundings. This past fall I felt was rather unusual, with strange weather conditions occurring almost on a daily basis. What first caught my attention was our huge maple tree, then the red maple and finally other trees throughout the countryside. Normally on our maple when the leaves start to turn color, they will slowly start to drop. When the first hard frost hits and the sun comes out, it rains leaves, but the leaves didn’t drop this year as they normally do. The red maple, which is rather sensitive to frost, still has not shed its leaves. Even rose bushes and some shrubs were slow for the leaves to finally drop.

Well, lo and behold, there was something strange happening and it was brought on by the freaky weather. Mother Nature threw a curb ball this fall. Normally the weather gradually begins to cool and then, along with the daytime hours shortening, trees and bushes begin the process of dropping their leaves and going dormant for the winter. Well, the weather in November took an unusual turn and we had a long warm spell, confusing the trees. They thought it was still growing season, but a sudden freeze of well below 32 degrees turned the green to dead brown overnight.

The sudden freeze interrupted the normal gradual process of the trees shedding their leaves in midstream. The horticulturists feel that the leaves should eventually drop or be pushed off in spring with the arrival of new growth.

Oak trees are known to keep their leaves long into the winter.

BROCCOLI BUGS

As a kid I heard, and I’m sure many of you my age also have heard the expression, “Eat your broccoli, there are starving kids in China who would love to eat it.”

Fortunately I was just this side of being smart enough not to say, “Well, send it to them.”

Then I always wondered why my little sister had to make so many trips to the bathroom.

For some reason my mother thought vegetables had to be cooked to the point that they no longer resembled their original shape or color. Being told that broccoli was good for you, while staring at a glob of green mush on the plate, didn’t mean a thing to me at that time and my only concern was how to eat it and keep what was in my stomach in place.

However, times change and with the proper way to cook this member of the cabbage family, I’ve come to like it, and the nutritional value is excellent. Broccoli is a super food. Packed full of vitamins, minerals and a source of fiber, you can’t go wrong when adding it to your menu. Have gastrointestinal problems? Broccoli!

Take time and read up on the health benefits.

Oh, broccoli tastes best when cooled al dente, crunchy, but easy to chew. So listen to your mom and eat your broccoli, but teach her how to cook it.

Just when I tout the benefits of broccoli and would hope that many of you would consider growing it, there is a dark cloud on the horizon. With any members of the cruciferous family, there are pests. Locally we are bothered with cabbage worms and grubs that can do damage but have been manageable. Well, lurking in the south is a new pest that has headed north. In fact it is now a problem in the southern regions of Pennsylvania.

The yellow margined leaf beetle is coming our way. The beetles will consume the leaves of the plant. Plants such as turnips or radishes once defoliated, can suffer loss to the actual tuber. For those growers who have small gardens, handpicking or dropping the beetle into soapy water is a means of control. Fall cleanup of debris will help prevent overwintering of eggs. Certain weeds that can serve as a host plant should be eliminated. Penn State Extension has information just for the asking on these and any other pests.

It is always good to have a hobby, a hobby that will challenge you mentally and physically and in the long run provide a benefit. This time of year I like to dream and make plans for the upcoming growing season. I may decide to create a blueberry bed. Blueberries are placed in the category of super foods. Eaten raw, in a muffin, in pancakes or on cereal, the blueberry can’t be beaten.

Growing blueberries is not an expensive hobby or extremely labor intense. But you should not go and plant some bushes and expect to have success. This is when you apply your mental facilities and do research. Blueberries are fussy when it comes to soil conditions. A well-draining acidic soil will make your blueberry very happy. A soil test, purchased from and completed by Penn State Extension, will give you information not only for blueberries, but all garden plants.

Continue your research on what variety to grow — high bush or low bush — and know what varieties are compatible for cross-pollination. Read up on how to get the best production of fruit and how to care for established plants and how to protect them from birds and animals. Plus an added benefit is the fall foliage of red.

Mark your calendars for the Penn State Clinton County Master Gardeners Garden Sense educational program on the 20th and 27th of January. Watch this paper for upcoming information.

Questions? Concerns? Contact me at qbs5000@ag.psu.edu.

Remember, it is easy to be green. Happy gardening!

——

Quentin Stocum, former Clinton County Master Gardener Coordinator, can be reached at 570-726-0022 or qbs5000@ag.psu.edu.

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