Video: Natural Pest Management: From Squirrels to Squash Vine Borers

Video Transcript:

[Music]

[Georgeann Moss]:  Good afternoon everyone, my name is Georgeann Moss and I'm the executive administrator of Sustainability Outreach and Initiatives for Dallas College. Welcome, welcome, we're so glad you joined us today, on behalf of Dallas College, the sustainability team, and our wonderful partner and sponsor, EarthX, we are so glad that you joined us today, and for those of you who've never participated before, you've got at least two ways you can communicate with us, we want this to be interactive and have some feedback. So one of them is through the chat box, if you just wanna make a comment as the workshop's going on, type it in the chat box, but if you have a question that you would really like an answer, go ahead and put that in the Q&A box, and that's easier for us to respond to specific questions. If you put a question in the chat box, we can still answer it, but sometimes it's three or four or five comments down and so it gets a little confusing. At the end of the webinar, you're gonna be asked to fill out an evaluation form and we really hope that you'll do that because that helps us improve as we go along, we're doing these weekly now and we really value and treasure that feedback that you give us. This webinar will be recorded, those of you who were here for the last one that Kara and Darciea did, we're so sorry that did not get recorded, this one has been recorded, the button's already been pushed, we're good. We'll put that on our website, it'll be about two weeks after we get it transcripted and it's ADA compliant. So with that, it's my pleasure to introduce Dr. Kara Casy, and Darciea Houston, our two speakers today. Kara is the director of Urban Agriculture and Renewable Resources at Dallas College's El Centro campus, and she says that empowering communities through increased access to affordable education, mobile high-paying jobs, and healthy food is my jam, so Kara, we're so delighted to have you here. And then Darciea is a holistic wellness consultant, as well as a motivational speaker, a permaculturist, an entrepreneur, and a farmer, and you can learn more about Darciea and her business at www.darcieahouston.com, well it's right there on the screen. So it's a pleasure to turn it over to Darciea and Kara.

[Dr. Kara Casy]: Great, thank you so much, Georgeann. We are so excited to have everyone here today, we are looking forward to talking about natural pest management today. We called it 'from squirrels to squash vine borers' because those are two big pests in this area of Texas, and we'll definitely touch on those, but we also wanted to give a more holistic view of total plant health to prevent any of those pests from finding your garden and really wreaking havoc on it. So with that, we wanted to outline, today we'll be talking about four main categories, and before I move ahead, I forgot to mention, this is live, so let's take advantage of the fact that it's live. As Georgeann mentioned, you can communicate with us through the Q&A and through the chat, our awesome hosts have full permission to interrupt us, and so they're gonna be looking at the chat and the Q&A, they'll see when questions pop in and they'll let us know and read off your question to us. So please, let's take advantage of the fact that this is live, and we'll just have a great discussion about natural pest management today. Okay, so diving right in, prevention. So like I mentioned, a key aspect of making sure that your plants are healthy and not being attacked by pests is by just underscoring their general health and wellness. So you want to be sure that your plants are getting enough water and enough fertilizer, so organic fertilizer is great, compost is a great source of the soil building nutrients, too, but just wanted to mention that you do want to be proactive about the health of your plants, you don't want to wait until you see them start turning yellow, you want to be sure you're applying some additional organic based nutrients to your soil and building it up. So we wanna be sure that plants aren't unnecessarily stressed, and stressed plants, once they become stressed they start emitting stress hormones, so ethylene is one of those stress hormones that plants start emitting, and that is very attractive to insects. They've kind of learned when plants are weakened, their defenses are weakened, and they are just attracted to them. Case in point, so this is a picture of our live wall at El Centro campus, some beautiful lettuce, some kale growing down there. It was growing really well in February, I think this picture was taken around February, early March, and then of course, what happened in mid-March? We had spring break, and then we had an extended spring break along with, by the way, no one's returning to campus. So these plants, although they were on a live wall set up with an automatic watering system, we weren't able to increase the frequency of watering as the temperatures rose. So what happened? Well, the plants didn't get enough water – this is them in all their glory – the plants didn't get enough water, they started getting stressed, and so it attracted all these aphids. Now this is kale, it's not looking particularly vigorous and healthy, you can see it's just barely surviving, and you can see all these aphids are just covering the leaf on the left and all around that young tissue that's growing and has all that sweet phloem and sugars going to that young growing tissue there, they're all attracted to that one growing point. So if the watering had been increased, if we had been there to be able to support the health of those plants, they wouldn't have gotten stressed and attracted all these aphids. So a lot of times, we see aphids and we think, oh gosh, what do I need to do to treat these plants, but really we need to be more proactive before those aphids even come in and say okay, let's take a step back. How can I support the health of this plant, and not just treat it? Okay, so moving right along, another source of stress is when plants are planted out of season. So not all plants can withstand Texas summers, and not all plants can withstand the frost. There's a reason why we have planting guides, and this is just a picture of some parsley and I think we've got some cilantro growing in the background too, they are a little bit more cold hardy and they're able to grow in the spring – I think this was early spring when this photo was taken – again, somewhere in February there. But you don't see us planting you know, like, okra, or sweet potato in February, because there's still a chance of frost and a chance that those plants would just get really stressed out. So how do we know when things are supposed to be planted, anyways? Well, we have planting guides. So this is a planting guide that we created for the fall, I'll skip ahead, this is a planting guide that we created for the spring. You can see in the summer months, June, July, August, we have those warm weather plants, and you can see actually, the latest that is recommended to plant tomatoes is at the end of July. So even though I know it's really tempting to get those clearance tomato plants at your local nursery or Lowe's, if you plant them now and then a frost hits in early to mid-October, they wouldn't have had enough time to fruit, and we may be scratching our heads and thinking, hmm, they look stressed out. Well they are stressed, because they're being planted at the wrong time of year. So if we're planting vegetables at the right time of year, we're gonna save ourselves a huge headache. On the reverse, so there are plants that really like cool temperatures, so at the end here we have, in September and October, things like collards and kale, turnip greens, really you want to wait to plant those until right around this time of year, because if you plant them – which I did, I did an experiment, definitely failed – tried to plant some broccoli and cauliflower a few weeks ago outside just from seed, and it did not go well, they did not come up. They just are – naturally they germinate at different temperatures, so they have special proteins that will help them during the frost, but they're adapted to those cooler temperatures, so when you plant them in Texas in 100 degree weather, they are not gonna do well. They'll get really stressed out, and then that's when they start attracting bugs. So an example, this is red mustard back in – I wanna say March, February, March. It's looking really healthy, has that deep anthocyanin, purple-y color in its leaves, really happy, healthy, but when it starts to warm up, it can only last so long, and you can see on the left this is the mustard after the leaf has essentially dehydrated, it looks kinda like beef jerky if you squeeze it, or just like a fall leaf in the fall when the leaves fall and they're completely dried out, and you squeeze it and it just disintegrates in your hand? That's exactly what happened on the lefthand side. It's so stressed out that it's not even able to keep its cells alive, it's just baked in the sun, and on the righthand side you can see these are holes in the leaves from chewing insects that have come and eaten the leaves, whereas before earlier in the season, you can see no pests were attracted to it at all. The pests were still around and active, but they weren't eating the leaves because it just wasn't emitting those stress hormones, okay? But as soon as it starts heating up and the plant starts getting stressed out, that's when the insects start getting attracted to your plants. So you know, if you're trying to grow something like collards or kale, you know in the middle of July, early August, and you're having troubles with flies eating the plants or different insects all over the plants, it could just be just like this mustard, really stressed out because it's so hot, it's just not adapted to be able to continue to grow and survive in that heat, so what happens is those insects will inevitably see it as a tasty meal, and they'll start attacking your plants. Okay, I'm gonna pause here, and Darciea, did you have anything that you wanted to add? I remember you mentioning before folks that'd come to you with some collards that were diseased?

[Darciea Houston]:  Yes, I can definitely attest to [audio malfunction] some people that do have success with their collards in the peak heat season, however, you have to realize the conditions. Some people have greenhouses, some have seasonal high tunnels, but this particular farmer that I know, Trisha Ray, she had a bunch of trees and so it shaded and it provided the right amount of environment and cool weather and air for her collards to survive, her collards stayed out for two or three – until the city told her that she could no longer have this community garden, she had collards and it was amazing, but it is abnormal, and why do we want to consume anything that is stressed out, you know? If your whole goal of eating or ingesting natural and organic produce is to reap the benefits, so you are also at a loss when you are eating food that has holes in it or that is extremely dried out. Your goal, you don't want holes in you and you don't want your skin to be dried out, so you have to really think about you know, how it's going to translate over in nutrients, and as far as collards go, I am successful also in another area because I had a Georgia variety that was donated to us, and I just – I was like okay, y'all, this is just an experiment, we are not gonna have no collards we are not gonna eat, but we did and we've harvested all of them so much. However, now that the weather is getting cooler, I mean they're really, really bouncing. I now can see that it was just okay and it was cute and they were moving along at a slow rate, I haven't seen any pest issues yet but that's also what I was looking for. I was definitely assuming that they were gonna be infested, I was going to bring all kinds of disease to my other crops as a result of planting this crop, but it just ended up working out. I won't do it again though, but yeah, I don't wanna take that chance, I mean other stuff you know, how many other organisms and other life – I companion plant often, so I don't wanna hurt anything and I don't wanna do that again.

[Speaker A]:  That's so cool, though!

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  If you have a variety that works –

[Darciea Houston]:  Yes.

[Dr. Kara Casy]: Go for it, that's awesome. That is so cool. Okay, so what I'm hearing is it was just like a really vigorous grower and it was able to withstand the stress, but it was probably still stressed out.

[Darciea Houston]:  Oh yes, I believe that it was because now the last two or three weeks that the nights have gotten cooler, I mean, growth has been amazing. They were just cute, you know, before, and slowly growing back you know, but they are really, really thriving because it's in the season, it's where they're supposed to be, and you just really want to – if you have no choice, that's cool, but if you have a choice, try to get what you can that's in season.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Right, right. So other greens that would be good for the warm weather, like sweet potato, you can cook sweet potato greens, okra, spinach, the Malabar spinach, I suppose?

[Darciea Houston]:  Oh, I haven't had that in the hot or warmer seasons, okay. I gotta write that down.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Not regular spinach, but Malabar.

[Darciea Houston]:  Right, okay.

[Lori Delacruz Lewis]:  Kara?

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Yeah?

[Lori Delacruz Lewis]: We have a question about fertilizers. Are you gonna be covering that later?

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Not necessarily different types. If the question – yeah, go for it.

[Lori Delacruz Lewis]:  The question is, should we fertilize, and if so, what type of fertilizer should we use for vegetables?

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  So it depends on the vegetable that you're growing. I like to use a general purpose organic fertilizer. If you are growing something like tomatoes or peppers, I would be sure that the bag denotes that because peppers and tomatoes need a little bit more calcium than other plants. Darciea, do you have any recommendations?

[Darciea Houston]:  So I don't know exactly what it's called offhand, I just know that I was using a lava rock, I don't know what it's called right this second, I have to get back with you on the name. But I used that this year and been successful with it, but I'm also big on composting and using the compost, and even if it's at a small rate. Like I go use Living Earth compost, I purchase from them, but I still compost to add to that compost, and that's where I'm in between companion plant – compost mixed in with a reputable, you know, compost supplier, those are my two go to's for fertilizer.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Great, okay. So if we didn't answer the question, you just type it in and we will answer it again or get more detail. Okay, so moving right along. Another important aspect of just plant health that we don't often think about because we don't see it is the root health. So roots need to breathe, actually. Although the shoots need CO2 to photosynthesize, the roots actually still need oxygen because those cells respire just like we breathe. So when you're growing in containers, and even in other beds, it's important to have some aeration, you know, that's why soil organic matter is so important, having those big chunks in there, because it breaks up the soil so it's not just one huge clay sheet, but you have some more air pockets in that soil. But when you're growing in a container, it's really important to have proper drainage. So you might've seen this slide from a previous presentation that we did together, but when you grow things in a five gallon bucket, which is a good volume of soil to aim for in a container, it's a good amount of soil, I actually recommend using a half-inch hole bit to drill those holes, not just like a regular drill bit, because that way you're sure that no bit of soil is gonna plug those holes, they're huge holes in the bottom of your container, and that has worked really well for us. But making sure that it drains fully, properly, will make sure that A: you're getting enough oxygen to those roots, but also, if you're not getting enough oxygen in that soil, it will promote the growth of antagonistic anaerobic bacteria, which you do not want. So if you have ever had the unhappy pleasure of growing a plant and it wilting on you because you're overwatering, this is what's happening, you might notice that it smells a little bit. So the soil, if you bend down and smell the soil, it smells funky, like wet gym socks almost, so that's a sign that there's some anaerobic bacteria growing in your soil and you don't want that. You want your soil to smell like a forest, fresh.

[Darciea Houston]:  Yes, and also you could use rocks, you know [audio malfunction] in the containers or [audio malfunction] lasagna, you know, but creating or making sure that that drainage is there is imperative, and then it's rocks and you know, things that are in the streams, so this goes hand in hand with soil, rocks, water, they know how to clean and filter and interact with each other, so I also sometimes drill holes, maybe four holes on the sides as well, but yes, breathing is important for everybody, so you know, you just want to make sure nobody or nothing living is without air, 'cause you can go to jail.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Exactly, I love it. So in addition to proper drainage, the next step in preparing a five gallon bucket – or any container for growing vegetables – is to start with clean materials. So you're rinsing out your containers, so make sure you're working with all clean tools, so for instance if you're using shovels or like hand tools, pruning shears, make sure you're cleaning those so that you're not passing along disease to the different plants in your garden, and just make sure all your growing containers are cleaned out. So for instance, in our directions we always add, rinse the bucket with soap and water or with 10% bleach, that'll really be sure to kill whatever might be lingering in your container.

[Lori Delacruz Lewis]: Dr. Casy?

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Yes.

[Lori Delacruz Lewis]:  We have a question about that bacteria you were talking about. Jasmine wants to know, does that bacteria promote gnats? She says that she has that problem with indoor plants, is that what's happening?

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  So it is from overwatering, I've not really heard about – they do call them fungus gnats, so they're fungus gnats, so they feed off of the fungus in the soil, but as far as those bacteria, I'm not sure if they do or not. I think they just feed off of the fungus in the soil, but that happens because that soil's too wet.

[Darciea Houston]:  Yes, I was gonna say that too. I think they ultimately are after moisture, if it's fungus, bacteria or whatever, they are after moisture and they want that damp, you know, they just don't want water, that's more of a mosquito thing, but yes.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Right right, and a quick way to dry 'em out to get rid of 'em is to move them closer to a window for more light, so that would make the – so the plant will transpire, it'll move more water through its system if it's in a higher intensity light. So if it's in a dark corner of your room right now, move it closer to a window, it'll dry out the soil a little bit faster if you want to be sure to get rid of those. Alternatively, if you want to sprinkle some DE, it can get a little messy, but if you sprinkle some diatomaceous earth on top of that soil, that has been shown to help a little bit. I've had only mild success with diatomaceous earth, so but when we get fungus gnat infestations, we do 'em up large, so.

[Darciea Houston]:  I have also had little success with DE as well, for some things, but for most things, I mean it's just that first thing if you have it, it's almost like the Band-Aid, let's go put a Band-Aid on it right now and then you know, you might wanna figure it out because it's not gonna work.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Right right right. Also, so I'm not sure if this would help, but I notice a lot of times, so when we buy plants, they – so if – a little plant here, can't have a plant talk without a plant next to you, right? So sometimes when they sell these plants here – yeah, I'll just go with this – they have them in these really beautiful decorative like shells, they just set them in, and that's to prevent water from spilling out all over the store and getting everything messy, but it does not help with the airflow within the soil, so whenever I get home with a plant, I take it immediately out of whatever you know, foil or decorative pot is around it, and I place it either on just a plate, or I finally invested in some plastic dishes for them to sit in, and that helps with the drainage and it helps prevent that bacteria from building up. So I'm gonna reach over and pick something up here, I'm trying to get better about keeping African violets alive, I over-love them, and I realized that part of the issue was because they came in these guys, so you can see there's no hole, but it looks really cute and it keeps water from getting all over the place, especially during transit, but I can guarantee you when they're growing in the nursery, before they were shipped to the store, they were not growing in these, 'cause this is the death trap for plants. So just take 'em out, even though it's cute. What you could do if you really wanted to keep it is drill some holes in the bottom of this, and then just set it on a dish.

[Darciea Houston]:  I've gotten a few dishes in places like thrift stores, any set that's like broken, even the microwave plate [audio malfunction] for a system outside, I really like those. You can put rocks around them, it'll look really cute too, people will never know it's from the microwave that you don't have anymore. But yeah, and even if pots are an issue, there's a guy that works at Ruibal's that I do a lot of interactions with, a lot of classes with, his name is [unsure on spelling] and he talked about people just using the wrong pots in general. You know, you've got a succulent in a clay pot, you know, which is dehydrating on the other end, so some people are having to water regularly because they don't understand that the pot that they have is actually a dehydrant, so you really really have to know what kind of diapers you wanna put on your baby, you know? That's important, is this baby a pull-up baby, is it a Pamper baby? So just make it personable.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  So I did see a question come through from Georgeann there about different types of pots, so are ceramic pots better than plastic? I vote, so ceramic, I'll say a few words and then I'll let you go for it, Darciea. So plastic, definitely not sustainable. Ceramic is more earth friendly, but like Darciea was saying, if you get a terracotta pot – just gonna reach down here – it has holes in it, it's porous, so like Darciea was saying, dehydrant. When you water it, water actually goes into the pot, so it does help with airflow which is really helpful if you're growing in a shaded place, like on a balcony or a patio area that's shaded, but just keep this in mind, this would not be – well it's small, but if you had a big one and you were growing tomatoes in the sun, that would just be a recipe for a very sad tomato plant I think. So maybe get like a sealed ceramic container, but I do grow in plastic containers, too.

[Darciea Houston]:  Yes, I grow in anything, you know, I'll grow in glass if I can because my goal
[audio malfunction] my goal is to actually propagate these transplants that I'm starting, so I'm gonna start them in something that's plastic, that you know, I don't care about, I use egg crates too you know, so I don't care about what it is I'm starting to grow in because I'm ready to do something with this crop. But if you're gonna hold onto this crop, you must know what type of pot it needs, and it's not gonna be the same for every plant, you know. You might get away with no holes in the bottom if you try to grow an ivy, but it's not gonna happen for a succulent, you know, it's just gonna be different.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  That's true, and I didn't mean to knock plastic so much, because clearly I'm promoting five gallon bucket growing. One of the reasons why I love five gallon buckets is 'cause you can clean them out thoroughly, so if something were to happen to whatever's growing in there, it gets some kind of like a rust or like a bacterial speck in your tomatoes, you completely compost all that soil, make sure everything is killed off, and then bleach out that container, you can definitely use it. It's a little bit harder to bleach a container that's ceramic, so from a cleanliness standpoint it's a lot easier to work with plastic.

[Lori Delacruz Lewis]: Dr. Casy? Along those lines, there was a question of which is preferable, the food grade plastic buckets or five gallon grow bags?

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  So I always say buckets over grow bags, but that's just because the grow bags, even more so than in ceramic pots in my mind, lose so much water, but if you're growing in the spring or in the fall when it's cooler and you're growing in the shade somewhere where the plants probably aren't moving as much water out of the soil, the grow bags might actually work better because it increases the airflow in that shady, cool environment. But if you're growing tomatoes, they need eight hours of sun, and I honestly – when I grow in a ten gallon container, one tomato plant, I'm watering it multiple times a day just to keep it hydrated in the summertime, 'cause it gets really hot in Texas. So yeah, it depends on the season I would say, and what you're trying to grow.

[Darciea Houston]:   I don't know, for me, the grow bags, y'all, I think they just – after a while, the way that they end up looking, for me, that's the thing that I don't like. I can paint the outside of the bucket if I want to, I can put you know, some burlap on it, I can dress the bucket up, but I can't – that bag, it starts to lose its shape after a while, I just don't like the way it looks, so and I don't feel like it's enough structure. Sometimes when I want things to be firm, I see adjustments in the soil, so that's just my personal opinion, but if I had nothing else to grow in, I would be growing in that.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  That makes sense, cool cool. How many times can you use a grow bag over again, by the way? Multiple times?

[Darciea Houston]:  I have no idea, it just seems to me one season and it's like kind of a wrap, but maybe that is that temporary you know [audio malfunction] I always said if I wanted to buy some trees, maybe I would buy them in that so I can just [audio malfunction] you know, cut the side or something of that nature just to get it out. Maybe potatoes? You know, I might so that – 'cause I had a hard time last season getting all my potatoes out of a bucket, I really had to do a lot of maneuvering and broke a few, I was upset about that 'cause I just wanted them to be whole. But yeah, I think that it just depends on what you're growing, but I don't know how many times you can use it, I guess until it falls apart.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Great, I love it. So excellent segue into – if I can advance the slide here – potatoes. Potatoes are an easy container plant to grow, so if you're looking for some – don't start 'em now, 'cause it's too late now for fall, but in springtime, it's just a few weeks away, honestly – well, months, but early February, so just start looking for those seed potatoes in a few months and they're really easy to grow. Okay, so next tip for prevention. Leaving room for airflow. So this is a picture of different planting densities of turnip greens, so on the left we've got some high density, what you could almost call microgreens, turnip greens, and in the middle, a few less, and then on the righthand side even fewer, and you can see the ones on the left are actually all competing with each other for resources, so if you have 100 seedlings competing for the same amount of water as 10 seedlings, think about you know, the resources that they're competing for there, and the sunlight. So they're a little bit smaller and a little bit weaker, but also because they're so densely packed together there, it keeps the moisture in that leaf canopy and that's a perfect home for bacteria and for fungi that are pathogenic to your plants. So you want to think of like a vineyard, how the vines are pruned up on those support structures and air can just move through all those grapes. You want something like that, where air can move through all of your leaves so that after it rains, the leaves can dry out and they won't be as disease prone, and along with that, you definitely want to prune back your plants as well. I'll just move onto the next slide, this is what they look like close up, so you can see on the lefthand side how they're so densely packed in there, they don't dry out, whereas the one on the right, its leaves would dry out a lot faster. Okay, so case in point, so this is a tomato plant in I think end of like March, early April, it still hasn't hit 100 degrees yet, super happy you know, you plant your first tomato plant and you're like oh my gosh, I don't know why I had so much trouble the last season, this is so easy, I finally found the perfect variety. And then boom, overnight it just seems to get attacked by disease. Now, we want to prevent this by pruning it, so if we go back, it's not just because it's cool temperatures, even though that does affect it, look at how much airflow can move through this leaf canopy here, right? So it's still young, the leaves aren't as compacted together, whereas in this example, all those branches are so compressed against each other, the leaves are on top of each other, they're all around the fruit, it would take a long time after a rain episode for this area to dry out, and that's just a perfect home for those pathogens. So we want to prevent that by pruning, so this is an example of what a well pruned tomato plant looks like. You don't wanna prune all your leaves off, because of course, those are our sugar factories, right? You need those leaves in order to photosynthesize and create all those sugars to sustain the plant and create all those fruits and also shade that fruit, because you don't want the fruit exposed to direct sunlight or else you'll get sun scald. But along the base here, along that soil, you wanna be sure that you're clipping off – and I put those white arrows in there so that you can see – you wanna clip off those leaves almost at that main branch there so that they're not picking up pathogens from the soil, and in addition, you'll notice we also have a nice mulch on top of the soil which is keeping those spores down from splashing up onto the plant and spreading disease onto those lower leaves. So you can see how, after a rain, this plant would dry out a lot faster. So before I move on, Darciea, did you have anything to add about pruning out canopies?

[Darciea Houston]:  Pruning went very well this year for me, however, I wasn't that successful with tomatoes in all of the gardens that I work in, and I think that pruning too late, I guess performing surgery too late on these crops, you have to really think about how they're going to feel, and then as far as lower hanging fruit for me, I used to farm at Paul Quinn, I would harvest the lower hanging tomatoes regardless of what color or if they were ready or not, and then just sell those as green tomatoes just because I did not want to miss or them to ripen and attract. I had so many to worry about you know, I didn't just have a few, so that makes it extremely different. But for my safety, and you know, there's a lot more crop to be compromised when you're farming commercially, so I did make sure I sold everything as green tomatoes at the bottom, definitely.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  That makes sense, that way you had the uniform harvest.

[Darciea Houston]:  Yes.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  That's awesome. Cool, I think I saw a question come through but I couldn't read it all there. Oh, I think it was something about organic mulch. So our mulch, we actually recycle newspaper and the city, I believe, or is it the park that gives away free wood chippings?

[Darciea Houston]:  A lot of places do, but that makes me nervous and makes me scared because they're so quick, the companies will say, oh yeah, we'll deliver the free mulch or the wood chips to you, they're not [audio malfunction] that it's 100% fresh, and if you put that on your crops, that's going to rob your crops of nutrients. So the wood chips need to sit at least for four weeks, I say for four months, you know, I want to see some mycelium, I wanna see some activity happening, I wanna see you already breaking down. But there are several spaces, I know that for a while I was calling Owenwood Farm off of John West, Susie Marshall, to ask to pick up wood chips that I knew had been delivered like last year, she has a rotation of wood chips, and then in Duncanville I found a closer gig, that place, they dump and I'm able to go over there, but also when I take them to a site I let them still sit, because I'm not sure how new they are. But there was a funny story too, we planted garlic in October and we got in this supposedly seedless straw and we used that, and oh, y'all, it was so cute, it was real sexy the way this looked. I mean you know, the garlic leaves and then it was just you know, the contrast of the straw, but we just end up growing straw 'cause there were seeds in it.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Yeah, 'cause a lot of times –

[Darciea Houston]:  How could you tell, right? So mulch, I am for wood chips, I love mulch, I think that oh, it keeps the weeding, it keeps the weeding magnificent. You can just pull your weeds up effortlessly, I can be out there just real cute, like yeah, I'm about to weed. I have to be out there like you know, looking like I'm a farmer, but yeah.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  That's awesome. And I did see a question float by about squirrels, we're gonna touch on that briefly here in a second, I think it might almost be next actually, so we will go ahead on that. Okay, almost there. Crop rotation, so it's important to prevent in preventing disease, again, soil-borne diseases and pests, too, because some pests overwinter in the soil. Case in point, squash vine borer, actually, so you don't want to plant squash in the same place two seasons in a row, just move it over just a little bit, you know. So here's an example, you might have three different garden beds or you can break it up into three different areas of your garden. You might plant tomatoes one season, and then the next season, like in the spring, and then in the fall you could plant a legume like a bean plant, or peanuts even, and then the next season you would want to plant carrots or another family. So what do I mean by family? We'll go back. So tomatoes – so family is essentially just plants that are related to each other and attract the same types of pests, so eggplants, tomatoes, peppers are all in that tomato nightshade family. Squash, so zucchini, winter squash like acorn and butternut and summer squash, crookneck squash, they're all related and attract the same squash vine borer type pests, cucumber too. Bean family, so of course beans, and then the onion family, so green onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, those are all related. So just don't have a designated section, I know it's hard because sometimes you know, one portion of your house gets the most sun, or your yard gets the most sun. of course, you don't have to worry about it if you're planting in containers, you know.

[Darciea Houston]:  That's what I was just getting ready to say, I said if you can't crop rotate because of your situation, this is when you incorporate your containers.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:   Yep, exactly, love it, love it, great minds. So yeah, just rotate them. Tomatoes one year, and then squash the next, and you'll be good to go, or beans. Okay, cool. So moving on, squirrels. So squirrels are pesky, and all the different chemical deterrents that are out there, I haven't found one that works. Some folks say that if you sprinkle red pepper, like the cayenne capsaicin, it scares them away, they don't like the strong smells. I do find that if I put mint around my plants, they're a little bit more deterred, but for a foolproof method, if you can find a way to just mechanically physically keep them away from your plants with a fence, that is the best method. Just if you invest in some form of structure like this, that would go a long ways, and it doesn't have to be as complex as this framed out system, it could be something over a raised bed, a hoop system here. What I do for containers, so I notice that squirrels, we have trees around our area here, and our neighbors actually feed the squirrels so I'm super excited about that.

[Darciea Houston]:  Gosh, people!

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  It's okay, they gotta eat too.

[Darciea Houston]:  And they have no problem eating, that's the thing.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Exactly, right? So what I do is cover them with a screen right after I plant something, so like if I just planted potatoes like a month ago, and before when that soil's fresh, there's something about it that attracts them to freshly disturbed soil or those fresh seedlings, so I just cover it with a screen while it's still coming up through the soil and while that soil is settling down, and I've found that that really helps. Also keeps my dogs off of my plants too, 'cause they love to sit on top of my containers as well. Have you found anything that works well, Darciea, for squirrels?

[Darciea Houston]:  No, I think that these little monsters are ridiculous and we need to call the police or somebody because they need – I don't know, I think trapping, which is what I'm trying to say, and maybe we could take 'em to court, I don't know what we can get, but they are atrocious, they are just invasive for me, and like you said, a structure being built, I've tried mint and many different things. I was actually scared 'cause my dad has [audio malfunction] peach and pear trees, and all the squirrels do is just sit up there and eat while he's watching and then leave the little seeds on the fence. So he went and got something that was supposed to send out signals, that was supposed to you know, eradicate anything in the attic or squirrels or any kind of rodent, but I was instantly, as a holistic health and wellness, I was concerned. So you mean to tell me this gets them away, what does it for you? What does it do to you, as you being in the house? This, I don't appreciate not knowing the research on this, so I don't wanna use that method only because I don't know anything about it. But yeah, I think that nets over the grapes, I'm having a lot of people with their grapes having issues in squirrels, persimmon trees, and you can't put a tree in this structure, so you know, I don't know what else to plant to give it that, because I think they think everything is a buffet, you know. They know that if I plant a trap crop or something, they still come and get what they want. So I'm not sure about squirrels, other than I mean, Beverly Hillbilly, you know, they like actually ate the game, maybe we just gotta get back to eating game, I don't know.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  I like it, it's resourceful.

[Georgeann Moss]:  So we did have one question from Heather, the squirrels at her house like to chew on wood pieces on top of her home, and so she's replaced the wood and repainted it, but they still chew on it, and you can't really put a barrier around that, so there's nothing, you said maybe the pepper could be tried, but have you heard of anything else? And also, I have some very daring squirrels myself, used to when I would knock on the window they would get out of our bird feeder, but now they won't even get out unless I actually open the door and go chase them away. I mean, they don't obey.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  They set up residence, like hey, get out of my hou

se.

.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  I would – yeah, at that rate, I mean if it's affecting your house structure I would call some form of control, pest control, like a professional. But yeah.

[Darciea Houston]:  That's what I would do too, because they're chewing on wood. I mean, that is just – I'm not gonna say abnormal, but they have to – and if they keep doing it, it's something in there that they have to have. To me, they're not eating, but they're trying to get where they have to be somewhere, that's what that's telling me.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Yeah, that makes sense. Well, I feel bad for your house, I'm sorry.

[Darciea Houston]:  Me too.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Okay, moving right along. So most of our pest management is all about prevention, so now scouting. Scouting is essentially looking for disease, you wanna be very proactive, you're constantly searching for it. You don't want your plant to be dead by the time you realize that there's disease, you wanna find the early symptoms. So every time you're watering, which is multiple times a day in the summertime, can be, look for those abnormal spots like this, those brown patches or yellowing, and then as soon as you see them, unless it's a special case, you know, I prune them out right away, and then trash it, get it out of the garden. Some folks like to compost it, I like to just be sure it's completely out, that those spores can't further spread to the rest of the garden. So case in point, being a plant pathologist by trade means I see this and am like – yeah, there's a lot going on here – what? Okay, mold, mold everywhere. So all these arrows, I'm pointing to things that I would prune out ASAP. A: you wanna increase the airflow, we already talked about that, you wanna increase that airflow and not leave canopy there to prevent it from staying too wet. And by the way, whenever you water, don't aim at the shoot, aim at the base of the plant, at the soil. Do not – they are not kids at a water park, they don't like getting the leaves wet, they need to stay dry to prevent disease, so just aim it right at the soil there. Yeah, definitely prune out those yellowing leaves and those brown spots, 'cause that will spread throughout the rest of your plants. This happened to me, so as soon as I started seeing these spots on these leaves, I just pruned them right out. Truth be told, probably could've pruned out some more leaves to increase the airflow on that leaf canopy, so those had to go. And again, this is a reminder of what we're aiming for. Okay, moving right along just so we can cover more material. Scouting for insect disease pressure. So look for those eggs, don't just look for the mouths, look for the eggs on the underside of the leaf and remove them, brush them off, because as soon as they hatch, they're gonna produce those little larvae that are gonna go to town on your plants and eat them all to bits. So this is a squash bug on the left, and then on the right is squash vine borer eggs, so definitely if you see these little football looking eggs, they look kinda cute but they will do a lot of damage to your plants, you wanna pick those right off. And then caterpillars, I just remove those by hand, I guess you could spray with some form of insecticide, but they're so large that you can just pick them right off, and chickens love them, so if you have chickens it's a good treat for them. They are really easy to spot with UV light, so if you have a handheld blacklight you can go out there at night and find them, and then just really quickly some treatment, I put this in here to illustrate, this is a sunflower with some form of disease on its leaves that is purely cosmetic, the sunflower head itself is not really hurt so I didn't prune off the leaves just because it wasn't spreading to other plants, it wasn't really harming anything else. So there is some disease pressure that you can allow, you don't have to prune out everything, as long as it's not gonna spread to the rest of your plants and really harm your yield. So some of it's just cosmetic, and a treatment that I go to very often is neem oil, you do want to be careful, you want to spray this at night. Neem oil, this product in particular you can pick up at most nurseries, hardware stores, it treats spider mites, treats lots of different insects, even treats some fungus like the powdery mildew on the right side. You wanna be sure to thoroughly coat the leaf, you're not just like – it's like the opposite of what you wanna do for watering, you wanna coat it completely because that is, on contact, what's going to kill those pests, so you wanna be sure you're thoroughly coating those leaves and follow the directions. Every product is different, I know sometimes it can be like deciphering legalese trying to figure out those labels, but they're getting better and this product in particular is pretty easy to use. And then just mentioning squash vine borer, one of the ways that you can treat it is just by cutting open the stem, you'll notice that you have them if you see that orange frass, like the excrement from the larvae coming out the side of the stem, so just slice it open with a knife, pick them out, you might have one to two larvae per stem, but if you leave them in there, they're only gonna get worse, and I've not seen too many good reviews about things like Bt working too well against them. Yeah, squash vine borer is hard, best way to control it is through rotation, crop rotation, and preventing it by getting those eggs off of your leaves, and then last but not least, I wanted to put in a little bit about ecology here. Darciea and I were talking about companion planting, so intercropping, a classic example is the three sisters, so corn, bean and squash. The squash goes against the ground, covering the soil, preventing weeds, conserving moisture, beans use the corn as kind of a trellis – pole beans, not bush beans but pole beans – and because beans fix nitrogen it's good for the soil, corn not really super great for the soil, but it will need some fertilizer, but because you have the beans in there it's still building the soil to some extent. So that is an example of companion plants, and more examples, did you want to mention anything about companion planting?

[Darciea Houston]:   Yes, if you all didn't know, did you know that [audio malfunction] so when one gets stressed out, one might not be getting water or might be attacked by insects or some sort of haphazard has happened. This plant will send out signals in the soil to the other plants around them, like hey, watch out girl, they coming, or they're harvesting, oh, they have the dirty surgical pruners that are about to come for you, too. They tell each other what is going on, so they actually put up defense mechanisms. But just think about you and your friends, hopefully you have different friends, like a lot of different people that can contribute a lot to your soil. So with these, you see that we have basil, we have tomato, we have garlic and we have parsley, they're going to be able to communicate, and if one is lacking water because your drip irrigation just doesn't reach over there, did you know that another plant will share water? Another plant will share nutrients. So you want this mutualistic symbiosis relationship to happen for your garden, you wanna be able to communicate, then you want this food to communicate to you. So that's what I wanted to tell you, communication is everywhere, not just within us as humans, and then trap plants, those are some other things that you can put out that can grab some flies, grab some mosquitoes, you know, actually help with your pests, your gnats and things of that nature, so those are the things I would like to say.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Awesome, cool. So you have these slides in the recording so you can go back to them, those were just some examples of more companion plants, and yeah, just wanted to mention, if you wanna learn more, there's ag classes at Dallas College now. If you have questions, we'd love to help you out too, it is a major within the associate's degree program. Definitely connect with us on social media, we've got Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and here's Darciea's contact information, too.

[Darciea Houston]:  Contact me now! Thank you so much for having us, I appreciate your time and your ability to listen to us and learn, but I also love the comment about the squirrels, it was something over there – oh, cats.

[Dr. Kara Casy]:  Rats, squirrels, stray cats.

[Darciea Houston]:  So yeah, not everybody likes cats, I like 'em, but you know.

[Georgeann Moss]:  I love that comment too, and I love this presentation. Kara, Darciea, thank you so much, another wonderful presentation. We really appreciate you guys being with us today, and I want to remind everyone that as they leave this workshop, an evaluation form will pop up so give us your comments, and also we hope that you'll join us next week, because Lauren Clarke, who's the CEO of Turn Compost, will be talking about composting 101, talking about composting on there, and Lauren's gonna tell you how to create your own, and so please do sign up for the sustainability summit, which is November 6th this year, it is absolutely awesome, we're gonna be 100% online and we hope to see you all there. So thank you thank you thank you, and we'll see you next week. Bye bye.

[Darciea Houston]:  Welcome welcome welcome. High five.

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