The Fruits of Summer Are Soon among Us

A recent phone conversation with Tom Backus of the D.E.C.'s Land and Forest Division confirmed some very good news I was hoping to hear. Aerial surveys of Sullivan and Ulster counties' woodlands reveal only very light populations of both Gypsy Moth (an import) and Forest Tent (a native) caterpillars.

Recent fly-overs indicate no heavy defoliation from either pest. Both are in some years serious threats to our hardwoods, especially sugar maples and oaks, but hundreds of species of trees can be impacted. Speculation is that our very wet June greatly contributed to the success of a naturally occurring viral predator and an introduced fungal predator of the GM larvae. This means many millions of dollars saved in forest timber, tourism, botanical and chemical pest control, and potential maple syrup and honey revenues.

A question for Sara Lee Seginak. Is a good follow-up going to see "Mothra", or one of the sequels? I'm told the second one is the best. Our last exposure to a super attack was in 1994. Celebrate!

So, what lies ahead? Celebrate some more! Two of the most anticipated pleasures of the summer are with us. Sweet corn, descending from, not the silks Columbus sought, but rather from those he discovered as a national treasure -- maize. Thomas Jefferson mentions sweet corn as early as 1810. By the 1850s it was being widely cultivated.

And, number two, for its bold color, sweet juiciness, wide variety, ease of growing and high productivity, the first choice for the home vegetable garden -- the tomato. And just think that this modern day delight was bred for more than 500 years from a wild, small berried Peruvian fruit, and over the centuries embraced a reputation that ran from sinister poison to aphrodisiac.

Celebrate! Blueberries, too, are here. And no slight is intended to the strawberries of June. They start the celebration, after all. All four with native American origins. Are we fortunate, or what? Jude Waterston, got a recipe?

What else lies ahead? If your lawn is tired or bedraggled looking, has bare or yellow/brown patches, has more dandelions or other weeds than grass, the time to renovate is drawing near. Late August to mid-September is the ideal time to begin starting a new lawn or renovating an exhausted one.

Getting to the bottom of lawn improvement really means starting with the soil. The soil should contain sufficient organic matter to support micro-organisms and earthworms. Its texture should not be powdery or dusty; it should consist of soil particles held together in small crumbs or clods. This favors easy entrance of water, and facilitates root penetration and air exchange. This kind of soil usually allows excess moisture to drain away and still holds enough through absorption to hydrate roots between rainfalls or irrigations.

So why, you might ask, is this small window of six or so weeks, the ideal time? The risks of failure are reduced. Crab grass is not germinating. There is more favorable growing weather. More even moisture. Cooler nighttime temperatures. Any weeds that come up can be easily spotted and removed.

Someone asks what seed to put down. Mixtures work best for most homeowners. If the soil is similar to that described above and the area is sunny, choose a mix that contains 55 to 70 % Kentucky Bluegrass blend, with the remaining being perennial rye grass and fine fescues. If the soils are sandy or especially prone to dry conditions, whether in sun or shade, use a blend that contains 65 to 80 % fine or red fescues and the balance perennial rye and Kentucky Bluegrass blend. I hope this is useful to you lawn devotees.

Since I don't maintain "lawn" areas, but rather green matter that gets mowed periodically, here's a helpful hint to you who collect clippings for mulching. It used to be said that grass clippings were great mulch and that they should be collected and used for that purpose. Rightly so. However, there are very many weeds that grow in yards. Once cut, pieces of many species will readily generate new roots and, if used as a mulch around treasured plants, will quickly compete for space, moisture, and nutrients.

I recommend, as a matter of course, planting pest resistant varieties of plants, trees, shrubs etc. whenever possible to promote sustainability and reduce pesticide inputs in our environment. The resistance mechanisms that plants utilize are complex and varied. Resistance is a relative term. Remember this. A plant's ability to demonstrate its maximum resistance to any pest the research says it possesses is highly dependent on appropriate siting and the absence of severe stresses. Resistant does not mean immune

A plant poorly sited or subjected to unnecessary stresses will usually prove to be vulnerable to attack. Even one well situated and planted can succumb when conditions are at extremes. Malus 'Donald Wyman', a reliably hardy and attractive ornamental crabapple known for its "scab" resistance, this spring developed scab.

The record setting rains of June were the stress factor. The fungus (Venturia inaequalis ), nicknamed "scab", overwinters on infected fallen leaves and fruit. Remove from beneath the tree by continued raking and destroying of infected material. The major time of infection is passed.

A final cautionary note based on careful observation of experts in forest ecology. I encourage you to celebrate stronger, healthier oaks spared from the ravages of Gypsy Moths and Tent Caterpillars. This promises an abundance of acorns. More acorns mean more deer and better hunting. Right?

More acorns also mean more white footed mice (which eat gypsy moth pupae) which means healthier oaks. With an overabundance of acorns we get exploding populations of both deer and mice -- key players in the deer tick - Lyme disease scenario. The mice feast on the acorns and the deer tick larvae feast on the mice. It's a balancing act. Rejoice with caution.

Happy August. Let's hope the "dog days" are as docile and friendly as puppies.


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on July 30, 2003

© 2003 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.