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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Shovelful of Soil

Aim:

I pushed a shovel into my garden soil today and went through it with my hands like a mother goes through a head of hair for lice. For starters, I was looking for symphylans. If I have them, I might make some evasive maneuvers this spring. Maybe even move my garden.

Looking through the soil was really interesting. When you look at soil closely, it's like peering into a miniature universe. The soil is literally crawling with stuff. The big elephants of the garden are earthworms. All the organic matter I build into the soil attracts them, so I not only spotted them in quantity but saw a few monsters as well. (Remember when Abby had the Pet Parade at Stapleton Elementary, and since Mom told her she couldn't bring the cat, she proudly paraded with a styrofoam cup of earthworms?)

In one scoopful of soil, I found some things that concerned me. I saved three of them and captured them on video in the hope that you might help me identify them and figure out whether they're good, bad or neutral.

video


The larger, slow-moving orange thing - I have a lot of those. Not as many of the skinny fast one with antennae. But a couple of them in one section of the garden. Also a fair amount of those gray, coiled things (look in the upper-right-hand corner of the video. Thoughts on what they are?

--Rachel

Answer

So is this a new and exciting use for the GoPro? I approve.

Larger, Slow-moving Orange Thing: Wireworms

I'm almost positive that's a wireworm - or click beetle, if you're talking about adults. They're pretty common in the spring and fall, and in newly turned earth. The bad news is that they like to attack the root system of plants, causing stunted growth or even death. They'll also bore into tubers. You see them more in the spring and fall because they like cooler temperatures, and will burrow deeper than your plant's roots in the hot part of summer. Were you planning on planting soon? Cause it might be best to wait a bit and deal with them before putting in vulnerable seeds and seedlings. They do most damage to plants at those stages. Pesticides don't really work on them, but this is one of those happy occasions where cultural and biological controls work pretty well.

Bury some carrots and potatoes
They like carrots and potatoes a lot. So, you can use them as traps pretty much immediately. I'd buy some of each and bury them in regular areas around the garden. Just push the carrots into the soil so that they mimic a growing carrot. Cut the potatoes in half and then push a stick through them. Bury them at least an inch or so under the soil, with the stick above like a handle. Every few days you should pull them up and check for wireworms. Remove any that are there, then stick it back in the soil. This is a good thing to do throughout the growing season too, since soil temperatures in Seattle are probably still pretty low. You might find some Symphylans on these at this stage too, but you should take their presence with a grain of salt. There are several species of symphylans that prefer decaying vegetation, and they're beneficial to the eco-system. The species of damaging symphylan prefers to eat living plants, so you'd want to look for those in the roots of your grass or weeds. But they might appear on your potatoes when you don't have much planted - like right now. The nasty ones can't actually burrow into the soil on their own, so they need to follow soil that has been upset. So also look for them in the top layers of soil. I have some suggestions for Symphylan maintenance, if you find them in the area.

Beneficial Nemotodes
I'd also recommend that you invest in some Grub-Away Nemotodes. They attack a wide variety of soil pests, and we think you've had cutworms too. This is an organism, so it's a form of biological control. Therefore you don't have to worry about the good things in the soil, either. You can get 10 million of them for $30.
http://www.gardensalive.com/product.asp?pn=5000
I'd apply them when you are planting. And then maybe again later in the season.

Skinny fast one with Antennae: I don't know yet
Does it have legs? I can't really tell from the video. It moves as though it has legs (at least in the front), but then it's posterior isn't moving at all. And if it has legs, are they only at the front or are they on every segment? If it has legs on every segment, then it might be a type of centipede. Centipedes are predators, so you don't have to worry about your plants. They might be eating some of your earthworms in addition to the pests, though. I usually just leave them alone. If it doesn't have legs (or only has them in the front), then it isn't something I've encountered before. I'll have to research that a bit more.

One at the top right: I can't really see this one at all. A few questions: does it have a hard or soft body? Does it have legs? If it has a soft body, this might be a cutworm. If it's hard and segmented, I'd guess some sort of Isopod (big roly-poly). They may or may not like to chomp of your vegetables. There aren't that many things that curl up like that, so it should be easy to figure out what it is with a little more info.

Aim

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