If you have a Scotch, red, mugo, Austrian or white pine tree in your yard, you’d better check it for presence of European pine sawfly larvae. They usually feed in clusters, all raising their heads aggressively when disturbed. They’re grey-green with black heads, and light green and/or black stripes that run from tail to head. They’re about an inch long when full grown.
One Boisean found they’d turned the end of a mugo pine branch into Q-tips, but these destructive creatures usually feed exclusively on old needles. They hatch from eggs laid nearly a year ago and will continue feeding until mid-June, when they’ll pupate in the soil or on the tree, emerging as adults in September. Then they lay eggs in the tips of the branches that will be old needles when they hatch.
For control, hand-picking is effective if the infestation is limited. Other than that, blasting them off with jets of water may work, or insecticidal soap spray will work. Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) does not work on these caterpillars. If you’re lucky, birds will feed on these creatures. If the infestation is heavy, you may have to use a systemic insecticide rated for sawfly control. That may also poison birds feeding on them. Damage is most threatening to trees that are young or whose vigor is poor.
I’ve been asked to write a column on tomato varieties that have done well for me in the past few years, and since I’m busy planting my own garden, it’s an easy topic.
First of all, I usually only grow open-pollinated (OP) types of tomatoes rather than hybrids. Hybrids have some advantages such as “hybrid vigor” producing a lot of fruit, and since gardeners can’t save their own seeds and grow anything resembling the parent, seed companies that profit from re-sales have paid for testing of their hybrid varieties for resistance to diseases. That shows on the seed packets as VFN (Verticillium, Fusarium and Nematodes) and other initial designations.
Open-pollinated tomatoes don’t carry those assurances, but if they weren’t tasty or productive or resistant to disease, these varieties would not have been saved by families for generation after generation.
Varieties of slicers I’ve found best here include Paul Robeson and Cherokee Purple (both dark purple or “black”), Cosmonaut Volkov, Tiffen Mennonite, Black Krim, Druzba and Gold Medal (formerly Ruby Gold). I’ve also had some nice fruit from Santa Clara Canner and Red Brandywine. Cherry tomato favorites are Lollipop, Coyote and Gardeners Delight. Isis Candy, a striped cherry tomato, is delicious when ripe, but it’s difficult to tell when it is ripe. I don’t care much for Sweet 100 or Sweet Million because they’re hybrids, and they have a metallic aftertaste.
Riesentraube is a nice cherry tomato, but not an abundant fruit producer in my garden.
Paste tomato favorites are Opalka, Super Italian paste, Amish paste and Howard German.
Peppers and shade
I’ve heard that peppers didn’t produce well for some folks in this valley last year. Some of my hotter chiles didn’t produce well, but culinary varieties such as Trinidad Perfume and Tobago Seasoning chiles (mild variants of Capsicum chinense) bore fruit abundantly, and so did bell peppers.
A friend grew peppers that received late afternoon shade from a fence, and her harvest was excellent. I had just read a report that scientists had found that pepper plants responded very well to some shade. They were recommending the use of 30 percent shade cloth (cutting 30 percent of the sun’s light).
Send garden questions to email@example.com or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.