Margaret Lauterbach

Follow proper procedures if you want to import seeds, plants or fruit

You can tell whether an item is restricted by going to and entering the name of the fruit and the country from which you want to obtain it.
You can tell whether an item is restricted by going to and entering the name of the fruit and the country from which you want to obtain it.

Some folks talk in isolationist terms, but that genie is out of the bottle. Wars and their aftermaths have introduced new tastes and changed Americans’ food preferences, so now we have choices of international foods at restaurants, in our grocery stores, see them prepared and consumed on television, and learn about them through media. Some of us would like to grow those ingredients, but we risk running afoul of regulations.

As gardeners, cooks and eaters, we seek to grow herbs, spices and vegetables from other places, such as Southeast Asia, China, India, Ukraine, Spain, England and even Timbuktu. But we’ve got to be careful to avoid importing seeds and plants that will take over our world, accidentally bringing in insects with no natural predators, and diseases that will destroy our farms that are responsible for growing our food.

To guard against invasive and destructive plants, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has rules and suggestions to try to bar importation of such pests. I came to the attention of those guardians through some exotic seed purchases through eBay and Amazon. Officials simply destroyed some of the seeds, and sent a note informing me of that action. I was also contacted by telephone and courteously warned against such purchases.

It’s very tough for regulators to know how to handle seed swaps with friends who live in other countries, especially through organizations such as Seed Savers Exchange. That organization does have members who save and sell seeds from countries such as Sweden, Spain, Ukraine, Austria, France, Iceland, Japan, Belarus and Canada, for instance. Technically we who would import seeds from other countries need to obtain an import permit; tell the shipper seeds must be free of growing media; have a phytosanitary certificate; and use approved packing material and other items listed under the plant importer’s responsibilities.

Official documents indicate you can tell whether an item is restricted by going to and entering the name of the fruit and the country from which you want to obtain it. The only option I found there was for the country. If you find opportunity to give the “approved name” of the item you wish to import, you may find:

0 entries found (item is not allowed in the U.S.), or

#entry found, then click on CIR to see import requirements.

I’m told there’s no fee for applying for an import permit, and it takes just a few weeks to obtain one. The division of the USDA responsible is the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), listed in the Boise telephone directory under federal offices.

Curly top virus

A curly top virus alert has been issued by the Pacific NorthWest Pest Alert (PNWP) folks, advising that one of the ways to prevent the virus in home gardens is to plant tomatoes and peppers in partly shady locations, because the insect carrying the virus prefers to feed in full sun. I’m sure we’ve all transplanted peppers and tomatoes by now, so the only way we could get shade to vulnerable plants is by erecting temporary tents of some sort.

Those plants need at least six hours per day of full sun, so it’s quite difficult to shade for two hours per day, and we don’t know which two hours should be in shade. We may lose mature plants to curly top virus, but the itinerant beet leafhoppers that carry the virus from plant to plant usually don’t infect an entire row of plants, but flit from one field to another. I prefer to take my chances rather than to grow varieties of tomato I don’t like but are resistant to curly top virus.

Some years infection is more widespread than others. Another way to prevent infection is by surrounding vulnerable plants with strong-scented herbs.


If earwigs are turning leaves into lace in your garden, trap them. They’re attracted to dark spaces, and according to a reader, you can trap and kill them in cottage cheese-like containers. Pour soy sauce on the bottom, top with cooking oil, and poke holes in the sides of the container near the rim with an ice pick or pencil. Settle the container in the soil of your garden bed up to the holes, and cover the container tightly. Those early earwigs that are killed will also attract and be eaten by later earwigs.

You can also make traps for stink bugs with a pan of water, dish detergent and a lamp. Leave the lamp turned on, facing the water, for at least 12 hours.

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.