Some Statesman readers are reporting huge populations of sowbugs and pillbugs that are uncharacteristically not waiting for decay to begin, but they’re eating live plants. They thrive in damp dark areas, and usually prefer dining on decaying vegetable matter.
Thanks to our mild winter, we apparently have them in greater numbers than before, and they’re too hungry to wait for decay to begin.
If you’re unfamiliar with the terms “sowbugs” and “pillbugs,” you may know them as roly polies, potato bugs (in the Pacific Northwest) or woodlice (Britain and the commonwealth). Pillbugs look almost identical to sowbugs, both with grey segmented bodies about one quarter inch long, and seven pairs of legs. Pillbugs can roll into a ball, but sowbugs cannot. Scientists know them as Porcellio (sowbugs) or Armadillidiidae (pillbugs) species.
Beneficial insects don’t control sowbugs at all, but they do have predators such as frogs, toads, lizards, snakes and spiders. Although they are important in the breaking down of plant refuse, now some gardeners are after them too.
Lindarose Curtis-Bruce set out tuna cans, one with a teaspoon of soy sauce and water, the other with molasses and water, to trap them. She set cans into the earth, up to the rims. Both cans were nearly full with drowned sowbugs by morning. They had been attracted about evenly to the soy sauce and molasses traps, she said.
In her garden, they were eating bean plants faster than the plants could grow. Something was eating my okra and celery plants, and since there were no visible destructive insects, the culprits were obviously night feeders.
Sowbugs and pillbugs feed mainly at night, so I set out some cans with blackstrap molasses. I didn’t trap many, if any, so I’m switching to dusting with diatomaceous earth to control the destroyers. Diatomaceous earth is made up of the tiny skeletons of sea dwellers that have sharp spines.
Those spines penetrate bodies of insects and isopods (such as sowbugs and pillbugs), causing them to “bleed” vital liquids and die. Diatomaceous earth for gardens has the sharp spines, but DE for swimming pools has been treated so the spines are no longer sharp.
The garden is maturing
Tomatoes and chiles don’t set fruit when temperatures are above 90 degrees F., but even during our 100-degree weather, it wasn’t that hot for 24 hours straight. Some fruit set as the thermometer climbed or fell. My tomato plants are pretty loaded with fruit, and peppers have been too.
I’ve been picking peppers when they turn red (ripe), to encourage new fruit setting. One really small plant had four sizable chiles on it, so I picked those before ripeness to stabilize the plant. Chiles are usable at any stage, but if you plan to peel them (after roasting), wait until the skin is glossy, regardless of color. Prior to the glossy stage, peels don’t come loose, even if they’ve been properly roasted.
Weeds this year are coming in fast and furiously. As you’re weeding, do not work around bean plants that are damp or those that have water beads on the leaves. Dampness and bean foliage is a combination inviting to disease.
Potatoes come in some varieties that are early, some mid-season and others late season. If your potato “vines” are dying back, withhold water for a week or two, and then dig them. Brush off soil, and store them in a cool dark place, not exposed to sunshine.
There’s growing season remaining, so if you’d like to grow more potatoes this season, you could reserve some of your recently-dug spuds to replant. Those that have already started to sprout will probably grow and produce more potatoes. Some varieties have a natural sprout inhibitor, so they won’t grow until close to next spring. Be leery of using supermarket potatoes, since some have been sprayed with anti-sprout chemicals, and they won’t grow.
My favorite potato is Green Mountain, and I am growing those plus blue potatoes and Yukon golds. We harvested the Yukon golds and blue potatoes, but the Green Mountain spuds are behind. They blossomed, but I don’t think they set a single seed pod. Usually in my gardens, blue potatoes set seed pods, but this year they did not. Neither did the Yukon golds.
Send garden questions to email@example.com or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.