Tag Archive | worms

Plant-derived Pesticides

The organic arsenal does include a number of pesticides, but organic gardeners, knowing that “natural” is not the same thing as “harmless”, use these only as helpers of last resort. Although they are comparatively benign, all can hurt non-target organisms like bird, fish, and beneficial insects. Some, including ryania, are very strong poisons to mammals as well; while if rotenone gets into your system, it may help trigger the development of Parkinson’s disease.

Always wear protective clothing when applying pesticides. Read the label carefully to be sure the pesticide you’re using is approved for the pest (and the plant) on which you intend to use it. Follow dosage directions; this is definitely one place where more is not better.


Corn earworm damage

Neem, from the neem tree, Azadirachta indica. Multiple actions: repels pests, destroys their appetites, kills them by disrupting their growth. Also has some fungicidal properties. Useful against a wide range of pests including flea beetles, whiteflies, corn earworms, cabbage loopers, and root-knot nematodes.

Pyrethrum, from flowers of Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium and C. coccineum. Instant knockdown, which is very gratifying. But it doesn’t always last; if the dosage is improper or the insect has resistance, the victim gets up and staggers away as soon as you turn your back. If you use the proper amount, however, and manage to get it to land on the target, pyrethrum is useful against almost any invertebrate that may be plaguing you. (Be very careful about using pyrethrum or ins derivatives on cats; small amounts rid them of fleas, but if you overdo it, you will also be rid of Fluffy)

Rotenone, from several species of legumes in the genus Lonchocarpus. Use it and watch the beetles die. Mexican bean beetles, potato beetles, cucumber beetles — even the adults of these hard-to-kill scourges are not immune. Neither, unfortunately, are fish, birds, small mammals, or much of anything else. Rotenone degrades rapidly, but it’s very strong stuff while it lasts.


Imported cabbage worm and the damage it can cause

Ryania, from a shrub called Ryania speciosa, and like rotenone, short lived but no joke. Use on the caterpillars of codling moths and cabbageworms, and the larvae of Japanese beetles, bean beetles, and potato bugs.

Sabadilla, from the South American plant Schoenocaulon officinale. Use only when all else fails, on things like thrips, squash bugs, and tarnished plant bugs. Sabadilla is extremely toxic to bees; be sure to apply it only after they have gone home for the night.

Peperonyl butoxide (PBO) may or may not be plant derived; it can come from sesame oil but is also chemically synthesized. It is an insecticide in its own right, but it is most commonly used as a synergist, combined with other pesticides (especially pyrethrum). It destroys an insect’s ability to fight off the pesticide, making the product more effective, and at lower doses, than it would otherwise be. But PBO is not on everyone’s organic-acceptable list, and may cause health problems, so you may prefer to avoid it.



Expert’s Tip: New Invasive Species Jumping Worms

Lisa Johnson, Dane Co. UW-Extension Horticulture Educator



These invasive worms jump when handled.

As you are doing yard clean-up this fall, there is yet another new invasive pest to look for, identified in Dane County in October of 2013. Jumping worms (Amynthas spp.) are of Southeast Asian origin and they can be very damaging to soil structure in gardens as well as forest environments. No earthworms are native to Wisconsin—they were all killed off during the Ice Age. We do have 20 European species in the state, however. Earthworms all have negative effects on the forest duff or litter layer, which acts as a protective cover and helps forest floors to retain moisture, insulate tree roots, provide nutrients, prevent erosion, etc. When that litter is eaten by earthworms, the protective cover is removed, exposing the soil and causing erosion, compaction and increased runoff. This disturbance favors the spread of invasive plants such as garlic mustard and buckthorn. Researchers have also documented the negative effects of earthworms on forest regeneration and ground nesting bird populations.

The jumping worm is especially destructive since it lives right in the duff layer rather than lower in the soil profile. Jumping worms tend to outcompete European earthworms to become the only species in forest environments. They consume the layer of leaves and other organic matter on top of the soil faster than other earthworm species. They have been found in Dane, Sheboygan, Jefferson, Waukesha, Milwaukee and Racine counties, and signs of the worms (though no adults) have been noted in 8 other counties. Jumping worms have also been found in some states in the Eastern U.S. We don’t know how long they have been here in Wisconsin, but introduction through contaminated soils or plants is suspected. Since they can spread very quickly, it is important to slow the spread. Best management practices are being developed by the DNR and municipalities. Don’t share plant divisions from your garden or soil if you know you have jumping worms.

Jumping worms are parthenogenetic, producing eggs without the need for a mate, so just one worm can start a new population. Their eggs survive as microscopic cocoons over winter, with all the adults dying in fall. You won’t see the young worms until late June each year, but you will see the ‘soil signature’ from their feeding during the previous season. Jumping worms feed on soil organic matter, leaf litter and mulch and create very grainy-looking and hard little pellets when they excrete. The excretions resemble coffee grounds, and have poor structure for plants to grow in. Also, the worms’ feeding removes the organic matter that plants, fungi and bacteria need for nutrients. Adult jumping worms are 3 to 5 inches long but can grow to up to 7 inches in length. Jumping worms resemble regular earthworms but there are some important differences. Unlike European earthworms, they don’t produce slime and are more gray or brown in color than pink. Their clitellum, the band of lighter-colored tissue near the head, is smooth, not raised like other earthworms and whitish, not pink. It also goes all the way around the body, not just partway, like the European worms. The body is more rigid as well. Jumping worms get their name from their behavior—when handled, they thrash violently, may jump into the air or even shed their tails. They move in a serpentine fashion like snakes, as well.  Check out this video to observe them moving.  After hatching in late June, each worm begins reproducing; their life cycle lasts 60 days, so we can have two generations easily each year. Unfortunately, other than killing any worms you find by placing them in a closed plastic bag in the sun, there are no products labeled to kill them, since soil drenches would also kill beneficial soil organisms. Some products are being tested, but I haven’t heard about any results as of yet.

To report a sighting of jumping worms, email Invasive.Species@wi.gov . For more information and to see photos, visit http://dnr.wi.gov/ and search for the keyword ‘jumping worm’. There is also a great article in Wisconsin Natural Resources that you may want to check out . 

Editor’s note: these worms have also been identified in Outagamie County.

Composting with Worms

by Patrick Meyer

worm-compostThe process of worm compost is interestingly different from the regular composting procedure. Worm composting or vermiculture is an easy, affordable, and low-maintenance way of creating compost. It has a lot of advantages. Definitely it requires less work, just let the worms eat up all your scraps and in two months you’ll have rich compost at your disposal. The worms used in composting are the brown-nose worms or redworms. They work best in containers and on moistened bedding. Those night crawlers or large, soil-burrowing worms are not good for composting purposes. Just stick with the redworms and things will work out well. All you need to do is add food waste to the container and soon enough the worms will eat them up and convert compost together with the bedding. Before placing your redworms inside containers, place a nice layer of paper to serve as bedding for the worms. Any kind of paper will do, but it has been observed that the worms will consume newspapers, cardboards, paper towels and other coarse papers faster. The worms will eat this layer of bedding together with the scraps of food to convert them in compost. You can also add a bit of soil on top of the paper and a few pieces of leaves. If your redworm container is located outside the house, try considering adding livestock manure on it. Redworms love them.

Fruits, grain, or vegetables are great for worm composting. The redworms can even eat egg shells, coffee grounds, and even tea bags. Avoid giving them meat, fish, oil, and other animal products. Like the traditional composting, these materials only attract pests to the composting bin and also produce bad smell. The proportion of worms to food scraps will be based on how much scrap you like to be composted in a week. For example, if you want one pound of food scrap to be composted a week, all you need is also a pound of redworms. You don’t need to add redworms into the container unless you want to increase the amount of food scraps you intend to compost in a weekly basis.

For containers, keep it well ventilated to let the air in and let the excess moisture out. You can use plastic bins, and even wooden boxes for worm composting. The time to harvest would be when the container is full. Scoop out the undigested food scraps as well as the worms which are usually on the top few inches of the material. The remaining material inside the container is your compost. To remove the remaining worms from compost, you can spread the compost under the sunlight.