Sunday, March 24, 2013

Aphid attack!

It's been a tough seedling-growing year for me so far.  Not so much that I couldn't get the seeds started (though I've had pepper germination issues, and for those keeping score, coir fiber pellets lost out to Jiffy peat pellets for germination count overall) but because, as usual, I've started more plants than I really have room for under lights inside.  Some years this miscalculation (overenthusiastic foolishness might be a better description) leads to a crisis point that resolves itself as the weather warms and I can put plants in protected areas outside.  I thought that was going to work out this year, and a few weeks ago my brassica seedlings moved out into a plastic tunnel in my garden for the daylight hours, coming inside at night.  But then there was the night I forgot and left them outside, and the temperature got down to 30 and I lost most of the cabbages, and since then there's been a lot of cold wind and clouds, and I've managed to sneak the trays outside for a few sunny hours when it's above freezing, draping floating row cover on top (for a little extra warmth and for squirrel control).  Otherwise, they sit near windows in my house, gasping for sunlight.

To add insult to injury, a few days ago I noticed a few aphids crawling on some of the Green Glaze collards, which they appear to like best of all the brassicas.  They must have found the plants out under that warm tunnel, and hitched a ride back in.  I didn't do anything about it right away, though I should have (I've been busy!).  Today I realized the aphids weren't only on all the brassicas, but had moved (from the few plants that I'd managed to put back under the lights) onto my pepper seedlings in large numbers:

and were busily feeding and making new aphids.  So I really had to work on getting rid of them.

The simplest way I could think of to kill aphids was to spray the plants and trays with water to which I'd added a couple of drops of dish soap.  I took each little tray of plants to the sink and dosed all the aphids I could find, getting under the leaves, down the stems, and in the pots.  I can tell I'll have to do this multiple times, but I hope it'll stop the infestation and I won't have to resort to using any other pesticides.  Or letting ladybugs loose in the house.

Lesson relearned: really examine all the plants under my care, and fix the problems right away.  Also, do not start more plants than I can accommodate, because once they go outside they really shouldn't come back in.  Though I doubt I'm going to learn that one, so: next year, either build some cold frames (maybe with heat underneath!) or finally splurge on a greenhouse.

And it will warm up enough eventually that I can put these poor little plants in the ground, really it will, I keep telling myself.  I did a talk this past week on spring vegetable gardening, and I have to say the SNOW we are possibly going to have tomorrow is the best illustration I could have wanted (but didn't) of the concept I tried to get across: climate change aside, spring always has been and always will be unpredictable.  So expect the unexpected, keep those average last frost dates in mind, watch the weather forecasts, and try not to be nostalgic for 2012.


  1. Ooh...I do overenthusiastic foolishness! I swear every year that I won't start more seeds than I have room for but every year by March I am so anxious to have a burgeoning garden again that I end up starting more than I ought to.

    A few years ago we moved a bunch of pepper plants into the house to try to overwinter them and ended up with an aphid infestation...not pretty. I can't believe we're looking for snow tomorrow.....

    1. Glad to know I'm not the only one! And hey, we did actually get some snow. Happy spring!

  2. Eric,

    Must be colder in Montgomery than in Howard. I've had one of my two cold frames up for the last two weeks and have suffered no damage on the plants. The cold frame has kale, broccoli, cauliflower, caggage and Swiss chard in it.

    As for flourescent lights, you can never have enough. I found some 2 by 4 foot T-8s at Lowes for $40. You can put four flats under them and they work great. I use my lights starting in mid February straight through to late July, raising spring, summer and fall transplants.


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