Sunday, December 28, 2008

Day 169 / Day 104 - Bye Bye Lettuce and hopefully Bye Bye Whiteflies

Well, the little whiteflies on my lettuce just got to be too much, so I retired the lettuce Aerogarden. Here's what was left of it.

As you can see, the leaves were still in decent shape, but dealing with the flies just got to be too much. Every day I'd vacuum them clean, and the next day there'd be a couple dozen more. I'm just glad the whiteflies' eggs and pupae stages are too small to be seen with the naked eye, or I'd be totally grossed out!

In any case, Heather, I read your comment in the last posting, and if it's any consolation, you're not alone! I did a little research on whiteflies and aphids, and they seem to be a very, very common problem in households and greenhouses.

I'm still not quite sure how they happened to get into the house (the usual way is for them to hitch a ride on other plants, but I haven't gotten any new plants for a few months). My guess is they were attracted to the bright Aerogarden lights that I have on overnight. All it takes is two randy whiteflies to find their way through a crack in the window, and then it's like they're in Vegas--bright lights, all-you-can-eat salad bar and...well, you know the rest.

The good news is, I made the very prescient step a few months ago of NOT putting my houseplants (and my other herb plants) near the Aerogardens, so they haven't infested the whole house.

They seemed to particularly love the lettuce and the tomatoes, and even though they're not supposed to like basil, I noticed they didn't mind that mind that either. They all but destroyed what was once a glorious basil plant. This is the one that had been transplanted from my original Aerogarden and was at one point the biggest, most productive basil plant I had. But by now, the leaves were all wilting and falling apart, and the underside was sticky (whiteflies excrete a sticky honeydew which, if left around, eventually turns into icky black mold fungus).

So, the plan is still to shut down the tomato Aerogarden--taking Corinne's great advice from the last post, I've been trimming the leaves which does two things: it help control the whitefly population (they hang out and lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves), and it ensures that the bulk of the remaining nutrients goes straight to the tomatoes.

I did salvage pieces from the lettuce Aerogarden. As luck would have it, one grow light had gone out in the Holiday Herb Aerogarden, so I took the one working light from the lettuce Aerogarden and put it into that. And I used the two remaining grow tablets from my lettuce kit to give the tomato Aerogarden a few more days of growth.

Once the tomato Aerogarden is gone, that'll leave just the Holiday Herb Aerogarden (which currently has the thyme growing weakly, the oregano growing moderately, and the parsley growing through the roof). So far, the whiteflies don't seem to be infesting those, but to be safe, I did a little investigating as to the best way to be sure they don't.

Insecticides, of course, won't work because the herbs have to be edible.

Ironically enough, one popular method to control whiteflies is to use a vacuum to suck them up, but as I've found, that's a losing battle.

The most popular solution I found has been sticky yellow Whitefly Traps. They're available at Gardener's Supply Company. These are not only safe, they're also very easy to set up, and I imagine once you get over the ickiness factor, you might get a sense of satisfaction seeing all those pests done in by their own gluttony.

The way they work, you stick up a yellow card near your plants. They'll attract and capture whiteflies, (as well as gnats, aphids, thrips and other pests). Once the card is covered with insects, you just replace it with a fresh one.

So once I retire my tomato Aerogarden, I'll be investing in a couple of these just to make sure the Holiday Herb Aerogarden can live out the rest of its days in peace. I still have a lot of plans for that parsley.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Day 154 / Day 89 - The good, the bad, and Critters! :(

So, I'm minding my own business when it hits me--I write a blog, don't it?

Yes, it's been about three weeks since my last post. A lot has happened since then with the Aerogardens.

The good:

  1. The week after Thanksgiving, I bought myself two ducks on sale at the supermarket, with the intent of using my fresh basil to cook this recipe. I started by harvesting the basil:

    Now, usually the rest of this post would be a beautiful picture of the beautifully honey glazed duck glistening in the oven, but guess what? I FORGOT TO TAKE A PICTURE OF IT!! So you'll just have to take my word for it that the duck was flavorful, juicy, and absolutely delicious.

  2. The tomato Aerogarden is absolutely thriving. All of a sudden, tomatoes are sprouting up like crazy. I counted not 10, not twenty, but THIRTY new tomatoes growing on the danged thing! If you look carefully, you can count up to 15 in this picture!

    I learned the secret of successful "pollination" of the tomato plants. The instruction booklet says to shake the plants, but that's a good way to send fragile little flower buds flying across the room. Others have suggested Q-Tips or toothpicks, but that just takes too much time. The method I've found which works best is to take your index finger and just lightly tap the stem underneath the flower buds. If you look carefully, you'll see a little cloud of pollen spread out (you'll also smell a tomato-y scent). If you're feeling silly, you'll make a little buzzing sound when you do this like I do.

    The pollen will pollinate the flowers--each time I've done this, within days I'd see a cute little tomato form.
The bad:
  • My grow bulb has finally went out on my Holiday Herb Aerogarden unit. Now this isn't really 'bad', because the bulbs lasted through two generations of Aerogardens. Pretty amazing when you consider these units are on 15 hours a day non-stop.

  • I am down to my last nutrient tablets on my Tomato Aerogarden and my Lettuce Aerogardens. The lettuce has served me very well, but I'm a little wistful that it's only when the tomatoes are starting to pop up that it's time to say good-night. I guess I could order a new set of nutrient tablets, but my goal is to retire the Tomato and the Lettuce Aerogardens in 2-4 weeks because of one little thing...
The ugly:

...actually, it's about two dozen little things and counting. That's right, it's the worst nightmare of an Aerogarden gardener-critters! More specifically, I've seen these tiny little winged flies on the undersides of my tomato leaves.

The good news is, they're not scary looking. They're just little white flies (in fact, they're called whiteflies). If they were fuzzy or had big bulging eyes or creepy antennae or big hairy teeth, I'd retire as an Aerogarden gardener and throw all three units out the window. But they look pretty harmless, and don't even seem to be sucking the leaves as I've always heard whiteflies do, it looks like they're just hanging out to be under the light. They've also attacked the few potted plants I have on the kitchen windowsill--all alumni of the Aerogardens: a mint plant, a thyme plant, two basil plants, and a chive plant. Interestingly, they don't seem to be very interested in the basil, something I've heard is to be expected because of the essential oils (as I was writing this I just realized for the first time in my life that "essential oils" means "oils that give off an essence", and not "oils you can't live without" :P)

I'm not even sure how they got into my kitchen, but there are dozens of them. I'm thankful that (so far), they haven't made the migration into the living room where all my houseplants are, because I've heard once they get on houseplants, it's all over...they are nearly impossible to get rid of. So when I walk from the kitchen into the living room, I make sure to shake up and down to make sure I don't carry any with me (critters like whiteflies and aphids love to hitch a ride on loose clothes).

I have a unique way of pest control. I take my Dyson handheld vacuum and hold it like a gun. Then, I shake the leaves, and once the whiteflies start scattering, I suck them up. It's like a lame, 3-D version of Whack-a-Mole.

The Aerogarden manual actually gives instructions on how to get rid of critters, but it involves taking the unit and showering it under a stream of water. But since the lifecycle of the tomatoes and lettuce are almost at an end, I'm just going to let them live the rest of their lives in peace and then retire them (I'll figure out something cool to do with those 30 tomatoes) and try to make sure it's rid of whiteflies before starting a new batch.