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.

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