Paul Nickerson

Archive for the ‘Pest Management’ Category

Friendly Fungi: Leucocoprinus birnbaumii

In Pest Management on September 19, 2011 at 12:00 am

Photo From

I am not a Mycologist. I just wanted to preface this post with that.

I was recently working with a group of students in a small CSA garden in Philadelphia. During the course of the day, a number of students asked be about long, yellow fungi that were growing all throughout the garden.

There is a lot of discussion on forums out there regarding this small yellow fungus that seems to pop up in house plants, compost piles, and garden rows. Although I am not a Mycologist, I have collected a number of these samples from my own vermicompost and the pots I have treated with it, and brought them to a number of different Mycologists and Botanists.

For all of you out there wondering, as I was, they are completely harmless to your plants, but are considered toxic. They tend to grow in areas of high nutrients, particularly in raw compost where such levels are very high. Fungi such as this are an essential part of the composting system as they break down decomposing matter.

If you wish to rid you plants of these fungi, a number of different steps can be taken. First, quarantine the infected plant. You can attempt to remove the fungi by pulling them up from their bases, however, it may be necessary to completely change the infected potting media. When I had this problem I simply waited it out as I did not have any animals or children near my plants. Just to see how it works, I removed to soil from one of my plants, baked in for an hour at a low temperature to sterilize it, then reused it. This seemed to take care of the problem.

Potato Soil Tests: Fungus Gnats

In Pest Management on March 30, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Fungus Gnat Treatments

With the arrival of Spring come beautiful flowers, green grass, and Fungus Gnats! As the temperature warms, it is not uncommon to see small flies buzzing around the surface of the potting soil in your house plants. Small Fungus Gnats lay eggs just below the surface of the soil. Like most other flies, the eggs hatch into larvae which eventually pupate and become adults. The entire cycle takes about 30 days.

While these gnats can be fairly bothersome, they cause no real damage to established plants. The larvae eat organic material in the soil, including small, fibrous roots. Larger plants, with established roots, will not be greatly effected, however, seedlings, and succulents with shallow roots, may show signs of injury.

Potato Test

There is an easy way to test which plants are infected with the larvae. Cut a potato into small pieces and lay them on the surface of the potting soil which you wish to test. Be sure that the inside of the potato is in contact with the soil. Due to the small area in which I have my plants, I placed a few pieces in each pot. After about 48hrs, look at the area of the potato that was touching the soil. You will notice small larva crawling on the potato. Due to the concentrations of starch in the potato, the larvae will move from the soil, into the potato. While this is a great way to determine what plants are infected, discarding and replacing the pieces will continue to remove larvae from the soil. Unfortunately, due to the high populations of larvae, this is not an effective means by which to rid your plants of Fungus Gnats.

Group of Eggs

Once you notice that you have Fungus Gnats, there are a number of actions that can be taken to get rid of them. Fungus Gnat larvae prefer moist soil. As a result, when you determine which plants are infected, allow that plant to thoroughly dry out between waterings, this will kill any larvae, and will dry out any eggs in the soil. Removing the top half inch of potting soil and replacing it with dry sand will inhibit the ability of the gnats to lay their eggs in the soil.

Cider Vinegar Traps

Another effective treatment is to use Apple Cider Vinegar as a trap. Pour small amounts of Cider Vinegar into shallow containers. The fermentation will attract the adult gnats. When the gnats land in the vinegar, it will trap and kill them. With the high number of eggs that each fly can lay, it is much more efficient to kill off adults than try to purge plants of larvae.

While I used the potatoes to search for the larva of Fungus Gnats, the technique can be used to get an idea of what else is living in your soil as well. Here are some of the other fun things I found!

Notice the number of eggs...


Not sure what this little guy is..

Insecticides: As Easy as Blowing Bubbles…

In Pest Management on October 18, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Although “Indorm plants” are a wonderful addition to any room, these lovely furnishings can bring about unwelcome guests. A good friend of mine, who seems to have collect a small jungle in her room, had a roommate who did not fully understand one key difference between nursery plants, and plants that you find outdoors: critters.

A few short days after collecting a large bouquet from woods, small, white bugs seemed to take over a small portion of their dorm room. My friend, and her band of green minions, as her roommate now saw them, were quickly blamed for the problem.

What it is important to remember is that greenhouse, store-bought plants will not typically house pests as often as wild specimens. However, even the most careful indoor gardeners may face a problem with critters at one time or another. This fact can have even greater implications for “indorm” gardeners, as their plants are located in their bedroom, living room, dining room, and study, simultaneously.

To treat such a problem there are many insecticides that can be purchased from any number of gardening centers. However, due to the fact that this blog is written for an “indorm gardener” on a campus salary, I want to propose an equally effective, yet free, means by which to treat insect problems: Soapy Water!

The most common insects that find their way into your houseplants are typically soft-body arthropods, such as mites, white flies, and aphids. A light solution of soap (found in your floor kitchen or bathroom) and water, can be easily applied to your plants by use of a spray-bottle. It is important to understand a few key things before taking advantage of this free insecticide.

Firstly, this solution is a contact insecticide, meaning that the insects must be present, and well-soaked with the solution, in order for it to have an effect. Because of this, a repeated application of the solution may be necessary. Also, it is important to thoroughly wet the plant, being sure to spray the undersides of leaves, as these are usually forgotten during treatment.

It is a good idea to wash the foliage of your plant after you have resolved your problems with unwanted pests. Hard-water solutions may result in the appearance of soap resin. The use of a softer water will help to reduce the presence of scum.

Finally, the solution should be less than 2% soap. The soap can have a burning effect on the leaves, and therefore a weaker solution will keep from damaging the foliage of the plants. Certain plants are more susceptible to damage, and one should research their specific plant prior to application. I am not responsible for damage to any plants, and although this method as been used to hundred of years, it is not perfect, and there are many variables that will control the effectiveness of this treatment.

All Things Green!

In Alternative Agriculture, Aquaponics, Gardening, Identification, Pest Management, Potting, Propagation on October 8, 2010 at 4:28 am

Hey All!

I recently started building an aquaponics system in my dorm room (I hope I have not broken any rules…) Regardless, so many people seemed to be interested in the idea of “indorm gardening,” as I have named it, that I decided I should keep a running blog on it in order to keep everyone updated without having constant visitors! Anyways, as some of you know, and the rest of you will find out, Envi Sci majors have a perfectly healthy obsession with plants. I am hoping that this site can be a way for us to all gather our thoughts together, post questions to one another, and just have an interesting time sharing our love of all things green! Although this site is not an online dating service, I do hope that its content and communication will result in some very fruitful reproduction!

%d bloggers like this: