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Picking the best pumpkin; dealing with fall grubs, moles, skunks, Asian ladybugs and millipedes

By John Fulton          Send a link to a friend

[September 17, 2007]  For all who decorate for Halloween and Thanksgiving, it's time to select that orange globe to set out by a corn shock or to carve into a jack-o'-lantern. With some of the heavy frosts we've had, it's critical to check pumpkins over carefully before purchasing. Following are some of the cardinal rules for selecting and keeping pumpkins:

  • Choose a pumpkin with a stem, but never carry it by the stem. Pumpkins without a stem will not last long.

  • Select a pumpkin with a flat bottom so it will stand upright

  • Avoid pumpkins with holes, cuts or soft spots. These areas will rot.

  • Light-colored pumpkins are easier to carve because the skin is not as hard as darker orange-colored ones, but they will not keep as well.

  • Wash the pumpkin with warm water and let it dry before carving. Use of a small amount of dishwashing soap in the warm water may help extend the life of the pumpkin.

  • To make the pumpkin last longer, keep it in a cool place until ready to carve. After carving, coat the cuts with petroleum jelly.

  • Carving should only be done three days ahead of Halloween. After cutting, the pumpkin will deteriorate rapidly.

  • The use of a candle in the pumpkin will also make it deteriorate rapidly.

Digging critters

This time of year, we can see mole runs in the yard. We can also see where skunks or raccoons have been digging in certain areas. What are they after? Well, they're after food. And food, to these critters, means grubs.

Grubs have been active since midsummer. Normal treatment time is around the Logan County Fair. The longer we wait, the larger the grubs get. In particular, moles and skunks can smell the grubs and go after them for a meal. It is good to get rid of the grubs, but sometimes the cure is worse than the original problem. It is still possible to treat for grubs, but don't expect the same percentage of control you would have had two months ago.

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The best way to stop moles and skunks is to get rid of the food source. Many of the trapping methods for moles don't work very well. And skunks -- well, you can just figure that one out for yourself. Moles like grubs and worms to eat, so poison peanuts probably aren't going to be very effective. There are some new soft baits that are more effective but much more costly. Traps can be effective if properly set, and the scissor or loop-type might be more effective than the plunger type.

Nuisance pests

The number of Asian ladybugs and millipedes has exploded in the last week. The ladybugs are seeking food (mainly aphids) and warmth. The ladybug population is usually behind the curve of the food source, and that has occurred again this year. Area soybean fields developed fairly large numbers of soybean aphids, and the ladybug population has increased to feed on them. Of course, the aphid population was on the decline as the ladybug population was on the rise. That leaves lots of ladybugs on the hunt for aphids. We also had aphids in the trees (they caused the sticky sap drips). The Asian ladybug warms itself in its native habitat on cliff sides. Without many cliffs in our area, the insects cluster on the side of houses and other structures to catch the sun. They are beneficial insects but a real nuisance.

Millipedes are different. They are not even insects, and they like damp, warm places. They feed on decaying organic matter and are usually found under mulch, compost piles and leaf piles. Keeping these items from around the house foundation will help prevent at least some millipedes from getting in the house.

Foundation sprays will help prevent both ladybugs and millipeds from getting into the house. Bifenthrin and permethrin are the most commonly used. If you have huge numbers of ladybugs that prevent you from enjoying the outdoors, treatments of congregating areas with one of these products will reduce their numbers. Once in the home, sprays of aerosol products for flying insects and the vacuum cleaner are the best options.

[Text from file received from John Fulton, University of Illinois Extension, Logan County Unit]

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