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New Book on Troublesome Insects in the Garden

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) sometimes received letters from his customers about how to handle troubling insects in the garden.

The problem is not new.

Garden writer Susan Mulvihill just came out with a new book in which she writes about how to handle problem insects. The title of the book is The Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook.

Susan, like Vick, offers what she learned from her own experience in combatting insects as she set out to grow vegetables.

Vick’s Advice

In his caatlog of 1876 Vick’s Floral Guide Vick included a letter from one of his readers.

The letter begins, “Having been a steady customer of yours for the past eight to ten years, I feel that I cannot refrain from writing you a few lines to express my sincere thanks for the excellent quality of the seeds and bulbs with which I have been furnished, and also for your very kind and generous treatment.”

Then he writes about the problem of ‘aphis’ he has encountered. ‘Aphis’ is the genus in which there are hundreds of species of aphids.

He says, “For the past two or three years, I have experienced no little difficulty in growing some kinds of flowers on account of the depredations committed on the roots by the Aphis.”

Aphid Problem

I wondered what ‘aphis’ was.

Susan Mulvihill reponded in an email that “Aphis is a genus of aphids that includes the following species as examples: Aphis citricola (spirea aphid), A. fabae (bean aphid), A. gossypii (cotton/melon aphid), A. helianthi (sunflower aphid) and A. nasturtii (buckthorn aphid). There are many different genera within the Aphididae family.”


She said, “My feeling is that in early times, people tended to refer to plants and insects by using their scientific names so I believe the customer was asking for help with aphids, and possibly one of the species I listed above.”

Then Mr. Vick’s correspondent asked for advice.

He said, “If you, or any of yiour numerous readers, know of any prevention, or of any cure, whereby these troublesome insects can be got rid of, and will give the desired information, through this Catalogue, it will be a favor conferred not only on me, but I presume on many others of your customers.”

Vick offered his own experience with Aphids but no remedy as such to be rid of them.

Vick wrote, “Once on a rented piece of ground, and somewhat of a stiff, clay soil, noticed the Aster plant beginning to droop, and for some time failed to learn the cause. At last, on pulling up several, we found the roots covered with a silvery-white Aphis. One-half of the plants in the patch were destroyed.

“Every remedy tried seemed entirely in vain. It was the last time we planted that piece of ground, and though ten years ago, we have not seen this Aphis since, so we are quite unprepated with a remedy.

“We hope some of our correspondents can give the needed information, for this underground Aphis must be fearfully destructive where numerous.”

Vick hoped that some reader of his catalog would offer a remedy to the aphid problem.

Susan recommends several controls including crushing the aphids (you may want to wear gloves.) She also recommends insecticidal soap and Neem. She generally encourages a careful use of the program called Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

In writing about her experience with growing vegetables Susan Mulvihill is a wonderful storyteller. Through the book it’s a pleasure to go on her journey.

Along the way she profiles many insects and provides methods to control the one percent that are pests. The end result is a  useful resource for gardeners.

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