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1. APHIDS (Aphididae family)

Start your cool-season crops (lettuce, broccoli, etc.) indoors early enough to have good-sized transplants ready to go Out in the garden four to five weeks before your last frost date and these -pear-shaped pests won't plague you as they have in the past. Aphids exist just about everywhere, sucking the life out of garden crops with their piercing mouth parts, often transmitting a host of viruses to your veggies as they do it. (Plants that have curled, distorted leaves or that are covered with sticky honeydew are likely aphid-struck.)

Here's how to grow those extra early transplants: Start lettuce and other quick-growers indoors eight weeks before your- last frost date, harden them off during their third week;, then plant them in the garden when they are four weeks old. Start slower--growers like broccoli and cauliflower 12 weeks before your last frost date, harden the transplants off for a week when they are seven to eight weeks old, then plant them out into the garden four to five weeks before your last frost date. (And be sure all those transplants are aphid free, cautions Jeffrey Wyman, Ph.D., entomologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Home seed starting set-ups, he explains, are sometimes aphid heaven.)

And don't let your cool-season crops linger as the weather starts to warm up--pull them up and replace them before they start to bolt and become an aphid breeding ground.

David Riley, Ph.D., an entomologist at Texas A&M University, adds a tip for fall-planting gardeners in the Cotton Belt: Wait two to four weeks after the cotton harvest in your area before you plant your fall lettuce and spinach. Aphids loved that cotton, and will go at hunting for their next meal right after the crop is harvested. To prevent that meal from being sensed up ill your garden, wait the two weeks and shell plant transplants that you have started a month or so earlier inside (to ensure that your crop matures before frost hits).

[Other controls: Encourage aphid eating beneficial insects to take up residence by allowing some herbs (like dill) to flower in your garden; handpick and destroy infested leaves; protect mid season crops with row covers; spray infested plants with a strong stream of plain water or use insecticidal soap.]

Copyright 1994