Gardening Column

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Where did the stink bugs go?

In 2017 and 2018, most of Columbia County was awash in stink bugs. The brown marmorated stink bug first showed up in the Portland metro area in 2008 and expanded its range and population into most of western Oregon within a few years. They were also a serious agricultural pest affecting apples, pears, wine grapes, tomatoes, peppers, hazelnuts and other crops.

They were most obvious when they tried to get into your house in the fall along with box elder bugs. Most of them, like the box elder bugs, don’t get out alive but that is another story. Then in the past summer and fall, their numbers crashed. Reports from the Willamette Valley noted far fewer stink bugs in crops with the possible exception of the Eugene area.

What happened? There are several theories, not mutually exclusive. I visited with one entomologist who thought cool weather in May and early June followed by a very cold October slowed down their metamorphic cycle which reduced their crop presence and prevented a second generation from maturing. It is that second generation that looks for the coziness of your home.

A second theory is that predators, both foreign and domestic, may be finding them quite tasty. There is good evidence that spiders, the predatory spined stink bug, some beetles, wasps, birds, ants, and even fungal disease are eliminating marmorated stink bugs.

But probably the most aggressive predator is the teeny Samurai wasp that lays its eggs in stink bug eggs. This provides a great meal for the developing wasp larva. While not native to the United States, it appears to have traveled from the Orient on ships in the same way marmorated stink bugs got here and was first spotted in Vancouver, Washington. It is now successfully established in western Oregon. Had it not gotten here on its own, there were plans to introduce it from Asia as a bio-control.

Odds are that both weather and predatory biology played a role. We have known that there is an ebb and flow of box elder bugs from year to year. Perhaps marmorated stink bugs will show a cyclic population pattern. But because they cause serious crop loss, there is a lot more energy focused on their life in Oregon and how to best reduce that damage.

Wartime and OSC(U) Extension

As Napoleon noted, an army rides on its stomach. War creates a tremendous demand on food resources. Massive and sophisticated collection and transportation systems have to evolve to get the food to the frontlines.

WWI required that foodstuffs be transported across an ocean. The US government created policies that essentially gave them wartime authority over all food movement and sales. Herbert Hoover was put in charge of the Food Administration. People were asked to conserve and eat all their food (clean plates only). There were wheatless Mondays and porkless Tuesdays. Children signed this pledge: “At the table I will not leave a scrap of food on my plate and I’ll not eat between meals but for suppertime I will wait.”

During the First World War, novel foods came into common usage including sugarless candy, dogfish, and horsemeat steaks. “Liberty” gardens were encouraged and even President Wilson grazed sheep on the White house lawns. There were some great posters put out in support of these food management efforts which are available online.

WWII brought the Victory gardens. People in rural and urban areas worked the soil to raise food for their families, friends, and neighbors. Victory gardening enabled more food to be shipped to troops around the world. Empty lots, school fields, flower gardens, and back yards were cultivated. For an investment of $1.30 in seeds, $1.50 for fertilizer and 7-8 hours/week tending the garden, a family could have fresh vegetables for 5-6 months. LIFE magazine estimated that by 1943, 6 million Americans were planting Victory gardens. Public schools had victory gardens. By 1945, 20 million Victory gardens were producing 40% of all American vegetables.

Records in the Columbia County Extension office for the WWII years, offer lots of evidence of war efforts:

Victory gardens and home canning were widely encouraged, though I could find no specific numbers.

Housewives could send tin cans with candy, fruitcakes, and the like, to GIs overseas. This processing was done at the Extension office for the sum of 3 cents per can and was overseen by Mrs. Eric Zatterberg. Women’s roles also changed dramatically reported Maude Causwell, Extension Home Economist of the time.

The WWII era Columbia County Extension agent had many roles including:

  • Increase food production by utilizing the best tools and growing techniques. Encourage Victory gardens. Encourage reuse, and recycling.
  • A special agent (Ken Asburry) was hired to manage farm labor. He was in charge of allocating farm workers to the most important activities be it haying, fruit or vegetable harvest, tilling or planting throughout the county.
  • The County Agricultural agent was responsible for staffing an aircraft surveillance facility in Yankton that looked much like a forest fire watchtower.

Have questions?

If you have questions on any of these topics or other home garden and/or farm questions, please contact Chip Bubl, Oregon State University Extension office in St. Helens at 503-397-3462 or at chip.bubl@oregonstate.edu.

Free newsletter

The Oregon State University Extension office in Columbia County publishes a monthly newsletter on gardening and farming topics (called County Living) writ-ten/edited by yours truly. All you need to do is ask for it and it will be mailed or emailed to you. Call 503-397-3462 to be put on the list. Alternatively, you can find it on the web at extension.oregonstate.edu/columbia and click on newslet-ters.

Many Extension publications available online

Are you putting up salsa, saving seeds, or thinking about planting grapes? OSU has a large number of its publications available for free download. Just go to catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu. Click on publications and start exploring.

The Extension Service offers its programs and materials equally to all people.

Contact information for the Extension office

Oregon State University Extension Service – Columbia County

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