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MSU Extension Service

Home Grown is an educational, entertaining, question-answer column seen weekly in "News from the Genesee MSUE Office," a weekly newsletter for Genesee County Master Gardeners. Special thanks to the Genesee, Oakland and Livingston county MSU Extension offices for providing this service.

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This week's HomeGrown

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I am so scared that I don’t know if I can even sleep. I found some bugs in my house. I looked them up on the internet. They are assassin bugs and they carry a disease. It’s a sleeping sickness. There are bunches of these and I don’t know what to do.

My professional advice is to stop looking on the internet when trying to identify insects. “Close but not exact” doesn’t work in the insect world. Catch one and toss it in a jar and look carefully, very carefully. Your critter has a much bigger chance of being a leaf-footed pine seed bug if there are evergreens around your house than an assassin bug. Both are similar shades of brown with tiny pinheads. Their bodies both have broad Joan Crawford shoulders. The secret in identifying them is to look at the hind leg. The lower portion of an assassin bug’s hind leg will be cylindrical and the same diameter at the top as at the bottom. The pine seed bug will have a flattened hind leg that is broad close to the bottom. It looks like a little leaf with narrow part at the top and the wide part at the bottom. That’s how it got the “leaf-footed” name. And in Michigan, you would not get bunches of assassin bugs in the house. Pine seed bugs overwinter as adults and the warm weather is causing them to pop out all over. You could have bunches of them. To calm you more, our assassin bugs don’t carry Chagas, the African sleeping sickness. You have to go the west or southwest part of the United States. Suck these losers up with a vacuum and get some sleep.

When my grandkids come over, I would love to do some simple indoor gardening things with them. It’s got to be cheap and easy. Got any ideas?

You’ve asked the right garbage picker. There is something that used to be called “garbage can gardening” because that’s where you got your plant materials. Here are some kiddie pleasers. When you buy carrots, buy some with the green leafy portion attached. Shorten the leaf portion to about one inch. Cut the carrot itself off to one inch. Place in a shallow container of water and watch new greens grow. Watch fibrous roots form on the portion that is submerged. You can use this as a teaching moment to explain that plants with tap roots can never make another once it is cut. Their rooting system changes from a taproot to fibrous roots. Pick seeds out of some kind of citrus fruit. Take some and have the kiddies sandpaper half of them. Leave others untouched. Plant them and watch the sandpaper ones come up. This demonstrates the process called scarification. The seed coats are so tough that water almost never penetrates without help. They might also enjoy growing a citrus tree until it gets too big for the house. And don’t forget the good old sweet potato. Place toothpicks around the sweet potato, mid way between the top and the bottom. These are the supports to keep the entire sweet potato from sinking to the bottom of the jar. Place the bottom half in a glass jar with water. Watch the sweet potato vines grow after it is placed in a sunny window. Save your avocado pits and bury the big end in potting soil. It should be buried about half way. Keep it watered in a sunny window and watch a plant emerge. This will also outgrow the house in a couple of years. There’s a lot of entertainment out there in your refrigerator or trash basket, all you have to do is look.

Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture
Agent 517/546-3950


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