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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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It's snowing outside but I have got some little moths that are coming into my house. They are weird fliers. I have also got some spider webs in some cans of oatmeal and waffle mix. How are all these bugs getting in?

Bad news flash. They aren't coming in; they're living in. All the stuff that you are seeing is related and it's related to Indian meal moths. The handy phrase to remember when dealing with insects is, "Life begins after 50." That's 50 degrees. If it is colder than 50, nobody outside is doing anything. Many do better when the temperature gets closer to 60 degrees. Your critters are grain moths that can live off the fat of the land, or in this case your kitchen products, forever. More bad news. The good news is that you are smarter than them. The biggest brain can win in this contest. Let's educate the brain and rid the place of your snacking pals. Indian meal moths feed on grain based products like cereal, pancake mix, cornmeal, spices, dry dog and cat food and birdseed. They also go loopy for nuts, dried fruit and chocolate. That alone makes them truly evil. Life begins as eggs laid by mommy. She wriggles herself into the food product and deposits the future-kiddies. The eggs hatch and the tiny larvae begin feeding on the surface of the food product. They grow and grow and begin leaving a tiny thread behind them. That's the cause of your "spider webs." Now the kiddies are fat, cream colored and segmented with little brown heads. They are getting ready to pupate and leave the food product. They look for a secluded spot to spin stylish white cocoons around themselves. This could be in a crack by a shelf, behind loose wallpaper or in a napkin or coffee filter box. In about a week, they emerge as small beige and brown moths. They meet, date and mate and daddy drops dead. Mommy looks for a food product in which to lay eggs. Sort all the preferred food products and discard any with webs if insect protein isn't on your food pyramid. Put the good stuff in airtight plastic containers, glass jars with screw top lids or in the refrigerator or freezer. They can chew through plastic bags so don't even ask. Dry pet food and birdseed can go into the garage in a clean, tight garbage can. Vacuum or the food storage shelves to get rid of any food residue. Clean the bottom of the toaster and make sure nobody has taken up residence in the paprika or on the red pepper wreath. If you wanted to buy some of the pantry moth traps, keep in mind that they only monitor for the situation but don't control it. If you use the traps, do so after you have taken care of the food. Use them as an indicator that the problem is or isn't over. In the meantime, buy products in small quantities and keep them locked up from your mothish friends. If you want more information, contact MSU Extension (Genesee Plant and Pest Hotline 810-244-8548) and ask for the information on grain moths to be mailed to you.

I love getting a real cut Christmas tree but I would like to do something with it after the big event. Got any ideas?

Do chickens have lips? Do pigs have wings? Here's a couple to contemplate. Drag the tree out and cut off the branches. Drop them like little covers over semi-hardy plants like lavender. Or bank them on the north and west side of small, short-needled evergreens, rhododendrons or boxwood. They act as a buffer to winter winds to help protect the leaves or needles. If more evergreen landscaping is on the horizon, jamb the whole tree into the snow and spend time staring at it from various house windows or the deck. This will help you select a good location. You can also decorate the tree with bird-friendly things like cones slathered in peanut butter or millet and suet treats. Give those little birdies a holiday, too.

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


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