Steven Jakobi

Autumn: Bulbs in, bulbs out

by cathym on September 10, 2020

by Steven Jakobi

Remember those bulbs you ordered from catalogues months ago? The crocuses, irises, and daffodils? Well, they are starting to arrive now and it’s time to plant them during the month of October. And if it isn’t enough to put the garden to bed, to plant the garlic and those spring-flowering bulbs, you have the added chore of digging some bulbs up to put into storage. Wait—did you say dig some up? Oh, yes—because along with planting bulbs, it is soon time to dig up the dahlias, canna lilies, calla lilies, and gladioli.  

Let’s start with planting. Ideally, the bulbs of plants that will flower in the early spring (crocus, daffodil, snowdrop, etc.) go in about six weeks before the first frost. When that will occur is, of course, anyone’s guess, but in the last twenty years or so, that date keeps getting pushed back more and more as the planet warms. [The UGJ generally goes with October 15 as first frost date in upstate New York.—Ed.] 

Different kinds of bulbs go in at different soil depths, but a frequently mentioned rule of thumb is to dig a hole two to three times as deep as the bulb’s height. However, this is just a general guideline, as tulips do best when planted at a depth of 8 inches, hyacinths at 5 to 6 inches, and crocuses at 3 to 4 inches. Large allium bulbs prefer a depth of 8 inches, while small specimens of the same should be at 2 inches. And don’t forget that the pointy end of the bulbs faces upward when placed into the hole.

As spring-blooming bulbs go in, the summer-flowering ones need to be dug up and put into storage until next year. These include dahlia, gladiolus, some species of lilies, and elephant ear (technically, some of these “bulbs” are corms, rhizomes, or tubers but, from a practical point of view, the terminology is of no consequence). These plants originated in warmer areas of the world and they are unable to survive the cold winter conditions found in our area. Once they are carefully dug up, after the first frost kills back their foliage, the bulbs are stored in well-aerated mesh bags or paper sacks in such a way that they are not crowded together. A temperature regime of around 50° F and darkness are recommended for storage. That is because these bulbs are living organisms whose cells continue to respire and produce moisture that rot fungi thrive on. Some gardening websites recommend washing the soil off the bulbs prior to drying and storage, but I don’t do this. While I do shake the excess soil off the bulbs, I believe that washing is unnecessary. It removes some of the protective coating of outer plant tissue, as well as the soil particles containing beneficial microbes that are antagonists of rot fungi and bacteria. 

Ok, it’s time to go! Let’s start digging. Come next year, all the hard work we put in now will be rewarded by the beautiful flowers these plants will produce. 

Steven Jakobi is an Allegany County Master Gardener volunteer. 


The Unwanted Guests

by janem on September 6, 2018

story and photograph by Steven Jakobi

The western conifer seed bug.

Autumn is a time for the arrival of a bunch of unwanted guests to the house. In reality, they are more like squatters, moving in for the winter. I am not talking about people but about insects, mammals, and other creatures. Field mice and shrews may inundate the basement and even an enterprising snake or two may set up shop in the dark corners of the cellar or porch of an old house.

Old or new, many homes are invaded by several kinds of insects looking for a place to ride out the cold months of winter. In my house, a large portion of which was built in the 1840s, we have to deal with cluster flies, Asian lady beetles, and western conifer seed bugs, the latter of which are often confused with the marmorated stink bug. Other folks I know also have occasional infestations by boxelder beetles.

All of these insects can be a nuisance if their numbers are big enough. Their populations may fluctuate from year to year, depending on a number of environmental and control factors, but in some years there may be hundreds or even thousands attempting to enter homes. Mind you, none come to eat or reproduce. They are simply searching for a suitable place to bide their time until the warmer months of next spring.

Of the insects I listed above, the most loathed species is the cluster fly. Slightly larger than house flies, they spend the summer months parasitizing earthworms during their larval development. In autumn, they enter homes through cracks or crevices and set up shop in any dark part of the house. These hiding places may be in walls, dark ceiling corners, base boards, or even behind curtains. If they are numerous enough, they may buzz around the house and occasionally fall into food, clothing, bedding, or even people’s hair. They can be quite a disgusting nuisance. Unlike the house fly, cluster flies do not eat or reproduce in the home and they don’t carry disease-causing germs. The best remedy is to keep them out in the first place by sealing any openings around doors or windows and caulking tiny crevices. However, this is easier said than done, especially in older dwellings. Once they are inside the house, the vacuum cleaner is the homeowner’s best friend. If there’s an annual influx a professional exterminator’s equipment and chemicals might be called upon to help prevent the entry of these flies. The use of over-the-counter insecticides is not recommended as an effective control measure.

Multicolored Asian lady beetles were brought to North America from Japan as biocontrol agents of aphids and scale insects in southern forests and fruit orchards. Another group of these beetles was accidentally introduced in shipping containers in the port of New Orleans, and they have since been spreading throughout the eastern part of the U.S. In New York, they were first recorded in Chemung County in 1994. Often mistaken for the common ladybug, this species invades homes in October or November and can congregate by the hundreds in ceiling corners, porches, or other structures. These lady beetles may range in color from pale yellow to dull red, and normally have numerous black spots on their bodies. Like cluster flies, the lady beetles do not eat or reproduce during the winter months. Many will die from the low humidity in our heated homes and litter carpets, floors, or tops of cabinets, but the majority simply leave the home when the weather turns warm. Control measures are pretty much the same as for the cluster fly: exclusion and the vacuum cleaner. The use of insecticides is not recommended by Cornell University entomologists.

For the past three or four years, I have had another group of unwanted guests: the western conifer seed bug. These insects are often misidentified as “stink bugs.” To be sure, they do produce a strong odor when handled improperly, but they are not related to the marmorated stink bug. A western North American native, the conifer seed bug has spread eastward and was first recorded in New York State in 1992. During the summer, they feed on the cones and seeds of pines, spruces, firs, and hemlocks. In the fall, they enter dwellings but they neither bite nor sting nor cause any damage. Because of the smell these beetles can give off when injured, some people prefer to handle them with paper towels or disposable gloves. Adults are about three-quarters of an inch long, slender with brown stripes and a darker abdomen. They have characteristic bumpy enlargements on their hind legs (see photograph), which easily distinguishes them from the shorter and wider marmorated stink bug. I don’t mind these beetles too much in the house, although they occasionally startle one of us in the bathroom or in the kitchen. For folks who do not care to have them at all in the house, exclusion is once again the best practice. The same goes for the boxelder beetle, a similarly shaped bug with handsome red-and-black coloring that is frequently encountered in areas where boxelder trees (a kind of maple) are common.

Living in the suburbs or in the country, we have to contend with all kinds of wildlife—from mammals, like deer and skunks, to a variety of birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians. It is a constant “battle,” although we might remember that these creatures need pretty much the same things we do: food, water, and shelter to protect them from the bitter cold months of western New York’s harsh winter climate.


Steven Jakobi is a Master Gardener volunteer for the Allegany County Cornell Cooperative Extension.


by Steven Jakobi

CSA Week 5. Photo courtesy Flickr: Christopher Paquette

In the early 1990s I lived in Concord, Massachusetts. Despite growing up in a big city, I was always interested in agriculture—especially the natural way of farming. So in 1991, my then wife and I became board members in the Massachusetts chapter of the Natural Organic Farmers Association, NOFA. Since then, NOFA has morphed into the Northeast Organic Farming Association. Back then, organic farming was just beginning to take off on the east coast, and I grew to know many Massachusetts organic farmers and their production methods.

One of the individuals I met was an organic farmer named Robyn VanEn. Cofounder of the Indian Line Farm in Berkshire County, Mass., she was an early proponent of Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA. She learned this approach of doing business from a Swiss friend and introduced the CSA concept to the U.S. in 1985. From a modest 200 or so in 1991, CSAs today number well over 6,000 and the list is still growing. Robyn VanEn’s vision of CSAs had three important benefits: saving farmland from development, re-establishing local and regional food supplies to benefit consumers, and bringing back community involvement to farming.

According to the latest census figures, less than two percent of the U.S. population lives on farms today. Many people have no real idea where food comes from, other than it miraculously appears in the grocery store. Sociologists point out that many of our citizens have lost contact with the basic values of land stewardship, cycles of renewal, and the treasures of what poet Wendell Berry called “this once bountiful and beautiful land.”

But what is Community Supported Agriculture? Like all good ideas, the concept of CSAs is straightforward, yet brilliant in its simplicity. The consumer, in effect, becomes a “shareholder” in the production of agricultural goods. The subscriber pays a sum of money up front for a certain level (or “share”) of crops raised during the growing season. The farmer upholds his/her end of the bargain by providing an agreed-upon quantity, quality and variety of produce on a regular (usually weekly) basis during the growing seasons.

Consumers benefit by getting fresh, locally grown products at a much less expensive price than would be purchased in a grocery store. The farmer benefits by having the capital to buy supplies at a time when they are most needed, by increasing the farm’s profit margin, and by diluting the risk involved in what is a most unpredictable business venture. Having an already established clientele takes away the worry, stress, and expense of having to market the products and frees the farmer to do the best possible job for the consumer. In addition to getting fresh and wholesome food, the local community also benefits by saving the farmer from potential financial difficulties and, thus, keeping farmland from being developed into housing developments or strip malls.

Consumer participation in the farm can vary depending on the availability of time, level of interest, and personality of the farmer. Some subscribers drive to the farm weekly to put in a few hours of work in exchange for a reduced price of the share. Others make a family outing of going to the farm to pick up produce and visit with the farmer and other shareholders.  Still others may simply wish to get their shares at conveniently located, prearranged locations in towns or at farmers markets.

A typical share in the northeast consists of a twenty-week or so supply of fresh produce. In the early spring, cool season greens, radishes, spring onions, and spinach are usually available. As the season progresses, carrots, peas, and beets mature. Summer, of course, is the high volume season when tomatoes, melons, peppers, cucumbers, corn, beans, garlic, onions, and summer squash, and cut flowers are included in the typical fare. In fall, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, spinach and a variety of other greens are offered. Many farmers extend the growing season by offering honey, grains and flour, poultry, eggs, maple syrup, and other value-added products (at an additional cost).

Most CSA farms are certified organic or carry a “naturally grown” designation. The difference is the level of certification, but both types of operations avoid the use of prohibited chemicals and farming practices. There is a “transitional certification” for those farms that are in the process of transitioning over a three-year period from agrochemical-based to organic agriculture. When considering joining a CSA, the following questions could help the decision-making:

  1. What is the cost of a share per household member or per family?
  2. Would any family members consider “getting their hands dirty” in exchange for a reduced share price, and does the CSA farm offer this option?
  3. Is it possible to pay the cost of the share in installments, rather than all up front?
  4. How much produce does a family need or is capable of consuming in a week?
  5. Are family members willing to try new things (e.g. Brussels sprouts, arugula, etc.)?
  6. What range of products does the CSA offer?

Robyn VanEn died in 1997 but her Massachusetts farm continues the CSA model with a new set of dedicated organic farmers. Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, established the Robyn VanEn Center in honor of the founder of the CSA model in the USA. She would be both amazed and pleased to see the phenomenal growth of CSA farms in the past twenty years. And this concept appears to have staying power, unlike the fads and gimmicks that come and go. To find a CSA near you, search the Wilson College database of more than 1,600 farms, or look at an impressive list of CSA farms at or


Steven Jakobi is a Master Gardener Volunteer for the Allegany County Cornell Cooperative Extension.