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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Garden Detective: Prionus beetles a common sight on Long Island

This prionus beetle was found in reader John

This prionus beetle was found in reader John Carter's swimming pool in Oceanside. Credit: John Carter

Hi Jessica: I found these insects in my pool today, and the dark one with the long antennae really gave me pause. I’m not sure you are also the “insect detective,” but thought maybe you could help. — John Carter, Oceanside

Dear John: Every now and then an insect (or plant disease) gives me pause as well. This long-horned beetle certainly is a looker. I checked with Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, a senior extension associate and entomologist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Babylon. She believes your visitor is a prionus beetle.

With its spiked horns and large size, the insect certainly appears menacing, and not without reason: as a root borer, it has very strong jaws. Handling these insects is not advisable.

Several local critters, particularly skunks, regularly hunt them for food. The good news is that prionus beetles don't hunt humans. 

Dear Jessica: My tomato plants are losing the bottom leaves. They brown, then dry up. They are watered with soaker hoses on a timer. — Bruce Keeler, Malverne

Dear Bruce: Without a photo or more details, I can’t properly diagnose your plants, but from your description and the timing of your email (late June) my best, educated guess would be that your plants are suffering from either early blight, or verticilium or fusarium wilt. Regardless, your plants still should be producing, despite their ratty appearance.

Practice good sanitation by cleaning up fallen leaves and clearing beds of diseased plant parts at the end of the season. Avoid overhead watering, which encourages the growth of mold, mildew and fungi — and spreads disease — and instead use soaker hoses or at least direct the hose water at the soil, not plants. Be sure to allow ample space between plants, and stake or cage them properly to keep them off the ground and allow for proper air circulation between and within them.

The Tomato Challenge

Reader Rich Koenig of Syosset has been planting tomatoes in whiskey barrels for 20 years. "First, I drill drainage holes," he says, "then place pieces of 4-by-4 wood under the barrels for air flow." Next, Koenig adds 3 to 4 inches of pebbles for drainage, fills the barrels with a combination of peat moss, cow manure and planting soil, and fertilizes twice per season. 

"My husband, Frank, has the magic touch this year," writes Pat Liccardi of West Islip. "He shades his beefsteak plant during the hot-sun part of the day. I don’t know his secret, but it’s working and we can’t wait to sink our teeth in a fresh garden tomato."

“They will not be the biggest, the smallest and maybe not even the ugliest in Newsday’s  2018 Great Long Island Tomato Challenge, but these lovely Husky Cherry Red tomatoes are being grown at my office,” writes West Babylon's Annette Pennell, an accounts administrator at Wire to Water Inc. in Farmingdale. The plants are growing in full sun in a raised bed, which, Pennell says, makes them “easy to maintain during the day.” Pennell, who has staked the plants with PVC pipes from the company’s warehouse, says the three plants “greet our workers as we enter the building each day, and we anticipate having fresh tomatoes on our lunchtime salads.”

I look forward to seeing these readers (and co-workers!) at this year's event.

Are you in?

There is no need to register; just bring your biggest (or smallest or ugliest) tomato to Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, at 7 p.m. Aug. 30. I’ll weigh (or otherwise judge) your tomato personally, and you could be named the 2018 Tomato king or queen. In the meantime, send a photo of yourself with your tomatoes, along with the varieties you're growing and your secret to success, to, and you might be featured next.

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