Question: For about two weeks now, we have been seeing large mosquito-like insects flying around our yard. Our neighbor told us they are crane flies. Should we spray them with something?

Answer: Your neighbor is most likely correct - they probably are adult crane flies. The adult crane fly has very long legs. It looks like a large mosquito with a body about an inch long, not including the legs. Homeowners are alarmed when thousands of these large flies gather on the sides of homes. The crane fly does not bite or sting; but its numbers do excite homeowners. Adult crane flies emerge from lawns, pastures and other grass areas from late August to the end of September. The females mate and lay eggs in grass within 24 hours after emerging.

It has been my observation that adult crane flies seek out the greenest and most lush lawns to deposit their eggs. These eggs hatch into small, gray-brown worm like larvae, which develop a tough skin. They are commonly called "leatherjackets." The leatherjackets feed on the root crowns of clover and grass during the fall. They winter in the leatherjacket stage. As the weather warms in the spring, they continue to feed. Damage by their feeding may become especially noticeable in March and April. During the day, leatherjackets mostly stay underground, but on damp, warm nights they come to the surface to feed on the above ground parts of many plants. Leatherjacket feeding stops about mid-May.

One of the best indications of a crane fly infestation for homeowners is the sudden appearance of birds feeding on lawns. Another more scientific method and the one recommended by WSU is to randomly select four or five spots in the lawn (one square foot each) digging up the top one to two inches and counting larvae. If the average number of crane flies for these samples exceeds 25-30 per square foot, consider a chemical treatment such as Sevin, used according to labeled directions.

Question: We have a chestnut tree in the backyard. How can I tell if the nuts are edible?

Answer: The best way to differentiate the edible from the poisonous horse chestnut is by the husk of the nut. The green husk of the edible chestnut has very sharp, long needles, up to three-quarters of an inch long. The needles are closely spaced and almost interwoven-a real "burry" mess. The husk of the horse chestnut, on the other hand, has small prickles widely spaced on a green husk. Some horse chestnuts have no prickles on the green husk.

Question: We dug our potatoes and are now finding that a lot of them are hollow inside. What caused this? What can we do to avoid this same problem next year?

Answer: Hollow heart was considered likely to occur during rapid growth following moisture stress, but now is believed to be caused by cold, wet soil when tubers start to form. The problem is most noticeable in large tubers, but usually cannot be detected without cutting the tuber. It is characterized by an irregular cavity near the center.

The walls are usually brownish, but this is not rot. No decay occurs unless the hollow extends to the tuber surface. The current recommendation from WSU for preventing hollow heart is to avoid planting tubers in cold, wet soils. Reduce rapid, uneven growth by giving plants close, uniform spacing and moderate amounts of moisture and fertilizer. Heavy rains may upset this balance.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For answers to local gardening questions, contact Master Gardener Rachel Gana at 642-8723.

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