Velvet ants are wasps; okra got too much fertilizer

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 15, 2011

By Darrell Blackwelder
For the Salisbury Post
SALISBURY — The excessive heat and relative humidity have many seeking cover during the heat of the day. It’s best to limit your work outdoors early in the morning or very late in the evening for many reasons, besides your health.
Irrigating in the heat of the day with overhead sprinklers is not practical in this type of weather. Use mulch and drip systems for the best results for vegetables. Below are questions received over the past few days that may be of interest.
Q: I found this really large red ant in my back yard yesterday. I’m afraid it may sting my grandkids. Is this a fire ant and what should I do?
A: The ant is actually from a family of wasps that look like large, furry ants. Velvet ants are venomous insects. They have docile dispositions, but will inflict a painful sting if mishandled. When disturbed, they produce a loud, high pitched squeaking sound.
Q: My okra is growing very well and the leaves are dark green and healthy but the okra pods are falling off before they mature. What is causing this problem?
A: After questioning the gardener, he admitted that he had put a leftover bag of fertilizer on the row of okra. Over fertilization, especially with nitrogen fertilizers, will cause fruit to drop before maturity.
Q: In my vegetable garden I planted some cucumbers and this strange squash came up with the patch. Do you know what this is? (The woman brought the fruit into the office).
A: The elongated fruit is a cucumber but botanically a melon. It’s an Armenian cucumber. It has protruding ribs that many confuse with running okra. The seeds, most likely, were accidentally mixed with your pickling cucumber seed.
Q: I have bagworms in my leyland cypress and they are killing them. What can I do to control them?
A: Bagworms need to be controlled as soon as possible. Pick them off the plant by hand if practical, if not, control with insecticidal sprays of liquid Sevin or Dipel (Bt’s or Bacillus thuringiensis) while they are still young and actively feeding. It is important to kill them as quickly as possible since the insect will continue to feed and eventually kill the plant. Once the insect has pupated in late summer, it will be impossible to kill.
Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension Director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities by calling 704-216-8970 or online at