In the Garden | The enemy of my garden enemy

Tim Smith

Ever been frustrated when searching for some topic online, then get side-tracked into looking at something else or forget what you were looking for in the first place?

I searched for “apple” the other day, and had 3.2 billion “hits.” I quickly realized that “apple” to the world isn’t talking mostly about the fruit. In case you don’t know, most of the web pages were about a popular cell phone, and other electronic devices.

So, to make that more clear to the search engine, I typed the search term “apple fruit” in the request, bringing the number of web pages to 557 million. I refined my search to “fire blight apple tree” and reduced it further to 760 thousand hits, so that didn’t help enough.

To get the information, I had to get specific. I asked for “WSU fire blight apple,” which returned just what I was looking for — local, up to date and ranked at the top of the page.

Of course, web pages are listed generally in order of the number of times they are viewed, so some great treatment of the topics tend to be found in the first two or three screen pages.

Finding local, reliable information requires a careful search. Popularity does not indicate accuracy. Sponsors who pay the web-search people buy higher placement on the search results. An older, but misleading web page might rank ahead of a newer, more useful site.

The more specific you are in asking for gardening information, the more likely you are to find the local information you need. If had to identify an insect that I found in my old oatmeal, I would ask for that. Ask for “insects in oatmeal” — just under 4 million pages suggested — and look at the images available to determine which stored grain insect you have been blessed with.

When it comes to gardening, the more specific your question, the better your choices. Try to describe what you are seeking. If you find a bug on your juniper, and your bush is looking like something is eating on it, don’t get out the bug spray, look it up. If the insect is shiny, black with two red spots on its hard shells, search for “insect, black with two red spots on wings,” and there it is — a two-spotted ladybug beetle, a very beneficial insect. This ladybug specializes in feeding on the juniper scale, which is what is really bothering the juniper. By the time you spray, the ladybug is probably almost done with eating most of the scale. If not, the juniper scale won’t be controlled by your spray at this time, anyway.

If you want person-to-person advice on your home garden question, starting again in January, just search for your local master gardeners, sponsored by WSU. If you need help with your weevil-infested oatmeal, search for it, then try WSU Master Gardeners, Chelan County. Our phone number and e-mail address is in there. Right on top.

A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Tim Smith is one of four columnists featured.