Question: In July each year a yellow insect eats my bush bean leaves. My neighbor says they are Mexican bean beetles. What can I do about them?
Answer: The Mexican bean beetle is one of the few harmful members of the lady beetle family. The adults overwinter in plant debris and hedgerows. They look like lady beetles, but have copper-colored shells and eight black dots on their backs. In spring they emerge and begin feeding at the same time your bean seedlings are sprouting. The beetles lay eggs on the undersides of the leaves and the yellow larvae that hatch continue feeding, doing most of the damage.
To control Mexican bean beetles, clean up crop debris in autumn to eliminate overwintering sites for the beetles. Grow quick-maturing varieties that you can harvest before the bean beetle population swells by midsummer. Lay a floating row cover, such as Reemay, over the garden bed after planting your bean seeds. Since beans don't need bees to pollinate their flowers you can leave the row covers on all summer. For severe infestations try organic sprays such as spinosad and neem oil.
Question: I recently removed the foundation plants along the front and side of my house and want to replace them with fruiting shrubs. The area gets full sun most of the day. I don't want anything that gets too "wild." I'm in Virginia and new to edible landscaping. Can you suggest some plants?
Answer: Congratulations on going edible! Since you get full sun in your yard you have many options for shrubs. The first task is to map out the major house features, such as doors and windows. Measure their dimensions and how far off the ground they are. That will help you choose a shrub to fit in each location. The second task is a fun one. Start browsing catalogs, Web sites, and local nurseries. Examples of some "well-behaved" edible shrubs are blueberries, gooseberries, currants, filberts, American cranberry viburnum, and Nanking cherry. Look at the mature height and width of each and decide which best fits the location and your taste. A small fruiting tree or two might work, too. Consider dwarf cherries, weeping mulberry, and elderberry. How about a fig tree! If you want a hedge along the side yard consider black raspberries. These grow from a clump form and are less likely to spread and become "wild" like red raspberries or blackberries.