For bug control: organic alternatives to toxic chemicals

Q Brown patches of grass have appeared in our lawn. A lawn specialist diagnosed the problem as injury from Japanese beetle grubs, which chewed the roots in fall and which he says will move back upward in the soil to chew more roots before they pupate. He recommends very toxic chemicals, but we don't like to use these because of our pets, and most important because we're concerned about our well water being contaminated. Are there any alternatives?

Toxic chemicals are also devastating to birds, valuable grub eaters. Moles and skunks are helpful, so don't worry about upturned sod, which is easily rolled down. Japanese beetle traps are available for trapping flying adults.

The best grub control is milky spore disease (Bacillus popilliae), even though it takes three years for it to be most effective.

The public should demand a move away from the use of toxic chemicals and toward biological controls before our water becomes totally undrinkable and our food supply dangerously contaminated. The editors of Organic Gardening magazine have compiled a list, entitled ''Resources for Organic Pest Control.'' You can get a copy by sending a self-addressed, stamped, business-size envelope to Organic Gardening Reader Service, Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pa. 18049.

Q I just came across an old pie recipe for using strawberry tomato or cape gooseberry. As a child, I remember picking them for my aunt, and the memories of her pies and preserves make my mouth water. The greenish-yellow fruit had a husk around it and was tasty when eaten raw. Where can I find some seeds?

The fruit, Physalis pruinosa (sometimes listed P. edulis) is neither a tomato nor a gooseberry, but is closely related to the Chinese lantern (not edible). In catalog listings it is also called ground cherry and husk tomato. We find it listed in Park Seeds, Greenwood, S.C. 29646, under ''Unusual Vegetables.'' Also listing them are Stokes Seeds, PO Box 548, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240 and Nichols Garden Nursery, Albany, Ore. 97321.

We were privileged to contribute a recipe for the jam in a fascinating book called ''Unusual Vegetables,'' by the editors of Organic Gardening magazine. The blurb on the cover says: ''79 vegetables you can grow when you're tired of tomatoes, bored with beans, and sick of squash.''

Q We have a new patio which we would like to surround with about 20 plants, limiting it to three or four sturdy, carefree perennials about 18 to 24 inches high. We'd like some foliar interest and some bloom most of the summer, with one that would attract hummingbirds. The soil is well drained, and rotted compost has been added. We have sun until midafternoon. We're often away for a week at a time so would be able to water only on weekends.

Both Hosta (plantain lily or funkia), with handsome foliage, and coralbell (which attracts hummers) grow in sun or semishade. Gaillardia and sedum (stonecrop) would be good, too, since you have at least 7 hours of bright sun.

By choosing the right varieties of each, you can have proper size and hardiness as well as continuous show.

Look in seed catalogs and nurseries in your location (Nebraska) for the right cultivars (varieties).

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