Sunday, June 26, 2016

Make the Garden Great Again

Insects aren't our only problem this season: we’ve also got some border enforcement issues:

All of our butternut squash (above) has been nibbled on, as have our pumpkins and black beans (below):

While these aren’t completely destroyed, the same can’t be said for our green beans:

Also coming under heavy fire: sweet potatoes, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts, and lettuces — all of which are in the quadrants farthest from the house. We’ve seen a groundhog around as well as a skunk, and both are good suspects. The damage is all pretty dainty, though, and some of it was done by scurrying under a very small gap beneath the temporary (and ineffective) chicken daycare cage. We’re thinking rabbits running bold, thanks to a barn cat who is rather timid about hanging out in plain sight in the yard during the day (though he has left plenty of evidence of mice and bird kills — and is coming a little closer to us every day, so we remain hopeful).

Anyway, it’s time to build the wall. Actually, several of them — lots of chicken wire on the scene today:

Above you can see fencing around our lettuces and cucumber — there aren’t many left in that bed in the foreground, though we did plant some new seed. Behind that is the cold frame (minus glass) around the okra, which we kept in place as a deterrent. That’s next to the chicken cage, placed more snugly over a new planting of green beans (my third or fourth sowing).

From a different angle, you can see that there’s more chicken wire behind the chicken cage — that one’s around new Brussels sprouts transplants, since my seedlings have all been eaten. In the foreground is yet more fencing around the pole beans and squash.

And here is the other quadrant, where rows of cabbages and broccoli have been caged for weeks. We also added row cover flat on the ground over our sweet potatoes, which should be enough to confuse whatever rodent is nibbling on them. 

Now that everything tempting has been walled off, it remains to be seen if our less-enticing peppers, eggplant and tomatoes will be the next target, or if these are just crimes of opportunity. The carrots and parsnips are very near the house, which hopefully keeps the off-limits. We’ll keep an eye out — there could be yet another trip to the hardware store for more chicken wire in our future.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

New Garden Pest: Beet Leafminers

This spring has brought us a few new insect problems. In addition to the usual cutworm issues in beds where things were wintered over and very minor winter moth problems, we’ve got some new bugs as well. The potato beetles have pretty well ruined one potato bed and ignored another — in the latter, the ladybugs seem to be prevailing

Our other insect infestation this spring is affecting our beets:

This is one example of a scorched-looking leaf. We’ve seen these in our beets, spinach, and Swiss chard this spring, and at first we assumed that the sun had burned them out on our first hot day a few weeks ago, since the issues seemed to coincide. But there were also other leafy greens in the same bed that were unaffected, and once we realized that the problem was only with plants in the same family, we figured it was either a disease or an insect issue.

A closer look makes it fairly obvious that bugs are the problem:  

I’m not sure what gardeners did before Google, because it makes diagnosing and dealing with problems so much easier. A quick search revealed that these dead leaves are caused by beet leafminers, which are small flies that lays eggs on the leaves. The larvae burrow into the leaf to feed, which is what makes those trails and eventually kills the whole leaf.  

Apparently, we need to be removing all the leaves with signs of infestation, because if they fall to the ground, the leaf miners will burrow into the soil to complete their life cycle. We can also spray with neem oil to kill the eggs before they hatch, which should help break the cycle. 

For next year, it looks like we’ll need to invest in more row cover to keep the flies from finding the beets in the first place. We’ll also have to be diligent about crop rotation with these leafy greens. We might be a little bit screwed for this year (though the chard looks fine now that the crappy leaves have been removed), but at least we know for next year how to do some preventive maintenance at planting time.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Strawberry Season Is in Full Swing!

The thing about gardening is that you never know what to expect from one year to the next. It’s just about impossible to have every crop do well at the same time, but the flip side is that, no matter how bad some things look, something is bound to go like gangbusters.

It balances out.

This year, though we’ve been struggling with our tomatoes and potatoes, the strawberries are looking better than they ever have before:

A quick correction: the established strawberries are looking better than ever. Those are the lush plants in the distance. The foreground is full of our newest strawberry plants, which haven’t taken off quite like we wished — at least not yet.

Anyway, the plantings from the three previous years are doing amazingly well this season and promise to bear big crops:

That’s a lot of strawberries just waiting to ripen. Since taking that photo we have put up our chicken wire fencing and covered the top with bird netting to protect the fruit. That doesn’t keep out the mice, and a bunch of our strawberries have been nibbled, but Smithy is doing his job and leaving evidence of his kills around for us to find. Though there’s still not much advancement on the lap-cat front, he will at least walk away from us instead of running.

Yesterday was our first round of strawberry picking, and we got several quarts of berries. Now the only question is how to best enjoy them: fresh, or in delicious baked goods? I’m thinking we should have enough for several batches of jam this year as well.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Battle Royale: Potato Beetles vs. Lady Bugs

Something’s eating our potato plants:

At first Kirk assumed it was cutworms because the stems looked sheared off, but we also have a whole bunch of these guys:

That’s a pair of Colorado potato beetles, working pretty frantically to make lots more little potato beetles. 

These bugs are notoriously destructive, and we’re losing potato plants by the day:

I’m not sure if they’ll sprout again or not, but even if they do, I doubt we’ll have much of a yield by fall, especially given our short growing season. These are our red and white potatoes, but our blue ones are in a different bed — one that so far seems to be in the clear. This weekend we’ll add some row covers to the blue potato bed to try to keep it that way.

We suspect that these potato beetles rode in on a load of compost from the city yard. This is ordinarily an excellent resource, but we’ve never had a problem before, and we were fine right up until adding city compost to hill up these plants. 

Potato beetles are also notoriously resistant to pesticides, so we’re trying instead to fight fire with fire:  

We picked up a bucket of ladybugs at the local nursery. You keep them in the fridge until you need them so they stay in a semi-hibernative state: 

When you’re ready, you water the plants and then sprinkle the ladybugs around at sunset, so they don’t fly away.

I used some on both potato beds and on my roses, which this spring are covered with aphids:

I haven’t seen any ladybugs in the potatoes since (though I haven’t looked very hard). I suppose I’ll also head out to pick beetles and eggs off the plants in the mornings to try to protect what’s left — and to keep them from settling in and figuring out where the tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are.

The ladybugs do seems to be happy with all those aphids on the roses, though:

With any luck, the ladybugs will take care of the aphids and reproduce — these are always good bugs to have around!