Saturday, July 28, 2012

Problems (and Pests) in Paradise

I've been meaning to get to my garden since it rained on Tuesday, and it's now Saturday and I finally made it (for a little while, James was with me and had to rush back home to get ready for his soccer jamboree--I'll need to return this afternoon).  What greeted me was joy at seeing my lovely garden after a busy week, and then feeling my heart fall as I realised that this beautiful plot is no longer immune to gardening problems and its level of perfection has definitely plummeted.

I knew that this had started:

But didn't know that it had spread so much.  Actually, I was hoping that it hadn't spread so much. It's powdery mildew, and is caused by overly wet conditions (what?!) or high humidity.  It has been humid here this summer but nowhere near as humid as usual, and it certainly hasn't been wet.  So a little surprised and not so happy to find this little problem in my garden.  It especially affects squash plants, and none of my zucchini, pumpkin, and two precious butternut squash plants escaped unscathed.  So I pulled off the most affected leaves.  I left some of the others because I didn't want to take away all of the plants' photosynthetic ability, but I am worried it will spread.  I put the diseased leaves that I removed into a plastic bag and brought them home to our waste bin.  I pulled off extra leaves around the base of the plant where they were pretty bushy to increase air circulation, and I tried one organic-gardening-friendly home remedy:  I sprayed them with a 50% water 50% milk solution.  I used this solution on both affected and unaffected leaves, and I think I'll have to do it every few days, but I am hoping it will help.  I have also heard that a baking soda solution is helpful too--and if I need to do that, I will as well.  I'm only watering the base of the plants, and only early in the day so they have time to dry.  If you have other suggestions regarding powdery mildew and how I can fight it without using anything toxic in the garden, I'd be very grateful.

My ever ready and willing garden helper sprays the leaves too.

So now those leaves that aren't turning grey have white drips all over them. :)
Next on the list of troubles:  Colorado potato beetles.

I knew it was only a matter of time before they found my eggplants, but I thought that I would discover them as adults and get rid of them before they could reproduce in my precious patch of veggies.  Unfortunately, that was not the case:


Get off there, you!
I found them in voraciously-feeding-squishy-gross larval stage.  I didn't notice any egg masses, so I would be thrilled if the ones I found were the extent of it, but I'm sure that would be dreaming.  I picked off every little goober that I found and threw it (provided I didn't accidentally squish it) into the same plastic bag as the mildew-y pumpkin and squash leaves.  Next time I'll bring a mason jar with soapy water in it to collect them, I wasn't expecting to encounter these dastardly little leaf-chomping demons today.  Thank goodness for gardening gloves, is all I can say.  Yes, I'm a biologist, and yes (Johanna!) I am a little squeamish about bugs.  Not all bugs, just certain ones, but I still don't like touching most of them with bare skin.  It's my first year vegetable gardening, so I imagine I'll get over it.  Not yet, though.  Of additional concern are the following:

  • I naively planted my peppers, eggplant and tomatoes all together.  Well, there is a little buffer between the eggplant and tomatoes in the form of cucumbers and a couple of barely producing peas. But I found a little guy in the cucumbers and I am sure they will discover the tomatoes later on.  I really hope that they don't take to them, my prized crop!
  • The guys sharing the plot next to mine have a LOT of potatoes planted.  I saw the horrid little creatures in there too, and plan to email them to warn them about it.  I really don't want them to decide to relocate to my plot!
I know that Colorado potato beetles have a strong preference for eggplant, so I am hoping that at worst the vast majority of them will be drawn to those plants and I will have to fight the good fight in that part of the garden.  Even if I lose, if it keeps them away from the tomatoes, which I am just crossing my fingers hoping they don't enjoy nearly as much, it will be worth it.  I've mentioned before that I have only eaten eggplant once, so as disappointed as I would be, I think I could handle it.

In other, more exciting and happy news, James and I discovered this little friend rapidly crawling around in the pepper plants:

It's a lady bug larva.  And although it would be rare to hear me refer to any insect larval form as cute, I think this little dude is seriously cute.  Especially when I saw how fast he/she/it could go.  Not only do they turn into pretty ladybugs, which are a favourite of all small children and most people in general and are considered good luck by many, but it will eat aphids.  Lots of aphids.  AND, I discovered today upon my return from the garden, they eat Colorado potato beetle egg masses.  Wahoo!  So I hope that this little friend has a big clan just hiding out in the leaves ready to bring destruction on the pest population of my garden.  But even just one is pretty nice to find. :)

Shared with the Garden Life Link-UpLHITS Friday Link-Up, and Homestead Barn Hop #72 at Homestead Revival.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A little rain and a lot of relief

Most Tuesdays I post on a group blog, Cradled in the Waves.  My post today is about how this summer's drought-like conditions are affecting Prince Edward Island.  Please hop over to visit, read my post, and perhaps take a peek around.  I'd love to hear how you are coping with this year's unpredictable weather!

I also meant to (but neglected to) share last week's post, featuring pictures of my beautiful babies and a lovely PEI beach!

This post is shared with the Homestead Barn Hop #71 at The Prairie Homestead

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Excited About Eggplant

I may have eaten eggplant once in my life.  I'm not even sure.  But when I was picking up some veggie plants at a local garden centre this year, I saw a four-pack of "Fairytale" eggplants and I thought, "why not?"  And as they grow, I am becoming more and more excited about them.  I love the purple flowers.  They're prettier if you look directly into the centre, but I was trying to get at them without crushing any of the surrounding plants and so this is the photo that I ended up with.  Not perfect, but you can see that they are definitely fun.  I've been looking up moussaka and baba ganoush recipes and I am basically just dreaming about carrying a basket of beautiful purple fruit home from my garden plot.  And so far, not one Colorado potato beetle to be found.   What is new to your garden this year?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Not-So-New Nemesis: The Earwig

I have found earwigs to be among the most grotesque, horrendous, disgusting creatures on this earth for years now.  And yes, I appreciate all forms of life due to my education in conservation biology and as a Christian.  But my appreciation really takes a dive with non-native species that invade my life and property.  Starlings?  Not a fan.  Manitoba maple?  Can't stand it.  Earwigs?  I loathe them.

Not the clearest photo, but these little horrors are a bit tough to catch on a phone camera!

I had a university professor once (an awesome one, I might add) who told me that earwigs have amazingly maternal tendencies.  I think she thought that it might soften my decidedly unyielding detest for the creatures.  It didn't.  I like maternal animals.  I am one!  But earwig mommies are just something I don't sympathize with.

Particularly now.  I have had earwigs in our garden each year, and have always been horrified at their sneaky, yucky way of dropping from hiding places when you move something in the garden, their way of ending up in your line-dried laundry when you take it in (even after shaking!), their creepy-crawliness in general, and the way they multiply like crazy.  GROSS.  I actually was thinking to myself, just over a week ago, that they didn't seem to be that bad this year.  I wasn't encountering them at a comparable rate to the last couple of summers, I was only seeing the odd one here and there but definitely not being bombarded by them.  Things changed though.

I went outside to check on the vegetables I had planted in a built-in planter box on our deck.  It had one zucchini plant, one eggplant, two red pepper plants, and at least a hundred tiny carrot seedlings coming up.  This is what I found (keep in mind that these photos are from about 3 days ago, the current situation is only worse!):

Zucchini: early days of damage.

This plant had a bunch of gorgeous blooms.  All eaten away, now to nothing!

The last carrot seedling standing (now there isn't even one).

Pepper plants are apparently yummy.

Pepper plant number two suffers a little less damage (at first!)

Apparently eggplant leaves are not as palatable as some of the others, but they'll take what they can get!
 Not only did they eat my gorgeous veggies (I may add I am on planting #3 of yellow beans right now and these ones have all the leaves eaten right off the tops of the seedlings), but they added insult to injury when they left excrement all over the plants, which is pretty obvious in the zucchini pictures.  Yuck.

So enough moaning and complaining, what do we do about these dastardly insect villains?  The way I see it, we have three options:

Option 1
Leave them alone.  They actually eat slugs and aphids, and maybe you like that.  If you don't have an overpopulation, then they might actually be beneficial to have around.  It does pain me to admit that.

Option 2
Use some sort of awful insecticide that could potentially harm beneficial insects and leave a toxic residue in your plants where your kids or pets could be affected.  Yuck, no thanks.

Option 3
Use some organic and natural methods and hope for the best!  Here are a few I've put together and plan on trying this summer:

  • Use diatomaceous earth around your house foundation, walkways, fences, trees, and other structures.  Apply it in several different applications in late spring, about a week apart.
  • Take advantage of the earwigs' preference for damp, dark, close places and make some traps.  These could include:
    • a dampened, rolled up newspaper
    • a flower pot, upside down but propped up slightly and also filled with dampened, crumpled newspaper
    • an empty grapefruit half
    • cardboard boxes with a few small holes in them and baited with oatmeal or bran
    • Two pieces of 2x4 lumber, neatly stacked one upon the other.
      • These are all live traps.  You can shake them out into a bucket of soapy water, or boiling water, or feed them to chickens--I understand that the majority of our fine feathered friends relish them and they're a cheap (and abundant!) source of protein!  You can also seal them in a plastic bag to suffocate and throw them in the trash.  That seems a bit harsh, even to me.  Just make sure that you don't put them on your compost pile!!
    • For a more deadly approach, use an empty tuna can, fill it partially with oil, and place it on the ground in the garden where they will be interested (you could put honey or molasses in the oil to attract them, but I'm not sure it's really necessary and seems a waste of good baking supplies).  You can also half-bury a bottle of beer (drink about 2/3 first!) in the soil so that they can crawl in through the bottle neck and drown.  You'll also pick off some slugs this way too.
  • In the late fall, before the snow, you can pour boiling water down your foundation.  Due to the cooling weather, some earwigs will overwinter between your foundation and the soil in your yard as it is a warmer spot to hang out.  If you can catch them there while they're vulnerable, you might have a smaller population to deal with the next year.
If you do decide to trap them, make sure you put traps near your affected plants and put a lot of them out.  Keep checking, emptying, and replacing the traps until you see a noticeable decrease in earwig activity.  And good luck!

I have read that they are attracted to compost and mulch.  This is a problem for me because I am increasing the mulch in all areas of our garden, and just started two compost piles this spring/summer.  I have a feeling that these new ventures may have exacerbated the problem--but I'm not willing to give them up.  So we'll have to see if the other methods work!  I look forward to  attempting to combat this garden foe.  If you have any suggestions for me, please leave them in the comments!!

This post is shared with Homestead Barn Hop #70 on Homestead Revival and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Vegetables are Growing: Pride (and Shame) at Our Helping Hands Plot

I've been really absorbed (and perhaps a bit lost) in a lot of goings-on lately, with children, work, cooking, gardening, trying to spend time with my husband, and bracing for some big lifestyle changes that are coming at us over the next year or so.  It seems to me that summer might not always be the most productive period for this little blog, but I wanted to share a few photos from our community garden plot (and a half) as the season is now really underway.

You can tell by those super long shadows that it is pretty late in the evening!  My plot is the one at the back just beyond the wheelbarrow.  The plot in the middle is one of the food pantry plots, and this one in the foreground is a plot I am sharing with my sister.  Her seeds were just recently planted on the left, and I planted some seriously discounted late-in-the-season eggplant, Roma tomatoes, and canteloupe transplants on the right-hand side, then surrounded them with wood chips.

This is a view of my beloved plot.  Those trellises are for pumpkin, butternut squash, and zucchini.  I realize that they are likely not big enough and may not work, but it was my first year and I was trying to cram as many plants into a small plot as was humanly possible.  I'll let you know how it goes!  Note the un-mulched section on the right.  I'll give a close up of it next  (this is where the shame comes into the post)...

OK so this is my weed patch, otherwise known as the section I planted spinach, swiss chard, carrots, broccoli, and herbs.  Why does it look like I am nurturing lambsquarters, dandelions, and some random feral-oregano-type-herb-intruder?  Well, when it was tilled this year (the very first time in probably ever since the park was established) there were a lot of small clods of sod left in the garden.  I took the biggest ones out, but left the smaller ones to (a) keep some biological matter in the soil to break down and (b) when I took the clods out I lost a lot of dirt that I wanted for planting.  Unfortunately, since most of these weeds are attached to the clods, when I pull a weed out I get a big old chunk of garden with it.  I didn't want to disturb the seeds, so I sort of let the weeds go crazy.  No I really have to spend some serious time with it since my other plants are barely coming up and having to compete with some much tougher garden companions.  Oops.

Clockwise from top left: zucchini, bush pickle cucumber, butternut squash, and pumpkin.  What is the deal with bush pickle (from the name, I would assume it is supposed to grow like a BUSH) being all vine-y and not bushlike at all?  Now I am realizing I squished it in between peas and eggplant because I thought it would grow up, not out.  Lesson learned.  The pumpkin is doing really well, the zucchini not so awesome but those transplants were in need of a little love when I bought them, and my precious organic butternut squash that I grew from seed and looked like it would die a terrible, lonely, neglected death, have come back and are doing really well, even if they are smaller than the others.  Yay!

It's like "Where's Waldo" looking for desirable plants in the weed patch, but here are some broccoli, swiss chard, spinach, peas (actually they're not lost in that patch, they're being smothered by non-bush-like bush pickle cucumbers farther down) and some precious little carrot seedlings.

Exciting and healthy!  Eggplant (first time growing, probably will be my first time eating, actually) and I love those fuzzy leaves!  Tomatoes: planted better boy, lemon boy, beefsteak and Roma and they all look super happy and are growing well; red bell peppers, and corn.  Fun!  I don't care if the corn doesn't do well but thought it would be fun to try and it'll be one of very few veggie varieties the children will actually eat.

Wheelbarrow with my poor little guy's snow shovel in it.  His real little shovel is at my parents' cottage, so he had to make do with this less-than-efficient one when helping me shovel shavings into the wheelbarrow and then onto the garden beds.  Do you appreciate the edge of my finger in the corner of the shot?  I thought so.  Bet you wish you could take stellar photos like I can!

Dancing gardener boy is still excited after a long hour of hard work and dances his way home to bed.  I love this little helper!

This post is shared with the Little House in the Suburbs LinkyThe Homestead Barn Hop #70 on Homestead Revival and Frugal Days, Sustainable Days.