Sunday, August 9, 2009

Garden Pest Warfare-The Organic Way

My vegetable garden is in full swing and usually about this time each year I am faced with a few unwanted guests. I am talking about insects and creatures of the night who seek out my prized, perfectly ripe heirloom vegetables and devour them. It is warfare alright, but it does not have to be toxic (to humans).

There are some really good products out there which are organic and/or safe to use on your edibles. Below is a list of typical garden pests or diseases with some organic or safe solutions. Click on each unwanted guests name (below) to identify and follow the links to the organic solution.

Ants- Boric acid potion mix 2 Tb boric acid (drug stores carry it) mixed with a sweet liquid/jelly (think they used apple or mint jelly) to make a paste. Put the paste in 8 oz. margarine tubs with holes in the sides (to keep pets out).
Aphids-ladybugs are a great and organic solution to aphid control. you can also use Neem it is a oil and soap concentrate that when added to water can be sprayed on pest to kill by suffocation. This product can also be used for controlling fungus (i.e. powdery mildew).
Powdery Mildew- Use Organacide which is a concentrate you can mix with water and spray on leaves. I have used this product a few times this year on my summer squash and it works overnight.
Blossom-End Rot- Blossom end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant and can be corrected with quick action. First, pick all fruit that has been damaged (see image for identification). Second, mulch the soil around plants to provide more consistent moisture after temperatures rise. One of the causes of BER is uneven moisture, so mulching helps retain moisture. Third, there is a product called Blossom-end rot spray by Green Light (found at most big box stores) that can be sprayed on the foliage for quick results. I have used this in the past and it has worked!
Caterpillars- Mockingbirds. Hand pick off plant. Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.) targets and eliminates bad bugs while not harming beneficial bugs. The way b.t. works is actually quite interesting. B.t. is a natural occurring soil bacteria that acts sorta like a stomach virus to the caterpillar. So which essentially it is a "bug" for the bugs. B.t. comes in liquid and powder form and is quite economical. The product is not just for killing caterpillars it will also destroy tent caterpillars, cabbage loopers, cutworms, gypsy moth larvae, budworms, corn borers, tomato hornworms, leafrollers, peach tree borers, webworms, codling moths, and other caterpillars. B.t. is also available for controlling the larvae of black flies, mosquitoes, and fungus gnats, in addition to potato beetles and certain leaf beetles.
Tomato Horn Worm
-Hand pick off plant. Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.)
Mice/Rats- Mouse traps and rat traps
White Fly-Use Neem it is a oil and soap concentrate that when added to water can be sprayed on pest to kill by suffocation. This product can also be used for controlling fungus (i.e. powdery mildew).
Grasshopper-Neem (nymph stage), Diatomaceous Spray-Mix one cup (240 ml) of diatomaceous earth with one gallon (3.8 l) of water along with two tablespoons (30 ml) of blackstrap molasses. Spray this onto the plants. Grasshopper Pathogen (Nosema locustae)- it is a spore that causes blood poisoning which brings on death. When other grasshoppers feed on the dead infected grasshopper the disease is spread. it is important to start this treatment early in the nymph stage because it takes awhile to see results.
Earwig-Diatomaceous earth (see above). Damp newspaper rolls-roll up damp sheets of newspaper and place in the garden over night. At sunrise the earwigs crawl into the wet newspaper to take refuge. Collect the bundles before they dry out and throw them out in a secure plastic bag.
Grubs-Milky Spore Powder
Birds-Birds can be extremely beneficial to the garden so I only use bird netting over my tomatoes. Make sure there are no holes for birds to get in and get trapped.
Raccoons, Rabbits and Squirrels- I would recommend trapping the little critters and moving them to another location. We have tried repellents and they have not worked for us.
Slug and Snail- Tuna can and beer-Fill a empty tuna can with beer and bury it with soil. The slugs love the taste of beer and will crawl in and drown, Diatomaceous earth and Sluggo.

Beneficial bugs in the garden is the least toxic and a great way to fight bad bugs in the garden. ATTRA has created a list of beneficial bugs and a way to attract them into your garden. Good luck!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"You say tomato, I say tomahto"

Like the old song goes "You say tomato, I say tomahto", everyone has their own interpretation of what it takes to grow and harvest tomatoes. I have read about the planting the plant on its side trick, or the planting the tomato plant with a dead fish trick or the question of whether to plant a determinant or indeterminate variety, the list goes on and on....There are so many tricks and rules you may just feel like calling the whole thing off.

Tomatoes are an easy plant to grow, anyone can do it. I have always had a successful crop of tomatoes and my secret has been to have four main ingredients:

  • Water
  • Fertilizer
  • Support
  • Sun
Water - Like most plants tomatoes need regular water. I use automatic drip irrigation for three great reasons. The first reason is because it delivers consistent moisture to the plant. Tomatoes (and other vegetables) do not like to be over watered or dry out, especially when it happens inconsistently. The second reason is drip irrigation waters the root zone not the leaves. Overhead watering (especially in the evening) can cause moisture born fungi and disease (e.g. Powdery mildew ) to develop on leaves. The optimal time to water is early in the morning when leaves have a whole day to dry off before temperatures drop and humidity rises. The third reason is because it saves water (better for the environment and easier on the wallet). With overhead watering, much of the water is lost through evaporation and run off. Basically, I water my vegetable garden in the morning three times a week for ten minutes with drip irrigation. Mulching around the the plants will help conserve moisture and keeps weeds at bay.

Fertilizer- Any complete vegetable fertilizer will do. I use an organic fertilizer such as E.B. Stone's Organic Vegetable and Tomato Fertilizer. I also use fish emulsion, which is a liquid fertilizer mixed with water. Fish emulsion liquid fertilizer is the fastest way the plant can receives nutrients and is known as foliar feeding.

-Most Tomato growers would agree, there are two main methods of support for tomato plants staking and cage. In Pat Welsh's book Southern California Gardening a month to month guide She explains the two techniques in great detail but I will give you the shorter version.

The cage method- bend a 6 1/2-foot length of 5-foot-tall, 6-by-6 hardware cloth or cement-reinforcing wire to make a round cage 2 feet across. Place the cage over the tomato plant (make sure it is anchored down to withstand wind). With this method no pruning is involved, just let the branches climb up inside the cage. With this method the fruit will be smaller but you will get more fruit.

The next method is the staking method. Stake each tomato plant with one 8-foot-tall stake that you embed in the ground. Prune all side suckers and allow only one main trunk to grow. This method takes a lot of work but you will get larger and earlier fruit but less of them.

Sun-Like all plants that produce flowers and fruit tomatoes need at least seven hours of direct sunlight in order to flower then fruit. Without the sun exposure you may have a plant that has great green foliage but has no or little fruit.

So, it is that simple and before you know it you will have tons of beautiful and tasty home grown tomatoes that you can brag about.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What's Growing in The Garden Now!

Success!!I have found the secret to germinating bean seeds without them rotting. Simply soak the bean seeds for 2 hours prior to planting. Next, place the seeds in wet paper towel and slide into a plastic bag. Next, label and wait a few days. When the seeds start to germinate (grow roots) place each seed (eye up) into soil, cover and water.

In just a few more days I saw my seeds emerge. I have always thought that was the beautiful thing about seeds, within that hard exterior there is so much life.

In my garden I have planted three types of beans this year. Here are the descriptions taken from the Baker Creek Web site:

Dragon Tongue
This famous Dutch heirloom bean has an incomparable flavor. The tender and superbly delicious 7" pods are yellow, with amazing purple streaks! Also makes a tasty shelled bean. Popular with chefs and gourmets. Compact plants set high yields.

This is the bean that is said to have come to America with the Pilgrims in 1620. This old cutshort green bean has great flavor and the red/white beans are quite tasty. A long-time staple in the Carolinas.

California Blackeye Pea
70 days. An old standard variety; vigorous, high-yielding vines. Thomas Jefferson grew Blackeye Peas in the 1770s. Originating in Africa, cowpeas are easy to grow and are very popular in the South; a very ancient crop.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Heirloom seeds and non-GMO seeds?

It may be presumptuous of me to assume the general public understands the definition and the difference between heirloom seed or a non-GMO seed. I think it is important to clarify the difference. Heirloom seed, for example an heirloom tomato can be defined by Wikipedia as an heirloom tomato (also called heritage tomato in the UK) is an heirloom plant, an open-pollinated (non-hybrid) cultivator of tomato. Non-GMO seed (non-genetically engineered seed) is seed that has not been altered genetically. For example corn that is designed to resists pests. I think blogger Annie B. Bond has a great article called Why it matters to buy heirloom discussing both.

If you are interested in purchasing heirloom seeds, I found a great list of companies that sell heirloom seed. Check out the list on the Southern Organic Resource Guides web site. I feel it is important to grow heirloom because I find a huge difference in the taste and look of heirloom varieties. I also find it quite frightening to think that maybe one day we will not have the variety of fruit, flowers and vegetables as we do today, due to seed extinction. It is great that groups like the seed savers exchange have supported the efforts to save the seeds from our yesteryear. Below is a passage taken from Seed Savers Exchange website which nicely sums up there goals:

Seed Savers Exchange exists to serve its members, and the public, through its charitable mission to (1) save the world’s diverse, but endangered, garden heritage for future generations; (2) build a network of people committed to collecting, conserving and sharing heirloom seeds and plants; and (3) educate people about the value of genetic and cultural diversity

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Preserving Our Heritage

Every Year around February I start receiving all of my seed catalogs in the mail. I flip through the hundreds of pages devouring each seed's profile. I meticulously mark each seed I plan to purchase to add to my repertoire. It is crazy, I almost salivate when reading the story each seed has to tell. I usually favor the seeds that are rare and produce veggies which are not found at our local supermarket. I guess that is the challenge. I mean, why can't we get more of a variety of produce? Are they really more difficult to grow? One of my favorite seed supply companies is Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. For example, check out this description for the Mayflower Bean taken from the Baker Creek Heirloom seeds web site.

This is the bean (mayflower) that is said to have come to America with the Pilgrims in 1620. This old cutshort green bean has great flavor and the red/white beans are quite tasty. A long-time staple in the Carolinas.

I can see myself eating this delightful little bean and imagining myself on a large ship in 1620 traveling to a new and exotic place.

I purchased this bean and planted them three weeks ago. After three weeks of no sprouts I impatiently checked the soil for any sign of growth. When I dug a down a bit I came across a soggy blob I presume was my Mayflower seed. Usually I have great success with germinating seeds. What did I do wrong??? After a little research I found out I would have had better luck if I soaked the seeds in water for two hours before planting and kept the soil dryer than my other seeds. So, I have decided to go for round two with the Mayflower seed. I think I will start another batch of them tomorrow.