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Posts Tagged ‘ants’

Fall Crop Bountiful Basket
Love your Mother! Plant more bee food! Eat less meat. Grow organic!

Bountiful fall crops are on their way! Labor Day weekend is the favorite fall planting time for many gardeners. Some like it even more than spring planting! Fall is cooler, slower paced, quieter. When and where there isn’t a drought, there is less watering.

If you want specific varieties, not standard fare at the nursery, you plant from seed. Plant them in a ‘nursery’ area in the shade of finishing summer plants, in 6 packs, under the grow lights, in the greenhouse! Plant your fall seeds outdoors a tad deeper than you would in spring; soil is moister and cooler an extra inch or two down. It’s the law to keep them moist. If you plant successively for steady fresh table supply, plant a batch in September, again in October. Days will shorten and start cooling, but you are taking advantage of a fast start because your plants will grow quickly in the warmer weather now than later on. Sep plant from seeds, Oct from transplants.

Tasty morsels to plant!

  • If you have plenty of space to accommodate a bad weather ‘error,’ and anticipate an Indian Summer, you can chance plant bush beans, summer squash, container type varieties of small tomatoes. At least plant earliest in Sep .
  • Beets, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, are a big yes! And carrots, celery, leeks!
  • Colorful Chard is the ‘flower’ of your winter garden! Mid-August is one of the best times, Sep certainly is good too! Marigold don’t mind cool days; lovely on a dark day.
  • Plant more heat tolerant lettuces.
  • It is so easy to sprout peas! Dampen the paper towel; spray the towel to keep it moist. Pop them into the garden by the trellis – if it is hot, devise some shade for them.
  • Onions For the biggest, sweetest harvests, late summer and early fall are the prime times to sow seeds of short- or intermediate-day onions. Fall-sown short- and intermediate-day onions tend to yield more and are larger and sweeter than those seeded or transplanted in early spring.

I like what Better Homes & Gardens has to say – Sown in September, sprinters such as arugula, mustard, spinach, turnips, and crispy red radishes are ready to pick in little more than a month. Also try pretty Asian greens, such as tatsoi or mizuna, which grow so fast that you will have baby plants to add to stir-fries and soups just three weeks after sowing. If you would enjoy a quick payback on your table, select the earliest maturing varieties available.

Plant Sweet Peas for Christmas bloom! Plant gift plants or bowls or baskets for the holidays! 

Keep letting your strawberry runners grow for Oct harvest. Get your pallet ready if  you want a strawberry pallet that sweet first week in November!

Brassica (that’s your broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, B-sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower, collards, turnips) Companions are aromatic plants like sage, dill, chamomile. Carrots, chard, beets, peppermint, rosemary, celery, onions, potatoes, spinach, dwarf zinnias. Brassicas are helped by geraniums, dill, alliums (onions, shallots, garlic, etc), rosemary, nasturtium, borage. Dill attracts a wasp to control cabbage moth. Zinnias attract lady bugs to protect plants. Avoid nightshades and strawberries.  Notice there are contradictions – potatoes are in the nightshade family. And usually we would avoid mustards, but now we have Bagrada bugs, we use the mustards as a trap plant for the Bagradas.

COMPANIONS!  Cabbage babies need to be planted 12 to 28″ apart.  A healthy plant will take up much closer to that 28″! They take a long while to grow, head, head tight. Plant carrots, or other fillers, that mature sooner, in the space between them. You can do this at home amongst your ornamentals, and/or in containers too! Fillers can be beets, or onion/chive types to repel Bagrada Bugs. Short quickest growing winter radishes can be among the long slower growing carrots among the slowest growing, your cabbages.

Brassica pests!

  • Brassicas are the very favorite of Bagrada Bugs.  Keep a keen watch for them especially when temps are above 75°F. Bagrada bugs tend to be most active and visible during the warmer parts of the day, so that’s when to look for them. Bagradas make white spots on the leaves as they suck the juices out of your plant. They carry diseases and overnight the leaves start to wilt. If you don’t get rid of them ASAP, you lose your plant in short order. And that’s when they are polite. A plant can be so infested it is swarmed and it looks like the plant is moving.Per UC IPM, as an alternative to greenhouses, screened tunnels or floating row cover fabric can provide plant protection in gardens. The mesh of the screening material must be fine enough to exclude the Bagrada bug nymphs and should be elevated so that it does not touch the plants because the bugs can feed through these coverings. The edges of protective covers must also be buried to prevent the bugs from crawling underneath to the plants, and they must be applied before Bagrada bugs get into the crop.
  • Lots of ants and lengthwise curling leaves are the giveaways for aphids. Aphids carry viruses. Aphids come in fat gray or small black. Avoid over watering that makes for soft plants, tender leaves that aphids thrive on, and ant habitat. Spray the aphids away, make the ants leave. Get up under those leaves, and fervently but carefully do the tender growth tips. Do it consistently until they don’t come back.

Make your fall planting beds extra yummy – add compost, worm castings, manures.  We want rich soil for those big plants.  We want lots of those marvelous leaves for greens.  Winter plants like brocs, collards, cauliflower, chard, are heavy producers, need plenty of food.

BUT NOT CARROTS!  Too good a soil makes them hairy and they fork.  And over watering, irregular watering, can make them split. Build your beds up so they drain well, are above the coldest air that settles low down. PEAS, the winter legume, make their own Nitrogen, so feed only lightly if at all.

Keep your water steady for plants still in production. Remove mulch habitat in areas where Bagrada bugs have been seen.

Build your new raised beds. Install gopher barriers! Put up a greenhouse.

RESTORE OR REST AN AREA  Plant some hefty favas or a vetch mix for green manures and to boost soil Nitrogen. Plant them where you had summer’s heavy feeders like corn, eggplant, summer squash, tomatoes or where you will plant heavy feeders next summer. The vetch mix can include Austrian peas and bell/fava beans, plus oats that break up the soil (they have deep roots). Favas are big, produce one of the highest rates of compostable organic material per square foot! If you change your mind, you can eat them! 🙂 Or cover an area you won’t be planting with a good 6″ to a foot deep of mulch/straw and simply let the herds of soil organisms do their work over winter. That’s called sheet composting or composting in place – no turning or having to move it when it’s finished. If you are vermicomposting, have worms, add a few handfuls to speed up and enrich the process. Next spring you will have rich nutritious soil for no work at all!

Pest and Disease Prevention  Drench young plants, ones you just transplanted, with Aspirin solution to get them off to a great start! One regular Aspirin, 1/4 C nonfat powdered milk, 1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap (surfactant), per gallon of water. Aspirin, triggers a defense response and stimulates growth! Powdered milk is a natural germicide and boosts the immune system.

September is Seed Saving time! Make notes on how your plants did, which varieties were the most successful. These seeds are adapted to you and your locality. Each year keep your best! Store your keepers in a cool dry place for next year’s plantings.

See the entire September 2014 Newsletter!

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Ants and Aphids on Tomato Plant
Ants tending aphids on Tomato plant

Too many ants! Plants are seriously damaged by their aphids. Production is stalled, plants die. Not ok.

Bad year! Ants are on beans, cucumbers, okra, even tomatoes! It’s become clear the usual hosing off the aphids isn’t enough. Hosing uses too much water, it waters your plants too much, which the ants like! With big tomato plants jammed in cages, you can’t get to the center and fuzzy plants don’t like to be watered on their leaves anyway. The aphids the ants tend are almost impossible to get off those fuzzy backed leaves – especially the stiff haired cucumber leaves. You can’t hard spray them off cucumber flowers because it blows the flowers away too. Argh.

Where do those aphids come from?! Some farming ant species gather and store the aphid eggs in their nests over the winter. In the spring, the ants carry the newly hatched aphids back to the plants. Queens that are leaving to start a new colony take an aphid egg to found a new herd of underground aphids in the new colony. As aphids feed, they often transmit plant viruses that can sometimes kill the plants, and the honeydew they make, that the ants feed on, favors the growth of sooty mold. This is a very destructive black fungus that spreads on plant leaves. Not only do ants protect and farm herds of aphids, but also cottony scales, mealybugs, soft-type scales, and whiteflies. Bad juju in the garden.

OK. So it’s either spray with a killer mix, or bait to end the colony. Enough already. Spraying is immediate; baiting takes a few days to a week. Do both to save your plants sooner.

Temporary Solutions

  • Insecticidal soaps are quick but temporary. Drench ant colonies with solutions of insecticidal soap, which are nearly non-toxic highly refined soap. It will not eliminate ants deep in the nest.
  • Neem Oil, organic, is a maybe. Some report it works and swear by it, others say it doesn’t work at all. Probably depends on what kind of ants you have. Some say premix works for them, others say get the 100% stuff. It is not long lasting, repeated sprayings are needed.
  • The Stinkies! Tea Tree Oil, herbs like Peppermint or Rosemary, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus sprays work and smell great! These can be used a couple of different ways. Crush the leaves, sprinkle on an ant line and they vanish. Or, use one cup of water to ¼ cup of peppermint or spearmint. Mix in your blender, strain into a handheld pump sprayer. Put it where you want it! Repeated sprayings needed. Some say you need less of Tea Tree and less frequent sprayings.
  • Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is fossilized remains of plankton; it looks like an off-white talc powder. It kills insects with exoskeletons, all kinds of them! It is perfectly safe for mammals, in fact, is eaten daily by some humans. To work it has to get ON the ant, and if it is even dew dampened, doesn’t work. It doesn’t attract ants, so they don’t invite their friends, and it isn’t ‘shared’ with the other ants. So yes it works, and no it doesn’t. If your plants are suffering now, it’s too slow to use.
  • Vinegar A half to a liter down the hole kills, but the ones that escape merely move. Remember, vinegar is also an herbicide. Be careful.
  • Water? Ants can live submerged in water for several days. That’s why the hose down the hole doesn’t work. So you need a little fire power, boiling hot water, to kill them.

‘Permanent’ Solution! Borax, plain old grocery store 20 Mule Team Borax kills the colony. It really works without fail. It’s cheap, a little goes a long way, and you can use what’s left to do your laundry!

Spray Mix 1/2 cup of sugar with 1 teaspoon of borax (20 mule team) with 1 cup of water to make a spray and spray on their trail where they enter the house (garden) and in 3 days they will be gone. Spay around the windows and doors to keep them out. When the spray dries they eat the crystals and take them back to the nest and POOF they are gone. At the garden, do this on a WINDLESS DAY, and be very careful not to get it on your plants. It’s an herbicide.

Per April Sanders, here’s how the BAIT thing works: Worker ants only feed on liquids. They take solid food back to the nests, where it is given to larvae. Then, the larvae convert it to liquid and feed it back to the worker ants [all the worker ants!]. Straight boric acid or insecticide will kill ants, but the worker ants will eat it rather than taking it back to the nest because it is in liquid form. Making a paste ensures the poison will get to the nest.

The first bait recipes I found were sugar and Borax. So I tried it. I found a lot of dead ants, meaning the Borax was not getting back to the nest, but the Borax was definitely killing the ants. After reading April’s explanation, I am now adding cornmeal to the mix. It is a ‘solid’ the ants have to carry back to the nest for processing. So sugar to attract the ants, cornmeal to carry home, Borax to do the job.

Here’s the skinny on cornmeal! Neither cornmeal nor grits cause ants to explode or jam up and starve because ants don’t eat solids. Cornmeal does disrupt ants’ scent trails until they lay down new ones. Yes, the ants might move, due to disrupted trails, and that might be only a few feet away. It appears to stop ants, but they are merely feeding close to their nest at your expense! They take the stuff home, let the larvae convert it to liquid, and they get it back in the form they can eat.

April explains that cornmeal is a medium to carry the poison. ‘Mix cornmeal with a slow-acting liquid insecticide or boric acid to make a paste. Slow-acting insecticides are the most effective way of controlling ants, according to the Colorado State University Extension. Choose one made specifically for ants for best results, and add it a little at a time to the cornmeal until you have a thick paste.’

  • Sugar ants. Bait is serious. This means you are out to kill the colony, a ‘permanent fix.’ Bait is easy to make, a cup of very warm water, 1/2 c of sugar, cornmeal, 2 tablespoons Borax, make a paste. Set it out in a way birds, pets or children can’t get to it. Put it out AFTER you have watered, at the base of plants the ants and aphids are bothering. The ants will go for the sugar and lay off your plants. Scout ants take it home to the colony, and it is spread to all the ants. It isn’t an instant fix, but it works in a few days to a week. REMOVE while you water, replace afterwards.
  • For grease or protein ants, Golden Harvest Organics bait: Mix three parts peanut butter with two parts jelly and add one tablespoon of boric acid per six ounces of mix. Add cornmeal for your solid. Place the bait on pieces of paper or stuff it into large straws (safer so birds won’t get into it,) and place it where you see ants foraging.

Make your own SAFE bait containers!

Make your own Safe Ant Bait Containers!

  • Small diameters of pipe or unchewable tubing keeps bait safe from birds, pets and small animals. Swab the inside of the end of the tube with a Q-tip to be sure the paste is stuffed far enough away from the end of the tube for a small creature to reach. Place out of the sun, or make some shade for it, along the ant trail.
  • Make holes in a jar lid, toward the center, so if it gets wet, falls over or you lay it on its side, your bait doesn’t ooze out. Put your bait in the jar, put the lid on tight. Lay it on its side, butt end facing the direction you water from, so if you accidentally water, the water doesn’t get inside. Lay it on its side along the ant trail, but especially near a plant the ants have been tending, for their easy access. They will go to it and stop tending the aphids. Don’t put it in full sun so it won’t bake your bait or be too hot for the ants to want to get into. If the lid surface is too slick for purchase, sandpaper or scratch it with a rock so the ants can get a grip. Containers are safe for you to handle when you want to move them or add more bait or remove while you water. If you make holes in the sides, make them high so the bait doesn’t seep out.

When I say Borax really works, I mean it! BE VERY CAREFUL. Besides a bugacide, it is an herbicide, used to kill weeds! It can’t tell the difference between a weed and your veggie plants. When you put down your bait, do not water later, forgetting it is there, and get it in your soil or on your plants. Take up your baits before you water. Definitely don’t do it before rains.

More ant & Borax details from an undated UCCE article on ‘New Research’ by Nick Savotich says: ‘The Argentine ant, being a honeydew feeder, has a strong preference for high carbohydrate liquids. High sucrose-based baits, (50% solution), were found to be the most preferred. Various concentrations of boric acid as the toxicant were also tried in combination with the high sucrose baits. It was found that the lowest concentration of boric acid, 0.25%, was as acceptable to the ants as was the sugar solution alone. Higher concentrations, 0.5 – 2%, tended to inhibit acceptance. Boric acid is an excellent toxicant for ants. However the next step is to determine whether this very low concentration (0.25%) is adequate to destroy whole colonies of the Argentine ant.’ So you see, it doesn’t take much of that 20 Mule Team to do the job.

For best results lay out a fresh bait daily. Lay it in areas where you see regular activity and near their points of entry if you know them. Don’t be diligent washing away their trails, you want them to find the bait spots easily again and again. All the workers in the colony can follow each others trails, so even if you killed off the first foragers, their partners will follow the trail they left.

Stop them before they start! Maybe you have been over watering? Ants make their colonies near a water source, and soft over watered plants are aphid friendly. When you find ant colony entrances, put a few drops of dish soap around, down the nest hole, fill in/bury the nest entrance. If they have taken up residence in your compost pile, turn that compost more frequently and water it a little less!

Predators! Groundbeetles, humpback flies, parasitic wasps, praying mantids and the yellow-shafted flicker all dine on ants. Plant flowering plants like cilantro, celery, carrots, food to bring the beneficial insect predators. You are lucky if you have woodpeckers because they are voracious ant eaters.

Wear gloves, wash your hands when you are done working with any toxic stuff, and remove your baits promptly when you are done with them.

Next year, put down your baits before you do plantings the ants and aphids love. Knock back the ant population from the get go! No, dear garden friends, we will never be ant free, nor do we want to be. Ants aerate our soil, clean up scraps and seeds, feed on fleas, termites, and other pests, are a food source for birds and other insects. As with all creatures, they play an important part in a healthy planet. Balance is a practical peace.

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June's Summer Magic Fairy Day June 24!

Summer Magic is happening! Tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, basil!

Depending on how long you want your summer veggies available, and when you want to start your fall plants, a 3rd round of summer planting is a choice! Heat lovers like okra and eggplant sometimes do better and grow quickly in the warmer temps.

Transplants! Lima and snap beans, time now for long beans, celery, corn, leeks, okras, peanuts, peppers, soybeans, squashes, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. Choose bolt resistant, heat and drought tolerant varieties when you can.

From Seeds, those plant-anytime fillers! Beets, carrots, chicory, chives, slo-bolt cilantro, leeks, warm season lettuces, green onions, radish, warm season spinach.

Remember your beans-cucumber-radish triad to deal with cucumber and flea beetles. And also plant radishes with eggplants as a trap plant for flea beetles. Plant your favorite varieties of potatoes to repel squash bugs.

Now that your plants are going, sidedressing keeps them going! Sidedressing usually starts when your plants start to bloom, make fruits. Scatter and lightly dig in a little chicken manure and/or lay on a ½” of tasty compost, some worm castings, water on some fish emulsion. Water well.

  • Sidedressing with seabird guano (NOT bat guano) that is high in phosphorus, stimulates blooms! More blooms, more tomatoes! We’re good with that. More about guanos and manures.
  • Foliar drench or spray with Epsom Salt mix – 1 Tablespoon/watering can, plus a teaspoon of dish soap (surfactant).  Foliar feeding is the most efficient. Epsom Salt, right from your grocery store or pharmacy, is high in magnesium sulfate. Peppers especially love it. Fruits are bigger, peppers are thicker walled. I drench all my Solanaceaes – toms, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, tomatillos – with Epsom salt. Foliar treat at first flowering, and fruit set.
  • If leaves start yellowing, green ‘em up quick with an emergency doctoring of bloodmeal! It’s very high in quickly usable Nitrogen (N).  Dig it lightly into the top soil, water well. Be aware, it and fish/kelp mixes are stinky and bring predators. If you are having a weekend party, use your fishy mix 2 or 3 days beforehand to let the smell go by.
  • Heavy daily producers like strawberries, feed with fish/kelp mix every other week to keep them producing at top tasty speed. No chickie manures for them; they don’t like those salts.
  • Keep those workhorses like beans, berries, cucumbers, well watered. If they lose their perk, especially late in the season, give them a little feed too!

Special care for your tomatoes if you have verticillium or fusarium wilt in your soil as we do at Pilgrim Terrace.

  • Remove any lower foliage that touches the soil or would with the weight of water. As your plant gets big enough remove foliage that could be splashed by infected soil.
  • Mulch 1 to 2 inches deep with a mulch like straw that allows air flow but prevents soil splash.
  • Remove leaves that are curling the length of the leaf or have black edges or stems.
  • Don’t cut suckers (branches between the stem and main branch) off because the cuts can be entry points for wind borne wilts.
  • Wash your hands after working with each plant with the wilt so you don’t spread the wilts yourself.
  • Water by drip or by laying the hose down under your plant, or carefully with a low flow water wand (like the ones they use in the nurseries), so there is no splash, and the leaves don’t get wet. Wands can get under plants, put the water exactly where it is needed. Fuzzy plants like tomatoes and eggplant don’t like to be watered on their leaves. And you can see how that water and fuzz could make fungi, so no watering the foliage.
  • When the toms get about a foot tall, STOP WATERING! Remove weed habitat and don’t mulch or remove the mulch you laid down earlier. The fungus can’t thrive in drier soil. Water around the toms, their neighboring plants, but not the toms. Tomatoes have deep tap roots and they can get water from below the wilt infected soil zone.

Aphids, Whiteflies, Ants  Whether you mind ants or not probably depends on how many there are and what they are doing. Ants feed on fleas, termites, and other pests in your garden, but if they are tending aphids, no, no, no! If you see curling or deformed leaves, gray spots on the leaves, or the central stem of your plant turns gray or black, take a good close look. Check the undersides of the leaves, in the curls. Aphids come in black, and gray, in our area. Immediately remove them, either by hand, smush them away, or blast ’em by hose! Check every day until they are gone. Aphid honeydew also attracts white flies. Ease up a bit on fertilizing and watering, making very soft bodied easy to eat leaves. Avoid over watering – ants will nest near a water source. Put a few drops of dish soap around, down the nest hole, fill in/bury the nest entrance. They will never be all gone – what we want is balance.

Well fed and maintained plants are more disease and pest resistant, are lusty and productive! Plan to save seeds from your favorites!

Start your fall compost now. That means letting it process June and July for unfinished but usable August compost. Let it go through August for more finished compost to be used in September planting.

Take some moments to sit under the orange tree. Hear the garden grow. Watch the birds, see what they see…feel the air on your skin, feel the colors. Forget who you think you are, just be.

See the entire June 2014 Green Bean Connection Newsletter!


The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden.  We are very coastal, in the fog belt part of the year, so keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is.

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Aphid Infestation Cabbage

This image shows a small infestation of aphids (tended by ants) on cabbage.  Even  this few aphids shows how much damage they can do.  When they suck the juices from the leaves, the leaves curl and are deformed.  As the colony gets larger, the plant is stunted, and produces a lot less, if at all.

Although ants are annoying when they come indoors, they can be beneficial by feeding on fleas, termites, and other pests in your garden.  But also, ants are often associated with aphid populations, especially on trees and shrubs, and frequently are a clue that an aphid infestation is present.  In our veggie gardens, aphid favorites are broccoli heads, curly leaf kale leaves, young cabbage leaves.  Last spring they just about killed all our artichokes throughout the garden, and, alas, they spread from my neighbor’s plot to my okra flowering heads.

Managing ants is a key component of aphid management, because not only do they feed on the honeydew, but they protect the aphids from other predators! Hose off the aphids – daily, until they are gone.  Be sure to get the undersides of leaves.  If you can’t get them gone from broccoli heads or the tight curly leaf kale leaves, remove those parts of the plants. Catch them while they are small colonies or, sadly, you may find yourself having to remove the whole plant. Keep watch for the curled leaves that should be more flat, distorted leaves, or that little gray look…or little black dots, tiny black aphids. Clever little devils come in different colors!  Ease up a bit on fertilizing and watering, making very soft bodied easy to eat leaves.

Ant nests may also be associated with plants that support large populations of other honeydew-producing insects – soft scales, mealybugs, or whiteflies.  Whiteflies are easy to see.  When you tap the plant a cloud of them will fly off.  Hose them away too, getting up under those leaves.  Keep ant nesting materials like mulch away from the base of your plants, and keep the area weed free, especially of grasses.  Avoid over watering – ants will nest near a water source.

Chemical baits are not ok in our organic veggie garden.  But a simple remedy can be putting a few drops of dish soap around and filling the nest entrance.

Ants, bless them, are Nature’s fast and efficient cleaner uppers.  Odds are against ant free gardens.  But we can have less of them.

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Healthy care and choices make the difference!

Give your plants a chance!

Not too much N (Nitrogen)  It imbalances your plants, just like too much sugar for us.  You get lots of leaf, no fruit, growth is too fast and ‘soft,’ inviting to pests and diseases.

Watering practices make a difference.  Overhead watering is not good for most plants, but especially not for fuzzy plants that like it dry – tomatoes, eggplant.  Too much nighttime wet equals mildews and more slugs and snails, more remedies and pest prevention, more costly.  Plants drink during the day – water in the AM when you can.  Make furrows, water deep, let it soak in laterally.  Make basins to keep water where you want it.  Drip systems usually don’t work in a veggie garden you are planting biodiversely, mixing things up.  Also, veggies come and go pretty quickly in an active garden.  If you are row or patch planting, if the area is long or big enough, a drip system could work well. 

  • Water soaked soil is dead soil.  Soil organisms, soil builders, simply drown.  If in a low spot, check your drainage options; build a raised bed.  Add organic water holding compost, water less no matter how much fun it is!
  • Dry soil is dead soil.  Nitrogen off gases, your soil organisms die or go away.  See if you can channel some water to that area.  Install furrows or build soil walls or basins to keep water where it is needed, avoid wasteful runoff.  Again, add organic water holding compost.  Water deeply.  If you are gardening at home, busy and forgetful, perhaps you could install drip irrigation on a timer. 

Avoid spreading viruses that can spread diseases.  Really check those plants you buy at the discount nursery.  Remove diseased plants and don’t compost diseased plants.  This is a tough decision when it comes to disease tolerant plant varieties.  They can have a disease yet still produce.  They are bred to do that.  Is that ethical?  If you are gardening at home and make that choice, that is one thing.  If you are in a community garden, and the disease is windborne, is it fair to your garden neighbors?  Maybe we all need to get tolerant varieties.  

Some diseases lurk in garden border weeds.  Or you can bring them into the garden by walking through weeds.  Insects bring some diseases and so do animals, like our skunks, raccoons, possums.  If the ‘weeds’ are habitat for beneficial insects, be careful what you remove, consider the balances. 

Ants.  Whether you mind them or not probably depends on how many there are and what they are doing.  If they are tending aphids, no!  Not only are there ants with aphids, but white flies are attracted to the aphid honeydew as well.  Otherwise, ants are virtuous hard working cleaner uppers!  The take away dead insects.  Balance is the key. 

Varieties matter.  Planting a variety out of season makes that plant struggle and be vulnerable to pests and diseases it can’t handle.  In Santa Barbara we have the cool damp ocean areas and the hot dry foothills.  Different varieties will thrive in one and not the other.  Planting too early or too late, your plant will try, but may not be able.  Some gardeners are totally pro Heirloom, against hybrids.  But Nature herself hybridizes, it is a natural process.  It occurs naturally by area and plants that grow there do the best there.  In a way, we subtly do a similar thing ourselves when we select seed from our best plants.  I think being flexible in your choices will get the best all around results. 

Planting at the Right Time makes a big difference.  Sometimes you just won’t get germination if it is too cold or hot.  Or a plant thrives in temporary weather, but dies when it goes cold again, or too, too hot.  They need certain temps and day length.  Some may survive, but never thrive later.  That is sad to see.  So respect them.  Know them well enough to honor their needs.  Planted at the wrong time, pests they aren’t equipped to handle may eat them alive.  If you are a big risk taker and financially don’t mind a few losses, go ahead.  Some will succeed, for sure.  You may or may not get earlier production.  Sometimes plants can be planted a month apart, but the later one will ‘catch up,’ and produce at the same time as the earlier plant!  Same can be true of smaller and larger transplants because it all depends on temps and day length.

Once your plants are going, sidedressing keeps them going!  Sidedressing usually starts when your plants start to bloom, make fruits.  Scatter and lightly dig in a little chicken manure and/or lay on a ½” of tasty compost, some worm castings, water on some fish emulsion, blood meal if they are yellowing and could use a quick Nitrogen boost.  Water well.

Plant appropriate varieties on time, water and amend well, keep watch on pests and diseases.  Robust happily producing plants are worth it, and a joy to watch!

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Healthy Summer Feeding, Watering, Disease & Pest Prevention!

Feeding.  It’s heating up, your plants are growing fast, they’re hungry and need more water!  Give your leaf crops like lettuce lots of Nitrogen.  Don’t overfeed beans, strawberries or tomatoes or you will get lots of leaf, no crop!  If you do, did, give your plants some seabird guano (bat guano is too hot sometimes).  Fertilizers high in P Phosphorus bring blooms – more blooms = more fruit!  Get it in bulk at Island Seed & Feed.  It’s easy to apply, just sprinkle, rough up your soil surface, water in.  Go lightly with your applications to young plants that could get burned.  When blooming starts, give your plants phosphorus fertilizers once a week, a month, as the package says, as you feel, to keep the blooms coming!  Foliar feed your peppers, solanaceaes – toms, eggplant, and your roses with Epsom Salts!  Only 1 Tablespoon per gallon of water does the job!

Water deeply.  Poke your finger down into the soil to see how deeply your watering has penetrated.  Get one of those gurgler devices to keep the water from blasting a hole in your soil; put the hose under your veggies.  Try to remember to keep moving it.  That’s the main reason I don’t do that myself, I just get carried away with weeding or tending, or harvesting, chatting, and, uh oh, woops, forget, and it’s flood time.  Maybe I’ll carry a pocket sized timer and experiment with the right timing per water flow?  Still, it’s a nuisance to have to keep moving the durn thing.  The advantage of standing there watering is you notice what’s happening in your garden and think on what to do next.  Flooding isn’t good because it drowns your soil organisms, and your plants drown too, not able to get their oxygen quota.  What’s weird is that some wilting plants, like chard, may not be needing water at all!  Some plants just naturally wilt in midday heat.  They are doing a naturely thing, their version of shutting down unneeded systems, and watering them isn’t what they need at all!  Also, flooding kinda compacts your soil as the life is washed down the drain so to speak, natural healthy soil oxygen channels cave in.  You see, it’s the balance you need.  Water underneath rather than overhead to keep from spreading diseases like strawberry leaf spot.  Harvest first while bean plants are dry so you don’t spread mildew, then water.  Wash your hands if you handle diseased plants, before you move on to other plants.

Disease & Pest Prevention

  • Ok, May is one of our mildew months.  Get out the nonfat powered milk, throw some in your planting hole.  Drench your plantlets, especially beans, melons and zucchini, while they are small, maybe every couple of weeks after that with ¼ Cup milk/Tablespoon baking soda mix, to a watering can of water.  Get it up under the leaves as well as on top.  That gives their immune system a boost, makes unhappy habitat for the fungi.
  •  Sluggo for snails/slugs –  put down immediately upon planting seeds, and when transplants are installed!  Remove tasty habitat and hiding places
  • Trap gophers (or do what you do) immediately before they have children
  • Spray off black and gray aphids, white flies – get up underneath broccoli leaves, in the curls of kale leaves.  Spray the heads of broc side shoots, fava flower heads.  Remove badly infested parts or plants. NO ANTS.
  • Leafminers – remove blotched areas of the leaf or remove infested leaves from chard, beets. Don’t let your plants touch each other.  Except for corn that needs to be planted closely to pollinate, plant randomly, biodiversely, rather than in blocks or rows.  If you are planting a six-pack, split it up, 3 and 3, or 2, 3, 1, in separate places in your garden.  Then if you get disease or pests in one group, they don’t get all your plants!  Crunch those orange and black shield bugs, and green and black cucumber beetles (in cucumber & zuch flowers).  Sorry little guys.
  • Plant year round habitat for beneficial insects, pollinators – lacewings, ladybird beetles, hover flies.  Let some arugula, broccoli, carrot, cilantro, mustards, parsley go to flower.  Plant Borage.  Bees love its beautiful edible blue star flowers, and they are lovely tossed on top of a cold crisp summer salad!

 Love your Garden, it will love you back!

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