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Pests Gopher Wire Installation Rancheria Community Garden

Epic installation of Gopher prevention wire in progress, 10X20′ plot, going well. Another 3′ was cleared today and the wire rolled out further, more soil backfilled. 11.25.17 Rancheria Community Garden

We have been plagued, the gophers have thrived this year. 3 helpful ideas!

When should you install gopher wire protection? Anytime! But if you are waiting for seasonal crops to finish, in SoCal, it’s fall before winter plantings, or very early spring before you get itchy and can’t wait to plant! If you are in rainy areas, do it when the soil is less wet and heavy and you will do the least damage to your soil structure. If you are in northern snow and soil freeze areas, do it when you can first work the soil, or just before winter sets in and the soil is too hard to work any longer. Same for desert areas, but go by the heat not the freeze. Spring for the desert starts in the fall when it is cooler. By actual spring, it gets too hot and there is no more planting until fall again, so do it before the heat sets in.

1) If you decide to use wire barriers, you could do small areas at a time as they become available. You could purchase, or make, wire ‘baskets,’ very small to quite large, for areas that you want to plant gopher favorites like lettuce, beans, cukes, chard – soft bodied plants. My other thought is to install a border of wire vertically to see if that works, rather than digging up the whole plot and laying wire underneath. I’ve seen two places where people installed these boundaries and the gopher piled soil outside their plot where the barrier stopped them. They didn’t go underneath it.

But, there are times that just doesn’t work and though it takes time and help from the Angels, wiring the whole area underneath and perimeter, is the wise real choice. If you are going to do that, remember, aviary wire lasts about 3 years. 1/2″ Hardware cloth/hog wire lasts about 10 years. Big difference. Builder supply yards often carry several wire roll widths and they will cut just the length you need. When measuring, decide on the length/width you need, plus the amount you will need to get up the sides and maybe 6″ more so overland gopher travelers don’t come in over the top. Remember AVIARY wire. NOT chicken wire! Gophers go right through the chicken wire…

The depth you choose depends on what plants you choose and the relationship between you and your shovel! Veggies are primarily annuals with roots 6 to 8″ deep. Tomatoes have long deep roots. Also, if you are vigorous with your shovel, the average shovel blade length is 10″, install your wire deeply enough that when you are amending your soil you don’t puncture your wire! Gophers are strong little earth movers and can push through such a break. NO, NO, NO! The last time I installed wire I laid it 16″ deep – beyond my average digging depth, and well beyond where the annuals’ roots live.

That super tiny animal strength is why you bind your lengths of side by side rolls of wire together, if you are using several widths, and overlap them a good 8″ or more. Be sure to fix it to the board that borders your planting area.  Especially if you are only going to board height, not having some of the wire extend above the board.

Word to the wise. Install your wire so it surfaces OUTSIDE the board from the space that will be planted. That way weeds that get tangled in it will be outside your planting area!

Yes, hardware cloth is hard to work with. It’s hard to get it to corner. I sat down in the bottom of the area and shoved and kicked it into place with my boots! It’s easier if there are two people. When you roll up your wire, if you are doing a lengthy area, tie the inner loops of the wire together at the edges. Otherwise, the moment you let go of the roll, the whole things sprongs out and unrolls itself! That’s worth a few strong words ’cause it was hard enough to roll it up in the first place!

But let me tell you, every bit of the time and energy it takes will make you a very happy gardener. I’ve seen grown humans, women and men, cry at losing a wonderful special plant they tenderly raised from a baby. Once your wire is installed, heartily congratulate yourself!

Pests Gopher Wire Installation neary completed - Rancheria Community Garden

All soil now to the right. It took 12 days to get to this point, 10X20′ plot. I was so tired. This image shows how the side wire that was folded in, unfolded as the wire was rolled out. You can see the dark spot where a gopher had previously tunneled along the perimeter trying to get in. 12.2.17 Rancheria Community Garden  

If it’s all you can do or afford, make baskets! Easiest, if you have only a few plants, is to buy ready-made wire baskets. They come in lots of sizes! See Peaceful Valley Farm Supply’s selection! Several people at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden have made varieties of custom sizes of wire baskets – see Hillary’s Plot 24, Marion Freitag’s, Plot 19, Hoanh’s Plot 45. Hoanh installed black plastic flats vertically around his plot as a barrier as well. He said to use the small patterned grid flats. The gophers can go right through the large grid flats.

2) If your soil is too hard to dig, too sandy or something, you want to grow veggies where your lawn is, you want to avoid soil fungi issues, or your back or knees can’t get down to the ground like they used to, buy or make raised bed boxes with wire stapled to the bottom! In the case of the lawn, maybe lay down plywood cut to fit to extend beyond the box base, so you don’t have to deal with grass getting into your new raised bed.

See Bob Berdan’s Plot 30, Ginny Woliver Plots 5-7. Nice thing about this option is you can take the boxes with you if you have to change plots, or you can take them with you if you leave the garden, or you can give them to someone when you no longer need them. Easy to empty and transport. Some of them got sold when these gardeners left. They were good boxes. Yes, boxes and wire degrade over time and will eventually need repairs or replacement. If you anticipate moving, build with light wood. If you are in a permanent location, spend a little more. Go for weight, insect and rot resistance, and durability.

3) If you want to use traps (UC IPM), get someone to show you how to use them. There are a few tips that you learn with experience. And, really, they are dangerous, so respect them completely. Best choice is to set them when other people are around to help you in case of a bad oops. Traps are a temporary solution because gophers have children.

One of the tips I would give, is trap immediately if you decide to trap. I have caught them in 20 minutes, while I was working in the plot! You can hear the trap snap. That means no more plants are eaten or damaged, at least by that gopher! Otherwise, they just mow plant after plant.

At the community garden, essentially the gophers know you. No need to worry about your scent on the traps. Nor do you need ‘bait.’ The gophers come to plug the hole because air is coming into their tunnel, and as far as they are concerned that shouldn’t be, so they come to fix it.

The cheaper little Macabee wire traps, not the large ‘black hole’ tunnel kind, need much smaller holes to insert. That’s less damage to existing plants, less need to remove any plants to make room for the traps. But the big traps might have a better success rate with smaller gophers. Gopher Hawks work well. All kinds of traps are dangerous to humans – DO NOT SET THEM UNTIL THE HOLE IS READY FOR YOU TO INSTALL THEM. Do not leave them lying about once they are set.  Not a project to do with children about. Cover the holes with boards and put heavy rocks/stepping stones on top so visiting kitties, doggies or toddlers don’t get into them and be hurt.

Many gardeners could never use traps. I understand. Gophers are beautiful little beings. Barriers are 100% humane.

4) You can use a combination of the 3 ideas above.

Beeper repellent stakes  Battery operated is expensive – price it out, you’ll see, or do the recharge dance.  Solar beepers on sale are better and they last 2, 3 years.  They work best in ‘open’ areas where the sound can carry, like lawns.  If you put one in an area planted with tall dense plants, it won’t do much good.  But if those plants are special and you want them protected, that works.  Be sure the solar panel gets a lot of sun, doesn’t get shaded by your plant growing over it.  If it is shaded, it fades to no beeping.  Underground critters depend on hearing and vibration to alert them to danger, so take careful notice of the radius the beeper says it will cover per the area you need to work for.  Heavier soils such as clay are superior transmitters of sound and vibrations than are sandier soils, so our loose garden soil isn’t going to get great mileage.

PLEASE don’t use rodenticides that in turn kill birds, pets, or animals that would feed on a poisoned animal. We want the owls, hawks and kitties to catch the gophers. We don’t want our pets or children to be poisoned.

Very funny, sometimes touching, dialogue at this Houzz thread! The more I read, the more I laughed, and I must say some tears came to my eyes too. I had great empathy with many of the writers, real people with their various experiences! Worth the read.

Some gardeners say they plant enough for the birds, the insects, gophers too, but in a 10X20′ community garden plot, or a small space at home, you may not have enough space to satisfy that option. Nor is it kind to other gardeners, neighbors, who don’t choose that option. Gophers have children, and in time that option may not be feasible unless you have several kitties, owls, hawks or egrets to keep the balance. Build or buy and install an owl nest box!

Owls are chancy, whereas wire barriers are 100% barring the rare overland traveling gopher. But this natural method might be your choice depending on your location. Sutton Ag: ‘In Northern and Central California, Barn Owls begin selecting nesting sites in December or January in time for the February to May nesting season.  Occasionally new nests may be started as late as March but that’s getting late as peak hatches are in April. By July, most nest boxes have been vacated by the young who have flown to nearby trees or buildings for the final stages of their development. It is best to install the new Barn Owl Box before January, February at the latest.‘ Details at Sutton Ag, Salinas CA!

So your decision is based on who you are. Be true to your heart. It depends on your budget, the time of year. Your strength. Get help if you need it. It can be a big project. Very virtuous. No more cursing or crying.

Updated 7.29.18

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is.

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July is International Pest Month!

Just kidding! But it is the month so many of the little buggers come out in force! Taking good care of your plants during pest cycles goes with the territory!

Pest Prevention and taking care of your plants during pest cycles is a natural part of gardening!

Aphids & Whiteflies = Ants    Both ants and aphids exude a sugary ‘nectar,’ honeydew, that ants harvest from them.

Jet spray off the whiteflies! That’s those little clouds of tiny white insects that fly away when you bump your plant. Some of them transmit diseases to some veggies. Spray off dust that interferes with natural predators. Whiteflies like the heads of your broccoli side shoots, so keep those picked pronto! Smudge off any eggs you see on the undersides of leaves. Use a finer spray for bean leaves and be gentle, beans stems can break easily. White flies like humidity, so plant less densely, and keep check on the inner and lower leaves. Add a 1″ layer of worm castings out to the dripline of your plant. Water it in well. Insecticidal soaps or Neem oil can reduce populations. You really don’t want those tiny white flies, cute and adorable as they look, because they encourage black sooty mold and aphids that inject toxins and also carry diseases. Not good.

Some aphids are still lollying from April and June. Some are pretty little green tykes, others are dull gray, or black, usually numerous where they have decided to camp. Same principles. Keep vigilant watch so things don’t get out of hand, keep your veggies picked, and jet spray. Look inside curled leaves, under the leaves, and in newly leafing tops. See more about Aphids at UC IPM!

Ants tend aphids. Some say sprinkle cinnamon around your plant to keep the ants off it. Otherwise, use safe ant bait stakes. Be sure the stakes are the right kind for the ants you have and the time of year. ARGENTINE ants prefer sweet baits year-round. Protein baits are attractive to Argentine ants primarily in the spring. Chemical baits are not ok in our organic veggie community gardens. Instead, a simple remedy can be putting a few drops of dish soap around and filling the nest entrance. Pull mulch back from the stem of your plant and let that immediate soil dry a bit. Ants nest near water. See more about Ants at UC IPM!   See a lot more details about aphids and ants!

No mercy to those little green and black striped cucumber beetle cuties down in the cuke and squash flowers or simply strolling about! Squish. Or should we let a few pollinate our cucumbers and squashes even though they eat the flowers away? NO! Because they carry seriously nasty plant diseases.

Pick your outer lettuces leaves, cut & come again style. This guarantees you will find those morning slugs and snails. Poke around your beans gently and peek under squash and chard leaves for ambitious high altitude snail hikers. Scan your tomatoes for the varmints! Toss them someplace, the same place each time, so your local birds can gourmet on them. When the birds see you they will come for snacks! Use Sluggo, or the like, a few times to stop the generations, or hand pick if you can stand it.

Leafminers. Yuk. They chew on your chard and other veggies, get right between the layers of the leaf, making that section brown. External applications obviously can’t touch them. Pull away the infected sections of the leaf, remove badly infected leaves. There are several different kinds of leafminer insects that operate all at once. It’s their hatching season. Later summer there will be less. Keep harvesting to keep ahead of the miners.

Flea beetles in July? Yup. Those trillions of holes in the leaves? That’s who we’re talkin’ about. There are 3 to 4 generations per year, depending on weather, and the generation time is roughly 30 days. They look just like fleas, and are about impossible to catch. No mercy. Disturb their cycle by putting compost, manures, worm castings, under susceptible plants – eggplant, arugula, radish. They like radish the most, so plant it as a trap plant near other susceptible plants and let it grow out. Radish grows quickly, so plant it anytime! Turning the soil exposes the eggs and pupae to dry and die.

Keep the water coming so not only do cukes and lettuces stay sweet, the cukes and beans grow straight, but they grow fast and outgrow pests.

Unlike with insects, you don’t get a second chance with gophers.

Gophers are simply an ongoing pest for most gardeners. You mention them and gardeners groan. Now they are getting summer shiny and well fed on what you grow for them. It’s never too late to put in gopher barriers in any planting area. You can sink in an 18” to 2′ deep barrier, 6” above ground, perimeter, but better is to scoop out the area and lay the wire around and across the entire area, securing the wire edge to edge by weaving it with wire! Be sure neighboring edges are secure one way or another so there is no sneaking through. Hardware cloth will do the best job, lasts about 10 years, naturally is the most expensive. Chicken wire has too big an opening, and is easily gnawable. Aviary wire (1/2” opening), is the better choice,  and disintegrates in about 3 years, but is tons better than nothing at all!

If installing a barrier isn’t an option, then trapping is the most effective. It’s not hard to do, but I admit, it’s not entirely pleasant or even safe. Please do be careful setting traps, especially if you are gardening alone. I push the dead creature down the tunnel and close up the tunnel. Hopefully any newcomers to that tunnel system will plug that section off. Wire traps, like Macabees, are cheap and effective, need only a small hole dug to install, less digging, saves nearby plants. Box traps are perhaps more humane, and probably catch the fast small babies better, but do install two, one each direction, that’s what’s effective, you need a hole at least a foot in diameter. That usually requires a plant or more loss. The easy way to find tunnels, if you can’t find it at the fresh mound, is to push a small diameter ¼” to ½” stick into the surrounding ground at intervals until it gives when you push it in. That’s your tunnel location. The bigger the tunnel, the better your chances, especially if it goes off in two directions. Install your traps, one each direction. More on gophers!   UC Davis Integrated Pest Management  Good hunting.

Last option, but overall expensive per cost per an area, time and repeated installations, is wire baskets. You can buy them or make them. First check out how deep your plant’s roots are likely to grow and shop or make accordingly. If the roots grow through the basket they are likely to be nibbled.

We have talked about small nuisances and gophers. We haven’t talked about bunnies, mice,  deer, grasshoppers, skunks or others. But we can if you need to. Let me know.

Good gardening.  Vigilance, giving immediate care, are two good traits to have. Keep it organic. Remove pest habitat, keep working your soil, keeping your plants healthy and resistant. Floating row covers can be a good early season choice. But they have to be opened daily when it gets too hot, and opened daily or removed to allow pollination when your plants start flowering. At that point, they become more work than they are worth for pest prevention. Avoid overplanting that leads to neglect by not harvesting. If you’ve done it, remove plants you don’t use, give away if possible. Replace with something new, vigorous and inspiring! Sometimes a plant you love will simply successfully grow through the season of the pest, outgrow the part of the pest’s cycle that would bother your plant. Plant year round habitat for natural predators, beneficial insects. They are hungry hard workers! Don’t kill the spiders, welcome the lizards, put a safe bowl of water for the birds – safe means away from kitties and with a little ramp so lizards and mice, the tinies can get out.

Prevention is best! Select pest and disease resistant varieties. Use companion planting wisely!

  • Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of culinary dandelions! It is thought to repel white flies, mosquitoes, tomato hornworms, aphids, houseflies, and asparagus beetles. Smells great and tastes great!
  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, Radish Combo! Cukes and Beans are great on the trellis, one high, one low. Dill goes with your pickling cukes. Radishes to deter Cucumber beetles.
  • WHITE Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs.
  • Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes act as trap plants for flea beetles and to repel cucumber beetles.
  • Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!
  • Herbs are fabulous! Calendula, aka Pot Marigold, traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!
  • Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents!

No denial allowed! Be observant and take immediate action. Carry on, good garden soldiers!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic!

 

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