Thursday, April 30, 2009

Top 10 Most Wanted

Every garden has its share of pests and diseases. Some are minor inconveniences while others make us want to take a blow torch to them (quite literally as I’ve seen people use a blow torch to get rid of weeds). Since I try to garden organically and maintain the balance of nature, a few bugs and minor diseases are part of having a perfectly imperfect garden. But, there are some pests that will drive even the most docile gardener to reach for their arsenal of organic methods of elimination.

So I’m wondering, what pests or garden diseases make you go “Caddyshack?” What pests are on your 10 Most Wanted List? Here’s mine (caution gross pics up ahead…. so if you can’t take it close one eye or squint!):

#10 Leaf Miner

These guys love my spinach. At the rate they were going last year I thought they were gonna give Popeye a run for his money. I used Safer and Neem to manage these.

#9 Powdery Mildew

This common plant disease is not usually a fatal problem, but it was enough to practically take my peonies down to the ground last summer – thankfully AFTER they bloomed (and this year they came back up so I think they are OK). I pulled out the Safer Fungicide to combat this one.

#8 Japanese Beetles

My poor roses…. I’ve only got 3 rose bushes, but they always seem to have problems and Japanese Beetles was one of them. Thankfully they weren’t a huge problem and hand picking seemed to control them just fine. As a side note, when I was child these were a huge problem in my Dad’s garden. He hated them so much that he used to put kerosene in a mason jar, hand pick the beetles, and then put them in the kerosene to watch them go caput! And, all this from one of the most docile guys you could EVER want to meet.

#7 Rose Slug

I often have mistaken rose slug damage for that of the Japanese beeetle. A rose slug is the larvae from a saw fly. It takes the ninja approach and chomps on the underside of the leaves until they are skeletonized. They are very small, green, and difficult to see. Safer or Neem won’t kill them, but BT and Spinosa works well.

#6 Common Slug or Snail

All I can say is YUCK!! Little dishes of beer really worked for me, but disposing of them almost made me lose my breakfast each morning.

#5 Tomato Fruit Worm

The tomato fruit worm can be more of a problem then the dreaded Tomato Horn Worm. I had them last year and mistook the damage for birds. But, thankfully I caught it very early and used Spinosa (BT should work too), which took care of it.

#4 Cabbage Leaf Loopers

I only plant about 6 broccoli plants so at first I hand picked the loopers off. But, then when the nightly routine of picking and squishing leaf loopers became more than a hassle than it was worth, we sprayed with Spinosa which really worked well. Again you could use BT for this, but Spinosa lasts longer and you don’t have to spray as much.

#3 Squash Vine Borer

I only had a few weeks of squash and zucchini before the evil vine borers killed all my plants. I was the only person around with a garden who was accepting summer squash as gifts. I tried slitting the stems open and pulling the borers out --- I know ewww…. I even buried the stems in the ground in hopes that it would reroot, but nothing could save them. I’ve heard that injecting the stems with BT or Spinosa works or even the spraying the stems before the larvae imbeds itself in there. I’ve got a few things up my sleeve I’m going to try this year.

#2 Lily Beetle

Such a deceptive little bug…. So colorful and beautiful to look at, but incredibly destructive. The larvae is disgusting. It look likes little piles of poop on the stems. These beetles have come from the north and have invaded just about all parts of New England. So much so that sales of Asiatic Lilies have plummeted in the Boston area. The lily beetle is very selective in their feeding so they won’t touch anything but Asiatic Lilies. Nothing much works to eliminate them, but Spinosa controls them somewhat. I have some beautiful Asiatic lilies planted in my front perennial bed, but I’m actually going to pull them up in a few weeks and replace them with Day Liles. I know it seems like a shame, but trust me it’s a smart choice. To read up on these beetles, check this out:

And…. The Number One Most Wanted is……

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#1 The Chipmunk

Why you say??? Such a cute little fella… Well we had only 3 measly strawberries out of 12 plants last year – ‘nuff said! I hope he’s happy!

I Wish I Could Do That!

You may have seen these pics already, but I saw them for the first time today when they were emailed to me. I didn't write the text or post below, but I wanted to share these with you since I think they are pretty amazing. I love hummingbirds and feed them all summer long. I get excited when there are 4 or 5 regulars feeding around our yard, but I've never gotten this close. What a blessing!

Here's the post...

This is something I have never seen before, or ever even heard of. This woman lives in a Hummingbird fly zone. As they migrated, about 20 of them were in her yard. She took the little red dish, filled it with sugar water and this is the result. The woman is Abagail Alfano of Pine, Louisiana - she has been studying them daily and one morning put the cup from the feeder, with water in it, in her hand; as they had gotten used to her standing by the feeder they came over to her hand. She says in touching they are as light as a feather. Abagail also said, 'if she had known her husband was taking pictures she would have put on makeup.'

Stopping Time

Do you ever get lost in time just enjoying the beauty of nature? I do quite often especially in Spring as the world comes alive. Just a week ago the trees were bare, the ground still frosty, and the perenials still nestled beneath the earth protected from the sharpness of cold. But today everything seems to have come alive -- tickled to rise by the warmth of an unseasonable New England heat wave. So as I looked out the window and saw the trees blooming and the bleeding heart dancing in the breeze, I grabbed my camera in an effort to stop time and thanked the universe for these gifts.


Monday, April 27, 2009

The Allergic Gardener

I woke up this morning with allergy eyes and in serious need of an emergency tissue purchase on my way to work.

Although I suffer from indoor allergies, I'm not allergic to pollen – at least I didn’t think so, but as I’m quickly finding out when you hit 40 you begin to acquire many things (one being something that only my colorist knows!).

New England was hit with an early heat wave and it felt like we shot right past spring and was teleported into mid-July –a perfect opportunity for me to do some digging in the dirt. Ellie’s dad spent the weekend grumbling as he fought with the moss growing in our lawn (and, early on it looked like the moss was gonna win). (That's Ellie's Dad last summer on his favorite piece of equipment).

His weekend started out with some head scratching, dethatching, aerating, and words I won’t repeat. By Sunday morning it progressed into a serious consultation with a neighbor (not THAT neighbor), but one whose lawn seems to have been blessed by the Gods. Anyway, almost $400 later, which included the rental of an overseeder (I didn’t even know what that was until he brought it home on his truck), numerous bags of lime, fertilizer, and seed I’m happy to report that our lawn is now moss free!

Ok... this pic has nothing to with the lawn, but the phlox this time of year is much lovelier to look at than grass.

While all of this lawn wrangling was going on Ellie and I hid in the garden beds and stayed out of his way. Still mostly avoiding the vegetable beds and the snap peas (which I’m now hardening off so at least I’m making some progress), I assessed the front perennial bed and cleaned the back flower bed that is near our deck.

Below are a few shots of the front perennial bed. The previous owner of the house built it in front of our circular driveway. Apparently at one time it was gorgeous, but was neglected for many years before we bought the house. It’s what got me interested in gardening. I love to rescue things… people, animals, plants…you name it. And, this garden was in serious need of being rescued. Never mind that I had absolutely no gardening experience, I wanted to bring this cottage patch back to life. Anyway, the past few years have been a learning experience which I’ll talk about in upcoming blogs. But, suffice it to say that every year it gets a little better.

This photo was taken from inside our bedroom looking down on the garden (sorry about the screen lines, but I didn't want to go through the trouble of removing the screen).

Since it’s still only April in zone 6 New England, the front bed is just starting to come alive. Waking from their winter slumber are peonies, liatris, coneflower, lamb’s ear, Asiatic lilies, hardy geranium, Montauk daisies, jacob’s ladder, monk’s hood, and coral bell’s. We’ve got a variety of sun and shade loving plants because part of the bed is in full sun most of the day while the other part is in partial sun under the large oak tree. There’s also a really ugly utility pole stuck right in the middle of it, which we can’t remove, but it less noticeable in summer when the plants are larger.

Anyway, the weekend ended on a happy note. With Ellie’s Dad the victor of his battle, Ellie exhausted from varmit chasing (like a true terrier!)....

...and me admiring the clean garden beds as I slowly sip on a glass of chardonnay and toast the pleasures of spring.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Keeping the Neighbors Happy

I kept the neighbors happy. I did some yardwork today (*sigh*).

The other day while procrastinating about doing yardwork, I came across this quote from L. Michelle Tullier in her book "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Overcoming Procrastination."

I couldn't agree more!

Since, I'm an seasoned procrastinator I kept myself busy for a few hours today potting up some pansies...

Taking pictures of spring blooms...

...And watching the peony shoots (yes I actually watched them... afterall it's better than yardwork).

Then I finally caved in. Maybe it was my neighbor's glare as she saw me in the driveway snaping pictures, crouched down watching peony shoots... Or maybe it was the fading daylight... But I some how ended up with a rake in my hand as I turned to see my neighbor smiling from ear to ear.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ignorance Is Bliss

Beginner's luck? Ignorance maybe? Whatever it was it produced this.

And, this....

And, this....

And, this....

Well, it could have produced more of this....

But some stealthy little ninja mammal (still unknown) knew EXACTLY when they were PERFECTLY ripe and dined on them before we could pick them! (Which drove Ellie's Dad crazy -- like in Caddyshack crazy.)

Being that it was my first vegetable garden I didn't know the "rules". Having no rules meant I could plant veggies wherever and however I wanted to.

So, that being the case I planted them along the fence in our backyard (sorry for the poor quality pics--it was an old camera).

And, in a small patch of very rocky and sandy soil near the deck.

And in a partially shaded patch under a rhododendron tree (sun-loving tomatoes planted there no less).

With no rules I didn't have to worry about making the bed (well I never worry about that anyway). So instead of a raised bed I just mixed in some compost and horse manure with our existing soil and stuck the seedlings in the ground. With this approach the only casualty of the summer was the yellow squash and zucchini due to vine borers (HATE THEM). I was probably the only person with a vegetable garden who was asking people to give her squash.

So, a year later, and with a lot of lessons learned, I now know the "rules." The "rulebook" says I should have some sort of designated beds this year (raised, wide, or otherwise) so I can do some sort of proper crop rotation. This means more work and more planning (or is that more procrastination). I hate rules! But, if I don't get moving on these beds my seedlings will take over the basement. Ignorance is definitely bliss...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

On Earth Day, 1971, a PSA featuring Native American actor Chief Iron Eyes Cody and the tagline line, "People Start Pollution. People can stop it." aired for the first time. If you are over 40 you might remember this Ad. As a young child (VERY young I might add!) this image etched itself in me. Without much understanding yet of the world around me I knew immediately that keeping the inside of your car clean by throwing your garbage out of the car window was just plain wrong.
Just today I was reminded of that again as I saw someone toss a cigarette butt out their car window. This is a pet peeve of mine. I won’t go preaching about smoking—as adults we can make a decision as to whether we want to smoke or not. But, the minute someone throws a cigarette out the car window it becomes a problem for all of us. As a child during Earth Day celebrations at my school, I can still remember a teacher telling us that a cigarette takes over 10 years to decompose and even then it leaves toxic chemicals in the earth. So, when I see someone at a stoplight toss their cigarette out the window I’ve got to seriously fight the urge to get out of the car, walk over, and toss it back in. Going Green starts with each one of us by making small changes --Even as seemingly small as using your car ashtray.

I’m definitely a work in progress when it comes to going green so I really have no business preaching about the cigarette tossers, but as I said its pet peeve of mine. For example, I’m still using paper towels (definitely not as many, but I still use them way too much). Some of my cleaning products are way too toxic (my tendency towards OCD makes me a bit of a germa-phobic). And, I have a hard time remembering to bring my own bags to the grocery store (shame on me… I know and I hate that!). But, on the bright side, we’ve made many strides in our household. We recycle just about everything there is to recycle. We probably go to the dump about once a month and only have a few bags. We have a nice compost pile. Both my vegetable and perennial garden are 100% organic – the lawn isn’t yet, but we are working on that and thankfully we don’t have much lawn (that’s no excuse I know… we’ve got to go green with the lawn too!). Celebrate Earth Day 2009 by joining me in finding simple ways you can go green too.

On a future blog I’ll be posting information about some of the organic gardening products that I’ve come to rely on, so please check back.