Category Archives: General gardening

Ewwww! Squash Bugs!

Last night on Facebook, a discussion started with a friend who has already found squash bugs on her squash.  The discussion continued this morning, with so many participants I felt it was time to talk squash bugs.

Squash bugs are those flat, gray, sideways-crawling, continual egg-laying beasties that can suck a squash plant dry seemingly overnight.  The resulting damage is a completely wilted plant that blackens and dies, often with a perfectly healthy plant right next to it.  They will attack any plant in the curcubit family (cucumbers, melons, summer squash, winter squash and pumpkins), but seem to prefer squash and pumpkins.  They emit a strong odor when crushed, which may have something to do with the lack of natural predators.  Without help from birds, lizards and toads, gardeners must take the front line in defending your crops against the invading army of squash bugs.  This is a bug I hand-picked (ewwww!) from a squash and threw on the gravel for its photo op.  I then stepped on it.  This was before I discovered the duct tape solution; I’ll tell you about that later in this post.

squash bug

Squash bugs can overwinter in the top six inches of soil, under firewood, within garden debris, under stones or dirt clods, or any other protected place near your garden, emerge in the spring and start laying eggs just as you start planting your little squash babies.  The first step to controlling squash bugs begins with careful garden clean-up in the fall.  Theresa from Tending My Garden suggests the following:

  • “Before removing the plants from the garden, I want to kill as many squash bugs as possible. I pull the plants up and leave them — along with any damaged fruits —in a pile on the garden bed. Since squash bugs have a tendency to stay with the vines even after they wilt and reduce in mass, I’m able to check every day for more adults and nymphs – killing all I find.
  • I  also look for eggs and remove those. (I tear them off, take them with me, and throw them in the trash.  They’re next to impossible to crush. So I take no chances of having them hatch anywhere in my yard or garden.)
  • Usually it takes about a week before I can’t find anymore bugs. Then I remove the plants and any damaged fruits from the garden.
  • By killing as many as you can and removing the food source (the finished plants) from the garden you greatly reduce their chances to make it through the winter. Lowering the numbers that survive is your first step in keeping the prolific squash bug under control.”

The following spring, you should be ahead of the game where squash bugs are concerned, but a few will have escaped your careful cleaning–they are excellent hiders!  Your next line of defense will be to sprinkle diatomaceous earth, if you’d like to stay organic, or an insecticide granule with bifenthrin, such as Fertilome’s Vegetable and Ornamental Insect Control, around the base of each squash plant.  Diatomaceous earth must be reapplied if it gets wet.  Both of these can help control the adult insect.  You might also place a board or shingle near the base of the plant.  Squash bugs will congregate under them, making it easier to find and squish them.

Companion plantings can also help reduce (but not eliminate!) the numbers of squash bugs.  Tammy Biondi writes in Life123 that “catnip, tansy, radishes, nasturtiums, marigolds, bee balm and mint” can be planted near your squash to help repel squash bugs.

A suggestion that came up with last night’s Facebook discussion was using wood ash at the base of the plants.  I’ve never tried it and couldn’t find another source to verify it, but the writer says it works.  Wood ash is alkaline, so be careful with it if your soil is already alkaline.

Some squash bugs will still escape all of your efforts, so it’s important to be vigilant!  Check your plants daily for eggs.  Squash bugs lay their tiny, bronze, football-shaped eggs near the intersection of veins on the underside of a leaf.

squash bug eggs

Removing the eggs and crushing or disposing of them is imperative.  My favorite egg removal tool is duct tape.  Stick the tape on the section of leaf with eggs and gently pull it away.  The eggs will stick to the tape without damaging the  leaf!  Duct tape is also useful in removing a hatch of squash bug nymphs AND can also be used to capture adults!  Duct tape comes in lots of pretty colors and patterns, and you can wear it on your wrist like a bracelet. Fashionable, deadly to squash bugs and satisfying for the gardener.  🙂  Hand picking and squishing the beasties and their eggs is icky, but works.  Watering the stems at the base of the plant will send adults scurrying for higher ground, making them easier to catch.

As a word of caution, bees are important pollinators for your squash plants.  Insecticides will kill bees, so be careful to not apply them when bees are active.  Read labels and follow instructions.  If you choose insecticides, be sure to select those that are labelled “safe” for food crops.

Good luck to you, fellow squash bug warriors!  The battle will be long, and at times difficult, but you can prevail to have more zucchini than you can possibly use!  Be watching the recipe page of this blog for ways to use up your bountiful squash harvest and hopefully prevent you from leaving baseball bat-sized specimens in unlocked cars…..   🙂

 

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Filed under General gardening, pests, squash bugs, vegetable gardening

Heidi Mae’s Garden: Goodbye Cool Season, Hello Warm Season

Here we are in mid June.  Daytime temperatures have been in the 90s, and overnights in the 60s.  It’s certainly feeling more like summer than spring, and cold season veggies think it must be time to make flowers.  Lettuce, spinach, arugula, radishes, and cilantro might be elongating and starting to flower–a process referred to as bolting.

For cilantro, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Allowing it to flower will result in seeds which are the herb coriander and can be dried and ground.  Or!  Let the seeds fall.  They’ll germinate and produce a second crop of cilantro for you!  This is the cilantro in the demo garden at the Greenhouse.

demo cilantro

Other cold season crops become bitter as they put their energy into flowering.  I got a final clipping of my greens and pulled up those plants, as well as the radishes.  I washed everything and have been enjoying my last fresh salads until fall, when I can plant a few seeds for the second cool season of the growing season.

salad

Pulling out my cool season veggies left me space to plant a few more warm season crops:  additional tomatoes, squash and cucumbers.  Warm season crops such as these enjoy the warming temperatures; blooming and setting fruit.

Bell peppers and tomatoes are sizing up.

peppers

san marzanos

There’s a Sun Sugar almost ripe!  Squeeeee!  Sun Sugar is a favorite around the Greenhouse.  They’re so sweet and yummy, I end up eating a bunch of them before they get into the house!  Early ripening cherry tomatoes are great for anyone with a short growing season.

sunsugar

Here’s a pic of how my garden looks this week.

garden 6-13-13

You may notice some unfamiliar plants in the same bed as the peas.  They’re fava beans!  I LOVE fava beans, so I’m making the mad attempt to grow them here.  They much prefer the cooler temperatures of California’s Bay Area.  The Grand Valley’s hot summers will make them a bit of a project–we’ll see how it goes.  I’m thinking some sort of a shade structure may be in order.

How are your gardens faring with the hot, dry and WINDY weather?  You may be noticing some dry, brown and crispy leaf edges on your tomatoes and peppers as a result of the wind.  They’ll come out of it just fine, no worries.  🙂

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Heidi Mae’s Garden: Sprouting!

It’s been a little over three weeks since I got my garden started; it’s looking happier all the time!

garden 5-18-13

A lot has happened in the time since I blogged last–from my garden journal:

  • April 29:  Arugula and lettuce sprouted 
  • May 2:  Basil sprouted in my unheated greenhouse, and radish sprouted outside.  Everything survived 2 freeze warnings
  • May 3:  Buttercup squash in the greenhouse sprouted, beets and spinach sprouted outside.  I seeded Cherokee Purple tomatoes in the greenhouse, expecting them to sprout between May 8 and 13
  • May 4:  Round zucchini and California poppies sprouting in the greenhouse, peas outside
  • May 7:  Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomatoes, cilantro and patty pan squash sprouted in the greenhouse
  • May 13:  Cherokee Purple and parsley sprouted in the greenhouse
  • May 14: Potatoes finally showing a bit of green above the soil
  • May 15:  Peppers, tomatillos, tomatoes from MGG planted, cauliflowers starting to form
  • May 18:  The first strawberry!
  • May 19:  Planted green beans and fava beans (an experimental crop!)  Expecting beans to sprout in 10 days.

“Cold season” crops were planted outside toward the end of April, while warm season crops were planted in my unheated greenhouse.  Because it’s unheated, I wait to plant in it until most frost danger is past.  A greenhouse gets enough light to keep seedlings nice and stout, and I start a variety of warm season crops in there, growing plants for myself and my neighbors’ gardens.  Warm season crops should NOT be planted outside until frost danger is past; for the Grand Valley that’s usually Mother’s Day weekend.

In the greenhouse, I seeded most everything April 26 (later than I usually seed due to the cold spring) and by May 8, most had sprouted.

greenhouse sprouts

True leaves were appearing by May 18.

seedlings

When seeds sprout, the first leaves are the “seed leaves,” because they come from the sides of the seed.  (Corn is a bit different, it only has one seed leaf.)  True leaves are leaves typical for the particular plant–the ones you recognize as squash or tomato or lettuce.  Look for the seed leaves and the new true leaves of these squash and tomatoes.

squash true leaves

tomatoes true leaves

Let’s look at some baby pictures from May 8 (the first) and see how they’ve grown by May 18 (the second).  First the arugula.

arugula

arugula

Now beets.  This is my first time planting beets; so far they’re pretty slow-growing.

beets

beets

Here’s lettuce.

lettuce

lettuce

And sugar snap peas.  I need to get a trellis for them to climb on soon!   I planted tomatillos in the same bed.

peas

peas and tomatillos

Here are the radishes.  They’ll get thinned as I pull them to munch on.

radishes

radishes

Let’s check in with the potatoes.

potatoes

Here’s my pepper bed.  I have green, orange, gold and red bell peppers, Big Jims, and poblanos planted in the same bed as the green onions.

peppers and onions

I’m trying grafted tomatoes this year!  I chose San Marzanos–paste tomatoes, and Mortgage Lifter–an heirloom that makes huge tomatoes that when they were first bred, were popular enough to pay off the originator’s mortgage!  I’ll plant the Cherokee Purples and the Aunt Ruby’s German Greens when they’re ready to be outside in this bed as well.

tomatoes

The marigolds are there because I like them, and because they help keep bugs away.  How is your garden growing?

 

 

 

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Heidi Mae’s Garden: Getting Started

If you’re new to gardening, it can be helpful to have a gardening buddy to help you know what to do, and what to expect.  Even if you’re a gardener from way back, it’s fun to compare notes about what works and what doesn’t.  So, here I am!  Your online gardening friend, Heidi Mae. (Mae isn’t part of my given name, but one given to me by one of the greenhouse owners, and it just stuck.)  I’m one of “the girls” who work up front at the cash registers at Mt Garfield Greenhouse.

happy and tired

 

I’ll share what’s happening in my garden in a sort of step-by-step way with pictures of what I’m doing this year.  My garden changes a bit from year to year, as I like to try new varieties of veggies and I like to rotate crops in my raised beds.

ready to amend

I live in the Whitewater area.  The soil here is NOT garden-friendly, so my fabulous husband constructed these beds, we lined them with plastic to keep the alkali from leaching up, and we filled them with 3-way mix from Mt Garfield Greenhouse.  Some of the beds are made from 6×6 lumber, some are plastic build-it-yourself kits from gardeners.com.  The wooden ones work the best–you’ll notice in some of the pictures that the plastic ones bow out–I don’t like that.  I also have an assortment of containers that expand my plantable space.

I garden organically, using companion plants to help with bug eradication, as well as hand picking some of the beasties and squishing them–eeewwwww.  More on that in a later post.  The pictures and happenings in this post took place April 25, 2013.  I keep a garden log to keep track of where I plant what and when I can expect to see germination.  I also record what varieties worked and which ones I should skip next year.  I start some veggies from seed and some from plants.

journal

seeds

Every year, I amend my soil.  3-way is a fabulous garden soil, but veggies rob nutrients from it each growing season that need to be replaced.  In the past I used a combo of Soil Pepe, Mesa Magic, and Earthworm Castings; the last few years I’ve been using Happy Frog Soil Conditioner.  I like that it’s organic and I like the boost it gives my plants.  I distribute it out among the beds and containers–a bit of  process because those bails of Happy Frog are heavy!  🙂

conditioner divided

Then I spade the amendment in (troweled in in the containers), and smooth the surfaces with a rake.  Then they’re ready to plant!

spade in conditioner

beds are ready

I planted my potatoes on the outside edge of one of the beds, a different one than they were in last year.  The outside edge because they’ll be growing for the whole season and they’re kinda out of my way there.  I dug a trench as deep as the garden and spaced the potatoes in it.  I’m lazy and leave them whole.  You can cut potato sets so that each section has an “eye” to create more potato plants.  If you chose to do that, be sure to let the cut edges dry overnight before planting so the raw edge won’t rot.  Anyway, then I just cover them up, pat the soil on top of them and mark the row.  Later, I’ll plant green beans next to them.  Beans and potatoes are companion plants–the potatoes keep bean beetles off the beans while the beans keep potato beetles off the potatoes.

planting potatoes

marking rows

I also planted snap peas, lettuce, spinach, radishes, onions, cabbage, and beets directly into the garden.  These are considered cool season crops, pretty much unaffected by late spring frosts.  Each veggie was seeded/planted, marked and watered in.

cabbage

watering in

I have rhubarb, planted years ago, in a half wine barrel.  I scratch in a bit of amendment and time-release fertilizer each year, but otherwise leave it alone.

rhubarb

I lost a lot of strawberries over the winter, but those that had rooted in the gravel outside the garden as runners survived!  I dug those up and placed them in the container where the others had been, scratched in some soil conditioner and fertilizer and watered them in.

strawberries

Amending and planting just this much took the better part of my day.  I was sore (sooo out of gardening shape!), tired and happy.  There’s just something wonderfully satisfying about starting a new garden each year.  I can hardly wait for a fresh salad or a radish sandwich–an old Iowa favorite from my childhood.  🙂   The next post from Heidi Mae’s garden will be about the veggies I started in my unheated greenhouse.

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Filed under amendments, General gardening, soil, Uncategorized

Using Ladybugs to Control Aphids

Aphids are often the first pest to appear in the Spring, covering the growing tips of roses, aspen trees and columbines, sucking out the plant’s juices with their straw-like mouths.  Aphids secrete a sweet sugary substance that attracts ants–often the first indicator of an aphid infestation.  Curled leaves are another aphid indicator.  Most aphids can’t fly, and can be dislodged with the spray from your garden hose.  However, those not dislodged can give live birth to up to 100 baby aphids each, replenishing the population in no time.  Aphids can also be controlled using sprays, systemic insecticides and ladybugs–the method being discussed here.

ladybug eating aphid

 

Photo Credit

Ladybugs are a natural predator of aphids, capable of eating up to 5000 aphids in their 3-6 week life span.  Ladybug larva don’t look much like the adults, but are responsible for the majority of the aphid-eating.  They’re not very pretty, and actually kinda creepy, but don’t squish them.  Here’s a picture of one I took in the Greenhouse last year:

ladybug larva

Mt Garfield Greenhouse sells cartons (prices determined by the vendor each year) of live ladybugs starting in the spring and up until the weather starts getting hot.  Each carton contains over a thousand ladybugs!

ladybug carton

Here are steps you should take to help keep these aphid eaters around:

  1. Mist the top of the carton with water and keep them in the door of your fridge until you’re ready to release them.
  2. At dusk, spray the aphid-infested plants with water.
  3. Sprinkle the ladybugs at the base of each plant.  (Ladybugs don’t like to fly at night, and will move up the plant drinking water, eventually finding the aphids.)

As long as there are aphids to eat, the ladybugs should stay around!  Ladybugs are insects, and will be killed by insecticides–don’t use ladybugs if you’re using an insecticidal spray.

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Planting Bunching Onions

Mt Garfield Greenhouse sells certain onions already sprouted from seeds in packs, such as Walla Wallas and bunching (green) onions.  These onions must be separated from each other before planting in order to achieve the sizing you want.  Here’s a quick “how-to” for doing just that.

First of all, set yourself up with the plants, a bucket of water, and if you want, something to sit on.  An upside down bucket works nicely as a perch; I recently treated myself to this groovy little tractor-seated scooter thingie.

set up

Next, pop one of the cells out from the pack.

pop out

Swish the cell in the water to loosen the soil from the root ball.  You can use your fingers to gently help the soil out.

swish

Starting with an onion from an outside edge, gently tug it from the root ball with its own roots still attached to it.  Set it in the water as you separate the rest of the onions from that cell.

separate

Plant them in a prepared spot with the white part just under the surface.  Green onions can be spaced rather closely, an inch or two apart.  Larger onions should be spaced about 4 inches apart.

plant

Repeat with the other cells, water them in and voila!  They’ll be standing up and growing for you in no time.  One pack of bunching onions usually keeps my family in fresh green onions for salads, omelets, and nacho garnish, etc. all season long.

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The Zen of Spring Rose Pruning

Breathe.  You know what day it is.  Breathe.  Here in the Grand Valley, April 15 signifies more than a day that can be stress-inducing to those still crunching numbers trying to beat the tax deadline.  Mid-April is also prime time to prune roses; most of our hard freezes are usually in the past and the promise of fragrant spring flowers waits inside those thorny shrubs you’ve been dying to take the loppers to.

Let’s not get crazy, though.  Rose pruning requires patience, observation, attention to detail and a bit of artistry.  Assemble your tools first:  Heavy gloves, preferably long, gauntlet-style if you can find them, bypass pruners, loppers for larger shrubs/thicker canes, and a sealant of some sort–Elmer’s Glue or clear nail polish or an actual pruning sealer from your local garden center.

20130415_090244

1.  Get your Zen on and step back from your rose and assess its overall shape and size and scan it for dead canes.

2.  Trim out any dead canes first, starting a pile for the trash.  Roses are susceptible to many diseases and  insect invasions, so it’s best to NOT place rose trimmings in your compost.

3.  Step back again and assess how crowded the center of the shrub is.  Prune to open the center to allow light and air to circulate, which will minimize disease later.

4.  Make your cuts clean (not ragged) 1/4 inch above an outward facing bud at a 45 degree angle (See image), pruning 1/2 inch into green, live wood.  With the tough winter we had, this may cause you to reduce the size of your shrub by half or more.  If the rose was newly planted last year and still small, you may want to just give it a very light trim, along with the removal of dead canes.  Most roses can be trimmed back to a height of 18-24 inches every year.

811-Pruning-Cut-Angle-Roses

(image from Gardenality)

5.  Remove any twiggy branches that are smaller in diameter than a pencil.

6.  Remove any suckers–growth that starts below the graft (the bulge).

7.  Seal all cut ends with glue, nail polish or sealer, to prevent borers or other problems from entering.

8.  Step back again and reassess the shape of your rose.  Make additional cuts as needed to keep the center somewhat open and the overall shape vase-like, remembering to seal the cuts.

9.  Clean out any debris from under the shrub where bugs and their families could hide.  Use a rake or convince a bug-tolerant person to do this if the thought of creepy-crawlies gives you the creepy crawlies. 😉

10.  Breathe. Step back and admire the fabulous and professional pruning you’ve just accomplished.  Breathe.  Think of how beautiful your roses will be this year.  Breathe.  See your friends at Mt Garfield for fertilizers, systemics and sprays to keep your babies lovely all season long.

carpet rose

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