Category Archives: Pests

“Worms” Good and Bad

Nematodes Galore

The name ”nematode” doesn’t conjure up a creature that you’d normally want to make friends with. It’s other name, roundworm, seems even more repulsive and is, in fact, also a name applied more specifically to a nematode that infects humans and dogs. 

Like it or not, nematodes are all around us, with over 25,000 species described so far that  inhabit diverse ecosystems from thousands of feet deep in the Earth to mountain tops, and from deserts to rain forests. Many are visible only under a microscope; some are two inches long. A square yard of soil can be home to more than a million nematodes, and we humans can be host to about 35 species.

Do we want our plants to cozy up with them?

A number of nematodes infect plants, resulting in stunted growth and, often, swellings on roots or stems.

Soybean cyst nematode

Their common names — root knot nematode, stubby …

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Invaders

Dare I Speak the Name?

As I was bicycling down the rail trail that runs past my back yard, I was almost bowled over by a most delectable aroma wafting from a most despised plants. The plants were autumn olives (Elaeagnus umbellata), shrubs whose fine qualities I’m reluctant to mention for fear of eliciting scorn from you knowledgable readers.

Yet, you’ve got to admit that the plant does have its assets, in addition to the sweet perfume of its flowers. Okay, here goes: The plant is decorative, with silvery leaves that are almost white on their undersides. And the masses of small fruits dress up the stems as they turn silver-flecked red (yellow, in some varieties) in late summer. Those fruits are very puckery until a little after they turn red, but then become quite delicious, and healthful.

(I included autumn olive in my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, and also planted …

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End of Year Punch List

 

Winterizing

My carpenter friends, near the end of their projects, have their “punch lists” to serve as reminders what odds and ends still need to be done. I similarly have a punch list for my gardens, a punch list that marks the end of the growing season, a list of what (I hope) will get done before I drop the first seeds in the ground next spring.

(No need for an entry on the punch list to have the ground ready for that seed. Beds have been mulched with compost and are ready for planting.)

Hardy, potted plants, including some roses, pear trees, and Nanking cherries, can’t have their roots exposed to the full brunt of winter cold. I’ve huddled all these pots together against the north wall of my house but soon have to mound leaves or wood chips up to their rims to provide further cold protection.

I’ll save some leaves to …

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The Morning After

Endive Galore

I don’t know if was a case of green thumbness or the weather, but my bed of endive is now almost as frightening as a zucchini planting in summer. The bed, 3 feet wide by 20 feet long, is solid green with endive plants, each and every plant looking as if it’s been pumped up on steroids.

I sowed seeds in 4 by 6 inch seed trays around August 1st, “pricked out” the seedlings into individual growing cells filled with homemade potting soil about a week later, and  transplanted them into the garden in the beginning of September. The bed had been home to one of this summer’s planting of sweet corn (Golden Bantam), a heavy feeder, so after clearing the corn I slathered the bed with an inch depth of pure compost.

Perhaps the vigor of these plants also reflects the extra space I gave them. In years past I …

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Grapes And Onions

So Many Choices, In Grapes

With over 5,000 varieties of grapes from which to choose, how can anyone decide which to grow? For better or worse, that choice is naturally limited by climate and pests in each part of the country. Here in the northeast, major limitations are humid summers that spread indigenous disease and frigid winter temperatures.

There’s still plenty of grape varieties from which to choose, which I’ve done over the years, weeding out varieties that would succumb to cold or disease. My varietal possibilities are further limited by my low lying land close to acres upon acres of forest. Cold, moisture-laden air sinks into this low spot, and the abundance of wild grapes clambering up forest trees provide a nearby reservoir of insects and disease spores.

With all that, I want to grow varieties that taste good to me (fresh, not for wine). I have dairy farmer-cum-grape breeder Elmer Swenson …

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Some Good, Some Bad

Picking Pecks and Pecks of Peppers

Warm — no, hot — weather going on and on keeps tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers chugging along, restrained only by diminished sunshine. Still, before real autumn weather rolls in and decimates these warmth-loving plants, it’s time to do some evaluation of this season before it fades into memories that meld with previous seasons.

As usual, there are successes and failures. Good — no, great — are this year’s peppers. I credit the rousing success mostly to My choice of two varieties. The first was an old variety, Sweet Italia, aka Sweet Italian or Italian Sweet. Other varieties are available with similar names; the names are similar, but not the same, as are the fruits.

Sweet Italia has two problems: The seed is hard to find; and the plants flop over under their weight of fruit. Both problems are easily solved: Save seed (Sweet Italia is not a …

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Taste And Aroma

Old Peaches

The peaches on a friend’s tree were small, marred with bacterial spot disease, and still showed some green on their skins. So burdened with fruits was the tree that it had burst asunder from their weight, splitting one of the main limbs.

Still, the friend insisted that the peaches tasted good. As further enticement, the tree had a history, having sprouted on the grounds of a nearby 18th century house that had an orchard. The tree was evidently cold hardy also. So I twisted one fruit off and took a bite. In spite of being not quite ripe, the fruit was delicious, quite sweet — as is usual with white peaches such as these — and with an old-fashioned, intensely peachy flavor.

I took up the offer to take a small bag of them home with me. And not only for eating. My plan is to save the seeds from many …

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How Pesky And Interesting

Snowflakes? No.

Gardening never ceases to be interesting, even if the current object of interest is a pest. Not just any pest, but a NEW pest! And not just for me.

I was alerted to this pest when pulling a few weeds near my Brussels sprouts plants. Brushing against their leaves brought a cloud of what looked like fine snowflakes. They were, in fact, whiteflies, tiny (1.5 mm) fluttering insects, immediately recognizable to me from their common occurrence on houseplants.

Cabbage whitefly

Whiteflies rarely show up on outdoor plants; in my experience, never. Easy enough to discover on the web, my whiteflies are appropriately named cabbage whiteflies (Aleyrodes protella). This native of Europe first turned up in the U.S. in 1993, but is rare in the Hudson Valley. It’s fond of all cabbages relatives, with a preference for kale. Not in my garden, though; kale, sharing the bed with the Brussels sprouts, is …

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Savin’ Seeds, Killin’ Weeds

 

Bolting Plants

Last week I was admiring a vegetable garden where just about every lettuce plant was reaching skyward, with flower buds about to cap the tops of the spires. Isn’t that the wrong way to grow lettuce?

Lettuce that flowers — “goes to seed” — becomes bitter and tough. In my own garden, I aspire to have no lettuce spires by sowing lettuce seeds every couple of weeks for a regular harvest of mild-flavored, succulent leaves or heads. The plants don’t have time to bolt.

Those bolting lettuces I was admiring were in a garden in Iowa, one of the gardens at the Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org), an organization that every gardener should know about and a garden that I should have not waited so long to visit. The mission of Seed Savers Exchange is to save and preserve heirloom seeds, which are varieties that have been passed on down among …

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COMPOST TEA: SNAKE OIL OR ELIXIR? BLACK CURRANTS…

 

Tea For Plants?

Has your garden had its tea this morning? Tea is all the rage for plants and soils these days. Compost tea. And not just any old compost tea, but tea you steep in water that’s aerated just like an aquarium.

Compost tea steeped the old way, by hanging a burlap sack of compost in a bucket of water for a few days, was one way to provide a liquid feed to plants. The liquid feed wasn’t particularly rich but did provide a wide range of nutrients that leached from the compost, and was convenient for feeding potted plants.

The new, aerated compost teas are billed as an efficient way to transfer beneficial microorganisms from compost into the soil or onto plant leaves. After all, spraying a little tea is less work than pitchforking tons of compost. In the soil, the little guys can spread their goodness, fighting off plant diseases …

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