Category Archives: Pests

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 …

Read the complete post…

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 …

Read the complete post…

GOOD FUNGI, BAD WEEDS

 

Myco . . . What?

There’s a fungus among us. Actually, fungi, all over the place. Right now, though, I’m focussed on a special group of fungi, a group that, as I look out the window on my garden, the meadow, and the forest, has infected almost every plant I see. Like so many microorganisms — most, in fact — these fungi are beneficial.

The fungi are called mycorrhizal fungi; they have a symbiotic relationship with plants. (“Mycorrhizae” comes from the Greek “myco,” meaning fungus, and “rhiza,” meaning root.) The plant and the fungus have an agreement: The plant offers the fungus carbohydrates which it makes from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water; in exchange, the fungus infects plant roots and then spreads the other ends of its thread-like hyphae throughout the soil to act to be virtual extensions of the roots. The plant ends up garnering more mineral nutrients from the soil. …

Read the complete post…

THE GOOD OL’ DAYS

Corn Made Even easier

I can understand why corn was so popular a crop early on in the settlement of our country by Europeans. Sure, it tastes good popped, ground and cooked, and, while immature, fresh from the cob. Mostly, though, corn was easy to grow in the rough soil left from recently cleared forest.

Most of my corn grows in my two vegetable gardens where the soil is crumbly and weed-free, watered gently by drip irrigation, and nourished annually with an inch depth of compost.

Highly cultivated sweet corn

The south garden is home, every year, to a couple of beds (about 60 square feet) of popcorn, and the north garden to 4 beds (about 215 square feet) of sweet corn. Those two gardens provide us with all the sweet corn and popcorn we eat for a year.

Separate gardens are needed because if sweet and popcorn cross-pollinate, the sweet corn will be …

Read the complete post…

I’M AN INGRATE, AND RUTHLESS WITH FRUITLETS

Great Asparagus Does Not Require A Green Thumb

Not to be an ingrate or a braggart, but the asparagus some friends recently brought over for our shared dinner didn’t compare with my home-grown asparagus. Not that the friends’ asparagus wasn’t good. Theirs came from a local farm, so I assume harvest was within the previous 24 hours. But the stalks of my asparagus are snapped off the plants within 100 feet of the kitchen door, clocking in at anywhere from a few minutes to an hour of time before they’re eaten. It’s not my green thumb that makes my asparagus taste so good. It’s the fact that I can harvest it within 100 feet of my kitchen door.

But don’t take my word for it. Research has shown that asparagus spears begin to age as soon as they’re picked, the stalks toughening and sugars disappearing, and bitterness, sourness, and off-flavors beginning to …

Read the complete post…

STEPPING INTO SPRING

Cleanup Time Re-Starts in Veggie Garden

Warmer weather, even if it’s not all that warm, makes me feel like spring is just around the corner. The ground — in my vegetable beds, at least — isn’t even frozen, no doubt because water doesn’t linger long in the well-drained soil and because the dark-colored compost blanket I laid down in autumn sucks up the sun’s warmth.

So yesterday seemed like a perfect time to continue the garden cleanup that screeched to a halt when frigid weather struck, and some snow fell, a couple of months ago. Old cabbage heads that never quite ripened were laying on the ground like ratty, pale green tennis balls (with stalks attached). The four-foot-high stalk of one Brussels sprouts plant, stripped in autumn of its sprouts, stood sentry like a decrepit soldier in the same bed.

Of course, kale also still stood, except for those that flopped to the …

Read the complete post…

IN WITH THE NEW, STILL WITH THE OLD

Scale Attack Beginning!

As if to ring in the new year, scale insects are starting to make their presence known. These insects crawl around as babies, find nourishing spots on leaves or stems, insert their feeding tubes, and then spend their days sucking plant juice. Carbohydrates and sugars are what result when sunlight and chlorophyll get together, so longer days may already be making plant sap sweeter and more plentiful, much to the liking of these suckers.

Armored scale on staghorn fern

I encounter two kinds of scales on my houseplants. Each armored scale looks like a small, raised, brown tab. Cottony cushion scale looks like a small tuft of white cotton. As either kind feeds, it exudes a sweet honeydew that drips on leaves, furniture, and floor, and eventually becomes colonized with a fungus that airbrushes those sticky drippings an unappealing smokey haze.

(Scale insects are often problems on trees and shrubs …

Read the complete post…

FRUIT HARVEST, WHEN?

Easy to Grow, Hard to Harvest

    Of all commonly grown tree fruits, pears are the easiest, mostly because they succumb to fewer pest and weather problems than do other common tree fruits. Of all commonly grown tree fruits, pears are the most difficult to harvest.
    Timing is what makes pears so difficult to harvest, a skill I’m ashamed to admit I have yet to master. You can’t time when to pick by taste because pears are among the few fruits that will not ripen well on the tree. They start ripening from their innards outward so by the time the outside of the fruit looks and feels ripe, the innards are brown mush.

Concorde European pear, ripe?

    No need to refer me to the guidelines of experts: The skin should undergo an almost imperceptible change in color, lightening or yellowing. The fruit softens ever so slightly, going from …

Read the complete post…

SOME REFLECTIONS. . . NOT THAT IT’S OVER

Finish Squash

    “Zucchini bread is for people who don’t have compost piles.” That’s what I told Deb after she suggested, first ratatouille, and then zucchini bread, as vehicles for our excess zucchini.
    Most years I make an early, too large planting of zucchini (about 6 plants), and then, six to eight weeks later, make another sowing of only a couple of plants. The first planting puts enough zucchinis into the freezer for winter, as well as leaving enough for eating. The second planting is to yield an occasional zucchini for fresh eating through summer after plants of that initial planting have succumbed to squash vine borer, cucumber beetles, bacterial wilt, and any of the other maladies that usually do in the plants a few weeks after they begin bearing. Usually and thankfully do in the plants. But not this year.
    Almost every time I check that early planting …

Read the complete post…

BACTERIA AND FUNGI, AND GRAPES, OH MY

Upcoming Fall Fruit Workshop

See web page http://www.leereich.com/workshops for details.

The River Runs Green

    Crossing the bridge over the Wallkill River on my way home, I glance to my right to admire the river itself. What a beautiful color it has turned, a bright turquoise. Ponds I pass also have taken on this bright complexion, for which we can thank, or curse, organisms known as blue-green algae (heretofore referred to as BGA).
    Algae, they are not, though. BGA are bacteria known as cyanobacteria. “Algae” generally refers to eukaryotes, organisms with distinct nucleii and specialized organelles. BGA are prokaryotes, lacking such features.
    BGA can be toxic, which is good reason to curse them. Drinking or swimming in contaminated waters can cause problems to humans and other animals, including dogs, who seem to be otherwise able to drink almost any water without ill effect. The “cyan” in the name and the …

Read the complete post…