Spring is here this week, weatherwise, at least. Not to bring back bad memories, but with real spring just around the corner, now is a good time to revisit two or three of last year’s worst pest problems, and plan some sort of counteraction. Not that those memories are really that bad; the interaction of pests, plants, the environment, and my hopefully green thumb is always interesting.
The most serious pest problem last year, most serious because it affected one of my favorite vegetables, was a disease that devastated my later plantings of corn. Looking at the symptoms — yellow streaks on leaves that turned to tan, dead areas — my diagnosis was the bacterial disease, Stewart’s wilt. Some plant pathologists pointed out that Stewart’s wilt is very rare around here, and that the problem was probably the fungal disease, northern corn leaf blight.
“Make hay while the sun shines” is fine advice in its season. For winter, how about? “Prune while the snow is high and firm.”
My apple and pear trees are semi-dwarf, presently ranging from seven to eleven feet tall. Even though I have a pole pruner and various long-reach pruning tools, I still carry my three-legged orchard ladder out to the trees with me to work on their upper branches. Sometimes you have to get your eyes and arms and hands right up near where you’re actually cutting.
A few years ago, as I was looking out the window and admiring the foot or of snow on the ground, I realized that all that snow could give me a literal leg up on pruning. If I stayed on top of the snow, that is. While the snow was still soft, I was able to do this by strapping on a …
For anyone who missed my recent 90 minute webinar on GOURMET COMPOST, the webinar has been recorded and is available for $35 on-demand from Oct. 1st, 2020 until Oct. 8th for $35. The webinar covers options for compost bins, feeding your compost “pets, monitoring progress, what can go wrong and how to right it, when is compost “finished,” and making the best use of your compost. Click below to pay almost by any of a number of ways. Thank you.
Putting Summer in Jars
I’m hunkering down for winter, which includes capturing what I can of summer’s bounty in jars and dried and frozen garden produce. With this year’s hot, sunny weather, tomato plants yielded plenty of fruit — until cut short with a few nights of freezing temperatures about a week ago. Still, I have over two dozen shiny quart jars lined up on a shelf in the basement.
For the past couple of months, I’m not so sure that my duck knows that she’s a duck. She and another female duck once shared a drake, and they all lived together in their own “duckingham palace.”
Sometime after the other female and the drake were taken by a predator, probably a fox or coyote, I thought our remaining female might enjoy some company at night. So I coaxed her to take up nightly residence with our three chickens — a rooster and two hens — who have their own house (“chickingham palace?,” actually more palatial than duckingham palace).
Not only has Ms. Duck moved in with the chickens at night but she also wanders around with the flock by day. Her special companion is the rooster, especially since the two chicken hens decided to spend much of their days sitting on imaginary eggs. Neither hen has laid a real …
Over the years, gardening has made me more and more aware of our planet’s annual track around the sun. How quaint. It gives me a certain kinship with the peasants at work in the 15th century painting for the month of September of Les Très Riches Heures de Duc de Berry.
Picking grapes, 15th and 21st century
As with those peasants, September is a month when I have abundant fruits for harvest. Like the peasants, I’m harvesting grapes; it’s been a bumper year. Unlike the peasants, my grapes are destined for fresh eating rather than being sullied by fermentation into wine. (Okay, okay, just kidding, although I am not a fan of drinking wine.)
First to ripen here were the varieties Somerset Seedless and Alden. With an abundance of varieties and fruits, I can afford to be picky, so this will be the last season here for Somerset …
My garden was liberated yesterday, the soil freed at last. That’s when I peeled back and folded up the black tarps that had been covering some of the vegetable beds since early April. My beautiful soil finally popped into view.
Covering the ground was for the garden’s own good. “Tarping,” as this technique is called, gets the growing season off to a weed-less start. The black cover warms the ground to awaken weed seeds. They sprout, then die as they use up their energy reserves which, without light, can’t be replenished and built up. (I first learned of this technique in J. M. Fortier’s book The Market Gardener.)
Tarping is very different from the much more common way of growing plants in holes in black plastic film, even if one purpose of the soil covering, in both cases, is to snuff out weeds. Black plastic film is left in place all season …
I don’t let cold weather put the brakes on my composting, at least my role in it. For the bacteria, fungi, and other workers in my compost pile, it’s another story. Come cold temperatures, and their work come screeching to a halt or near halt (which depends on the degree of cold, the size of the pile, the mix of ingredients, and moisture).
But that’s no reason for me to abandon composting.
The main problem, as I see it, with composting in winter is not the workers not working. Pile up food scraps another organic materials winter, and composting will re-convene when warm weather arrives again in spring. The problem is that those food scraps offer a smorgasbord of tasty, easy calories for rodents. Which is not good.
(Lest you’re feeling fuzzy and warm to these furry creatures, a short list of what they could bring along to you …
After some really frigid weather a month ago followed by more or less seasonal cold, temperatures did a loop de loop and we’ve had a couple of days in the high ‘60s. Very unseasonal, to say the least, and perhaps another indication of global warming, but welcome nonetheless. Those temperatures, coupled with brightening sunshine, made me want to get my hands in some dirt.
A large, second-story bedroom window overlooks my main vegetable garden. The weather made me see it in a different perspective — it looked messy.
I pride myself on putting everything in order each fall so that (quoting from Charles Dudley Warner’s 1886 My summer in the Garden) “The closing scenes are not necessarily funereal . . . A garden should be got ready for winter . . . neat and trim. . . in complete order so that its last days shall not present a …
I don’t know about you all, but I have a great urge to tidy up my garden this time of year. Partly it’s because doing so leaves one less thing to do in spring and partly because, as Charles Dudley Warner wrote in My Summer in the Garden in 1889, “the closing scenes need not be funereal.” All this tidying up is usually quite enjoyable.
Moist soil – and not too, too many weeds – make weeding fun. Creeping Charlie (also know as gill-over-the-ground) has sneaked into some flower beds. Its creeping stems are not yet well-rooted so one tug with a gloved hand and a bunch of escaping stems slithers back from its travels forward from beneath and among flower plants and shrubs. What remains are occasional tufts of grassy plants, especially crabgrass, easily wrenched out of the ground or coaxed out with my Hori-Hori garden knife.
National Fruit Fly Month — October — has drawn to a close. (That designation is my own, not the federal government’s.) Sure, a few still flit about here and there. But no longer do clouds of them hover over bowls of fruit in my kitchen. In case you haven’t experienced them, fruit flies, Drosophila species, are cute little (about 1/8 inch long) flies that feast on overripe and damaged fruit as well as other plant material.
I, and perhaps you, were first introduced to fruit flies in middle school biology, raising them on some mix of banana and agar-agar. In those days, I got more intimate with them as part of a science project: My project was to test whether x-rays cause mutations. My dentist agreed to help. After raising a batch of flies, I went to his office and laid a vial of them on the dental …