pest management

July - a time of transition in the garden

July always feels like a time of transition in the garden. The summer squashes, tomatoes and peppers have begun producing, the spring peas, potatoes and garlic are coming out and the fall brassicas, beans and turnips are going in.

Quite a few of the garden beds are transitioning from one crop to another: peas to pole beans, garlic to turnips, fava beans to cauliflower, potatoes to broccoli, and onions to salad turnips.

There are also succession plantings of the same crop in some garden beds: fall carrots have been seeded between the rows of spring carrots and bok choi has been replanted between the few remaining spring plants.

The least appealing aspect of this time of year is doing battle with the mid-season diseases and pests. Squash vine borers have made their appearance, along with the first signs of mildew.

And this year's drought has increased the wildlife damage to our tomatoes and eggplants. We seriously need some rain!


Technology to the Rescue!

You may have noticed a curious addition to our tomato beds this week: compact discs. They are an experiment to try to deter the birds from eating our tomatoes.

The trouble started when our first full-size tomatoes ripened. We showed up at the garden expecting to pick ripe tomatoes, only to find all the ripe ones already partially eaten.

We suspected squirrels, raccoons or bunnies. Then we began to wonder if the ever-present birds might be the culprits.

The presence of birds is generally a delight in the garden. Yet, we definitely draw the line at deeding them our tomato crop.

We're not the first to keep birds from their garden with CDs dangling from strings. It's generally acknowledged that their movement in the breeze and reflectivity can make birds uncomfortable enough to stay away from adjacent food crops.

At the very least, they should make for interesting conversation.

Update 8/28: The CDs have made a noticeable difference. A few additional tomatoes have been damaged, but the remainder of the crop has been beautiful!

The Many Uses of Garden Fabric, or Row Cover

Garden fabric, aka row cover or floating row cover, can be very handy to have on hand in your garden, as it can serve many purposes!

Garden fabric can . . .

     *  slow evaporation from a plant and its surrounding soil

     *  act as a thermal barrier, protecting plants from the cold and the wind

     *  help to shade the plants, protecting them from overheating

     *  prevent insect damage, by keeping munching insects away from the plants

     *  stop birds and other critters from helping themselves to your harvest

     *  control pollination, in case you want to try very specific cross-pollination experiments

Available in different thicknesses, the heavier garden fabrics are better in the colder months (for heat retention), while the lighter fabrics are a much better choice when the weather gets hot. 

Also, remember that many vegetable and fruit crops require cross-pollination and, since the fabric will limit access to the plants' flowers, pollination must be done by hand, or the fabric must be removed for an hour or two each day to allow pollinators to do their job.  Once pollination has taken place, the row cover may be left in place to protect the maturing crops.

In some cases, garden fabric should be cut into strips, and the strips wrapped around the stems of plants to protect them from boring-type insects.  E.g., most types of squash are susceptible to attack by the squash vine borer (SVB).  As the name states, the SVB (in its large caterpillar form) bores its way into the main stem of squash plants, and then eats its way through the stem, usually until the plant wilts and dies.  This attack may be prevented with a garden fabric wrapping of the stem.  The best time to apply garden fabric in this manner is before a seedling is put in the ground.  Start wrapping the stem about an inch below ground level, and wrap it all the way to the top, avoiding the side branches as you go.  As the plant grows, more fabric may be added, and the fabric already in place may need to be loosened to avoid restricting growth of the stem.  In this way, the stem is protected from vine borers, but the entire plant does not have to be covered, thereby using much less fabric.

For more info on this very versatile tool, see:,default,pg.html

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