Monday, June 29, 2009

Am I In Control Again?

I learned this past weekend that other gardeners have the same problems that I have had. Slugs and snails seem to be having a banner year most everywhere and groundhogs are a problem for many.

In my garden the little groundhog was finally caught and removed. My pole beans are now growing. I had just surrounded most of the pole bean areas with fencing held down with tent stakes to keep out the groundhog. I have left them there just in case the family had other members living nearby. I transplanted some new little lettuce plants and maybe we will actually be able to eat some. The last lettuce we had for a salad came from the Regional Market this Saturday.

Snails (we have far more snails than slugs) still abound but I scout for them two or three times a day, dropping them into soapy water. This was the suggestion of another gardener and I prefer it to squashing them. I don't have anything under row covers right now so the snails cannot operate freely. I don't have anything to report yet on whether surrounding Chinese cabbage with bran meal and/or egg shells cuts down on the snail damage.

In general, the vegetables are beginning to show good growth. Tomatoes are forming. Greens (like Swiss chard, pak choi and zen) are providing part of our meals. I grew some snow peas that have done well but are tasteless. Back to sugar snaps next year. Summer squash have flowered and are beginning to develop. Cucumbers (I went with lemon cucumbers this year) had been nipped back by the groundhog but are now beginning to show growth and flowers. The potatoes have certainly grown quite well, at least above the ground. [Hard to know what's going on below the surface.] The fava beans my son brought back (as seeds) from Oregon are impressive and the soy beans, initially nipped off, have been replanted and are growing. Peppers and basil are not having their best year, but it is early. Garlic and leeks are doing nicely. Our blueberries are covered with berries and are beginning to ripen. My goal of weighing what we get from the garden fails with blueberries - they usually don't make it into the house. The raspberry plants are growing well. Japanese beetles have been found on the roses outside the fence but I haven't seen any on the raspberries yet. About fifteen years ago they were a major raspberry problem for several years. When I find them they will also be candidates for soapy water. We have some blackberries growing along the fence and we should get more of those than we did last year when the canes weren't supported.

Most of the planting is done. I still have collards, more kale, broccoli, pak choi, arugula, and Swiss chard starting in the cold frame. All in all the garden is doing well despite the early set-backs.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Always Room for Learning

Maybe because I am retired and have more time to observe I am learning more this year than I recall in the past. Some of what I learn I would rather not know. For example, if you remove a groundhog it doesn't mean you will have no more groundhog damage. As soon as the groundhog that was wiping out the broccoli was removed neighbors told me that it wasn't the only one. And, sure enough, a day or two later my wife saw another groundhog in the garden area. This one seems clever enough to avoid traps. When we returned from a short trip to Pennsylvania the trap was empty but the third planting of broccoli was gone. Along with the Italian dandelions, virtually all of the lettuce including what was inside a hardware cloth cage - the ground hog just pushed it aside and clipped the lettuce - and some of the scallions. I haven't seen damage this week but perhaps that is because my son set up his tent in the back yard and has been sleeping there most nights. But he won't be there for the rest of the growing season.

While at the native plant conference in Millersville, PA, I attended a workshop on composting. We have been composting for years but the thrill of seeing steam rising from the compost pile ended some years ago when we stopped adding our next door neighbor's lush grass to the compost. (It was to avoid adding pesticides but these days most people mulch their grass, especially those who do not have chemical treatment for their lawn, so the supply has ended. We have virtually no lawn and so cannot supply our own grass.) I thought the lack of grass was the reason my compost no longer heated up but apparently it was really lack of moisture. Most of what has gone into the composter dries out very quickly and then sits there breaking down very, very slowly. I have never added water. So over the past two days I rebuilt the compost piles. I have a composter that consists of three 3 ft by 3 ft sections. They were all full of material. First I emptied out one section. Then I put some large stuff (pieces of branches mostly) into the bottom of the empty compost section and transferred material from the second section into that section, with the hose dripping water into it as I did. Then I put a large plastic bag that is full of straw that I gathered from the garden beds earlier on top of the compost pile to retain the moisture. Then I transferred the material from the third section into the second section after adding some large stuff at the bottom (to allow oxygen to reach the composting material). During the recent three inch rainfall I ran out and pulled the bags off the top of the two sections so that the rain would provide more moisture to the piles. I remember how quickly the piles used to sink when I was adding layers of new, lush green grass to the piles. I hope to report soon that when I turn the piles over - that is, move one pile into the empty section - steam rises.
Although I thought I was fairly knowledgeable about compost, it seems I lacked a few basic essentials.

I have also learned that solving one pest problem may create another. I have been unsuccessful with Chinese cabbage in the past because flea beetles (I think) eat the leaves so much that the little cabbages are unable to grow. This year I put the Chinese cabbage and pak choi under row covers. That prevented the flea beetles from attacking the little plants. They grew very nicely but when we began to harvest the Chinese cabbage we found that they were covered with snails. The snails were protected from any predators by the row covers. I probably picked a hundred snails (and a couple slugs) from the plants. Most of the leaves had so many holes that they were unusable (well, at least unpalatable). I have removed the row covers and spread bran meal around the area (something I read said that they eat the bran meal and die) and kept picking off whatever slugs and snails I could find. The centers of the plants are now doing pretty well. I harvested one yesterday and after removing a couple of layers of the outer leaves the rest didn't look too bad and there were relatively few snails or slugs on them. The snails and slugs seem to come off in the water when the cabbages are washed. We generally wash these things three times to eliminate the undesired protein.
Since I have started some more pak choi under a row cover I better get out there tomorrow with my bran meal to surround the plants. If this works I will have the procedure for next year - row covers with bran meal. And inspect them from time to time.

Not all is dealing with pests. Potatoes appear to be growing well. (In the previous post I was wondering where they were.) They have gotten to the point where I have no more soil to hill them up with. The tomatoes are beginning to take off (which means I need to stake them soon). The peppers are holding their own and should take off as the weather warms. Even the dead looking asparagus crowns which I thought I had buried far deeper than they could deal with have come up. I can count 22 little shoots from what I think were 25 crowns. Something has cut off a couple of them (cutworms?) but the first of those has sent up another shoot so I expect they will be okay. The peas are forming pods, the fava beans look good, dill is every where, the summer squash are growing well (I took one out from under the row cover), parsley and basil, which had started very slowly, seem to be established, the kale and Swiss chard have been good, the spinach is finished although I have also planted a New Zealand type spinach and the ground cherries look good. Both the pole beans and the soybeans are troubled by something that snips off some of the growing tips - groundhog for the pole beans I suspect because the cuts are 4 to 6 inches above the ground. Weeds are developing nicely also. But that seems to be true even in bad years.