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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The War On Bugs - Fighting squash bugs and cucumber beetles

While inspecting and harvestring zucchini today, I discovered a bug.  I'm a programmer, so I already hate bugs, and now that I'm a gardener too, I hate them even more.  Upon further investigation, I found bug eggs and another kind of bug.  Here are the pictures I took:

The above bug is a squash bug.  So, it's not surprising that I found it on my zucchini.  I found and squished 5 or so more of these nasty little bugs.

This little thing is a cucumber beetle.  Extremely nasty because they spread a plant disease called bacterial wilt, and if your plants get it, there is no cure.  It's the death of your plant.  Even though this is a cucumber beetle, I found this particular one on a zucchini leaf.  Cucumbers and zucchini are closely related.

Also in the picture above, in the upper right part of the leaf, you can see some eggs.  These are squash bug eggs.  I found numerous deposits of them and removed them.  I'm sure there are more.

From what I understand, this is a battle I'll be waging every day now.  Of course one organic tool for battling these bugs is simple removal.  Find 'em and squish 'em.  Another is the use of insecticidal soap.  I have a bottle of orth essentials insecticidal soap but I have a lot of leaves to cover, so I'll be picking up some nice friendly liquid soap of some kind and making a soap spray that I can put in my tank sprayer.  And then, I will probably spray the plants every few days.  Or more.

Another way to fight squash bugs is to trap them.  Apparently, if you put a few small boards in the garden on the ground, at night the squash bugs will congregate underneath the boards, and you can kill them.  Maybe in the morning, or maybe late at night after sundown, I'm not sure of that yet.  I put a few boards out there this evening and I will check them tomorrow night after it gets dark.

The good news is that my zucchini and cucumbers are all very vigorous and healthy, and as long as I keep on top of things, they won't suffer at all.  They could lose a few leaves easily and not be bothered.  Heck, I've removed a number of leaves just to let the sun shine on the beans!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Garden Pictures

Some pictures I took this weekend...  Click any photo to see a full size version!

The container garden is looking good!

This roma tomato in the Topsy Turvy planter is doing well.  The weather is getting hot now so I'll have to watch this one especially closely.

The Papper Garden - plus one eggplant, one heirloom tomato, 5 mississippi silver cowpeas, and a bunch of herbs.

The Tomato Garden - plus 2 eggplants, 2 sweet bell peppers, and a bunch of herbs.

The first zucchini ready for harvesting!

Cucumbers climing the trellis nicely.

Zucchini taking over the space.

Early Girl Tomatoes

Asian Yardlong Beans just getting started!  The trellis is nearly 7' tall.

Big Beef Hybrid tomatoes.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

String Trellis Tomato Update

So, the string trellis method is working nicely but you do have to pay close attention to the suckers!! I have 10 tomatoes that need to be pruned and I check them every few days =) As the plants have gotten bigger and taller, I've also started to remove *all* growth below the bottom fruit/flowers. This should focus the plants energy on the maters and keeps the leaves well up off the ground too.

Here's a couple nice closeups:

This is one of the big beef tomatoes:

And here is one of the cherry tomatoes that I've got growing in the bucket planters (which, btw, I think are working GREAT):

Monday, May 23, 2011

Small Talk: How about the weather?

I don't know about you, but we've had a beautiful spring here in sunny North Carolina. We've had plenty of rain but not TOO much rain (sorry for those of you in the rain-soaked midwest!), and while we had a few weeks of warmer the normal temperatures back in April, the first few weeks of May have been pretty close to normal and even a little below normal - lots of nice days in the 70s!

But yesterday at Raleigh Durham International Airport, they recorded our first 90 degree day of the "summer". Last year, we set a record with 93 days of 90 degree weather, the first of which came on May 2. In fact, by this time last year, we'd already had 6 days of 90 degree temps.

For those of you that aren't familiar with North Carolina weather, it does get hot here in the summer, but the average high in July and August is 89 - so it's not supposed to be *that* hot. Last fall, I had someone at the State Climate Office send me a spreadsheet with the daily high temperatures since 1950, and in the previous 10 years (2000-2009) the average number of 90 degree days has been 52. In fact, in only TWO previous summers did we even surpass 70 days of 90 degree weather - 72 days in 1953, and 83 days in 2007.

Needless to say, the extreme heat made gardening difficult. Most of my tomatoes last year were in containers - a couple of Topsy Turvys and the rest in 12" plastic pots. In both cases, I would water my plants in the morning, and they'd be bone dry by the time I got home rom work. This is not a good way to raise tomatoes!

This week it's supposed to be in the 90s all week, but back down to the mid 80s on the weekend. I hope that yesterday's 90 degree day was the first of less than 70 such days, and that we're not on our way to another ridiculously hot summer.

As for my tomatoes - well I have eight of them in the ground this year, two in Topsy Turvy's, and seven in containers - one in a 13 gallon pot, 4 of them in 5 gallon self-watering buckets, and 2 in smaller containers (but they are smaller tomatos too).

Saturday, May 14, 2011

How to use diatomaceous earth to organically fight garden pests

Diatomaceous Earth, or "DE", is a naturally occuring material that, among other thins, is a fine organic method of garden pest control.  It's perfectly safe for other animals and humans, but insects that come in contact with it die. You can read more about it on wikipedia if you like, just do a google search.

Anyway, it's a powder and I wasn't sure the best way to apply.  I saw a video by Patty Moreno (Garden  Girl TV) and she had a fancy hand-cranked crop duster.  Now, I don't have anything like that but I didn't feel like using my hands would truly do it justice.

So, get yourself a plastic water bottle with a screw on cap (not a fancy reusable water bottle, just a regular old bottle of water).  Make sure the bottle is dry.  Drill a couple of very small holes in the cap.  Use a funnel or something to fill the bottle with diatomaceous earth, not more than 3/4 full.  Screw on the cap, and then holding the bottle sideways, squeeze it repeatedly to "puff out" the dust.

Here's a video!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Video Garden Update

Thought I'd try something a little different today, a video garden update!  I divided this update into three videos:

Part 1  - Cucumbers, new cucumber trellis, zucchini, pole beans:

Part 2  - Tomatoes, suckering tomatoes, eggplants, companion gardening.

Part 3  - Container Garden - Tomatoes and Hot Peppers:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tomato Update

Yesterday, I finished my support for the vertical tomatoes (Big Beef Hybrid and Early Girl Hybrid), pinched off some of the suckers, and got them on the string - they are now ready to go vertical!  I also sucked the bucket tomatoes though I haven't got them strung up yet.  The Topsy Turvy (which has a Roma tomato in I think) is also doing well.  Heck, they're all doing well!  Here are a few pictures:

Tomatoes on the completed string trellis - 2 Big Beef Hybrid and 3 Early Girl Hybrid, plus two bush style Celebrity tomates (small cages on the right).  This garden also has a couple bell peppers, eggplant, and various herbs and flowers.

Close up of the tomatoes on the string trellis

Bucket Tomatoes (Supersweet 100)

Topsy Turvy (Roma) tomato.  Leaves went back towards the sun after a day or two of being upside down.

 Zucchini Update

The zucchini is loving life right now. I planted the zucchini seedlings about 16 days ago after purchasing them at the Farmers Market.  These are "Black Beautiy" plants, which I don't know much about, but they're growing fast, take a look:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Weekend Projects - Compost Tumbler, Deck Planter

I don't really have anything to report on the gardening front from this weekend, but I did do some garden related projects!

Compost Tumbler

Saturday morning, I made a compost tumbler.  I found a guy on craigslist selling 60 gallon food grade barrels with screw top lids a couple weeks ago and I picked one up to make my composter.  I picked up the other materials I needed Saturday morning - pressure treated 2x4 lumber, some scrap pressure treated 1x6 decking, a 48" piece of black pipe, 2 end caps to fit the black pipe, and a 2' piece of PVC pipe (just large enough for the black pipe to fit in it).  I'm not going to go step by step here, but basically I made a nice frame, drilled (in the barrel) a few 7/8" holes for the pipe, a few more in the bottom for "large" drain holes, and then a whole bunch of 3/8" air holes in the sides.  Here's the finished product!

I've got it about half full of stuff right now - mostly green grass clippings, along with some twigs, leaves, crushed pinecones, stump grindings (aka sawdust) and some shredded cardboard and coffee grounds.  Hopefully in a few weeks I'll have some nice compost!

Deck Planter

Another weekend project that I did last night, using my 18 guage brad nailer was a deck planter.  I'd gone to the hippie gardening store on Saturday because they sell cheap black nursery pots, and I wanted a BIG one.  The largest they had was a 13.67 gallon pot, which cost about $5 - heck of a lot cheaper than anything Home Depot sells at a similar size, I can tell you that!  Then I did head over to Home Depot for some wood.  I had a picture in my head but no plans of any kind.

It actually turned out surprisingly well - not perfect, but I'm no carpenter!  Here is is:

It still needs to be painted (the white stuff was pre-primed), but overall I think it turned out pretty nice!