Row cover everywhere!

row cover in early summer

My main vegetable garden is basically divided into three sections-Section 1, Section 2 and Section 3-each section being around a 1000 square feet. So as I look at what I call ‘Section 3’, all I see is row cover everywhere! Looks like I laid out my laundry all over the ground but this is temporary. Row cover is used for extending the seasons and for protecting crops.

When I plant new transplants such as eggplants and peppers, I find our winds horrible on them, whipping them around and drying them out-totally stressing the poor little things so I put these mini hoops over them and put row cover on that protecting them from the ferocious winds we’ve had. When I plant seeds, I also cover them with row cover to protect them from the birds and other animals eating the seedlings as the germinate. Birds love bean sprouts, corn sprouts and cucumber sprouts but when I cover them, the birds don’t know what’s going on underneath when they germinate. So the garden looks like hell for a couple of weeks but will save me time and frustration of replanting more seeds later. This year after I planted the corn, bean and cucumber seeds, I put straw around them to help keep the soil moist and since I waited to plant later, an added bonus is the soil is pre-warmed  and the straw will help hold in the moisture when I water.

Grasshoppers are here!

grasshopper:photo credit:

Grasshopper: Photo credit:

Whoa! The grasshoppers are here in the Santa Fe area now.  I read last month an article in the Albuquerque Journal (after Poki from Gaia Gardens warned me about them) about the ‘moving sidewalk’ of grasshoppers in west side Albuquerque. Sounds like they are there in Biblical proportions this year.

Looks like it’s going to be a bad year for us too. I’ve noticed more of them now – not so much in the garden but in the outer regions outside the garden (and on the pavement-go figure that one out). So yesterday I put out some ‘NOLO’ bait after noticing a few more of them around than usual (but not the ‘8 grasshoppers per square yard’ that were in the directions for use). It probably blew away with all this awful HOT wind that came in last night but I can always put out more. I checked this morning and the piles are still there on the outside of the garden.

5lb_NoLoBait_thNOLO bait are bran flakes that have been laced with nosema locustae, a  protozoan bacteria that kills the baby grasshoppers when they eat it. Then the adult grasshoppers eat the dead babies (horrible) and they get sick and die too. That’s what they get for being cannibalistic!  Bastards! Now the one downside of all of this is it takes some time for it to start working-about three weeks so get some soon and get started in controlling this out of control pest that can devour your garden. It must be noted this does NOT provide immediate elimination of  grasshoppers and is most effective when put out when the grasshoppers are little-about 3/4 of an inch long. This is a more long-term solution to them. It is organic and does not hurt the bees, birds, animals or us-only grasshoppers.

In the meantime I’m going to put row cover over everything until I see less of them.  You should call and see if the local nurseries still have some. You may have to go on the web to get some NOLO bait as I think they are almost sold out around here. Ah, the joys of gardening!

PS: More on the dreaded squash vine borer

I just posted about the squash vine borer and a gardening friend, Gene, mentioned that his squash is smaller than in the video in a comment in the earlier post on squash vine borers. I forgot to mention that while the squash is small before they blossom, I keep them covered with row cover which keeps both the SVB and the squash bugs out but once the plants are bigger and blossoms, we have to take the row cover off for the bees to be able to pollinate them-that’s when we should use the foil.

Protecting Your Squash Plants from Squash Vine Borers

We have 2 nemesis for our summer squash, winter squash and all pumpkins-squash vine borers and squash bugs and they will be here soon if not already here. This post addresses the squash vine borer.

The squash vine borer as seen above has a BLACK AND ORANGE BODY with CLEAR WINGS. If you see a waspy looking bug that is BLACK with ORANGE WINGS, this is NOT the squash vine borer but a tarantula wasp – don’t mess with it as it has a painful bite but usually won’t sting us unless we agitate it and it is harmless to our plants. Take a good look at the picture above so you can identify the squash vine borer.

This video and article, Protecting Your Squash Plants – Vegetable Gardener is from the Vegetable Gardener site (great site) and shows how to protect our squash vines from the squash vine borer.

In addition to using foil and panty hose as shown in the video, I also bury all my stems as they lay down on the soil-main stem and secondaries so the SVB can’t find the stems. Mostly the SVB attacks the BASE of main vine so be sure to protect that part of the squash vine. This use to be an east coast problem but the SVB has finally crossed west of the Rockies. So be on the lookout.

If your plant suddenly wilts even though it has enough water, or if you do see SVB’s around, look for frasse (poop) that looks like sawdust around the base of the stem and that is where the larvae will be-inside the stem eating your plant. You can try to cut vertically (not across) the stem and dig out the larva with a knife, then bury the stem with dirt. Depending on the damage, your plant may or may not survive. Take precautions now to thwart this pest.

Master Gardener Intern Class-Vegetables

I’ve been totally busy teaching classes lately and the last class I taught was the Santa Fe Master Gardener Intern Class on Vegetables. All I can say to the interns is hang in there. Yes there are some difficult classes to get through but there are some great instructional classes as well that are like a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t till I became a Master Gardener that I really blossomed as a gardener. And now I am a rabid gardener! The knowledge you will continue to gain afterwards, the contacts, camaraderie and friendships you will develop will help you grow as well as the plants you will be growing! Hopefully you enjoyed and learned a lot from the Vegetable class. (Yes it was my favorite class when I was an intern!) So for those of you who couldn’t come to class or aren’t in the program but are interested, here are the information sheets. I want to make them available to all.

VEGETABLE GARDENING IN SANTA FE  gives an overview of vegetable gardening in Santa Fe.

INFORMATION SHEET covers what the differences are  between an Heirloom, Hybrid and GMO plant and explains what mycorrhizae fungi is and how it helps plants grow.

HERBS is a list of perennial and annual herbs we can grow here in Santa Fe.

PLANTING TOMATOES and PLANTING SQUASH both address how to transplant them into the garden and some of the things I add to help grow these beautiful vegetables and also how to help thwart the dreaded squash vine borer and squash bugs.

SEED STARTING DATE CALCULATOR from Johnny’s Seeds is the same one from the previous post but if you didn’t read it, then here it is. A great tool for when to start seeds or transplant them into the garden.

And now if you will excuse me, I will continue starting my seeds inside! Perfect day-cold, windy and snowy!

Squirrel ate second largest pumpkin :(

Squirrel ate hole through pumpkin

Ah Compost! Just when I  thought the squirrels left for the neighbors property, and I didn’t put out the repellant due to all the rain, a squirrel ate a hole ALL the way through my second biggest pumpkin which was just taking off in growth.  It’s done. I didn’t cover it as well either, not like MAX which gets triple coverage to keep them from getting to it. So now I only have MAX and one other little pumpkin with time running out. So I am very disappointed.

Closeup of squirrel damage

I still have the giant pear gourd, giant zucchini and giant greenie squashes and giant long gourds doing well and I have now covered them really well since this incident. They all look like mummies wrapped up super tight. It is soo hard to grow these giants and takes up so much time which is fine but then to have it destroyed is hard. I need my ranch dog, Sage, an Australian shepard back on the ranch. She died 2 summers ago of old age and kept everything in order-the coyotes, the rodents, and the neighbor dogs. Ever since she died the the rodents (pack rats, mice and squirrels are making a run on taking over the gardens. And the repellants are expensive. I’m almost ready to call a critter control guy…

Deterring squirrels from eating your garden..

Rock squirrel-photo courtesy of Tadam at pl.wikipedia

July 29th-So the battle is on against the squirrels. One of my friends tried the hot pepper spray to no avail. I guess the Rocky squirrels that live here in New Mexico are use to hot peppers and like their food hot! I hear they prefer green over red chili!

Right now I’m trying 2 products from Agua Fria Nursery. The first one I tried is called Shake Away, made of fox urine granules and is for small critters-rabbits,groundhogs chipmunk, and squirrels. It is very stinky. You put  down a tablespoon every three feet like a dog marking it’s territory around the garden fence perimeter. Apply it twice a week the first week, then 0nce a week and then once every 2 weeks. It seems to be working because I haven’t seen more damage on the tips of the pumpkins that I left uncovered the past few days.  I’m not sure if I saw some damage on some big leaves that were munched or if that was from before this stuff was down. Taking notes now..

My next line of defense is Plantskydd repellant for rabbits, voles,chipmunks, other rodents and deer. This is granules of dried bovine blood-yuk. I put some of that down too. It doesn’t say whether we need to reapply any of this stuff  if it rains, but I take no chances and put both of them around some more after it rains (LOL). I got some of those party whirley birds as I called them when I was a kid that are made of shiny mylar and spin in the wind. I am also covering completely with row cover any pumpkins or giant marrows so the pesky rascals can’t eat them..

UPDATE-Here’s the update 3 weeks later-August 16th. It really seems to work. The squirrels are not trying to eat the pumpkin patch anymore. Just keep up on sprinkling it around the perimeter. In fact I think the squirrels left the property because I haven’t seen them in awhile. Perhaps they moved to my neighbors where they think the foxes don’t live!

Tomato hornworms are here!

Sphinx larva-tomato hornworm

Well I knew it would be too good to be true! The tomato hornworms are here-late but here. Picked off about 15 today that were found on the tomato plants. Boy are they hard to see. Great camouflage artists. I haven’t been in the garden much this past week due to a lot of art events around the SOFA show that just ended here in Santa Fe. As a result, three of us-Caleb, Elodie and myself found about 15 hornworms on the tomato plants. The hornworm is the larva of the Sphinx moth (also called the hummingbird moth but not related to hummingbirds). I was hoping that maybe they wouldn’t show up but they’re here! They can be seen in the top of the plants, not deep in the interior, thank god, where I wouldn’t be able to find them and they are almost inevitably always found hanging upside down on the branch they are munching on. When I find them, I pick them off  (wearing gloves) and under my shoe they go! I think their instant death is better then giving them to the chickens who would peck them to a tortuous death. I do try to be humane in their demise! They aren’t hard to control by handpicking, it just takes a little time. Glad one never finds more than one or two in each plant. So tomorrow and everyday this week I will go hornworm hunting until I can’t find anymore..

Giant Pumpkins on July 26, 2011

The pumpkin patch is filling in  quite nicely but not quite full yet. Look at those big gorgeous leaves-more leaves, more food for the pumpkins! Notice the row cover on the ground in the background. I’m trying to keep the pumpkins uncovered more since it has cooled down and starting the monsoon season.  I don’t want to promote fungal diseases by keeping them damp and covered. The plants need to dry out between showers. I keep the actual small giant pumpkin fruit covered in heavy row cover and burlap to shade them out of the sun and keep the squirrel off them. I want their skin soft while they are young. Too much sun hardens them up and slows growth.

So far I have 3 little GIANT PUMPKINS (one is growing quite fast) on the 895 Grande plant, none on the 1048 Grande plant (I accidently broke two female flowers off the main vine and a squirrel ate the only pollinated one) on that plant.

I have 2 pollinated ‘GREENIE’ female blossoms (we’ll have to wait to see if the pollination ‘took’ on them but they had the biggest stigmas on both female flowers I’ve ever seen in my giant pumpkin career-4 years. lol. I hope they took as I’ve never grown GREEN PUMPKIN LIKE SQUASH before.

I also have quite a few GIANT MARROWS going (thank god as the squirrel ate one of those too) on the 78 giant marrow plant. The other giant marrow is now just starting to produce more female flowers-the boyz and the beesz are just waiting for them to be ready! I don’t hand pollinate the giant marrows-I let the beez do it. I don’t worry about the marrows cross pollinating with the pumpkins because the pumpkins are in the Curcubita Maxima family and the giant marrows are in the Curcubita Pepo family so they can’t accidentally cross.

I have one more plant in the pumpkin patch and that is a GIANT PEAR GOURD. I haven’t talked much about it yet as it isn’t very big compared to the other gorillas in the patch but it is flowering and I hope the bees pollinated it. It has beautiful soft fuzzy leaves and tendrils and likes the heat.

As for that squirrel, I’m trying fox urine granules that I bought at Agua Fria Nursery. I sprinkle it every 3 feet all around the perimeter of the garden (like marking my territory and also around each plant). OMG that is stinky stuff. I sure hope it works because tonight I will leave everything uncovered in the pumpkin patch. Wish me luck the stuff works and the squirrel doesn’t have a feast..

Rabbits ate my overwintered spinach

Spinach damage inside my coldframe- eaten by a rabbit

Waaa! I went out to the cold frame and found that the spinach that I planted LAST NOVEMBER has been all eaten. Some baby wabbit or squirrel (do squirrels eat greens?) found out how to get inside through a small crack and had a feast! I now have to replace part of the top wooden frame that warped this winter and created the crack. Notice it ate the leaves, leaving the stems. Hopefully the center part of each spinach (the crown) will come back. At least the critter didn’t pull them up…

coldframe with spinach covered by row cover to keep critters out

I am now putting row cover over the inside sections and holding it down with rocks to keep them out till I fix it. I’m hoping to fix it tomorrow because I want to now plant spinach seeds in there. Maybe I’ll plant the seeds between the other spinach plants. It also ate some bok choy and chard. Boo Hoo. I hope they enjoyed it.

Gopher problems

A gopher-too bad they so damn cute

When cleaning up the garden I noticed the gophers have made major inroads into it. Last year they started tunneling in but I deterred them with smoke bombs. I don’t think it killed them but they left for the season and hung outside the garden perimeter. But this year they are there so since I won’t use poison (don’t want to kill the neighbor’s cat who hunts) I will use traps. I don’t know how they got here out in the country (maybe someone used live traps and dumped them out here) but within the last 3 years they have appeared and the battle is now on. I hate to kill them but I work way too hard in the gardens and orchard to let them destroy all of it. A friend of mine turned me on to Trapline where they have gopher, mole and vole traps. She came out and taught me how to use them so the battle is on. Got to get rid of them before the gardening season starts.

How to control squash bugs

Squash bug adult-photo courtesy University of Minnesota

Well it’s that time of year-Squash bugs Ughh! You can control squash bugs in your organic garden. Here are some ORGANIC things you can do to deter squash bugs:

-Plant a crop late in the season if possible. Many areas of the country only have one generation of squash bugs and if you plant later you may miss them. If you live in the south where they have 2 generations, read on..

squash bug nymphs-photo courtesy University of Minnesota

Cover your plants with row cover to keep them off. This works beautifully but you may have to piece some row covers together to cover some of the larger plants. I use clothes pins to clip them together.

-Use Neem. It is an organic pesticide (and an added benefit is a fungicide). It must be sprayed very early before the bees come out or at dusk when they aren’t around as it won’t hurt them if it is not a direct hit as they only visit the flowers and it is a contact spray. I think it mostly helps deter the squash bug.

squash bug eggs

-Inspection, hand picking and kill the little buggars. (now you know how strongly I feel about them) By far the most labor intensive but very effective. I hate to handle squash bugs (or any bug-I’m squeamish) so I use gloves, a bucket of soapy water (it drowns them) and inspect each leaf underneath to look for nymphs, eggs, or adults. The adults I throw in the soapy water and if a leaf is really loaded with nymphs, I cut it off and throw it in the soapy water otherwise I just squish them. For the eggs  (they are a cluster of rust colored eggs attached to the underneath side of the leaves) I usually just tear off  or cut out that portion of the leaf (it won’t hurt it) and throw them into the soapy water. The key to keeping it under control, is to catch them before they multiply too much. I looked up the life cycle online of the squash but and it goes from egg to nymph in 7-10 days so if you get out there every 7 days you will catch them before they get out of control and multiply. Most people wait too late. Get out there and look at your plants!

-Companion planting. I think it was in ‘Organic Gardening Magazine that I read under ‘letter to the editors’, that a lady wrote in to say that you could deter squash bugs on pumpkins, winter squash, summer squash and marrows with diluted/strained onion juice. Evidently just grind one or two up, put it in gallon of water and strain the onions out so your sprayer doesn’t clog. Well she went on to write that doing that was too much work and she plants onions bulbs with her squash every year and hasn’t seen a squash bug since. Well I did the same for my summer squashes, but not for my winter squashes. There have been no squash bugs on the summer squash but I found one on the marrow which means there will be more. I told one of friends that owns a garden nursery about the onions and he said it was too late to plant onions but he was going to throw some chopped onions out in his patch. I’m doing the same today for the marrow and winter squash and will let you know what happens! It can’t hurt and maybe it’ll work!

Lettuce patch update

lettuce patch shade cover

Here is my shade cloth over the lettuce patch. I also am going to put bird netting around the raised bed to keep out the rabbits. This morning I  thinned again (third time) my romaine (now 5 inches tall) and butter lettuce about 5 inches tall). I want to see if I get some big heads of romaine and butter heads but it is a lot of work always thinning them to make room for them to grow.  I am hoping the butter lettuce won’t bolt with the warm weather.

looper and lettuce damage

closeup of lettuce looper

I also found some small loopers (caterpillars) on some of the lettuce so I will spray with BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) today-an organic pesticide that won’t hurt bees or birds or humans and is specific to gets rid of caterpillars that do damage on our crops. Notice the holes in the lettuce and the little dark spots are frasse (poop). So if you see frasse- look for the loopers.

A few of the arugula are bolting but it bolts with the first bit of warm weather. I’m giving everything that bolts and the ends with roots to the chickens. I also picked Provencal lettuce mesclun which is wonderful and easy. I didn’t have to thin but one time. That plus you just cut off the tops of the lettuces and waa laa-instant salad. It should comeback 3 or more times. I am putting a shade cloth over the bed as I had some friends tell me they were able to have lettuce in the summer with it over them.

I also tried a new spinach for me called Bordeaux which I am very disappointed with. Very small leaves are sorta wimpy-not much there so I’m going to try some summer type of spinach that supposedly won’t bolt and have bigger more succulent leaves. Gonna try Tyee spinach. Suppose to resist bolting in the heat.

Lastly, pick your lettuce first thing in the morning after watering it the night before. To clean lettuce after I thin it, I pull it out roots and all and cut off the leaves above the the dirt and roots-less rinsing. Then in the kitchen I put it in some bowls of clean water to move debris and use a salad spinner to remove excess water. I put the lettuce  into a zip loc freezer bag with a damp paper towel folded up. This help keep it from getting limp.