Rotating crops in the community garden.

The brassicas in my community garden plot are currently under siege.

While my tatsoi and kale are perfectly edible, they’ve also been completely shot full of holes, due to a flea beetle infestation (thankfully, I’m not combating cabbage moth or cabbage white butterfly!).  Yes, I ought to have put up a floating row cover, but in truth, I’m not particularly bothered.  I’m only growing for my hubby and myself, and my plot is full of a variety of crops so a few nibbles in the cabbagy-plants don’t trouble me much.  Besides, all of the other growers in the community garden have the exact same problem (except for the thoughtful ones, who did actually employ the row covers since the start of the season), so I don’t feel like I ought to have low self-esteem for culturing pocked plants.

I’m actually more worried about the onion maggot, which made an appearance in my shared plot last year.  One of my fellow growers at the garden told me the other day that she just doesn’t “bother with onions anymore.”  So far I haven’t seen any evidence on my plants, but it’s a lingering threat.

Our garden maintains a rigid “no-spray” policy – and I wouldn’t apply chemicals to veggies even if the restriction wasn’t in place.   I try to grow as organically and safely as I can, and one of the tenets of organic farming is crop rotation. There is no crop rotation governance in place at our community garden, and really, even if there was, how could it be done so that the whole garden would remain pest-free?  On a large-scale or commercial level, or even in a home garden, crop rotation may be a workable solution – but how do you effectively employ it in a community garden?  This is my first year with this particular plot, and should I decide to continue gardening at the site, I will be allocated the same plot next year.   And even if I were to ask for a different plot, it’s nearly a guarantee (just by looking at the produce in everyone else’s beds) that pest-susceptible brassicas and other plants are growing there right now – or were last year.  The general rule is that brassica crops should not be planted in the same spot more than once in three growing seasons, so my fellow gardeners and I are pretty much hooped if we really want hole-free collards and cabbage.  And it’s not just used to deal with pests – crop rotation is also often employed to rejuvenate nutrient-depleted soil, as veggie crops have varying nutritional needs.

Hand-in-hand with crop rotation is the employment of green manures – which, again, can’t really be used effectively in a community garden setting.  No gardener is going to pay for the rental of a plot and grow clover or alfalfa or buckwheat on it just to till it over for the next season…unless the Garden Team designates a few plots each year for the purpose and does not rent them out.  Our community garden currently doesn’t do this.  (At home, growing green manures can actually work, and it may be worth giving over different parts of your garden beds over each year to pursue this great source of ready nutrition for future crops).

So, what is a workable solution?  (Besides the floating row covers, which are on my list of “must-haves” for next year).  I guess it all comes down to this:  a happy plant gives you little or no strife, because it’s less susceptible to munching critters and diseases.   If green manures are doable, use them.  And amend, amend, amend.  Make sure your soil is the healthiest it can be.   I know I’m definitely guilty of not adding nearly enough compost to my plot this season, and the soil texture leaves a lot to be desired as well.   Give plants a specific balanced diet of macro- and micro-nutrients.  Keep on top of the watering and weeding.  Plant crops at the right time of year, in the proper location, so that they have their best chance at thriving and producing.  Try to ward off the baddies with intercropping or trap cropping.

And even with all of this, the pests may still come.  It’s just part of gardening!  🙂

What do you think about small-scale crop rotation?  Do you rotate your crops at home (or in your community garden plot)?  Do you grow green manures?   

Pest to watch (out for): Satin moth.

Adult satin moth

There are more “new” bugs to bug us here in Calgary!  On the weekend, I saw a satin moth for the first time – well, actually, I saw hundreds of them.  These pretty pure white creatures have swept in and are now hanging around outdoor light fixtures everywhere…and posing a threat to many of our trees.

According to the book Garden Bugs of Alberta by Ken Fry, Doug Macaulay and Don Williamson, satin moths (Leucoma salicis) came into North America from Europe in the 1920s, but here in Alberta, they’ve so far tended to stay in the north:  sightings of satin moths began in the Edmonton area a decade or so ago.   The big problem with satin moths is that the adult females will lay hundreds of eggs on host plants and once the larvae show up, they begin to eat.  And eat and eat.  Plus, the little guys hibernate for winter and then wake up and eat some more in early spring.  FUN!  This means that we’re going to have some serious defoliation issues during the tail end of this summer…continuing into next spring.

If only small groups of plants are affected, the book’s authors recommend hand-picking the larvae off of individual plants and disposing of them, which isn’t always an easy thing to do.  (If you can remove these critters at the egg stage, that’s best).  Satin moth larvae have a dietary preference for poplar and willow trees (they may go for alder and Prunus species as well), so the height and spread of the tree could be an issue – it may not be possible to access or control the pests by hand.   We’re going to have to look to birds and beneficial insects to be our allies in getting rid of the larvae…so we’ll need to do everything we can to encourage these helpers to our yards and gardens.  Another thing we can do is to try to keep our trees and plants as stress-free as possible, which means maintaining a consistent watering and feeding schedule, keeping the root zone weed-free, and so on.

Have you ever had satin moths in your yard and garden?  Did they do a great deal of damage?  How did you control them?

 Related posts:

Satin Moths are Here!…and It’s Not a Good Thing (Nora Bryan – Garden Buzz, Calgary Herald)

Pest to watch (out for): Spittlebug.

I haven’t whined about it for a little while now (and I’m sure you’re grateful!), but up until this morning, when that unfamiliar yellow ball in the sky finally graced us with its presence, the rains have fallen on Calgary pretty much non-stop since the end of May.  According to the Government of Canada’s National Climate Data, we’ve actually only had four days this month without precipitation, and we’ve gotten a whopping 138.6 mm of rain so far (we usually average about 75 mm or so in June, our wettest month).  All this humidity has brought some pretty interesting plant pests to the garden, and one of them is the spittlebug.

I’ve seen this creature’s work before, but only once in my garden, last June in a mat of ‘Flashing Lights’ dianthus.   Usually, I’ve come across it on wildflowers while I’ve been out hiking.   This year, the evidence is everywhere, however:  gobs of white frothy stuff wedged in the stems of various perennials in my garden.

I’ve never bothered to identify the source of the yucky substance until now, but a quick glance inside the book Garden Bugs of Alberta (by Ken Fry, Doug Macaulay and Don Williamson – 2008, Lone Pine Publishing) tells me that my garden flowers have a case of Philaenus spumarius (meadow spittlebug).  Spittlebugs like to make Slurpees out of plant fluids, which they do by piercing holes in the stems of the victims.  (Apparently they really go after strawberries and peas; I do grow alpine strawberries but I haven’t seen any signs of the bugs on them so far).  The goopy white froth is made by the pests while they are in nymphal stage:  it’s an appetizing combo of plant fluid, air bubbles, and bug mucus (is it breakfast-time as you read this?  If so, I apologize).  The froth is used as a protective blanket over the nymph so they can eat in comfort.

To combat my spittlebug issues, I went outside and spritzed the froth with a diluted mixture of dishsoap and H2O.  You don’t really need to go the whole insecticidal route with them, as the goal is to remove the spittle and the eggs that the creatures may have laid, and blasting them with a jet of plain water will do the trick nicely.  The adult spittlebugs will feed on your plants after emerging and their eggs are capable of withstanding our cold winters, so eliminating the eggs is very important.

Have you ever had spittlebugs in your garden?  What did you do to combat them? 

Operation Let-Your-Hare-Down (Part Two).

Well, let’s see this thing through to the very end, shall we?  😉

Operation Let-Your-Hare-Down

By Sheryl Normandeau

Offensive Tactic #3.  06/04/11. 19:17. Habanero peppers. 

Forget the oft-advised cayenne pepper, one blogger insists.  It’s not strong enough.  Her reasoning is sound enough, I conclude, so I toodle off to the grocery store and pick a bag of scorching hot habaneros.  (The woman selecting button mushrooms next to me keeps shooting withering glances at me as if I’m the most sadistic cook on the planet; her sympathies clearly lay with my husband).  Chopping the peppers requires gloves and a keen air of hopefulness.  I am convinced that this will work, I am convinced that this will work, I am convinced….

Field Report 4.0.  06/05/11.  07:34. 

Forget the habaneros.  Apparently hares have a yen for painfully spicy stir fries containing half my herb garden, my tender stands of Swiss chard, and certain pre-cut hot peppers.

Offensive Tactic #4.  06/05/11. 13:45. Cat hair and used cat litter. 

I cough delicately to hide my embarrassment.  “Mom, um, I need a bit of Miss Flossy’s used litter.  And some hair from her brush.”

Mom doesn’t even blink.  “No problem, dear,” she says.  “Is this for a gardening project?”

Field Report 5.0.  06/06/11.  05:47. 

Now, this is just getting insulting.  In an act of complete defiance, my tormentors have left a generous pile of fresh bon bons right next to the cat litter I spread around the perimeter of my perennial bed.  This battle is clearly escalating.

Offensive Tactic #5.  06/06/11.  10:36. Coyote urine.

Part of me wants to know how this particular product is, um, harvested and bottled, and part of me really thinks I should leave well enough alone.  Many of my Internet sympathizers have sung its praises, however, and despite my flagging confidence in the efficacy of their suggestions, I go to the garden centre and purchase some eau d’coyote.  As I pour the musky elixir into a spray bottle, I ponder the indignities I have endured so far on this quest to rid my garden of the marauding hare horde.

Field Report 6.0.  06/07/11.  08:56.

Surely, this is a marketing gimmick – either that, or I bought a bad batch.  (It smells so awful I can’t tell if it’s turned and I ought to return it to the retailer).  Undoubtedly, as they dined by moonlight on my asparagus and marigolds (also a “WILL NOT EAT” plant), my nemeses had a good chortle about the funny yellow liquid in the spray bottle.  Me, I’m reduced to hysterics.

Offensive Tactic 6.  06/07/11. 15:59. The final straw.

“He who wishes to fight must first count the cost,” the same wise warrior wrote.  He wasn’t kidding.  Rottweiler puppies sure eat a lot of kibble.

***

Related posts:  Operation Let-Your-Hare-Down (Part One).

Hasen stewing.

Operation Let-Your-Hare-Down (Part One).

How far would you go to protect your garden from a marauding horde????

Flowery Prose does fiction this week!  It always lends a little credence when you say something is “inspired by a true story,” so I’m going with it.   The emergent – and now, chewed up – vegetative matter in my flowerbeds stands as proof that I’m not totally lying.

Operation Let-Your-Hare-Down

By Sheryl Normandeau

 Field Report 1.0.  06/01/11. 06:45. In the line of sight. 

Early a.m. reconnaissance produces evidence of digging and heavy snacking.  Defoliated, deflowered crocus bulbs have been ripped from their roots and stacked in neat piles on top of the soil.  Newly planted white bellflower has been bitten down to the quick.  Larkspur is shredded like newspaper in a cat’s litter box.  ‘Flashing Lights’ dianthus has been thoroughly mashed in the manner of boiled potatoes.  Certain lop-eared, long-legged aggressors have prompted me to throw down the gauntlet.  This means WAR. 

“Know thy enemy,” a wise warrior once said, so I Google it.  Lepus townsendii:   white-tailed jackrabbits.  Funny, but all of the descriptions I hit leave out “utterly voracious, completely unstoppable plant eating machine, guaranteed to inspire madness and indignant rage in the souls of afflicted gardeners.”  It seems that some people actually consider the heinous beasts cute, in an “oh, but jackrabbits are related to adorable, fuzzy, sweet-eyed cottontail bunnies” kind of way, but you’ll of course find that jackrabbit sympathizers are either under the age of six, or they buy their plastic clamshell-encased produce from MegaSuperBigBoxEmporium.  Me, I’m not amused.  I just spent twenty dollars on a flat of gazanias, and I’m not about to see them disappear into the gullets of my furry adversaries.

I check the gardening forums on the ‘net for intel.  Unfortunately, the thread posts seem depressingly contradictory:  “They seemed to leave my petunias alone,” BettyFlower9 announces cheerfully, while GardenNinja82 sadly confesses that his own petunias have gone the way of the dodo, along with his burgeoning arugula and kale seedlings.  Crocuses and larkspur are definite “WILL NOT EAT” plants on one blogger’s list, but, of course, I know better.

“How can I stop rabbits from eating my plants?”  I query the search engine.  (I’m feeling lucky, indeed).  Thousands of blog posts, forum threads, and gardening websites pop up, instantly at my disposal and full of the latest advice.  I take a sip of coffee, crack my knuckles, and tap my wireless mouse.

Field Report 2.0. 06/02/11. 10:26. Implementation of Operation Let-Your-Hare-Down. 

Offensive Tactic #1:  Bloodmeal. 

Bloodmeal is made from dried cow’s blood, and my informants on GreenGardenGrows suggest that heavily-preyed upon animals such as rabbits might be put off by the scent.  Dried-up blood sort of scares me, I figure, so with a rambling sort of logic, it might frighten the rabbits.  No matter, it’s worth a shot:  it’s cheap and nutritious for the plants.  I apply it liberally out of a large bucket, broadcasting granules over the soil while little murmured hopes linger on my lips.

Field Report 2.1.  06/03/11.  05:52. 

A.M. reconnaissance finds a juvenile enemy troop lounging in the middle of my catmint.  Obviously he is too young to be aware of the certain dangers of desiccated cow‘s blood.  I sigh, and shoo him away.

Offensive Tactic #2.  06/03/11. 11:32. Hand soap. 

“Use the smelliest soap you can get,” my digital advisors helpfully suggest.  The stuff I purchase does permanent damage to my olfactory senses and makes me nauseous as I cut it up into small shavings.  I’m a bit alarmed by the way the bright green soap stands out against my rich brown bark mulch after I apply it, but my fervent desire to drive away my long-eared opponents overrides my sense of aesthetics.

Field Report 3.0.  06/04/11. 16:05. 

It rains overnight, a deep soaking that ordinarily would be cause for great rejoicing.  (I’m lazy and don’t haul out the garden hoses unless absolutely imperative).  A.M. reconnaissance finds my plants poking out of a suffocating sudsy lime green bubble bath.  And, wouldn’t you know it? – this afternoon one of the hort society ladies stops in for tea.  She’s the first to notice that the enemy has decimated my ‘Baby Star’ head lettuce.

Jump over to Operation Let-Your-Hare-Down (Part Two) now! 

Onion ordeal.

Apparently, when my plot-mates and I planted up our community garden plot this spring, we seeded everything a little too thickly…and then we all sort of (in a very “community” way, it seems) forgot to thin any of the young seedlings out.   This has resulted in a plot that has fairly exploded with a thick canopy of monstrous white-veined Swiss chard leaves that are protectively shading out masses of tiny, twisted carrots; two tight  rows of very coveted tender beets; some crowded nasturtiums which have produced exactly two flowers to date; a handful of robust and densely-packed green bean plants; and a couple of cherry tomato plants that are popping forth oddly-shaped, slightly spotty orange tomatoes.  While I’ve been having a wonderful time cooking up as much Swiss chard as I can eat, I’ve also noticed that our poor white onions have suffered in part due to our planting methods.  When I was out harvesting a couple of evenings ago, I saw that some of our onion plants had flopped over and turned a sickly yellow; when I yanked them up, they were slimy and covered in tiny slithering white maggots.  These are the dreaded onion maggots (Delia antiqua, syn. Hylemya antiqua), and they’re ruining our plants because we’ve got them stuffed in the plot so tightly – this, combined with an abundance of rainfall and relatively cool summer temperatures.   There’s nothing we can do about them now, except destroy the infected plants – by throwing them in the garbage, not the compost.  Lesson learned!

Disgusting beasts, aren’t they?

***

On a much more pleasant note, if you’ve got an abundance of Swiss chard, as I have, try this utterly delicious soup:

4 cups chopped fresh Swiss chard

1 cup chopped fresh beet greens

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

2 cups chicken stock

2 tbsp milk

freshly cracked pepper to taste

1/2 cup havarti cheese, shredded

Saute vegetables in olive oil until greens are reduced.  Add stock and simmer 30 minutes.  Remove from heat, cool slightly, and puree with hand blender.  Add milk and cheese and reheat gently (do not boil).  Add pepper to taste.

***

Highly recommended:  Gardening, Naturally:  A Chemical-Free Handbook for the Prairies – Sara Williams and Hugh Skinner (2011, Coteau Books)

***

Related postsUglynest sighting.