Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Hive Mind Arrives

Awwww...don't these Colorado potato beetle nymphs look cozy?  No.  They look dangerous to me, so let the handpicking begin.

Looking a bit creepier now.  

These potato plants are in a  garden plot about a 1/4 acre away from me. Normally, I'd rather not get interventionist on these bad boys, but here's an example of the biotic potential if not interrupted.  (If I squint, that bug on the upper right resembles Michelle Bachman)  Today, after more handpicking, the potato patch was-selectively-dusted with diatomaceous earth.  The eggplants were redusted...some progress against the flea beetles and within the week, they should outgrow the damage.  There is a model of predator/prey relationships that generalizes to a triangle graph with predators at the top-about 10% of total population of an area-and then all the prey below that-90% of the population, ie LOTS of food and a few diners. (Picture a pride of lions following a bazillion wildebeests)  The diatomaceous earth is effective but non discriminating, so by using it, I have to accept the idea that I've also killed some predators and over the long term, that's a bad idea.  During this garden season, my potato patch won't become like the one above, but I've twiddled up the predator prey balance.  I don't have a good answer to that dilemma.  Here's another one-worse- beginning:

Here's the squash vine borer moth.  This is a terrible picture.  Here's a better one.  You notice a flash of red orange amongst the zucchini/melons/pumpkins and think...oh! a butterfly!  Definitely not, and this bad bug has a fabulous survival strategy.   The larvae tunnels into the stem of the plant where literally no predator can reach it.  The tunneling doesn't usually kill the plant, and all the organic control methods will tell you bury other pieces of the vine so that the plant has many rooted extensions to depend on.  (That's a good idea for other reasons also...water, nutrient access etc plus, you'll feel better too)  Sadly, it doesn't work as borer protection.  A few weeks after the squash vine borer appears, your cucurbit patch will look like this:

The pumpkin patch looks like it needs water, but nope, this is bacterial wilt spread by the squash vine borer larva, and no amount of watering will perk it up.  Dead.  The vines were well rooted in dozens of places, but it didn't matter.  Bacterial wilt killed the plant, and the groundhogs got the pumpkins.  You might also read that the moth lays her eggs at the base of the plant.  But if you catch her in the act, notice that the eggs can be anywhere:

See the egg...the little gold colored dot near the center of the photo?  The moth will return often-for about 10 days- and lay an egg in several locations.  I dusted this plant with D.E. which may kill the larva if the timing's right and does discourage the female from landing.   Back when the Victory Garden was an actual educational program and not a commercial for its sponsors, we were shown how to run a wire into the larva's entry hole in hopes of skewering the monster.  This often worked to kill the larva, but the bacterial wilt would already have spread throughout the circulatory system.  I've heard of a new method to try this season.....use a hypodermic needle to fill the larva tunnel with neem oil.  Best organic control:  have a second set of plants ready to replace the buggy zucchini.  (That doesn't work when what you want are pumpkins or melons-their growing season is too long.)  
Ok!  Cue the next bad boy!

The striped cucumber beetle which attacks everything-the name is nonsense.  The bad guy can be spotted also, and they kill plants by sheer numbers, skeletonizing leaves, flowers (which prevents fruit set) and the fruit itself...add in the bacterial wilt as well.  They winter over and migrate too, flying at night; there is some evidence that bats do reduce the their numbers.  This is my neighbor's sunflower, so I couldn't dust this plant without her permission.  But this fellow is looking across the canal at my young cucumber plants, so we'll have to develop a plan.
Is there any good news in the garden this week?  The Cherokee Trail of Tears beans are up; the deer hasn't been back.

I harvested the last of the spring planted red mustard, thinned cippolini onions, cut parsley and dill for drying.  We've had nearly three inches of rain in a week; many canals are full of water.
I love to look at this fellow's garden...never quite sure what he's up to, and he doesn't speak enough English to explain the plan.

One advantage in community gardening is that I get some goodies without the work as in these wonderful annual poppies in the garden next door.  I'm going to beg some seed from this gardener.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pardon Me, But Is This Piece of Sky Taken?

The bean towers are up.  There are dozens of pole bean varieties to grow and everyone of them with a compelling narrative....if you are growing stories.  (In America, we have reached that level of wealth where we are starving for context and the content be damned.)
I've planted the Cherokee strain of Trail of Tears-a vigorous  pole bean.  With a name like that, you know there's a sad story; this is the bean that the Cherokee  people took on the winter death marches that forced them across the Mississippi River.  Meanwhile, in New Millennium America, I send the Trail of Tears on a space grab into the sky and  choose this variety to commemorate what the people suffered, to refresh the knowledge of what the Humans have done/still do/will do again.  

The Bad Boys have arrived.  This is deer damage on the speckled trout belly lettuce.  The deer munched a path through Swiss chard and broccoli in neighboring gardens.  Initially there was outrage against human thieves, but eventually we found the hoof prints to indict Bambi.  Well, said a misogynist down the way, if people would just close the gates, these things wouldn't happen.  Sure, I'd love to blame the Humans for everything bad that ever happens, but the gate is 3 feet tall-no challenge to deer whatsoever. 

Have potato patch...have Colorado Potato Beetles-it's a law written down somewhere.  The bug, popularly known as CPB although I refuse to indulge it with an acronym, is truly a creep.  You can hand pick for awhile, but let your labor pause and learn a vivid lesson in exponential growth.  Nearly all the gardens here have a potato patch and for the One Crop Plot, potatoes are the most popular choice, so the bug has ample habitat.  (And no, it's not pretty or cute.  I snagged them off my plants and plunked them into a jar of diatomaceous  earth. Normally, it's the other way around.  You dust the plants with the D.E.  But I was pissed.  I would do that to the deer too, but D.E. is actually good for mammals and birds...gets rid of intestinal parasites in the same way it helps against other bugs.)

I'll shake this poor eggplant to get some of the D.E. off; it's under heavy flea beetle attack.  Organic pest control literature will tell us to grow the eggplant-particularly the fat Italian types-as a trap crop for flea beetles and that does work.  No beetle damage elsewhere in the garden, but the eggplants are gasping, and I'd rather have them than the broccoli.  The eggplants may survive just long enough for this wave of flea beetles to complete their brief life span.

Serendipity....a tradescantia growing on the garden border.  Looks charming and will give the quack and reed canary grass some competition which should tell you something about this plant.

The calla lily loves the mushy canal.

Diplomat broccoli and Yukon Gold potatoes thriving.

Robin pal hoping for excavation.  I wish he was a threat to deer and beetles.

This is salvia guaranitica already calling in the hummingbirds who are notoriously camera shy.  Hummingbirds love all of the salvia family.  I've got a few of the Lady In Red variety that were symmetrically bitten off by Bambi's midnight snacking -no photos for awhile.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Relentless Heat Out of Scale and Context for June

Air temperature today-before lunch-92 degrees.  We've put away our winter coats and turned on the air conditioning.  The allotment has gotten its first layer of straw and a good thing too.  Soil temperature is 97 degrees two inches down on bare soil, but it's 77 under the light reflecting mulch.  (68.5 at four inches under the straw)  Many neighboring gardeners don't like mulches; I admire their ability to hoe and cultivate and weed...true dirt farmers because it looks to me like that's what they grow-orderly bare dirt.  Bare soil is unnatural in the Midwest....clear a patch and the planet immediately throws a green bandage over the wound and out come the hoes again. Exhausting.  I prefer to garden.
Here is red mustard being a nurse plant to some pepper seedlings sheltering near the tip of the leaves.  The peppers (Sheepnose pimento) will soon grow tall and shelter the mustard in turn. On the left is invisible mache which I covered completely with straw during this heat wave.
 Speckled Trout Belly lettuce that I've been munching while doing the chores.  Haven't decided whether to eat it all or grow  out for seed.  This unusual June heat may make the decision for me by causing it to bolt.  This was one of Jefferson's famous lettuce varieties, but the seed is common now, so perhaps I'll pull the lettuce to give the salvia-on the right-more room.  It's salvia guarantica-with flowers more blue than a June sky over the rainbow-a high nectar plant to call in the hummingbirds and what's a speckly lettuce to that?  Here too are browallia and Sky petunias

This robin is my faithful pal as long I've got a garden hose and some digging to do.

Had a serious talk with that broccoli  plant-second from the end-about the value of real estate in 400 square feet of garden and the expectations of occupying a bit of it.  Other plants are making inquiries and promises.  Potatoes coming up randomly and there's my latest garden hat.....doing  no good, but annoying me less...on the compost prison.  
There's a small lemon verbena plant next to the viola; native to the Argentine savanna, it loves this heat which it rather expected to have in December.  Soon it'll look like this. 

 Long view of the community garden.  We're a fairly tidy bunch on this section without many fences and only quiet eccentricities.   

The other side of the path.  It's interesting how these random plot assignments work out.  I find this intriguing to look at, but as a tourist only, and I was given a plot where the fences are built of courtesy.  Fences should be garden art or it comes to this: fence something out; fence yourself in. (shudder)  Or as my pal Bob Frost said ....before I built a wall, I'd ask to know, what I was walling in or walling out; and to whom I was likely to give offence
Something there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down.
These garden owl statues perplex me.  Does the gardener think that  sly varmints won't have noticed  a normally nocturnal and stealthy predatory bird has taken to sitting on a pole day after day in the heat of the afternoon.  I plan on putting a child's birthday hat on this one.

A patch of mustard and onions  gone to seed.  Someone will come soon and knock this down, but I find it beautiful.  I could take off my glasses and paint this.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Allotment, F13

Allotment (UK)- a small piece of ground in or just outside a town that a person rents for growing vegetables, fruits or flowers.
(One annoying thing about people from London-you know who you are-is their sniffy PBS manner of speaking about ordinary things as if The Language belonged to them.  However, occasionally, they do get it right.  For example, what do you call that space out back of your house where you put a grill, a swingset, a path to the garage and stash the trash cans...the back yard, right?  The English call that area the back garden; no matter what sort of UK hillbilly landfill they've actually got, it's still the back garden.  The word "yard" refers to places where they mess around with ships and shipping.   Back garden is a much nicer phrase leading one to expect a pleasant, bucolic retreat of the sort that the English think they do better than anyone in the colonies.  "Yard" sounds like...well, look out back-there's your yard.)

So I have rented an allotment, not in the English sense where I might put up a colorful garden shed with a window and have an expectation of longevity as if it was a seat in Lambeau Field, but an American plot of used dirt.  Whoever used it before me grew Brussels sprouts and lancinato kale and didn't harvest them.

There are some drainage issues on the allotment.

Some people have gotten very serious about the drainage issues.  (I am going to secretly put some little boats in this fellow's  canal)  I have a calla lily waiting  for a break in the weather to plant in my canal.  The scary fencing around so many gardens had me worried about rodents, but I'm told the problem is Human thieves and runamuck children.  Oh.  Okay then.  Just so long as it's not rabbits.  

machine meets quack grass

The roto tiller threw a crucial bolt right after this picture was taken.  No point in tilling the quack grass anyway...that hydra-headed villain thrives on evisceration.

Inelegant, but functional, weather station in place, needing only a wind-o-meter. (I have a cool Citizen- Science-rain-gauge currently measuring the precipitation in storage. sigh)   There's the beginning of cippolini onions in the background, and the paper cups are temporary shelter for Romanesco cauliflower and Diplomat broccoli.

A gift of violas and imaginary potatoes on the right.  The allotment was laid out in 5 parallel raised beds and a 20 foot perpendicular border when I inherited it.  I sort of won the Used Allotment Lottery in that the gardener here before me didn't leave many weeds and had composted heavily last year.  Once in awhile, things work out. 

Here is the best thing about this location.....this amazing burr oak tree whose base disappears into general landscaping junk, but briefly poses for a photograph from the top of the hill.  This tree humbles the gardener....I can never grow anything like this; I can only pause on along my road to observe what time really means.  In a perfect world, I would only grow trees and never think about time.

  A week later, about the middle of May.  I ponder a treehouse.....but, back to the chores:

My allotment neighbor hasn't claimed his space yet, and so the bad boys thrive with no supervision.  Next week, the weed whacker and boundary courtesy be damned.

Recall those ginkgo seeds that we talked about?  Here are the treelets beginning their second summer.  Need to think about roomier quarters soon. (Those are baby camomile plants hitching along.)

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