May 31, 2012
The pesky cabbage butterfly is invading all over gardens everywhere right now. Last week, I was 3000 miles away from my own garden, but I saw these butterflies (not moths) in action. When I got home, there they were flying through my garden too.
Fortunately, my brassica crops (cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc…) are well protected from them. Plastic-sheeted hoop houses keep out the egg-laying adult butterflies. Though, it is time for me to exchange the plastic for floating row cover, which is more ideal in warmer temperatures. But that’s another post for another day.
For now, take a close look at these adult butterflies I found at Tricycle Gardens in Richmond, Virginia. And, if you’ve seen these flying around in your garden, be sure to read more in our earlier post that shows photos of their caterpillar phase and the damage those green, wormy creatures do so very fast in a brassica patch. And, yes, we’ve shared tips for keeping them out of your crops without a drop of ‘cide!
March 07, 2012
If you’re starting seeds in a greenhouse planting tray & lid, be sure you know when to keep the lid on and when to take it off. (I’ve provided a photographic timeline later in this post, so skip ahead if pictures are better for you than words.) Lids help keep in moisture and heat, which is a good thing for germinating seeds. Lids can also intensify light on the soil, which is also a good thing for helping warm the soil. But too much of a good thing can be bad.
Once the seeds germinate and send shoots above the soil, its time to begin opening the lid a bit to ventilate. This helps some of the accumulating moisture evaporate, so be sure to check the soil often in case it needs watering. And, getting that bit of ventilation going will also help keep down fungal disease; even the smallest bit of airflow can make all the difference.
Then, once the seedlings begin to get a little height, be sure to remove the lid completely. This will give the young plants room to grow upwards. Ventilation will also be increased. And, shortly, you’ll be potting the young plants into bigger containers or moving them out into the garden.
Following is a visual guide through the various steps I find work really well: (more…)
March 06, 2012
Cotyledons are the leaves that emerge from a seed. They precede “true leaves”, and quite often they look very different from the leaves that later clothe the entire plant in food factory goodness.
Right now my greenhouse is filling up fast with tasty edibles I’ve seeded successively over the last month or so. And, watching the seed leaves hint at what’s to come is my latest joy.
My kales, broccolis and brussels sprouts are all emerging with deep green embryonic seed leaves. Pretty, but nothing terribly special.
Napa cabbage and bok choi is showing up in slightly paler greens with whites stems below. Even less exciting.
Sugar snap peas, sweet peas and fava beans are bolting upward fast, which is exciting if not a technicolor rainbow.
Purple cabbage and purple cauliflowers are slightly more interesting with hints of purple on the top side of their emergent leaves. Too beets & chards are popping up in greens and reds, but that’s nothing terribly new to me. Neither are the brown-ish speckles of color showing up in some of the mesclun mixes.
It’s the Ruby Streaks Mustard from Botanical Interest seeds that have really struck my fancy. Known for a spicy bite, this plant shows off mottled tones of deep purple flecked against green right out the gate. Even its tiny seed leaves are striking. I can’t wait until its barely showing true leaves begin their reddish-purple, feathered growth form. How pretty, right?
Yes, this probably isn’t an ideal crop to pre-grow in pots, but with hail still thundering down and slugs in unprecedented numbers, I decided to get them going with a bit of protection this year. And, they seem to be doing just fine after potting up from sterile mix to 4″ pots filled with standard potting soil. If they decide to bolt before I feel they’re strong enough to survive in the open fields, I’ll just snip’m and eat’m young!
(Botanical Interest Seeds supplied these seeds for complimentary test growing. No compensation has been received for this post. But, hey, I’d gladly take some more seeds guys! Maybe some Shiso? Hint! Hint!)
February 20, 2012
If you haven’t started already, now’s the time to start your vegetable garden. It is also time to be wrapping up any dormant pruning of your edible trees, shrubs and vines. (Think: blueberries, raspberries, apples, pears & the like.)
Buds are beginning to swell and break open. Seeds – including self-seeded weeds – are beginning to emerge from the soil. Birds are beginning to migrate and nest. And, slowly but surely, days are getting longer. And when we’re really lucky, those days are even feeling slightly warmer than just a few weeks ago.
In my own garden, I began seeds for plants like cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, cauliflower, watercress, fava beans, snap peas, mizuna, beets and chard several weeks ago when we had that sunny run of 60F days. I have an unheated greenhouse where they germinated rapidly. In a few days, I’ll be moving several of these from overcrowded sterile mix containers to individual pots where they can grow on a bit more before moving to the garden.
As in years past, this past weekend, I even seeded a few warm season crops (think tomato) in the greenhouse. If they take off, bully for me. If they don’t, I can try again indoors under lights in a few weeks and still have plenty of time to bring them to fruition later this summer. (I also started carrots, chinese cabbage and some flower seeds this past weekend.)
So, if you’ve got onions to place, seeds to sow, soil to test, berries to prune or weeds to pull, there’s no time like this very moment to get out there and get started. Even if your soil is frozen, sowing seeds now indoors or in a protected outdoor spot, will mean your garden will be well on its way by the time the Spring thaw comes. Find ideas for inexpensive season extenders here.
Thinking you need help planning, designing or installing your garden? Pretty sure you need a lesson in how to prune those fruit trees, shrubs and canes properly so you don’t kill them in the process?
Don’t keep waiting. Get in touch now to get your project scheduled and your education underway. If you wait until Spring to reach out for help, you’ll be waiting much longer to get your garden growing!
June 13, 2011
One parent pest landing on one food crop start can lead to disaster. Even well protected crops can still be at risk. But, with regular monitoring, it is possible to save even an infested crop before the pests win out. And, you still won’t need a bottle of poison.
This weekend I noticed some damage on my brassica crops — broccoli, dino kale and purple cabbage. I knew right away that despite my best efforts to protect these plants, somehow a pesky cabbage butterfly momma had gotten to them. And, she laid her eggs. And, they hatched. And, the baby caterpillars were eating my crops!
All it takes is one. One day when the greenhouse is venting, and a butterfly gets in. One hot afternoon when the cold frame where they’re hardening off is cracked to cool, and a butterfly gets in one. One day when the plastic hoop house blows open, and a butterfly gets in. That’s all it takes. She lands. She lays and egg, and she’s off. And, what’s really unfortunate? These white butterflies (not moths) hatch and fly in cool, moist temperatures (as well as hot ones), so they’re out earlier than many other flying insects looking for their favorite cool season crops like cabbage on which to lay their eggs.
So, what happens when you’re got cabbage caterpillars? Well, they eat your crops, and they chow them down fast. They eat with chewing mouth parts, so the damage looks like a chewing. They poop blackish-green all over the interior of of the plant, if they haven’t eaten that part first and really killed the plant. Those are the signs; look for them. Often they’re much easier to see than the the green caterpillar itself.
These caterpillars are quite well camouflaged for most brassica crops. They’re a bright green worm that tends to blend very well with their favored food crops. A large portion of the brassicas are tones of grey-greens that allow these little wormy critters to blend into. Think broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and the like.
If you see the signs, guaranteed you’ve got the pest. Start by looking at the interior of the plant and along the up-side mid-rib of each leaf. Those are their favored spots when at rest. If you don’t find a caterpillar on one plant, move to the next, and you may find it there. If you happen to find a cottony looking casing, that’s likely the caterpillar getting ready to metamorphosis into another of the white butterfly parents that will be flittering about the garden.
So, what to do when you find one of these worms? Well, if you’ve got a kid with a butterfly cage, go ahead and collect a leaf and a caterpillar. Watch it finish its life cycle. Then kill the butterfly. Yeah, sounds cruel, right? If you don’t, that butterfly will kill your crops…or your neighbor’s crops. Really, I’d skip the whole “watch it grow up” thing and just advocate for squishing each green, creepy crawler as you find them.
And, if you find one caterpillar, odds are momma laid several eggs, so check your crops every day over the course of several days until you are certain that you’ve gotten rid of all of them. Odds are, if your crops have been well protected, it was just one day when the butterfly laid her babies in your veggie garden. So, within a few days all of her progeny should have hatched and, under your careful watch, been dispatched with a quick pinch between the fingers. Guaranteed you’ll have a green thumb after this kind of work!
Too, usually, I try to cut out the most damaged outer leaves on my crops, so I can easily keep track of the signs of new damage. (This isn’t always possible if you find the problem after a lot of damage has been done; if you remove too much living material from your crop, you may take away its ability to rejuvenate. This is a balancing act!)
Now, if your cabbage is purple like mine, these suckers just can’t hide. They stand out & are really easy to see and kill quickly. Just pinch’m and let their juicy guts mingle with the soil where hopefully they’ll give back some of those nutrients they’d drawn from the plant above.
April 04, 2011
By now gardeners are either shopping for cold hardy crops at nurseries and plant sales, or they’re finding that their seedlings are ready to go into the earth. Even if early season crops can handle cool, wet temperatures, a hardy hail may destroy them.
To protect tender, young starts from the snow, hail, wind and even birds that peck away at newly planted tasty goodness like broccoli, kale, chard, lettuce, and rabe, consider adding some sort of hoop or cloche to get them started.
Although floating row cover (aka horticultural fleece) is a nice protective layer that will also raise soil temperatures a bit and keep out flying pests, but it won’t do much to keep the plants from crashing under the weight a rapid-fire hailstorm.
Instead, something like a plastic hoop house or a glass cloche over your new plantings will help keep out the flying pests, raise temperatures to speed up growth and provide transitional protection for plants just out of a greenhouse, and scatter any pummeling ice hammering down from the sky.
Keep in mind that hoops can end up raising temperatures too much if days get really hot and sunny, so be sure to check and vent them regularly. Venting will also keep up airflow, which helps deter fungal damping off, which will kill your seedlings just as rapidly as a good icy beating.
Also, be sure to check soil moisture. By sheeting your crops water-repelling substances, you may be sheeting water away from their roots too. Open your hoops on days when the rain is gentle; close them at night and when freezing rains sleet down to earth.