How Ugly Plastics Help Produce Beautiful, Pesticide-free FoodMay 31, 2011
I love a beautiful garden. I also love food grown without pesticides that don’t become riddled with pest and disease damage. Maintaining both a beautiful garden and getting beautiful, organic food from it isn’t always easy — especially when we’re also short on warmth and sunshine!
This weekend, despite the fact that our spring weather is still very rainy and not optimally warm, I needed to get a few warm season crops out of the greenhouse and into the garden. These are our longest growing days, of which we have so few. So, if those tomatoes don’t go in the ground soon, I may not get a very good harvest before the days shorten and weather cools after Labor Day. So, in they went!
To protect the tomatoes from incessant rains and the resulting wet that encourages fungal problems that destroy these plants fast, I pulled out our PVC hoops, rebar stakes and semi-opaque plastic sheeting. Together with plastic clips, which hold the sheeting in place, I form a tunnel house of sorts in this year’s tomato bed. This year the tunnel runs East-West, and I’m leaving the ends open. This will mean that heat doesn’t build up as rapidly as it would closed, but it also means that the beds will have good airflow, which aids in keeping blights at bay. It also allows the honeybees to continue to access plants for pollination.
The tomatoes are planted central in this bed. This allows me to install tomato cages along the mid-point of the hoops, which is the highest point of the tunnel. On the North side of the tomatoes, we installed carrots. On the South side, I popped in lettuce. Too, this this area is intermingled with calendula & borage to attract the bees later in the season and marigolds, which I hope the slugs will choose over the butter lettuce. To the west of the tomatoes is a patch of beets, which need some additional protection, detracting even more from the overall aesthetic of the garden.
The beets, like chard, are a favorite food for leaf miner. While keeping the hoops open to pollinators that fly & keeping their foods accessible to the flying insects, while also deterring the (usually) flying adult leaf miners from laying their eggs on the leaves of the beets, these plants are sheeted with light-weight horticultural fleece (also called floating row cover). The cover allows moisture to get to the plants; it also brings up soil temperatures encouraging the plants to grow. And, the adult moths or flies can’t get to their favorite egg-laying locations. Nearby are a few columbine, which are also leaf miner favorites. Hopefully, they will lure the adults and serve as pretty sacrifices to the miners.
The carrots, too, can succumb to a fly pest. But, I’ve found that fleece doesn’t seem to help much. The carrot saw fly is so darn little, that I’ve found if it comes in, it finds a way to get to the crop, so I’m letting these babies grow “naked” under the warmth of the tunnel house. Another experiment…we’ll see what happens later this season!
So today’s ugly hoop should, I hope, help me produce another great crop of tomatoes and other veggies. Last year’s tomato hoop houses were an extraordinarily huge success. We’re still enjoying tomatoes from that harvest! Since we do practice crop rotation, the growing location is slightly different. The number of plants is significantly less this year. But, in our garden, every year is different. So who knows? I can’t wait to find out what kind of yield we’ll achieve from this planting of three Peron slicers, three Saucy Paste driers and one snackalicious Orange Cherry. It may be ugly now, but by August, the beautiful food will be a very tasty & very pretty reward.
How’s your veggie garden coming?! Need help with your tomato growing timeline? Read the steps I took in 2010 to yield huge, tasty tomato results.