Help! I’ve been Invaded by Japanese Beetles!

by Sandy Swegel

I was so late writing my blog post this morning because I foolishly strolled out into the rose garden, where everything was delightfully dewy and fresh from rains last night.  I thought I would deadhead a few late season roses that looked spent.  As I got close, I was puzzled about how beat up the rose blossoms were and wondered if the rains had been excessive.  Then I saw the glint of iridescent green and saw my first ever Japanese beetle. Now I know what gardeners in the East have known for a long time.  This is a terrible pest.  The destruction on flowers and foliage was dramatic since I was last in the garden three days ago. I spent the next solid hour hand picking the beetles and dropping them in a bucket of soapy water.  There were as many as six eating a a single blossom.  I could look at a plant two feet away and see one on every top leaf. And I swear they were mating and eating at the same time.

Colorado has generally not had a Japanese beetle problem.  It wasn’t till about 2009 that the state ag department reported some in pockets of south Denver.  I was living in ignorant bliss.  I don’t understand how we went from no beetles in my area to hundreds in my rose garden alone.  Handpicking will clearly not be enough, but most of the pesticides I’ve read about would also kill bees and beneficial insects.

Do any of you know of successful controls?  I’ve googled treatments but haven’t found much info on what might really work in eradicating them.  We’ve actually been kinda happy around here about warming trends.  A slightly shorter winter didn’t seem like such a bad thing when you’re in the foothills of Colorado. But now the pests that we’re getting that also appreciate the warming trend is not worth warmer days in April.  How do I have a pretty organic garden with Japanese beetles?

http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05601.html

Photo Credits: www.arbordoctor.net

 

My Squash is Wilting

by Sandy Swegel

Eww…Yet another bug thriving this year and ruining my food.  Most of us have experienced our squashes suffering with powdery mildew that coats the leaves white, but knowledgeable gardeners are perplexed here in Colorado by squash that suddenly completely wilts and die (Asana wilt).

Turns out it’s often a very small bug, the squash bug, that injects a nasty venom into the stems wilting and killing the entire vine.

Squash Bug Nymphs

“Can’t we just all get along?” I holler at them.  There’s an entire large squash plant and I’m willing to share with bugs….but the squash bug wants it all.

This is a pest you need to be aggressive with if you see it because it doesn’t share, but will kill your whole plant given a chance. Look for the adult bug (looks a bit like a stink bug) or nymph (distinctive antenna and small head) and kill it (take a small bucket of soapy water into the garden with you and throw the bugs in, to drown them, if you don’t want to ‘squash’ them). More importantly look for the eggs on the underside of leaves and crush them.  Handpicking works well in a small garden if you’re vigilant.

We have to stand our ground against creatures like the squash bug. I explain it to them as I dunk them in the soapy water or throw them to my chickens….if you don’t share and play well with others, you lose your privileges in my garden!

For more info (and photo credit) http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05609.html Photo credit: http://extension.entm.purdue.edu/4h/default.php?page=snr40&stage=larva

 

Daddy Long Legs

by Sandy Swegel

Besides having a good name, what are these creatures doing in your garden?7.19.13-2

So many Daddy Long Legs have crawled on me this week, I was beginning to wonder if I was wearing a color they liked or if I smelled like food.  I know enough about daddy long legs not to be afraid of them…they usually brush right off. But I was beginning to wonder why there were so many!

If I had just known another common name for this leggy creatures, “harvestmen”, I could have guessed what they do. They “harvest” or eat bugs, especially aphids.  So once again, I discovered I have yet another friend in the garden, helping me produce food and flowers.  There were two good reasons Daddy long legs were in my garden. I had lots of aphids and I had been irrigating so everything was nice and moist which these arachnids like. I may think I do all the work in the garden, but while I’m puttering around pulling weeds, the beneficial daddy long legs is eating aphids, helping keep my garden healthy.  It also eats other bugs and mites, dead insects and bird droppings.  Yum.

Daddy Long Legs are our friends and not something to fear or kill.  They are related to the spider family but have no venom sac and no fangs.  So we are safe from harm.  When they were crawling all over me I assume it was just because I was kneeling in the way of their dinner….the aphids on the plant next to me.

Sometimes the best way to learn is by watching videos made for kids….here’s a great National Geographic video for kids about daddy long legs! video.nationalgeographic.com/video/kids/animals-pets-kids/bugs-kids/spider-daddylonglegs-kids/

Photo credit: www.davidicke.com; motleynews.net/2011/07/06/electron-microscopic-scans-of-the-insects-among-us/; img.ehowcdn.com/article-new-thumbnail/ehow/images/a08/2i/t1/daddylonglegs-spiders-800×800.jpg

 

Two Midsummer Tasks

July can be hot in the garden.  If you’ve kept up with weeding earlier in the season, there may not be too much work outside of harvesting veggies.  Two tasks are important now.

Fertilize plants that have been working hard.

Tomatoes….because I want lots of tomatoes and the plants are growing like crazy in the summer heat.  I fertilize with an liquid organic bloom fertilizer.

Roses….because they just finished their big summer grand blooming and will rest a bit….but I want another big flourish as soon as the weather cools a bit.  I like the organic granular fertilizers although if there are dogs in the yard who try to eat the blood meal and bone meal in them, you’ll need to use a liquid.

Greens and other vegetables.  The chard and kales have been working hard and I will treat them to a nice kelp foliar spray.  It also makes the garden smell like ocean breezes!

Start seeds for your Fall Garden. This is hard to remember in the summer heat.  But now is the time to start broccoli and cauliflower plants so they’ll be ready to mature and sweeten in crisp Fall nights.

And if you like peas….it’s a good time to get them started again.  I waited till August last year and didn’t get much of a Fall crop.

Of course, you should always keep up your succession planting….keep putting in new plants or seeds where you’re pulling old ones out.

Happy Summer Days!

Photo credits:

 Broccoli starts:  www.helpfulgardener.com

 

Bumblebees Love Purple

 by Sandy Swegel

I visited one of my favorite suburban lawn alternative gardens yesterday.  It’s a true pollinator’s heaven of nectar and pollen, right on a neighborhood street. Full of perennial gaillardia and rudbeckia, and reseeding annual larkspur, cleome and sunflower, the garden uses about the same amount of water as your average lawn.

Bees were everywhere.  Neighbors stop by in wonder at what can be done with a front yard instead of plain old grass.  In the median strips in front of the flowers, kales and lettuces produced greens for the neighboring. This time of year, gaillardia and rudbeckia are dominant with their yellows, oranges and reds.  But something different this year was a plethora of purple larkspur.  Curious, I  asked community urban farmers Scott and Wendy about the variation.  They and the landowner are all careful  gardeners, unlikely to throw in something different without a reason.  Scott explained matter-of-factly, “Well it’s for the bumblebees. They prefer purple.”  I was skeptical since I see bumblebees all day on different colored flowers.  He assured me they had watched the field the last couple of years. The bumblebees always went for the purple flowers.  And walking on the path, huge fat bumblebees were on the purple larkspur, gorging away.

I couldn’t resist a little more research and sure enough, studies in Germany showed that baby bumblebees preferred purple flowers. Purple flowers are thought to contain more nectar than other colors and that baby bumblebees who chose purple flowers had a better chance of survival…they then passed the purple preference onto their offspring.

I’m not sure what most peaked my curiosity this day….I loved learning that bumblebees like purple flowers best.  But I think I was more intrigued by Wendy and Scott just noticing all season that the bumblebees liked one particular color.  In the end, though, I’m most impressed with the bumblebees who somehow got the humans to plant their favorite food.  Very clever bees.

Photo credits: http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/02/21/bees-can-sense-the-electric-fields-of-flowers/ Sandy Swegel

 

Too Many Zucchini? Eat the Flowers.

by Sandy Swegel

The zucchini in our garden is just starting, so there’s not too much of it yet.  So far, it’s still a nice  dish to have sauteed or lightly grilled zucchini and yellow squash.  But I know the day will be here soon when there’s too much zucchini for any normal person. There’s one really good way to avoid too many zucchini:  eat the flowers. New flowers form right away so you don’t have to worry about not having enough zucchini.

I first learned about eating squash blossoms from my friend Alfredo who grew up on a ranch in Mexico. Squash blossoms were one of his favorite foods as a kid so his eyes still light up when he sees the bright yellow flowers. Squash are ready in Spring in warm Mexico so he remembered eating flores de calabaza stuffed with cheese, breaded and fried for the Cinco de Mayo holiday.  Yum.

Here are some popular ways to eat squash blossoms:

Mexican Squash Blossom Quesadillas You saute the squash blossoms with the onions and peppers to make a great quesidilla filling.  And you get to use LOTS of squash blossoms because they cook down so much.

Batter-fried Squash Blossoms Dip into a flour batter and fry. Crispy and flavorful.

Squash Blossom Frittata Another good use for all those eggs from backyard chickens.

Stuffed Squash Blossoms Squash are great for stuffing.  Stuff them and then pan fry or deep fry them. Good stuffing variations are goat cheese and fresh herbs or sauteed mushroom, onion, garlic and ricotta.

Here are more details on five recipes you can experiment with. http://www.seasonalchef.com/recipe0805b.htm

The absolute cutest squash blossom recipe is one that waits till small yellow squash are formed but before the blossom falls off before taking the flower.. It’s a great Cajun recipe that pairs the squash with catfish.  Down South, there are about as many catfish as there are squash….so it’s a great way to use the abundance of fish and food!And so many good Louisiana recipes are just an excuse to eat stuffing!

http://rvcooking.cajunville.com/?p=3161

Photo Credit: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/georgia-o-keeffe/squash-blossoms

 

Seed Starting in July

by Sandy Swegel

As a gardener I’m always surprised by the veggie seed sales in July.  I know from a marketing point of view the prime seed buying season has past and companies have to move product still in inventory.  But from a gardening perspective it doesn’t make much sense to give 50% discounts in July because a gardener should be starting lots of seeds now.  It’s the perfect time to start seeds!  Of course I always think it’s the perfect time to start seeds.

How to know what to plant in July?  Stand in the garden and look around.

What do you not have enough of?  I don’t know why I thought ten chard plants would be enough when I love to eat the red-stemmed chard.  There’s barely enough to eat for this week much less into the Fall.  And kale?  I didn’t know last Spring that I’d get into juicing this summer….I’ve gone through all my kale and spinach.  And carrots add so much sweetness to juice I clearly need more.

What do you want to can? More beans please.  More cucumbers.  Beets for pickling.

What do you want growing in Fall? Broccoli is so good in Fall.  Our CSAs are starting their broccolis now for Fall sales.

Typical plantings in July:

Beans Carrots Cucumbers Beets Kale Spinach Chard Scallions

You can try some of the atypical plantings too.  I’ve seen research from Iowa that says you can still plant corn up to the fourth of July and get a reasonable crop.

It’s probably too late for squash or tomatoes to grow from seed….but those seeds store for many years, so if there are varieties you know you’ll want to plant next year, it’s fine to buy the seeds now.

While you’re in the veggie garden, this is also a good time to plant perennial herbs and flowers that will last for years and bring pollinators.  This is also a great time to seed annuals that reseed themselves.  Cosmos and marigolds are good examples.

The biggest challenge to starting seed in July is making sure the seed bed stays moist during germination.  A sprinkler set with a timer to run just a short while every day helps.  Or my personal favorite and much written about helper:  row cover.  Put your seeds down. Water thoroughly. Lay some row cover over the seeded area with rocks to hold the row cover down.  That will give you some extra needed protection from the hot July sun.