The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

August 11, 2016

Control squash bugs now

Filed under: Insects,Vegetables — bob @ 10:23 am

The squash crop is looking pretty good so far but has had its share of problems.

Earlier in the season we were worried about squash vine borers moving in. Now we have a new pest that we need to take care of, squash bugs. A few days ago I spotted a very familiar sight, squash bug eggs. Once you’ve seen them, you’ll won’t forget them, especially after they’ve decimated your crop.

The eggs are small, shiny, metallic-looking usually found on the underside of the leaves. Many egg clusters I’ve seen this year are appearing on the top side of the leaf. Generally, the female lays clusters of eggs that follow the outline of the veins of the leaves giving the clusters a roughly triangular shape.

Down in the whorl of the leaf you can see a group of squash bug nymphs. On either side are egg masses. The white spots are where the bugs have been feeding.

Down in the whorl of the leaf you can see a group of squash bug nymphs. On either side are egg masses. The white spots are where the bugs have been feeding.

Squash bugs can do a lot of damage to your vine crops if you are not careful. Several years ago I had nearly half an acre of pumpkins that became infested with squash bugs. We tried battling them with the first line of attack, crushing their eggs whenever we came across them. After crushing literally hundreds of egg masses, it became apparent we were not going to be able to keep up with the insects. We ended up having to resort to applying an insecticide to save the crop.

The eggs hatch about ten days after being laid. The young newly hatched nymphs have a soft “skin” and are very susceptible to contact-type  insecticides. Spraying the nymph stage is your best chance to control these pests since the adult bugs are very tough and hard to kill.

Bob

 

August 7, 2016

Squash vine borer

Filed under: Insects,Vegetables — bob @ 8:35 pm

Squash vine borers are one of the most insidious insect pests in the garden. They attack many vine crops in the vegetable garden especially pumpkins, winter squash, summer squash such as zucchini yellow crook neck, and gourds. Sometimes they will infest muskmelons, watermelons and cucumbers. I’ve had many times in squash and only once in cucumbers.

Although the adult stage of the borer is a moth, it doesn’t look like or act like a moth. Unlike most moths it flies during the day. And instead of

fluttering around like a moth, it flies quickly, like a wasp.

The female adult lays its eggs on the base of the main vine, the eggs hatch and the baby borer eats its way into the vine and keeps feeding for about four weeks. It’s very possible that our squash and pumpkin vines have borers in them right now even though they are not exhibiting any visible symptoms.

At first it’s easy to confuse borer symptoms with drought. The plants wilt on hot, sunny days then recover overnight. If left alone, eventually the plants suddenly and completely collapse. The most startling symptom of a squash borer infestation is seeing healthy vigorous vines one day then seemingly the next day they are collapsed, wilted and dying.

I would sure hate to lose my healthy squash vines at this point in the season.

I would sure hate to lose my healthy squash vines at this point in the season.

You can help your vines minimize borer damage by taking advantage of  vine growth habits. You’ve probably noticed that squash and  other vines sometimes root themselves further away from the base of the plant. Those roots are actually functional and contribute to the vines growth. By encouraging rooting along different places along the vine, you can minimize the damage the borers do since the vine can get still get water and nutrients from the soil because of the extended root system. If the plant had to depend only on the roots at the base, no water would be able to reach those parts of the vine past the area damaged by the borer.

 

Rooting happens at the nodes along the vine.

Rooting happens at the nodes along the vine.

Rooting takes place at the nodes of the vine; those swollen spots on the vine from where the leaves grow. To encourage rooting, cover several nodes with a shovelful of garden soil. The secondary roots that form will support the plant even if the primary vine is destroyed by borers.

Bob

 

 

 

Correct way to sharpen a garden hoe

Filed under: Tools and Equipment — bob @ 8:12 pm

I’ve hoed a lot of long rows this season. Now it’s time to touch up the edge on my garden hoe.

The hoe I’ve been using for more than 15 years is a Dutch made, swan-neck style. Its light-weight head combined with a curved shank makes it a pleasure to use. As an added bonus it has an extra long handle which makes easier for a taller guy like me to operate. I don’t have to bend over in an exhausting, awkward position to reach the ground.

Nearly every hoe I’ve seen has the wrong bevel on the cutting edge. Right from the store, hoes often have a flat edge with no bevel at all. People take them home and immediately grind a sharp, angled bevel, like a wood chisel edge. That makes a very sharp edge but it does not last very long. It soon gets dull cutting through the soil. So gardeners end up working in their garden with a perpetually dull tool.

The proper way to form an edge on a hoe is to file a curved profile on the back of the hoe blade i.e. the side facing away from you when you use it. Keep the front of the blade metal flat, don’t grind it.

File the back of the blade, the side facing away from you when you hoe.

File the back of the blade, the side facing away from you when you hoe.

 

Imagine if you were to cut the blade in half with a hack-saw. Looking at the cross section of your blade edge with a microscope, you would see the front face ending at a right angle while the back face curves to meet the front edge.

Most of the wear on a hoe blade happens on the back side of the blade edge. A rounded back edge leaves much more metal on the side of the edge that is prone to wearing down.

You won’t be able to shave with that edge but it will last much, much longer in the garden.

Bob

 

July 21, 2016

Too late to stake tomato plants

Filed under: Vegetables — bob @ 11:00 am

Here we are, it’s the middle of July. The tomatoes have made good growth so far but some of them don’t have cages around them. Right now the plants are so big, you couldn’t get a cage around it no matter how hard you tried. What’s a gardener to do?

The first idea that comes to mind is to stake the plants to get them off of the ground. That sounds good, but at this point in time it is not the best thing to do for tomatoes.

Staking and pruning works great for small areas or when a gardener wants to cram as many plants as possible into a given area. In other words it makes efficient use of garden space.

In order for tomatoes to be staked properly however, they must be pruned from an early age. Pruning must continue regularly until the plant is fully grown or when the plant reaches the size you want. All of that pruning actually reduces the tomato yield per plant but it can increase the yield over a certain area because you can fit more plants per square yard.

If you haven’t caged your tomatoes by now, I’m willing to bet you haven’t been pruning them either, so for that reason alone, staking is out of the picture. Not only that, driving stakes next to a plant this time of year can cause serious damage to the roots.

In this case the easiest solution is also the best solution.

Tomato plants by nature have a sprawling growth habit, they don’t climb like cucumbers or melons. They don’t prop themselves up against objects to grow upward either, which is why we have to train them and tie them to supports.

You can simply let tomato plants do their thing and sprawl over the ground — if you mulch them. One of the best mulches to use for this is straw.

Mulch the plants by gently lifting the plant and tucking the straw beneath the foliage. Use about six to eight inches of straw and make sure you cover the entire space under the plant.The deep mulch will raise the foliage and fruit away from the ground and drastically reduce the possibility of disease and rotting fruit compared to letting it grow directly on the garden soil.

Tomato plants can take up a lot of “floor space” when left to grow over the ground. That means they may get crowded if they were planted close together with the idea of staking in mind.

There are some advantages to using this method. One is an increase in yield per plant. Another is less work because no pruning or tying  is required. Plus there is a reduction in cracked tomatoes and blossom end rot because of more even soil moisture in the root zone.

On the negative side, the fruit is more apt to have an uneven color on the side resting on the straw.  The fruit may somewhat smaller and not quite as even in shape compared to staked tomatoes.

Bob

 

July 6, 2016

Ping-pong ball shaped snapping turtle eggs in the garden

Filed under: Animals — bob @ 7:43 pm

There’s a corner of the garden that I rototilled earlier this spring but never got planted so the weeds were really out of control. I decided today it was time to re-till the area and do something with it.

It was a real struggle to get the tiller to knock down those tall weeds but I managed to get most of them. On the second pass with the tiller I spotted what looked like a pair of under-sized, off-white, leather ping-pong balls. I recognized them right away, they were snapping turtle eggs.

Snapping turtles spend almost their entire lives in the water. The only time they come out on to land is to lay eggs.

I’ve seen websites that say snappers typically lay 20 to 40 eggs in a single clutch. The most I’ve ever found was 19 eggs several years ago in a different garden in another part of the state. Maybe you’ve seen more.

Raccoons, skunks, foxes, crows and other predators love to eat turtle eggs.

Raccoons, skunks, foxes, crows and other predators love to eat turtle eggs.

I’ve come across them in compost piles, piles of wood chips and mulch, flower beds and areas of loose sandy soil. Female snapping turtles will walk quite a distance to find a spot she thinks is best, up to a mile in some cases. This one was about two hundred yards away from the water. The problem I see with that is that the newly hatched turtles have to walk all the way back to the water. The farther away it is, the longer they are exposed to predators. Which brings up another question: how do the hatchlings know where the water is?

Back in the garden, I discovered I had inadvertently tilled up the entire nest and broke at least a half dozen eggs. None of them looked like they had any developed turtles inside. They just looked like tiny, off-colored scrambled eggs laying in the dirt.

I took the two undamaged eggs and put them in a protected area where the pumpkins are growing. Now we’ll have two cute baby turtles in the neighborhood that will grow up to be mean, ugly grown-up snapping turtles.

Bob

 

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