The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

August 30, 2019

Striped cucumber beetles can devastate your crop

The first striped cucumber beetles of the season have finally showed up in my garden. These bright and happily colored pests cause a lot of damage in the garden. Although cucumbers are their preferred food, melons are also attacked was well as squash and pumpkin to a lesser degree. At this time of the year, these are actually the second generation descended from those that were around earlier in the spring. I didn’t see those from the first generation in my garden but they must have been around in the neighborhood.

Cucumber beetles have a distinctive yellow color with black stripes.

Cucumber beetles have a distinctive yellow color with black stripes.

Typical cucumber beetle feeding damage.

Typical cucumber beetle feeding damage.

Adult beetles are a triple threat to cucumbers. First, the physical act of feeding by chewing holes in leaves reduces the leaf area stunting plant growth.

Secondly, they reduce the number of actual cucumbers by destroying flowers as they feed on them. Fewer flowers equals fewer cucumbers.

Cucumber beetles will eat  flowers as well as leaves.

Cucumber beetles will eat flowers as well as leaves.

The third threat is the most damaging of all. In their gut is a bacteria that causes bacterial wilt, a very serious disease that can destroy a majority of a crop. As the beetles feed randomly over the surface of the leaves, eventually they will have to defecate. The feces contains large amounts of bacteria that will infect the plant if it is deposited over a chewed spot.

As you probably can guess from its name, bacterial wilt causes vines to suddenly wilt. Early on during the infection, vines will appear to recover somewhat overnight only to wilt again the next day as the day progress. The vines will eventually die in about seven to ten days — there is no cure. Remove any infected vines and compost them or discard them away from the garden.

Symptom of bacterial wilt on cucumbers.

Symptom of bacterial wilt on cucumbers.

One single beetle is enough to infect an entire plant so it’s important to kill the beetles as soon as you see them. There are conventional and organic insecticide sprays on the market that do a good job controlling them.

Plant breeders have developed cucumber varieties that are less attractive to beetles than regular varieties. Organic farmers will grow the one of the new varieties as their main crop. At the same time, they plant a more attractive variety in different spot to lure the beetles away from the main crop eliminating the need to spray the main crop.

If all that damage is not enough, as a bonus, the beetles will feed on the actual cucumbers themselves leaving behind feeding marks that disfigure the fruit.

Another species, the spotted cucumber beetle, also can show up. They are the same size and shape as the striped beetles but have black spots instead of stripes. They cause the same kind of damage and need to be controlled too.

Bob

August 22, 2019

Purslane in the garden, friend or foe?

Returning to one of my gardens after being away for a week, I noticed there were a lot of weeds that had spread over the garden. I thoroughly hoed the garden before I went away the previous week but I didn’t have time to rake up the cut and dislodged weed stalks. Usually the hot August sun is enough to dry them up and finish them off. There were a couple of good thunderstorms that rolled through during my absence that dropped enough rain to keep the weed stalks moist.

Most of the weeds that got cut off by hoeing did die despite the rain. One notable exception was the purslane. It was present in fairly high numbers and the plants were small, but they did get hoed.

Purslane has succulent leaves that resist drought and desiccation. Small pieces of stems can take root and grow into full size plants. It also has a central taproot that, if cut but not removed, can rapidly regrow.

These cut pieces of purslane will root themselves if not removed from the garden.

These cut pieces of purslane will root themselves if not removed from the garden.

In one area the purslane formed a nice mat devoid of other weeds. In that spot the other weeds died from the hoeing while the purslane was able to reestablish itself taking up all available growing space.

Purslane does not compete very much with most vegetable crops for water and nutrients. There has been some thought by researchers about the possibility of using purslane as an alternative to herbicides for some food crops. Because it is low growing and can form a dense mat, it is able to reduce the number of more aggressive weeds from getting started. I’m not inclined to experiment with that this year but I may devote a small plot next year to a purslane companion plant trial. Let me know in the comments if that would be something you’d like to see.

Very few other weeds were growing in this dense mat of purslane.

Very few other weeds were growing in this dense mat of purslane.

Purslane is considered a wholesome food in many cultures around the world. It was brought to this continent by Europeans over 500 years ago, back when they didn’t know about introducing alien plant species to a new area. As a result, you can find it in most farm fields, gardens and landscapes.

Cultivated varieties have been developed that grow upright and have much larger leaves. Seeds for those are available at many seed sellers. I’ve even seen seeds of the wild variety for sale on eBay and other sites. I don’t think that would be a very good idea since each purslane plant can produce hundreds of tiny seeds that can eventually become a problem. I may be willing to grow a cultivated variety just to try it out but not a wild plant that has the potential to turn into a weed in my garden.

Purslane leaves and stems are edible and quite tasty,

Purslane leaves and stems are edible and quite tasty,

Lately I have started eating my wild purslane more regularly. In the past I’d nibble on a stem or two just for fun but now I’m including it in my diet more and more, especially since my lettuce is long gone. It is very nutritious, as are many other wild edibles. Along with high concentrations of the more common nutrients, very high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids are also present – five times more than spinach.

My favorite way to eat purslane is to add a few sprigs to my salad or put it in a sandwich. Both the leaves and stems are edible.

About three and a half ounces of fresh purslane constitutes one serving.

 Bob

 

July 19, 2019

Warning! Insect invasion. Four vegetable garden insect pests in mid-July

Insect pests have begun to show up in my garden this week. It seems like it’s early for them, but that’s only because the garden plants are small for this time of the year due to our late start. It is the middle of July after all so I would expect some insect problems.

The first insect I spotted in the garden were cabbage butterflies. They are those white butterflies that flutter around the garden. They feed on plants in the cabbage family, including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and other related plants. Watch them closely when they’re in your garden. Every time a female butterfly briefly touches down, she lays a single tiny egg. Over time she will lay a lot. Of course the butterfly itself is harmless, it’s her larval offspring that are so destructive. Many of the eggs and small larvae will be eaten by beneficial insects before they even have a chance to do any damage but there will always be plenty left over to munch on your plants.

 

Cabbage butterfly eggs can be found anywhere on the plant.

Cabbage butterfly eggs can be found anywhere on the plant.

I suggest you take steps now to nip this problem in the bud. A spray of the biological pesticide Bt right now, will easily kill these pests while they’re in their most vulnerable stage of growth.

The next problem insect I spotted was a female squash bug laying her eggs on a squash vine. She’ll lay her eggs on any pumpkin, squash or related plant. Usually you’ll find the eggs on the underside of a leaf but this one was laying her eggs on the upper surface.

     Here’s an adult female squash bug laying eggs.They are hard to kill. Try knocking them into a pail of soapy water.

Here’s an adult female squash bug laying eggs.They are hard to kill. Try knocking them into a pail of soapy water.

One way to reduce their numbers is to squish the egg masses before they hatch. Later on, if the bug population is high and the vines begin to wilt, you may have to resort to an organic or conventional insecticide. They are very destructive to squash vines and can leave you with next to nothing to harvest if left unchecked.

The third insects making their appearance in my garden this week are tomato hornworms. These are the larval stage of the fascinating sphinx moth. Farmers rarely take notice of tomato hornworms because they don’t usually occur in high enough concentration to make it economical to apply insecticide for them. If the worm count goes above one for every two plants, then farmers will think about doing something about them.

In a typical tomato field there are thousands of plants but in a home garden there may be only a few, making tomato worms a real threat to a gardeners harvest.

Even if you look closely you probably will not find any hornworms on your plants because they are so well camouflaged. Plus, right now, since they are just getting started, they are very tiny. The ones I spotted were about a quarter of an inch long. At this early stage, they really don’t harm the plant much.

     I found four of these little guys on my tomato plant. Even at this stage you can see their distinctive horn. Cute huh?

I found four of these little guys on my tomato plant. Even at this stage you can see their distinctive horn. Cute huh?

However, when they grow to their full size — about three inches long — they can decimate a tomato plant by eating all of the leaves and will feed on tomato fruit to boot.

I’m worried about my tomatoes being hammered by hornworms this season. Because I planted them late, they are only about half the size for mid-July. That means there are far fewer tomato leaves per plant for the hornworms to feed on making my small plants more vulnerable. So I’ll be watching them very closely the next few weeks.

The last pest I found were Colorado potato beetles on my potato plants. They must have arrived during the weekend because they were eating my potato plants and getting fat. I killed a couple dozen that were feeding on one plant.

An adult Colorado potato beetle, easily identified by its stripes

An adult Colorado potato beetle, easily identified by its stripes

     Colorado potato beetle larva. Both larvae and adults can be controlled by knocking them off the plant into a pail of soapy water.

Colorado potato beetle larva. Both larvae and adults can be controlled by knocking them off the plant into a pail of soapy water.

Adult beetles and larvae are in my garden now. The female adults are busy laying eggs and the larvae are busy eating. Crush the orange eggs whenever you find them.

I suggest you scout your garden now and take steps to control these pests before they have a chance to cause real damage.

Bob

May 23, 2019

Purple deadnettle in the garden

As I was going through my seed potatoes a I remembered something I heard long ago. It was the concept of potatoes and their companion plants or what scientists call positive allelopathy. The basic idea is that some plants grow better in the presence of other kinds of plants.

We hear more about the opposite type of allelopathy, where plants secrete chemical compounds into the soil to inhibit the growth of other plants. The most well known example of a negative allelopathic plant is probably black walnut trees. Anyone with a small yard with a black walnut growing in it can tell you it is impossible to grow certain types of plants in the root zone of the tree.

Purple deadnettle (Lamium) is a common weed in many gardens. This is the time of year when it is most noticeable with its purple flowers and almost magenta colored upper leaves. It is thought by a lot of gardeners to have positive allelopathic effects, particularly on potatoes. A few deadnettle plants growing among potato plants is supposed to enhance growth and improve flavor as well as repel potato beetles.

Purple dead nettle has distinctive purple upper leaves and flowers.

Purple dead nettle has distinctive purple upper leaves and flowers.

Farmers don’t like purple deadnettle because it is a winter annual, a plant that germinates in the fall and flowers in the spring. But the biggest drawback of deadnettle (and a few other wild plants) is that it can harbor soybean cyst nematodes (SCN) a very severe malady of soybeans that can drastically reduce crop yields. Farmers are not willing to take a chance on their crop by letting deadnettles grow in their fields.

Gardeners on the other hand, rarely grow soybeans so a little bit of deadcnettle here and there is no problem.  Since SCN  is species specific, meaning other crops can’t be infected, you probably wouldn’t find SCN in a garden anyway.

The relatively short purple deadnettle can grow quite nicely under the partial shade of other plants like potatoes. They supposedly don’t steal nutrients from the soil that potatoes need. That sounds like  pretty good qualities to have in a companion plant.

I’ve never tried this in my own garden because I don’t have any purple deadnettle. I certainly would never introduce Lamium to my property because it can overrun an area fairly quickly. The seeds are viable for years so once you get deaednettle, you’ll always have it.

Bob

January 16, 2019

Selecting squash, pumpkin and gourd seeds

Under good storage conditions, winter squash and pumpkins can stay edible well into winter. I have a spot in my garage that stays cool, around 50 degrees, through the winter and that is right around the ideal storage temperature for squash. Air circulation is also important and there is plenty of air movement in that spot too. So we have been eating squash on and off for the past couple of months.

One thing I have noticed is that flavor can vary from squash to squash of the same variety. Sometimes there can be quite a large difference in quality. You can buy seeds of the same variety from two different seed sellers and even though the squash looks the same, the flavors may be close but not the same. I think that explains some of the difference in opinion people have when discussing which variety they prefer. I’ve noticed this inconsistency in other vegetables too, especially with certain heirloom tomato varieties.

What I like to do is save squash seed from the best tasting squash and discard seeds from those that are bland or off-flavor. That way year after year I gradually improve my squash. Since the seeds are well preserved inside the fruit until it’s ready to cook, seed saving for me is an ongoing thing until the squash run out. You can end up with a lot of squash or pumpkin seeds in a hurry since each one can have dozens or even hundreds of seeds as anyone who carved a pumpkin knows.

Squash and Pumpkins

The way I go about it is that I never toss out the seeds until dinner is over and I’ve had a chance to sample my squash. I mentally rate it and if it is better than the last one I had, I keep the seeds and get rid of the ones from the previous meal. By the time I eat my last serving of squash, I’ll have the seeds from the best tasting one from the garden. The rest of the seeds go to the chickens. I know it seems like a lot of fussing around but hey, it’s what I do.

Gourds are filled with seeds and have very little flesh. These are seeds from a single gourd.

Gourds are filled with seeds and have very little flesh. These are seeds from a single gourd.

This is a relatively simplistic way to select for a single genetic trait. Professional plant breeders select for other things such as disease resistance, high yields, ease of storage and other traits. In the home garden, flavor is a good one to select for.

Bob

 

 

 

 

 

 

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