Saturday, August 28, 2010

cute things keep eating our food

Ok, not-so-cute things too.

But, let's start with the bunnies. They're not so much of an issue now that we have a secure fence, but before we got that together, they had a daily feast. Bunnies have munched our kale, lettuce, blueberries, grapes, raspberries, and blackberries. Don't get me wrong, I love the bunnies. I even have a holland lop bunny named Alonso residing in my home... and he eats a lot of organic produce too, come to think of it. Thankfully, the fencing has eliminated any sort of internal struggle I might have in the battle of bunny vs. sustenance. Hopefully, we can now have some of those 'spring greens' in fall.

this one was so cute, i actually *tried* to feed him.

The terror of the garden now is the cucumber beetle & his friend, the squash bug. Their first victim was the lone cucumber plant. We'd just harvested our first cucumber, and several more were in progress, when I started noticing wilted leaves. After some research, I identified the "yellow ladybug" and tried to save the plant, but to no avail. I'm still not sure exactly what happened, but it looked like bacterial wilt.

we have the striped & the spotted ones. we're lucky that way.
The squash bugs showed up shortly after. I noticed an insect laying eggs on the squash and watched in awe. Mistakenly thinking this could be a beneficial bug, I let them flourish and take over the garden. I thought they might take out the cucumber beetles. I'm a n00b, I know. Since correctly identifying them as the destroyer of squash (where's Gil Grissom when you need him???), I've started regularly dousing them with an organic garlic spray concoction. They don't like it, but it hasn't quite gotten rid of them either. The fate of the squash is yet to be determined.

squash bug laying eggs on our summer squash plant.
With organic gardening, there are some sprays & repellants that can be used, most of which you can make yourself - essential oil sprays like garlic, peppermint, etc., soap-based sprays, baking soda, and several others. However, as with most things in life, it seems the best way to control pests like beetles is to prevent them. (Now we know what to do next year. :) While we have used some essential oil sprays and soap sprays, we'd ideally like to support a symbiotic ecosystem in the garden with beneficial bugs eating destructive bugs, and not rely on sprays at all.

We hoped to have some praying mantids in the garden, but we were late to the beneficial bug party this year, so it's at the top of the list for next spring. We did, however, order some ladybugs from (further proof you can get anything at They arrived in great shape and with clear instructions on how to release them. Having no experience with keeping bugs instead of getting rid of them, I was surprised to find that you should store them in the refrigerator until release. Though I was concerned they'd die in there next to the soy milk, it actually helped to make them less alert and slow-moving for release. Once you take them out of the fridge, it takes a few minutes for them to become active again, so it's a good time to open the lid and put them in the garden without having them all rush the top at once.

The ladybugs stayed around for a few days, but within a week they'd all left. We did multiple releases over the course of a couple of weeks, but I'm guessing there just wasn't enough of the food they prefer to stick around. Still, a small investment to at least give it a try.

The most recent visitor to wreak havoc was actually enjoyable to watch, which is always a plus. These are black swallowtail caterpillars and grow up to be very beautiful butterflies.

fat swallowtail caterpillars in the parsley
what the caterpillars become

Granted, they devoured every last bit of the parsley in the span of a day, but they were so stunning to watch, I must admit that I really didn't mind. Maybe in their next life they'll return the favor by coming back to pollinate.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

fall planting

The spring/summer plants finally seem to be getting into full swing. With the late start, it seems like we've been waiting quite a while. Finally, we have summer squash coming in pretty regularly, our first patty pan squash has started, we'll soon be swimming in cherry tomatoes, peppers are getting productive, and the eggplant is starting to blossom.

To keep the momentum going, and to take advantage of all the stuff we missed in spring, I planted a bunch of new stuff this weekend that we're hoping will be good for Fall. This is my first time planting for Fall, but I found a couple of good planning & planting guides to help decide what to try -

Seeds for fall from
Our Fall Garden:
mild lettuce mix
all lettuce mix
bush beans
snow peas
sugar snap peas

There's always more that we want to add (maybe garlic? possibly pumpkin?) but we'll wait at least a week or two to see what starts sprouting.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

we must cultivate our garden.

I have a tendency to not start something until I have all the tools & materials needed to "really start" - which, I’ve recently realized, causes some things to never start. So, rather than waiting for the perfect design or the perfect post, I’m just going to jump head first into this shiny new blog. :)

There are so many new projects going on around here that I decided I wanted a dedicated place for them just so I can keep track! All of the projects pretty much start with, or revolve around, the garden. I’ve had a garden in my current yard before, but never a really hard-working one.

This year, I’ve got a partner in the projects and, with his help, we've managed to expand the garden space, put up a secure fence, and start growing quite a bit of vegetables & herbs from seed. I discovered very quickly after starting that if we take notes on all the discoveries we make now, we'll be able to make lots of improvements in the next year. (even if the summer is already almost over!)

For us, the decision to start organic gardening was an obvious one. There’s a huge yard out there that was nothing but grass, for the most part. We have been buying organic produce for years, but with the standards and regulations becoming more & more lax on organics and the food miles incurred to get a lot of this stuff to our local grocery, we thought we'd try our hand at replacing at least a small portion of that with our own food from the backyard.

We got off to a late start due to all of the initial setup to be done with seed sprouting, tilling, fencing, etc. By the time we got our plants outside, they were way past ready! We planted them anyway and hoped some would make it. So far, the squash varieties and tomatoes are doing the best, along with the hip-high basil. Turns out we were too late with the lettuces and lost the kale to baby bunnies squeezing through the fence openings. We added some chicken wire around the first fence so not even the tiniest bunny fits. We've already learned so much from the process. Plans have already started for next year and include a greenhouse this fall and raised beds for more planting!