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Friday PhotoEssay – May 23rd

Rain! Our rain gauge here measured about 3/4″ even though supposedly the airport (just a couple miles south) measured 1 3/4.” I’m not going to complain!

Here’s a look at the garden this morning after our bit of rain. The potatoes have really come on strong, and we removed some of the spinach this week. I know things are going to change rapidly from here on out.

Speaking of changes, several of the tomato plants are starting to bloom. Even the some of the later heirlooms have one or two flowers on them. Fun fact – Tomato Day is 81 days after we transplanted, which means that we would expect the earliest tomatoes to have fruit by then and the mid-season tomatoes should be at their first harvest.

When we were harvesting the spinach this week, we found this mass of eggs on the underside of one of the leaves. We put our Master Gardener hotline crew to work trying to identify what the insect might be, and they came up with Mexican Bean Beetle. I’m not quite sure if that is right, since these are very round rather than slightly oblong. Anyway, we erred on the side of getting rid of the eggs. In hindsight, I could have put them in my insect cage to hatch out.

The second time is the charm on the Quinoa seeds. The ‘Brightest Brilliant’ variety is looking pretty good. The ‘Colorado’ quinoa is still pretty sparse.

Bah. Some of our beans are starting to show herbicide injury, like they did in 2012 after we renovated the garden. I think that it is probably residual in the soil from the manure-based compost we added. If our experience from before holds true, everything should be fine by next year. But I’m about done adding compost to our beds if we can help it!

On the plus side, we are having much better luck getting our vining vegetables to germinate this year. We’re still waiting on the gourds and cucumbers in the Taste of India garden, but the pumpkins and melons in the vertical garden are looking good.

Have a great (long) weekend!

Friday PhotoEssay

Wow! The eggplant and tomatoes are sure kicking it into high gear this week! So are the spider mites and stinkbugs… Let’s take a tour of the garden!

The top end of the garden is finally starting to look like something, with the sweet potatoes growing fast and the sunflowers and vegetable arbor also looking great. You can just see the green haze of the buckwheat.

Here’s the view from the other end. I wasn’t going to show this picture because I’ve got so many this week, but I wanted you to have a better sense of just how crazy those tomato plants are getting. The one on the end is the ‘Limmony’ heirloom.

The ‘Taxi’ tomato plant continues to produce like crazy. After a couple of larger initial fruit, they have settled down into very consistent 4-5 oz fruit, which is what they are supposed to be. No signs of cracking so far, but I picked a LOT of tomatoes this morning.

We uncovered the squash in the Pizza Garden this week because it was starting to bust out from under the row cover. It had several broken leaves from being under a too-low row cover. It seems to be bouncing back just fine! It also looks to have some buds starting, and so far there is no sign of squash vine borers. Read the rest of this entry

Video Wednesday: Using Natural Pesticides

Since we’ve been talking about bugs and pests recently, I thought I would share this video from our Entomology Specialist, Dr. Ray Cloyd.

A Bug & Pest Round Up

All of a sudden last week the population of bugs, pests, and other problems seemed to explode in the Demo Garden!

All of a sudden near the end of last week the spider mites came on strong. This poor specimen is on the ‘Iron Lady’ tomato. It may be resistant to blight, but it is clearly NOT resistant to spider mites. There are several plants with varying numbers of spider mites on them, but this is one of the worst. The typical “first” line of defense is to spray with a hard stream of water. Given the humidity, the next option is neem oil, horticultural oil, or insecticidal soap. These products need to be sprayed every 5 days or so when it is hot, until new damage isn’t occurring. Unfortunately, is you spray when it is hot out, they can actually damage the plants, so you need to spray in early morning.

In the realm of four-legged, furry varmints, it appears that we have some critter that is enjoying the almost-ripe tomatoes. My guess would be a squirrel, because of the bite marks and also because we’ve had that problem before. The ants are just opportunists here!

I’ve also seen stinkbugs around the garden, which is an insect we don’t normally see a lot. Here’s a stinkbug on one of the cherry tomatoes.

Here’s another look at a stinkbug, this time on one of the eggplants. Stinkbugs are “true bugs,” and they feed on plants and fruit by puncturing and then sucking out the juices. On tomato fruit you will often find yellow or white spots just under the skin where they have been feeding. They don’t damage the edibility, just the prettiness. They can be pretty destructive though given a high enough population. They can also feed on the plants themselves and can have similar effects to aphids and spider mites. How to get rid of them? Well…it depends what you are willing to do. The reality is that it is pretty difficult to kill those hard-backed bugs. Since we aren’t seeing very many of them, we aren’t going to do much at the moment, which we will probably regret in a few weeks.

Here’s what the stinkbug damage looks like on a tomato. The tomato is still perfectly edible, it just looks kind of ugly.

The Arkansas Traveler tomatoes all of a sudden are showing these “crop circles” on the fruit. To me, this looks like Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. The plant doesn’t look particularly bad, although I commented earlier on the fruit being smaller than advertised. A virus would partially explain that. There is perhaps a little bit of necrosis (dead areas on leaves) at the shoot tips. The question is how it got the virus. This virus is typically transmitted by thrips in a greenhouse. Well, this plant was raised in my office, and I don’t think there were any thrips or infected plants for the thrips to pick up the virus. My guess would be that it was infected with the virus outside, either by thrips that picked up the virus last year and overwintered or infected thrips that were on one of the plants that did come from a greenhouse. At any rate, there’s nothing we can do about it now.

This is a pepper with a bad case of sunscald. Typically tomatoes and peppers are the most susceptible to sunscald, especially when there is lots of hot, bright sun. Keeping plants healthy with lots of leaf cover is the best option. Some varieties are better than others as far as shading fruit. At other times if you are having a very severe problem, providing a little additional shade would be the only option, which can sometimes be a logistical challenge in a garden!

Our sunflowers in the Kids Snack Garden are getting rather holey and spotted leaves. On examination, I found these little lacebug nymphs on a couple leaves.

And also these little white caterpillars. I think they are just a type of wooly bear caterpillar, even though they are white. If anyone knows differently, please let me know! These guys are having quite a meal of sunflower leaves. At this point, I’m not going to do anything about the bugs on the sunflowers. Now if they encroach onto a vegetable…

Some of the eggplant leaves are also looking a little bit Swiss Cheesy. I couldn’t find anything on the plants, although my suspicion is cucumber beetles. I found a couple flea beetles, but they typically cause pinhole size damage. I’ll be keeping an eye on the eggplant to monitor the damage and to see if I find anything doing the chomping. When you see the pile of eggplant we harvested today, you won’t be to concerned about our plants!

If you remember from a couple weeks ago, I showed some pictures of the Chocolate Cherry tomato and was suspicious of either a fungus or bacterial canker on the plant. Well…I sent a sample to our plant pathology lab, and they said that it was scorch. I’m not convinced, because there were lesions on the stems. They could have been from one of the hail storms. At any rate, the plant is not recovering and seems to still be in decline. We removed it today. The neighboring roma seems to be developing some sort of ailment, but it might just be a combination of spider mites, early blight, and a slight nutrient deficiency.

After all that death and destruction, here’s a palate cleanser! Yes, this Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar is munching down the fennel, but we planted it for that purpose anyway!

Leggy Tomato Seedlings

Our tomato seedlings have really taken off. In fact, I think they are a bit more leggy this year than some years. I’m not a fan.

These plants are just 3 weeks old! Well…the seeds were planted 3 weeks ago today. This is why I try very hard to start our tomatoes no sooner than 4 weeks before we want to plant outside. Normally I would be starting to put them outside for hardening off right now – except that it’s only 44 degrees outside. Yeah, not so much. Most years I insistently hold the line on not planting our tomato plants before the first week of May, and this year I decided that we could plant on April 23rd so they were in before Herb Day. (I’m going to be away from the garden on April 30th.) Well, at present they are still forecasting overnight lows below 40 degrees for next week. No tomato plants going outside here!

Yes, I suppose we could break out the milk jugs (ugh, they blow away in the wind!) or the wall-o-waters (ugh, expensive!). But I don’t really think there is much benefit to doing those things at this point.

Part of the reason the plants are so leggy this year is that they level of my light stand they are on has 2 of the 4 fluorescent tubes burned out. I think it is the fixtures, because the same tubes are burned out every spring. The peppers and eggplant under the middle tier aren’t getting leggy yet.

So, since I can’t put the plants outside, here are the steps I’m taking to prevent further legginess:

1. Moved them to the bottom tier of lights where there are 4 tubes working.

2. Placed the lights as close to the tops of the plants as possible without actually touching.

3. Provide minimal fertilizer. (I’ve only fertilized once because I saw a little bit of purple color showing up on some of the leaves.)

4. Keep my office cooler…yeah…I can try!

5. Put them outside whenever a warm, sunny day presents itself. (Even a cloudy, warm day would be acceptable at this point.)

Whenever you are getting leggy seedlings the keys to keeping them shorter are: more light, closer/brighter light, cooler temps, less fertilizer, less water. Even small differences can make a big difference in the growth of your plants.

Oh yeah, and I’m hoping that the forecast straightens out into something more closely resembling mild spring weather.