Inch by Inch: Staying alive

Posted Wednesday, May 30, 2012 in Features

Inch by Inch: Staying alive

by New Maine Times Staff

It's after Memorial Day, so even the most conservative gardeners have the majority of their plants and seeds in by now.  But the work isn't over, not by a long chalk.

Open Season on Beetles and Caterpillars

June is the month when Japanese beetles leave their underground lair for your rose bed and grape arbors, so if you haven't done so already, now is the time to dust your soil with diatomaceous earth.  Dust once a week for the entire month, and with luck, you'll significantly decrease or eliminate your Japanese beetle problem.

Where are they living? If you have green lawn, look for the spots that aren't green.  Those suggest a grub infestation.  In those areas, liberally dust with diatomaceous earth.  If beetles are already chewing on your rose leaves and grape leaves and other plants, dust those directly. 

We were able to cure a tent caterpillar infestation with diatomaceous earth and neem oil alone, but not before we lost a couple tiny apples. Since these are young trees, the loss is not insignificant. Look for cobwebby material and small black and yellow caterpillars and their black eggs. 

Weed patrol

In beds, it is easier to weed than it is in open fields, but in either case, the work you've been doing to improve your soil for your plants is helping your weeds, too.  And weeds grow much faster, seemingly, than do plants you are trying to grow.  In the organic garden or farm, herbicides are never okay, so the goal is immediate control.  Once you've done everything you can do to prevent weeds -- covering with garden fabric, mulching, etc. -- the next step is brute force.  Tour your beds at least daily and remove young weeds before they can grow enough to flower.  At this stage, you can dump them in your composter without harm.  If the plants have flowers, but haven't set seed, remove the flowers and toss them in.  If they've gone to seed, however, you have to find another solution for your weeds, such as burning them or taking them to the community composter (which heats up enough to kill seeds) at your local landfill, so you can see that early intervention is the best choice.

Protect from summer storms

Plants need rain, and they can tolerate a lot of it in the summer months when they are busy photosynthesizing, producing flowers and setting fruit.  But some summer storms are dangerous to plants, especially storms that are likely to produce hail.  Invest in some tarps and stakes. If a strong storm with hail is predicted, cover your crops and young trees. For your tomato beds, especially if you are using cages, you can lay the tarps right over the cages and stake them down.  For other beds, you may have to put in stakes in the center of the beds and stake them down on either side, so your bed resembles a cub scout pup tent. 

For your young trees, build a tarp like a teepee, with a tall stake or stick (we've used fallen limbs and broomsticks) that's at least as tall as the youngster, and cover carefully with the tarp, using clothes pins to keep the tarp closed on the side. 

In either case, remove the tarps as soon as the weather improves.

Dry spell

Don't assume that rain will be enough.  Water your plants at least daily on days when it does not rain.  On very hot days, two waterings may be required, early in the morning and in the evening as the sun is setting.

Deer, bird, and other wildlife threats

If you're growing berries or fruit, expect that wild creatures will want to share with you.  There are ways to protect your crops from wild animals, however.

Bird netting -- For strawberry beds, blueberries and even bramble berries, if birds are becoming a significant nuisance, try netting.  Bird netting can be pricey if you have a large number of berry bushes, so first determine if they're a real problem.  In our experience, they are fonder of strawberries than brambles and blueberries, so it might be in your interest to net your strawberries, which typically set fruit in June, during mating/chick-rearing season, and see if they start to go for your blueberries, blackberries and raspberries later.

Deer scarers -- Deer are frightened by loud noises and are deterred by human scent.  Collect some metal plates or cheap pots and pans (yard sales are good for this) and string them around the plants that are causing the greatest concern. As they bang together in the wind, deer will flee. Loud windchimes (the harbor bell types work well) can also work.  As for human scent, be creative.  Dirty tee shirts in the region, old shoes, human hair (when you cut your hair, collect it and put it in your garden.  It will break down eventually) and other human scents will also deter deer.  Dogs will also keep the deer at bay. 

Woodchucks, raccoons, rabbits, and skunks -- Effective deterrents for these critters is the urine of predators.  It comes in both granular form and liquid form, and includes urine of coyotes, bobcats, and other predator species.  However, it may annoy your dogs and frighten your cats and chickens.  Another way to keep small creatures out is to have dogs about the place.  Rabbits and skunks and woodchucks are easily frightened by movement, so try blowing up a few beachballs and letting them blow around your yard.  Or string some shiny material, such as folded aluminium foil "wings" near the plants that smaller critters are drawn to.  Raccoons and skunks don't like light, so a motion sensor light near your garden is a good way to deter them.  If they just won't leave, try baiting a humane trap and take your garden visitor to a local land trust or wilderness area.

Next week: Encouraging pollinators

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