July 23, 2008

Garden Battles

The Tale of the Horrible Hornworms - This little cartoonish photo of the hornworm is the most I could deal with posting. I couldn't bring myself to post a photo of them on our own plants. It causes responses in me that just aren't appropriate! This has got to be one of the most disgusting pests in the garden. The more they eat your precious tomato plants and the lovely developing fruits - the fatter, squishier, and more sickening they become. They may look like slow, slothful drunks, but they can move through your garden causing damage at an unbelievable pace. We saw no evidence on Saturday afternoon but were shocked on Monday afternoon to see first - the droppings all over the ground around our tomatoes, second - the bare stalks on the top of many of our plants and third - the hornworms in all their gooshy, bursting at the seams glory, wreaking havoc on our little babies! We were totally blindsided since we had none of these monsters last year. We should have been looking for the larvae on the leaves as the first sign, and then we could have sprayed to prevent the onslaught. Our first defensive action was to brutally kill them as we pulled them off the plants, which is not easy since they camouflage themselves so well and they have Velcro-like grip on the plant. Then we borrowed some BT from Uncle J - BT (Bacillus thuringiensis Kurstaki) is a naturally occurring bacteria that kills this kind of pest but is not harmful to the plants, humans, or other wildlife, which makes it perfect for organic gardening. DH mixed it with our sesame oil based pesticide and let loose on the varmints. Last night we found just a few more but most were in a state of decline. Whew!

Now this is a cute scene for a change of pace! Here are the "Three Biddies on the Bean Poles", captured by DH the other morning. These are barn swallows that we are more than happy to see in the garden. Lately I've come across a lot of articles about attracting birds to your property and the important role they play in organic gardening. They can eat an amazing number of insects and larvae in a days time, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that we really haven't had too much problem other than the hornworms. One report claimed that swallows could eat more than one thousand leafhoppers in twelve hours! We are very blessed to have a pond on our property, woods all around us, and farm fields as well. These naturally attract birds of course, but we also have a number of feeders that we fill in the winter. Here is one of our most lovely visitors this past February. Uncle J also made some nesting boxes for a fence at the back of our property and those attracted both bluebirds and swallows. "Organic Gardening Magazine" has a good online article about making nesting boxes for Kestrels, which are great predators of garden pests too. We've seen a few of them around here and it might be a good plan to encourage them to stick close by.

The other battle we've had in the garden this summer has been the unceasing string of strong storms bringing high wind and lots of rain. Even recently our corn has been pushed over by strong wind and we can see where the base of some of the stalks have been eroded by the unusual amount of rain and runoff. Last year we had some of the same battle with wind, which resulted in our using much sturdier tomato cages this year and making sure that those bean poles were deeply embedded into the dirt. We're thinking that our plan to use "square foot" gardening will help this problem too. Lax organization of seedlings and planting has also been a battle for us this summer, but that will be another post and I'll be looking for your ideas and what works for you.

Now to the really good stuff - food from the garden! Last night's dinner included this beet and orange salad, with green onion and curried honey dressing. Oh was it good - and this from newly reformed beet eaters! This recipe came from the Joy of Gardening Cookbook, which I blogged about in my first post. The green sprig on the top of the salad is some of our globe basil , called that because it grows in this globe shape.It's not actually an ingredient in this salad but it was in the turkey burgers I made last night. The burgers also had green onion (yes I will have major withdrawal when I don't have access to loads of green onion!) and chopped chard leaves. I did my "melting" thing with the greens in the microwave again and then mixed them into the meat mixture. Tucked in the middle is a small piece of blue cheese, which you can see is pooling out of the top of the burger on the left - what more could you need?! I got this basic idea from my little sister who came up with tiny turkey burgers loaded with herbs and a hidden piece of Manchego cheese. These were one of the many wonderful things she had for her gracious graduation reception for my niece this past May. So I combined her idea with the Joy of Gardening Cookbook tip, which says to add chopped greens to anything that comes out of the kitchen, and my burgers were born. I will be following my sister's lead again when the tomatoes are ripe by making Caprese salad with our globe basil, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella. Can't wait!

Well, this is all then.

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