Got worms?

22 06 2013

I got worms… but not the kind you might expect

It seems as though there are too many garden pests these days. Aphids, stink bugs, cabbage loopers, and now even some of the larger garden pots have ants crawling through them. How do I control these pests without blowing up the yard, killing the neighbors dog, or destroying the last surviving bee hive on the planet?

It’s time that I gave nematodes a try. Nema what? Nematodes. Pronounced “NEEM-uh-toads”.

Oh… you mean like these?

Not at all. In fact nematode aren’t toads at all. They are microscopic worms that go after garden pests. But aren’t nematodes a bad thing? Wasn’t there an article somewhere talking about how much damage they cause to crops?

Well, think of nematodes as your neighbors. There are the good ones that invite you to a party or bake you a pie. There are the bad ones that lock people up in the attic for years. For our example, we’ll assume they are not one and the same. I don’t want to wake up after eating a slice of cherry pie, wearing nothing but my birthday suit and shackled to the wall. I learned my lesson the last time… What a lousy attic party… Eh, too soon…

Back to the worms. Yes, there are nematodes that attack crops. We will avoid those. In a plot twist that would make the best mystery writer proud, parasitic nematodes are actually beneficial. They are wonderful little assassins, with an interesting method of dispatching their victims. Apparently, they enter the target through various orifices (take your pick), then proceed to release a toxic bacteria that kills the target pest and turns it into a great food source and great place for the nematode to reproduce. “My oh my, Mrs Nema, I’ve heard that the dead grub school district is a great place to raise kids.”

I decided to try the Heterorhabditis bacteriophora nematodes, as they can get rid of the ant queens residing in my planters. The package I ordered was intended to cover 1600 square feet. The package that arrived was a plastic container the size of a small deck of cards. It looked like it contained several clumps of sawdust.nematode2

I followed the directions and applied them to my garden beds and planters. Actually, I sort of followed the directions. I did not mix them enough, I did not use a sprayer, I applied the entire package over less than 200 square feet. Let’s say that enthusiasm got the best of me.

I think I know the question you want answered- Did they work? They jury is out, but the results look promising. I will provide periodic updates on the pest population in my garden.





More Tomatoes: Giving some support

16 06 2013

Our plants are in the ground; and though they may be small at first, they will eventually grow into amazing specimens with that desirable tomato harvest. This will be a thing of beauty: globes that are large, round and smooth; I just need one in my mouth for a taste. When the ripe orb touches your lips it’s just heaven. It is important to provide appropriate support for the girls, keeping them high and proud for the world to admire. Am I still talking about tomatoes? Um… yes, tomatoes.

Tomatoes need to be kept off the ground, away from the dirt, pests, and soil-born pathogens. How can we accomplish this?

Let’s explore four different categories of tomato support:

Posts/poles

Trellises

Nets

Cages

Poles are the easiest to place in the garden, but may require maintenance through the growing season. You drive the pole into the ground next to the Ms Tomato, being careful to stay away from the roots. Then just gently tie her to the pole, working your way up the main stem as she grows. Note that indeterminate varieties continue to grow throughout the season, and may outgrow a post if not long enough.

Just like me, this corkscrew post is twisted and fun...

Just like me, this corkscrew post is twisted and fun…

Just for fun I purchased some corkscrew posts to use in one garden bed this season. I’m sure the neighbors got some ideas if they overheard me talking about a screw in the garden or even a corkscrew in the garden. Either way, it sure makes gardening more fun. I just installed the post in the ground and gently wrapped the main stem around the corkscrew. Those limbs wrapping themselves around the pole is a thing of beauty.

In honor of Father’s Day, I am reminded of something comedian Chris Rock said. It’s a father’s job to keep his daughter off the pole. Of course he was referring to a different kind of pole. In our situation, it’s better to revise the quote. It’s a gardener’s job to keep the tomato plant on the pole.

Trellises are used in a similar way to posts. The plant is gently tied to the trellis as she grows. Some can get creative by tying up side shoots as well, having the plant grow flatter against the trellis. Have you ever had all of your limbs tied up? Trust me, the tomatoes won’t mind, either, as long as the ties aren’t too tight. What’s that? You haven’t had all of your limbs tied up before? How presumptuous of me. And I guess your level of enjoyment would also depend on whether somebody is tied up during a bank robbery, a kidnapping, or a third date. But I digress…

Trellis picture I "borrowed" from another site... I don't have a tomato trellis. This is for illustration purposes only.

Trellis picture I “borrowed” from another site… I don’t have a tomato trellis. This is for illustration purposes only.

Have you ever been to a vineyard? Think tomato plants instead of grape vines and you get the trellis idea.

Nothing but net... The netting underneath the tomato plant allows her to roam free while staying off the ground

Nothing but net… The netting underneath the tomato plant allows her to roam free while staying off the ground

By nets I don’t mean trellises, although netting can be used on a trellis. What I am referring to is netting installed under the tomato plant. The net is either in combination with a series of posts or the walls of a garden bed. It provides support for the tomato plant, keeps the fruit off the ground, but lets the tomato plant continue to grow au naturelle without other support. Using lingerie as an analogy, think of this growing method as the under wire shelf bra of the gardening world. And who said gardening couldn’t be exciting?

Now let’s stop my mind from wandering and get to my current favorite method of keeping the tomato plants up. Of course I am referring to cages. Time for the cage match, it’s a rage in the cage, starring Nicholas Cage… Yes, a cage…

Row of tomato cages... Aren't they pretty?

Row of tomato cages… Aren’t they pretty?

Why cages? Without them things can eventually get out of hand. Just ask Siegfried and Roy. Cages allow the plant to continue to grow upward without encroaching on other real estate in the yard or garden. The netting discussed above can lead to sprawl. You don’t have the continual maintenance of tying up the plant during the growing season, as with the pole or trellis.

Looks good in the right kind of cage...

Looks good in the right kind of cage…

Looks bad in the wrong kind of cage...

Looks bad in the wrong kind of cage…

You can purchase cages or make your own. It’s important to choose the best design for your garden. Some will look better than others. Kind of like a cage dancer… She may look hot on stage, not so hot in a holding cell…

 

 

 

 

I decided to make my own using a huge roll of 5 foot tall 14 gauge galvanized wire fence. I don’t think I would have succeeded without my bolt cutters and pliers. The assembly was a lot of work, but check out the results. The cage is basically a wire cylinder with larger holes created at different levels for harvesting. The cylinders have diameters ranging from 19 inches to 24 inches. All wires are wrapped into curves to prevent sharp edges. Keep things smooth and rounded for your comfort and the comfort of your plants. Send me a note if you would like more assembly details.

The openings in the  tomato cages invite your hand to explore the plant for a delicious harvest...

The openings in the tomato cages invite your hand to explore the plant for a delicious harvest…

I’m glad you took time to join me with my exploration of tomato supports. Remember to provide them with support, and they will reward you with a beautiful, and bountiful, harvest.