Category Archives: Pest Management

Harvest Season

by Peter Heffelfinger

posted September 14, 2020

 

Harvest Season

During the high levels of smoke locally from all the forest fires on both sides of the state, I’ve been spending my extended time indoors processing the garden harvest.

To date I’ve made three kinds of sauerkraut: first, a plain or ‘Naked Kraut,’ as the fermenting book labels it, just green cabbage and sea salt; second, a Middle Eastern style kraut made with Za’atar, an spice blend that includes sumac, a tart lemon-flavored herb; and third, Curtido, a Latin American style kraut with carrots, onions, garlic, oregano, cumin, and dried chiles. So far, while fermenting in the cool pantry, the krauts have withstood the recent high temperatures that might spoil them. The key is to check the large gallon jars everyday, tamping down the cabbage back into the brine, to vent all the bubbling.

And of course tasting a bit each time to see how close it is to being done.

Next up to try will be a German Blaukraut made with red cabbage, tart apples and caraway seeds. After each kraut is sufficiently fermented, between 7 to 14 days, it is ladled into quart jars, topped with fresh grape leaves, the lid is tightened, and the jar can be stored in a fridge for up to a year. When the garden gives you lots of cabbage, make sauerkraut.

The last of the pickling and Persian cucumbers have been put in salt brine to ferment for 12 days, along with garlic cloves, dried cayenne chilies, bay leaves, and both mustard and dill seeds. A grape leaf goes on top to keep the cukes submerged in the brine. Hopefully a New York style deli sour pickle will develop. Again, daily monitoring is needed to clean off any scum on top and to add fresh brine as needed. After fermenting is done, the pickles can be stored in the fridge for a year, all the while maintaining their probiotic levels since they were not heat processed. Old style fermentation is now back in style as the latest in diet health.

Finally, the tomatoes all got very ripe due to the hot winds that initially brought in the forest fire smoke. To deal with the full flats of tomatoes, I used a high speed food processor to pulp the cored tomatoes and I froze the pulp in quart containers. I combined all the tomato types into one all-purpose puréed sauce: the Early Girls and the Big Beefs, the Romas and San Marzanos, and the soft heirlooms such as Mortgage Lifter and Old German Mennonite. The regular table tomatoes supply lots of juice, the Italian varieties add thick flesh, and the heirlooms provide sweetener and flavor. Very similar to mixing varieties of apples to make a good, balanced fresh cider.

 

Return of the Aphids

After the rainfall in late August the aphids returned to their favorite site, the brassicas. White, translucent aphids reappeared hidden inside the top buds of the Brussels Sprouts, so this time I broke off the bud tip and doused the area with a mild detergent soap spray. I also removed some bottom sprouts lower down that had turned black or were beginning to open up into small off-shoots, and gave the entire lower stem area a squirt of soap to deter any other aphid colonies. In contrast, black aphids appeared on the fall cabbages, collards and broccoli starts that were just taking off. Again, a dose of soap spray will hopefully keep these aphids in check. There’s always an insect waiting to dine on the garden before you get to eat.

 

Smoke in the Air

I was interested in the effect of the extended days of smoky air on the garden plants. The newly sprouted fall greens, turnips, and miner’s lettuce seemed unaffected but still needed their daily watering to keep from drying out. In the hoop house, with an outside temperature staying around 60F degrees most of the day, the ambient solar radiation still managed to raise the interior temperature to 79F degrees with the sides closed. The heat will help ripen the last of the peppers: the Italian Red Roasters, the Early Jalapeños, the Padrones and Anchos, as well as the small but potent Cherry Bombs. Not to forget the North Stars, the regular green peppers that if given the chance will eventually turn red on the stem.

Artichokes, Aphids, Cats, and Pickles — And Produce Stands!

by Peter Heffelfinger

Posted July 27, 2020

A Good Year for Artichokes

With all the added rainfall during the winter and extending into June, the artichokes had a banner season. The bed of the standard Green Globe plants produced 6-8 heads at a time over a month, while a solo purple type, Violetta de Provence, averaged 2-3 edible buds per week. The key is to pick when the heads are still young and tender, and the leaves are tightly held together towards the tip. Once the barbed leaves start to spread horizontally, their lower edible parts become tough, and the artichoke heart gets more fibrous. The bud will soon become a purple flowering thistle, a gourmet version of the Russian Thistle weeds currently appearing in the meadow next door and everywhere else.

When you cut the artichoke off the plant the knife should pass through the stem easily, with little resistance. If the stem has a bit of a harder core, the choke will be tougher, and the inner thistles more developed. On truly young artichokes I find that you can eat the entire heart without first cleaning out the immature thistles at the center.

While there was a super artichoke crop this year, it may signal the plants have reached the end of their 3-4 year growth cycle. They’re already visibly dying back and I doubt they’ll last through the summer, much less regenerate next spring. I’ll mulch the bed with horse manure in the fall and hope for the best. But if I have to plant new starts next year, it was certainly a great finale.

Powdery Mildew and Black Aphids

In the squash and pumpkin patch, the familiar powdery fungus, which usually arrives in the fall, has started to appear, first as a whitening of the leaves, and then as dead tissue forming on the leaf edges. I pluck off all the affected leaves as much as possible. On the advice of the expert gardener in the neighborhood, a retired nurseryman, I sprayed the patch generally with a solution of one part milk and six parts water. Seems to slow the mildew down, although the dry sunny weather helped as well. I hope the pumpkins and vegetable spaghetti squash make it to maturity.

The nurseryman’s own garden has healthy squash plants spreading in all directions, with much greater spacing between the hills, which may be a key to his lack of powdery mildew so far. His corn, however, has problems. Planted in mid-May, two weeks or more earlier than mine, it was already two feet high while my multiple sowings were still rotting in the ground. Now, his corn plants are tasseling prematurely at three feet tall, with the tassels infested with black aphids. The way in which our rainfall pattern has recently changed seems to be affecting usually reliable crops. My own corn is still small and will only be for decoration, if it matures. I hope the local sweet corn at the farm stands out on the Flats will be available as a backup.

Cats in the Garden

Cats and gardens always seem to go together. George and Charley, two young male litter mates living next door, are now daily visitors. At first, when the seedlings were small, and the beds were soft, their vigorous digging was not appreciated. They were able to get around or under any fencing, and loved playing inside draped tents of Reemay. But now that the plants are bigger, their attraction to fresh dirt doesn’t do much damage. A little sprayed water in their direction is all it takes to discourage them and they don’t seem to take it personally.

They’re becoming successful predators, seeking out the small bunnies that usually plague my beds, something I’m grateful for, along with the welcome absence of mice this year. I’m hoping they’ll also take care of the meadow voles that have been a major problem in the past. Charley, with the grey tiger stripes, is the more dedicated hunter, always on the prowl, and more standoffish. George, the orange buff, follows me around, mewing for attention. What they both really want, however, is to catch the birds, the one downside to having felines. I hope the robins, gold finches and swallows will see them coming.

The flip side is that the cats themselves are enticing young prey for the bald eagles that live in the tall firs just up the slope of Mt. Erie, as well as for the coyotes that have a den on the nearby ridge. A previous kitten lasted only a few months before disappearing. And lastly, the turkey vultures are always slowly cruising over the fields, looking for whatever remains.

[Editor’s Note: Roaming cats can take a toll on birds. To protect both birds and cats, consider keeping them indoors.

First Pickles

You know it’s summer when you can put up the first jar of pickles. This year I planted smooth-skinned Persian cucumbers for the first time, as well as a generic pickling type. I used the recipe for 5-day, salt brine pickles from Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Small Lebanese cucumbers were recommended, but I hoped Persian would be Middle Eastern enough. I used mostly Persian cucumbers, with a few of the generics added, to fill out a 1.5 quart jar, along with black mustard seeds, allspice berries, fennel seeds, black peppercorns, whole cloves, celery seeds, one dried chile, garlic cloves, and bay leaves. Fresh dill was also listed, but my garden dill wasn’t ready yet. I don’t think its absence will be noticed.

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Produce Stands Up and Serving!

And a chance for all of you to help our community:

Transition Fidalgo and Friends has put two Produce Stands in place in Anacortes. One is at 2509 H Avenue, the home of Warren Carr. The other is near the front door of the Library!

Please bring any extra produce you may have, so that we can share with those who may need some fresh food.

We hope to have the sides of the second stand decorated as nicely as the first stand way, and that this one was made by Dave Steele of the NW Corner Woodworkers Assoc, with Sound Cedar donating mostly of the materials.

The Wet and the Dry

By Peter Heffelfinger

June 29, 2020

 

The Wet

It certainly has been a wet month, with hard rains causing germination or mold problems. I am still waiting to see if my third planting of corn will sprout enough to fill in the bare soil in the rows from the first two disappointing seedings. As well, some of the 6-inch high onion plants developed mold around the bulbs and had to be discarded. But the peas soaked up all the rain and kept climbing up what seemed like an endless water spout.

Another sign of the high moisture level was the arrival of aphids, hiding in their usual beginning spot, deep inside the tender central growing tips of brassicas, in this case a bed of young Lacinato kale. An easy treatment is to spray the leaf cluster area with a light solution of detergent and water. The soap attacks the soft exoskeleton of the aphids that are sucking out the juices of the plant. Once aphids are present on a crop, keep a constant watch for their reappearance and keep spraying them at first sight. The soap solution does not affect the plant tissues, and is easily washed off, usually by the next garden watering. Check the site for several days to make sure there are no remaining aphids present, keep an eye out for any re-occurrence, and have the soap spray bottle at hand.

Aphids often spread to other plants, especially inside the top buds of Brussels sprouts. Check the long-standing plants often, carefully unfolding the tightly wrapped central growing cluster of leaves at the top of the stalk. Drench with the soapy solution if there are aphids hiding deep inside, and make sure to check the lower side-buds as well, once they start to form over the summer. In general, if the stems of any plant do get covered with aphids, discard the entire plant, in order to immediately to check the infestation. Aphids are endemic here, and will keep reappearing at intervals; but careful, organic pest management will control them.

There’s a good side to all the rain, though. The early broccoli crop has been abundant, the spring cabbages are already reaching full size, and the first small white crowns of cauliflower are forming. With our extended daylight hours of summer, cauliflower heads may start to sprout or discolor prematurely before getting full-sized. Lightly cover the central area of the plant by cracking, but not completely severing, the stems of a few of the outer cauliflower leaves and then folding them over the emerging heads. Complete the makeshift parasol by adding on top a few large, aged cabbage leaves. Keep the cauliflower heads in the dark. Wait for the head to grow to full size and pick while the curds are still tight. Fresh, homegrown cauliflower eaten straight from the garden is incredibly sweet compared to the commercial product that has been aging in transport.

A note on the garlic harvest. Some gardeners in the Dewey Beach area had to pull their already-mature garlic last week. For my crop out in the Valley, the last of the scapes have just been removed. Hopefully there will be a dry spell of our Mediterranean-style summer to properly mature the plants just before lifting in mid-July. For more information on when to harvest garlic, see the link below to the recent New York Times article on Filaree Garlic Farm, a commercial garlic seed grower in the Okanogan. Nice to know an extensive seed bank of the many types of garlic from all over the world exists on the dry side of our state. (Thanks to Jan Hersey for sending me the link.)

 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/24/realestate/grow-garlic-garden-organic.html?smid=em-share

[ A subscription to the NY Times is required to read this article]

 

The Dry

Inside the hoop house, the main issue is watering, given the heat buildup that starts each morning as soon as the early sun hits the walls. I try to conserve water since I rely on an Artesian well that slows down in late August. Over the years I’ve tried various mulches, including black plastic and biodegradable paper mulch, to keep the soil moist, but I now prefer to leave the soil open to the warm air. I currently water using the half-gallon black plastic pots the tomato plants came in to make individual mini-cisterns half-buried next to the stems of each plant. The pots create an efficient deep-watering system.

For tomatoes, I cut the bottom off the thin-walled rectangular pots and drive the edges halfway down into a small, excavated area next to the plant and berm up soil around the outer sides of the pot. I fill the pots with a hose, letting the water seep down to the roots, with no leaks off the side of the raised mound. I do water the surface soil around the stem as well, but the pots supply the bulk of the irrigation.

For peppers, which don’t need quite the same volume of water, I use the thicker-walled cylindrical pots as is. The bottom drainage holes are buried 2-3 inches deep; the pot is located in between the plants, which are spaced 18” apart in the row. As with the tomatoes I water the soil surface around the stem of the plant a bit as well, to keep the surface moist, but most of the irrigation filters down to the roots. 

For both the tomatoes and peppers I let the cold well water warm up for a day in a 50-gallon barrel before applying it, via a gravity-fed hose, to what are originally tropical plants now being grown in a northern temperate zone. Keep their feet warm and wait for that first red tomato or full-sized pepper.

A New Backyard Pest; and much more

By Peter Heffelfinger

Posted June 8, 2020

A new backyard pest

I spent several days this week dealing with an infestation of what looked like tiny, black, leaf-eating caterpillars that swarmed over a mature stand of highbush cranberry shrubs and also onto one nearby snowball bush. The leaves were skeletonized, leaving the stems and veins intact, by what resembled tiny leeches with legs, crawling up the main trunks to get to the foliage. The only solution was to cut down the tall shrubs completely and take them to the burn pile for immediate incineration. I am hoping I got rid of enough of the pests before they invade a nearby prized Japanese maple or a Korean dogwood that is in full bloom.

The soft cranberry shrub leaves were more susceptible than the thicker leaves on an adjacent shiny laurel, which was also covered by what looked like sticky frass, the technical term for insect droppings. So the laurel went as well, just to be safe. The recent heavy rains and lush undergrowth may have been part of the cause, but it is the first time I have seen such an invasion on mature shrubs that I have been growing and pruning for several decades. It certainly felt like an outbreak that had to be dealt with firmly. I will be on the lookout for further signs and will try to identify the critters specifically.

 

Tomato pollination

As the tomatoes climb up their supports and start to flower, it is important to remember that in order to set fruit the plants need to be kept above 50F degrees at night. When closing up the hoop house in the evening to maintain the heat, I give the tomato cages a quick shake to get the pollen out into into the air. Hopefully the small green buttons of nascent tomatoes will soon start to appear. The cherry tomatoes always come first, given their small size, leading the way for the larger standard varieties.

 

Vegetable perennials: artichokes and asparagus

I grow a bed of the standard Green Globe artichokes, which are just coming on. They are a welcome treat, but somewhat bland-tasting, and must be picked before they get too tough. I do have one bush of purple artichokes, Violetta de Provence, an Italian variety that produces smaller chokes, but with a much more delicate flavor. When picked early, you can eat almost the entire bud. Gourmet thistles.

The other garden perennial is the bed of asparagus, which is just reaching maturity in its third season. It has been worth the wait. Now one can pick a high percentage of the stalks, which are decidedly sweet when eaten straight from the garden. A key to a sustained harvest is to keep the bed well watered as the roots send up the shoots.

 

Broccoli

The first rush of ripe broccoli is also here, having recently emerged from their floating row cover. I blanch the flowerets for a few minutes just until they turn bright green, then quickly chill in cold water. I like them as an appetizer dipped into a sauce of mayonnaise mixed with a bit of dry mustard and a spritz of lemon juice. I have also found that the plain stems can be eaten as well if you cut them into small slices or julienned strips and blanch them a bit longer than the tops before chilling. If the stem is particularly tough, use a vegetable peeler to get rid of the thick skin. Eat the whole vegetable.

Integrated Pest Management Resources for Home Gardeners

Jane Billinghurst, WSU Skagit County Extension Master Gardener volunteer

Posted April 29, 2020
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In a recent post, I outlined the amazing free bulletins WSU Extension provides for people wanting to grow vegetables at home. Here are the two main links where these resources, tailored specifically for growing conditions in western Washington, can be found:

http://gardening.wsu.edu/home/

https://pubs.extension.wsu.edu/general-gardening

After you have planned and planted your garden, the next item on your list is to protect your hard work and keep your vegetables healthy.

The bulletins help here. There is info, for example, on dealing with voles and using row covers to keep insects away from your veggies.

But there’s another way to access info about dealing with pests and diseases that are common in western Washington. If you suspect a particular bug or disease, you can go to Hortsense and check out what the damage caused by those bugs and diseases looks like. The site then describes the biology of the pest or disease, lists non-chemical management options available to you, and provides general links to pesticide information.

WSU Extension also has a bulletin that explains how Integrated Pest Management works—that is, choosing the least invasive way of dealing with pests and diseases and keeping your vegetables healthy. Where and how you plant and your choice of what to plant all make an enormous difference to how healthy your vegetable garden will be. If you understand IPM (both in the planning stages and after you’ve planted your vegetables), you can set yourself up for success and have fewer pests and diseases to deal with in the long run.

WSU Skagit County Extension Master Gardener plant clinics are here to help if you’d like more info about how best to deal with a plant problem. The Master Gardeners (MGs) are not offering in-person plant clinics at the moment, but they’re taking inquiries via email (skagitmgplantclinic@gmail.com). You can also leave a phone message at 360-395-2368. Please provide the location and a detailed description of the problem, plant, or insect. Send digital photos if possible. Also, provide a phone number in case the MGs have more questions. You can find more information here.