Sunday, December 12, 2010

September 6, 2009 - Of Bugs and Pests

September 6, 2009 – Of bugs and pests
One broccoli head turned out bigger than the market average size, as my father observed. My aunt quickly said “give this to auntie Celia” not knowing that each head is awaited anxiously. Only one head per plant. I had never seen any planted one before, so I didn’t know that the adult plant would require quite a bit of space. Actually, I didn’t want to believe the information and didn’t follow instructions on distance between plants. To make it short, all my veggies are now cramped into a little raised bed which sides were washed away. Most plants have long crooked necks.
My very first experiment with vegetable gardening was a disaster. The only few things that managed to sprout were eaten by pests in front of my very eyes. I even saw some slug half body inside the soil taking a huge bite swallowing the sprout from its roots. So, the first few weeks on my new garden went peacefully without any shadow of insects. But they finally came. Beetles attacked mustard greens leaving holes or eating the whole plant. Even those ones that survived and grew big still carry dozens of beetles and their larvae between the leaves. I saw white butterflies laying eggs on arugula and collard grees. White flies flying over other greens. When I lifted the brassica leaves, hundreds of aphids hidden underneath. They killed my cucumbers. Catterpillars managed to poke a hole on zucchinis and killed them too. Mildew on other squashes brought some losses. Some other kind of grey beetle with white dots populated my tomato plants. My daughter and I caught most of them by hand and dropped them into soapy water. It worked. But my tomatoes still suffer from something. One technician said it is antracnose, other said lack of calcium and bugs that laid eggs inside the flowers. So sad to see a strong tomato vine hanging dozens of green fruits not to go ripe, but getting rotten bottom instead. Tomatoes are not an easy one to grow. They are not adapted to our climate, so they carry a variety of diseases that are hard to control organically. But my other variety is younger and doing better. I allowed more space between them and started to spray with nehem extract earlier. Other spontaneous tomato vines around the house are growing stronger, except the bigger fruit variety. The cherry ones even though always sour grow without any blemish.
To my surprise, either nehem extract or flooding corn catterpillars controlled a disease. The corns grew and are yielding now. I think it is out of season, as the corns are not fully developed into a golden yellow, remaining milky white.
Catterpilars on brassicas were also controlled by hand, literally. We again caught them one by one. I usually drop it on the ground and step on it. My instructor insists in blending them to be used as spray against their own. I can pick them by hand, but using my blender for this seems a little bit too disgusting to me.
Yes, I won my disgust for picking catterpillars, transplanting on dungfull soil without gloves, but I still have not used the biofertilizer made with chicken manure. It looks more horrendous then once it smelled. Today, it smelled just like any other fermented material. It was even pleasant.
The salad bowl lettuce heads are growing even bigger (and taller). I had not given it much attention during sowing, as I didn’t buy the seeds. Someone had given me an open package and I sowed for not to waste. And it didn’t waste. I did my second sowing last week. It seems like every minuscule seed sprouted. I had much work eating young leaves, giving them away, and transplanting them. Some heads are heavy. I found out that lettuces are hardy against insects. Not a single bite on any of them. I got some spontaneous lettuce. This is always a little surprise to see them spring up in the garden.
I am happy with my vegetable garden. Today I harvested the rest of carrots I left to see how much they were going to grow. They had not turned woody yet. Some were underdeveloped, some were defective, but a few were presentable. I brought some to my neighbor dona Rosa. Not only her, but my cousins, my aunties, and even my daughter’s teacher are getting fresh veggies once in a while.
The first beet crop was gone a long ago. I just transplanted my second sowing. It rained nicely for the last three days. Perfect timing for transplanting young seedling and for sowing new seeds.
Most of veggies that grew a few inches turned out good except for zucchini which died after I harvested a few squashes and cucumber after I got only one fruit. Some didn’t sprout much, as snow peas. I got only three vines with only one pod but a few flowers. Same number for green beans which I let my daughter gather a handfull almost every day.
I have steadily had collard greens, green onions, parsley, lettuce, and arugula. Cilantro is flowering now, and sweet basil going into seeding. I have gotten some broccoli, but more to come. Cauliflowers and Belgium sprouts are still far from yielding anything, if they will. I neglected transplanting correctly and on right time, so I am still to see what is going to happen. Only four bell pepper plants survived. They get attacked by the same beetles as the tomatoes. I saw small fruits hanging on also small plant. Besides bell peppers, I also have at least four different kinds of hot peppers in different stages, but I am not eating any of them yet.
But the most pretty part if the herb garden. French marigold is in full bloom as the calendula. Mint is spreading aggressively. Sage is strong as I had never seen before. Marjoram and oregano are almost unrecognizable. Each plant is doing its own thing. Hot pepper yielding lots of peppers, small leaf basil growing healthy, guaco vines climbing on marigold, dill turning celery green. I don’t remember all the herbs I have on my little patch. I only lost thyme. I guess it needs poor soil.
My front garden once full of sunflowers are now clean for next thing. I am thinking about sowing some okra. The reason is that I have unsuccessfully sowed a few times. It seems like I got only four little ones. I am already happy for those. I may also bring the herb garden instead of planting regular ornamentals. Nasturtium, calendula, marigold along with other herbs can be ornamental, aromatic, and medicinal. I can’t think of any plant if it is not for eating. The idea of cottage garden excites me.
Since our vegetable garden started to produce edibles, I automatically have decreased the intake of meat. Freshly harvested veggies taste so juicy, sweet, and alive!
A spontaneous squash vine grew next to atemoia baby tree. Even though it had signs of mildew, I has lots of flowers and a few green young squashes. It is so good to sautee it in garlic. My neighbor gave me some young chayotte. They go well together in the pan.
My vegetable garden is not only cramped by growing plants, but it has usually more than two different plants in each raised beds. Some has four. The first ones has leeks, lettuce, marigold, and carrots. The second one has calendula, leeks, peppers, brassica, etc This is part a strategy against pests and part a system of maximazing soil use. As the seedlings grow, I transplant to wherever there is room.
In my experiment, I leave a few plants untouched. For instance, I have a beautifull arugula starting to flower. The purple chicory had green leaves, but as it grows more leaves, the inner ones become grape color with no green trace just as the picture on the seed package showed. The other ones that I cut the leaves for eating are mostly green, and not purple as it supposed to be. A unidentified brassica grow lush like a male peacock tail.
What is suffering most from lack of space to grow, besides broccoli and tomato vines, are the yellow onions. Some are showing the bulbs prematurely. Too bad they won’t have enough space to yield a regular size onions.
All in all, I got to a conclusion that I need more planting space. The beds need to be wider and longer. The holes need to be measured and marked geometrically. The tutors need to be put early. Some veggies need to be more or less sowed, need to scale the number of plants to yield a certain number of desired goodies. I need to buy a professional type sprayer. I need to spray fertilizers and pesticide more regularly. I need to take notes of everything. I need to become more serious.

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