Tag Archives: companion planting

Time for a break?

I came across an interesting post the other day from little house on the urban prairie. It had a lot of the pests I’ve encountered over the years and a new one: the Japanese beetle. The photo caught my eye because I’d come across it the other day when I pulled up my collard greens that had signs of cabbage worm damage. It came up from underground when I pulled up the plant and disappeared by the time I’d come back from tossing it in the garbage. I wasn’t sure what it was. Now I know.

This article from The Old Farmers Almanac talks about how they emerge from the soil in June and start attacking plants. They attack over 300 types of plants! It says to look for signs of leaves where only the veins remain (skeletonized) as a telltale sign of Japanese beetles. Can’t say I’ve seen evidence of that type of damage.

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Signs of flea beetle damage on my radishes. Apparently radishes and nasturtium can be used as trap crops for the beetle so they don’t attack more precious veggies

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Signs of cabbage worm damage on my collards.

The article on beneficial insects referenced in the one about Japanese beetles reinforced what I often think about and aimed to do this year — plant flowers early to attract beneficial predators to keep the pests at bay. I think my problem is that I try to do most things from seed so they don’t flower early enough.

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Calendula came up early from overwintering seeds. They didn’t start flowering until June.

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Calendula starting to bloom. Cornflower buds at the front have yet to open

It crossed my mind already this season that next season I should take a break from veggies and just plant flowers and herbs in hopes that any pests overwintering in the soil would go somewhere else. It’s frustrating, feeling like you’re doing all the right things and still having pests invade. I guess I still have some work to do.

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A new pest for 2015

And this seems to be the worst one I’ve come across so far: the bloody flea beetle!

Flea beetle damage on radishes

Flea beetle damage on radish leaves

They are decimating my collards in the community garden and other seedlings in Hamilton. They may not be new to the garden (I may have attributed the damage to another pest in the past), but they are certainly making themselves known this year.

Flea beetle damage on eggplant

Flea beetle damage on eggplant

Flea beetle damage on tomatoes. New tomato leaves seem to be OK for now

Flea beetle damage on tomatoes. New leaves seem to be OK for now

They are a real pain. I can’t get close enough to squish them, they just hop away. They are definitely the most mobile pest I’ve encountered.  You Grow Girl says that they don’t enjoy moist environments or shade, so maybe once things start growing and shading other plants it will get better. Diatomaceous earth, row covers, and sticky traps are useful sources of organic control. Radish is supposed to be a trap crop, so I guess I should feel happy that its doing its job.

I read this interesting article that stated tomatoes planted near collards will deter the flea beetle. This is interesting because I thought that brassicas and tomatoes weren’t companions. Maybe some cabbage family members are more of a problem for tomatoes than others (and vice versa). Anyway, it’s good news as I think I’ve planted a tomato near my collards because my brother wanted two tomatoes in the community garden instead of the one I had planned for.

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“Mysteries” of the garden

My cousin picked me up from work on Friday so we could check out the organic farmer’s market on scenic drive. It was a pretty small market, about 6 vendors outside Scenic Drive Convenience Store, at Scenic Drive and Upper Paradise Road. She’s trying to lose weight for a wedding in August by increasing her consumption of greens and veggies. She’s decided that heirloom vegetables are what she wants to eat. It was funny to note that she had no idea that I was using organic and heirloom seeds and plants in the backyard. She picked up some kale and greens from Japan (looked like bok choy and name begins with a K). I was happy to sample blueberry pie and apple strudel while she made her choices and I learned from one of the farmers that a plant I had picked on the trail near James street stairs was from the spirea family (he was selling some). I’m trying to see if I can root it for transplant.

Not long after we came home, the sky turned dark. Storm clouds rolled in and the rain started coming down sideways. I was disappointed. I’d planned to quickly plant another strawberry that I picked up at Urban Harvest on Wednesday, take stock of what was going on in the garden, and then head back to Toronto. About an hour, tops. It had been a long week of commuting after recovering from a cold that had kept me off work last Thursday and Friday and in bed for most of the weekend. I wanted to head home at a reasonable time so that I could relax and enjoy my weekend. However, I wasn’t prepared to travel home in a storm so resigned myself to staying the night. I was dying to see what was happening out there so when the rain let up, I went out to check things out.

Snail on the prowl

Snail on the prowl after the rain

The first thing that caught my eye was mysterious little sprouts all across my beds. And then I remembered that my cousin had warned me – “don’t blame me…” she had started. My uncle had decided before he went away for work again (he goes every other month for a month) that he would sprinkle down “mystery” seeds in every space that was unoccupied. This included walkways.

My uncle's "sprinkle" method inside the greenhouse

My uncle’s planting method inside the greenhouse. This is how I knew he was to blame for what I saw below…

"Mystery" seeds around my tomatoes!!!

“Mystery” seeds around my tomatoes!!! Argh!!!

Clearly he doesn’t understand square foot gardening method. And, as I mentioned, he likes to do things his own way. Well, so do I. I had planned to put some companion spicy salad greens and basil on every corner of the tomato plants (ie. 4 plants to one tomato plant) so I proceeded to do so. We’ll see whose seeds to better. Did I mention I was stubborn?

Some plants are doing quite well after about a week and a half. Others not so well.

Onions are doing well

Onions are coming along

Apparently I didn't need to worry about the zucchini

Apparently I didn’t need to worry about the zucchini. I’ll have to remove the smaller plant.

One of two pea plants coming up.

One of two pea plants coming up.

I was disappointed to find that neither the butternut squash nor the nasturtium had come up so I planted more seeds. Also, surprisingly, no borage! That stuff grows like mad. I planted a few more seeds near the strawberries. I also put down some spinach because I had seen in one of the companion planting charts that it was a good companion for strawberries.

This strawberry plant is larger than the first one I bought and has a small strawberry growing already.

This is the first strawberry plant I bought. It doesn’t seem to be doing much right now. The new plant I ot is larger and already has a small strawberry growing on it.

It’s a mystery why some plants do better than others. A combination of seed issues (eg. germination rates),  soil and weather conditions, water,  pests… Nevertheless, nature always finds a way to reproduce. I have a feel that although some things are coming along more slowly than I had expected, it will be a very productive garden. I also have a feeling that I’ll have to put in a lot more work than last year. Damn.

My uncle's okra are really coming along.

My uncle’s okra are really coming along. I wonder where he’s going to put them…

My uncle's section of the garden.

My uncle’s section of the garden.

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My gardening bibles

These are the books I use as resources to guide my gardening practice:

Square foot gardening by Mel Bartholomew – An excellent practical guide for an overall space saving planting system. I like this version better than All new square foot gardening because it’s more detailed.

You grow girl by Gayla Trail – Great for affordable and nifty tips and tricks as well as and creative ways of enjoying your gardening experience, including making your own body products from plants in your garden. Focus on container gardening.

Grow great grub by Gayla Trail – same as above except the focus is on growing food in and out of containers. The recipes are for consuming rather than making body products.

Great garden companions by Sally Jean Cunningham – Detailed advice on companion planting. The drawings are beautiful and so is her garden!

Carrots love tomatoes by Louise Riotte is a classic. Many many authors either quote or recommend her companion planting wisdom in their resource list (I’ve only breezed through it in the past). I’ve used other resources but these are the ones I turn to most often.

8 x 4 square feet of heaven

There are so many intricacies to a successful garden, I find I can only focus on a few things each year. This year I’ve begun to seriously look at dealing with pests and preventing disease beyond companion planting methods. For example, I’ve put down egg shells to deter slugs and snails and used milk in the soil around my tomatoes to prevent disease. Eventually I’d like to get into preserving methods such as canning and drying herbs. It would also be fun to make my own body products.

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