Saturday, August 5, 2017

The year of the tiger

Tiger swallowtail that is.  OK, I used a gimmick to get your attention, guilty am I.  It's been nearly 10 years since these butterflies have been seen in such numbers.  I don't know why animal populations ebb and flow, sometimes dramatically, but that is what they do.  And this is one of the most spectacular butterflies in this region.  They are drawn to Joe Pye Weed and some other weeds that I haven't identified, all of them tall with purple flowers.  This one was hanging around the sage plant, possibly attracted to the fragrant oils in the leaves.

Plant diseases also ebb and flow, and the why's and how's are mostly a mystery.  For the last several years the tomatoes have succumbed to a host of diseases, mostly (I believe) early blight and leaf spot.  This year they are virtually disease free and astoundingly healthy.  The Mountain Magic and Black Plum tomatoes are well out of the top of their cages, about 8 feet tall.

On the south side of the same bed, peppers and eggplant are growing.  It's a good thing the tomatoes are tall because the ancho peppers and sweet peppers are about 5 feet in height.

The eggplant, as usual, is under attack by flea beetles.  I've found that the mixture of insecticidal soap and Neem oil that has been effective against aphids and scale on the apple trees also works on the flea beetles.  I like it because there are eggplants constantly growing  and this spray is nontoxic.

I plan to can a batch of salsa this weekend.  I'll use whatever tomatoes I can pick.  To make 7 pints, which is what my canning pot will hold, I'll need about 8 pounds of tomatoes, plus sweet and hot peppers.  The refrigerator salsa that I recently made was just hot enough, so I picked up a few habaneros at the farmer's market for this batch.  The sauce tomatoes will be ripe soon and they will go into a batch of marinara sauce.  I'm really impressed with these Plum Regal plants - that is quite a cluster of tomatoes approaching ripeness.

A disease that I haven't seen for nearly 10 years is bacterial wilt on the cucurbits.  The last infestation started on the cucumber plants then spread to the squash.  Ultimately all the squash were lost.  The plant will recover in the morning but wilts at the end of the day.  It gets progressively worse until the plant is lost.  This butternut squash is a goner and was pulled up yesterday.

 I was asked if this might be the borer.  It's not likely.  With its thin, hard stem the butternut squash is mostly impervious to the borer and that is the squash that the wilt has been killing.  Another plant, a buttercup squash, was looking wilty for a while and I was sure it was a goner, but it now looks like it is recovering.   If you look closely at the squash in the background you can see a few wilted leaves.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed, hoping that the wilt does not destroy the squash crop. 

What can you do about bacterial wilt?  There is no treatment for it, although suppressing the squash bugs and cucumber beetles reduces the chances of the plants being infected.  You just have to hope that the plant has the resources to fight it off.  The best way to help the plants fight off disease is to provide them the conditions for optimal health - the full array of nutrients, soil with lots of organic matter, and sufficient water if nature doesn't provide enough.  Beyond that, the gardener is mostly at the mercy of the unknown.

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