Monday, June 25, 2018


Most of the summer crops are still in a holding pattern, but I did get cucumbers.  Last week I picked enough Vertina picklers to make a jar of refrigerator pickles.  There's enough volunteer dill in the beds, maybe too much, to make lots of pickles as long as the vines stay healthy.  I used fresh dill, including the flower, dill seeds, mustard seeds, coriander and peppercorns in a 50/50 mix of Bragg's vinegar and water, with some salt.  Refrigerator pickles are quick and easy, and they are always good and crunchy.

Later in the week I picked the first slicing cucumber, Swing.  This is the first time I've grown it, having grown Diva for years.  Like Diva, it's an all female cucumber, very robust and disease resistant.  It's got good flavor too, a winner for sure.  There happened to be a bottle of beer nearby and I set it next to the cuke for a size comparison.

Not shown are two small heads of Gonzalez cabbage, which were shredded for sauerkraut.  It's been bubbling away for almost a week and appears to be about ready.  This may be my first successful fermentation, keeping my fingers crossed.  To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Emerald ash borer

There are a lot of ash trees on my property and I've always been concerned that the emerald ash borer would reach this area.  A few years ago I read that it was identified in Morgan-Monroe state forest, about 25 miles from here.  I had hoped that it would take it a while to make the jump over farmland to this area, which is about 50% forested.  Maybe I just haven't noticed the damage, but recently it became very evident.  It's here.

There are two kinds of ash trees around my house.  A large white ash tree grows between the house and the pond.  The rest of the ash trees are green ash, a smaller ash tree that is definitely another species (I compared the leaves and twigs a few years ago and there are, even to my eye, obvious differences).  To me, the green ash is the perfect yard tree, nice shape, not messy, and it doesn't get as large as the white ash.  This one, about 40 feet tall, is in the driveway circle.

These trees are also in a buffer area between the yard and the woods, an area that I mow with a brush cutter about once a month.  Four of the five trees are green ash.  There are several more small to medium ash trees growing at the edge of the woods.

Three of these trees look fairly healthy, although I have no doubt that they have already been infested.  One of the trees is near its end.  The crown is nearly barren, there is woodpecker damage to the bark everywhere, and the base of the tree is sending up shoots because its vascular system is too damaged to move nutrients higher in the tree.

A closer look shows the bark stripped off by woodpeckers trying to get at the borers, and the telltale D-shaped exit hole where the adult beetle emerges from the tree.

Yesterday I cut down a green ash that was a few feet in the woods.  It took all day to fell it, carefully remove the poison ivy from the trunk, remove the limbs, cut it up into logs, then split, move and stack the logs.  On the positive side I got a face cord of wood from one tree, which I will burn this winter.  The adults have already emerged from the trees and larva are actively feeding in the phloem at this time, so cutting the trees should kill most of the larva.  I expect to cut several more trees in the coming week, including the one in the photo above. 

The tree that really worries me is the large white ash behind the house.  It's over two feet in diameter and felling it is beyond my capabilities, so I'm looking at some expense here.  Still it looks healthy so far.  It's thicker bark may slow the beetles somewhat.  I've read that treatments are effective but a tree must be re-treated every year.  I'm leaning more toward removal, since there is a very nice black gum tree just a few feet from this ash, which is on the left in this picture.  Before this tree can be dropped, I will have to remove the raised bed frames.  A winter job for sure.

It's a shame this had to happen, but it's something that looked inevitable, a matter of when not if.  The woodlot has a number of American elms growing in it.  They get large enough to reproduce, but never survive to any size, another iconic tree, along with the chestnut,  that's been mostly lost to an imported biological agent.  Asian ashes have evolved mechanisms to fight off the borer, and one can only hope that a few resistant trees will survive and reproduce here.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Monday June 18

It seems like this area went from winter to summer without stopping for spring.  Yesterday I was reading an article in the Bloomington paper that noted that April was the 3rd coldest April on record while May was the hottest May on record.  That's quite an abrupt transition.  It's been a real heat wave for several days.  I took this picture at sunset on Saturday evening, while it was still nearly 90 degrees.  The sky was mostly cloudless but this one cloud boiled up like a storm cloud. Nothing ever came of it.

The weather has had it's effect on the vegetable garden for sure.  I usually begin harvesting cole crops in May, but this year I picked the first cabbage a week ago.  The cutworms did not help in that regard.  Yesterday I picked the first broccoli and kohlrabi.  The kohlrabi should have been picked earlier.   

At least the summer crops are moving right along.  This slicing cucumber should be ready in a few days, and it looks like enough pickling cucumbers will be ready shortly to make a quart of refrigerator pickles. 

An unidentified bug has been attacking the cucumbers and causing the growing tips to turn brown.  Fortunately the plants are healthy enough to start new vines and I'm hoping the bugs can be kept under control.  The first Japanese beetles appeared yesterday.  I was hoping that the hard winter had killed most of them, but they seem to be abundant. 

The tomatoes are looking good, with no sign of disease to this point.  I planted two determinate sauce tomatoes - Health Kick and Plum Regal.  I didn't think a tomato could be more vigorous than Plum Regal but Health Kick is actually setting more tomatoes. 

To see what other growers are harvesting, head on over to have a look.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Pest control and prevention

Early in the growing season, it's critical to establish some sort of spraying program to control insects and fungal infestations.   Cultural methods for protection - rotation, removal of debris, pruning - are also critical and something that is done year 'round, but that is for another post.  Here are the chemicals that I use that I consider safe when used properly and get the job done.  

Thuricide, or Bt, is a bacterium that targets caterpillars only.  I've found it to be the best control of the cabbage worm.  I also spray it on the stems of squash plants to prevent the vine borer, which is a moth. Once a caterpillar comes into contact with Bt it stops feeding and dies within a day or two.  The cabbage worms had already done some damage to the cole crops by the time I sprayed them with Bt, but I haven't seen any further damage.  I just try to avoid using it on a brassica shortly before harvest.

The first sets of brassicas that I planted were mowed down by the cutworms.  That's another control that I will have to develop next year.  I've read that Bt sprayed on corn flakes around the base of the plants will stop them but haven't tried that yet.

Last year my two apple trees were beset by some sort of scale and aphids at the same time.  I found that a combination of insecticidal soap and Neem extract was very effective in killing them, or any small soft-bodied insect such as thrips.  I use 2.5 oz of soap and 1 oz of Neem per gallon of water, first adding the soap since it helps disperse the oil.  The soap kills by dessicating, or sucking the water out of the insect, while the Neem disrupts cell membranes.  It may not kill a full grown squash bug but it will make them come to the top of the leaf where they can be picked off.   As an added bonus, I've found that Neem is effective in controlling powdery mildew on squash.

I noticed that a commercial maker of pesticides is using the same combination, with added pyrethrins, as an organic insecticide.  I tried adding some pyrethrins to the first mix that I prepared and can say that it is deadly to flea beetles, but the pyrethrins may not have been necessary.  It's important to avoid pyrethrins in the morning when bees are about.   I also used this combination on the cucumber vines which were under attack by a bug that looks like a squash bug but has a harder shell (bugs are actually an insect family that has mouthparts that penetrate a leaf and suck the juices from the plant).  It killed the bugs but I'm concerned that they may have already transferred a fungus or bacterium into the plants.  The growing tips look bad.

The newest addition for fungal control is Liqui-Cop, for liquid copper.   This is basically copper in a chemical form that is soluble in water, specifically copper diammonia diacetate complex, which sounds more exotic than it is.  An alternative soluble copper is copper octanoate, or copper soap, which is found at Lowe's.  I went with the Liqui-Cop, which I bought online, because it appears to be more effective.  It's easy to mix and use.   At a copper equivalent of 8%, the amount of copper in a gallon of mix at 4 teaspoons per gallon is actually very small.

The Liqui-Cop is mainly for the tomatoes, where it is supposed to be effective against bacterial spot, bacterial speck, early blight and late blight.  As a preventive I have been spraying the tomatoes weekly, as well as the cucumbers, raspberries, and potatoes.  So far the tomatoes look good, about 4 feet tall, but it's really too early to tell if it works.

One pesticide not shown is a deer and rabbit repellent.  The bunnies have been a real problem this year.  They ate most of the bean seedlings, some of the carrots, then got into the Earthbox and ate the lettuce.  I reseeded the beans and once up, applied the repellent.  The first ingredient is putrefied egg whites, and it smells kind of bad.  It seems to work though and may keep them off the beans until they are big enough to be unpalatable.