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Monday, March 19, 2012

Lubber Grasshoppers

Lubber grasshoppers are ugly and they can eat an entire plant in world record time. They have no natural predators and are extremely resistant to pesticides. The "baby" creatures are black with a yellow stripe. They cluster together in fairly large groups making them easy to kill. Since they are slow moving and fast eating you can get rid of many of them at one time before they turn into huge monster grasshoppers. Put gloves on and clap them between your hands, then stomp on the ones that jumped away - they can't jump far when they're little (about half an inch long). The full grown ones are much harder to kill - their exoskeleton is tough, they are huge and disgusting, have much heartier appetites, and jump fast and far! Plus females bury egg sacks several inches underground containing 50 eggs per sack. Unfortunately, these eggs aren't affected by the winter and can lie dormant for two years before hatching in March, starting the cycle all over again!  In conclusion, as terrible as it sounds, kill them now while you still can!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Growing Tomatoes

Tomatoes...

 

I've never had a problem growing cherry or grape tomatoes.  They are extremely easy to grow from seed (the preferred method), and transplant when they are about six inches tall.  Best of all, they produce a ton of fruit!  Pick the fruit as soon as it's ripe; I don't like to share mine with birds and bugs!

*Important Tips: do not leave any part of plants on the ground.  Pick leaves or fruit up as soon as you notice them.  They can attract bugs, and harbor diseases as they decay.  Instead, add them to the compost if you have one.  If not, throw them in the trash.  Mulch (hay is recommended) under your fruit-bearing plants to keep dirt from splashing up, and produce off the ground.  Most importantly, place a cardboard tube (toilet paper rolls are perfect) around the base of the plant at the time of transplanting.  This will keep cutworms and hornworms at bay.  However, if you see any worms with white egg sacks on them, leave them in the garden. They have been infested with the eggs of parasitic wasps and will kill the worms. Once the eggs hatch and the wasps mature, they will soon lay their eggs on more worms, which will increase the amount of beneficial insects in your garden. 

Hornworms are large (1-5 inches), about the width of your pinky finger, and have an ugly but harmless "horn" at the end.  They are almost the same color as the plant leaves, making them extremely difficult to see.  Check under the leaves, and water the plant to upset them.  This will aid in finding them.  They are extremely destructive, and their damage will be obvious. 

Cutworms are smaller, and black and gray in color.  The damage they cause is devastating.  You probably will not see them in the daytime.  Cutworms are moth larvae (caterpillars) that live in the soil.  At night, cutworms wrap themselves around the base of young plants and "cut" right through the stems at ground level.  Spread ashes from your fireplace or pit over the soil before planting, and till it in to discourage them.  Placing a popsicle stick right next to the base of your plants is also a great deterrent.  When the tomato plant stem is about as thick as your thumb, it will be too tough for a cutworm.

Check plants daily for pests, and hand pick them off (wear gloves - yuck!).  Look for black spots that look like standard black pepper.  These are their eggs; I just pull off the whole leaf they are attached to.  Put eggs and worms in a cup or bucket, and drown them in water so they can't hatch and return.  (Take my advice and do not squish them.  You can experiment to see what I mean, but be warned:  they are disgusting and messy.)

This year, I find powdery mildew on my tomato plants.  These are white spots on the plant leaves (about the size of a hole punch).  Poor air circulation is the cause.  We live in a very humid climate,  and the mold/mildew will spread quickly.  Solution: pull off any leaves that have these spots and throw them in the trash or a cup of bleach water.  This will keep diseases from spreading to other leaves and plants.  Dig up any tomato plants that are crowded, and replant them a litle farther away. Always water plants before and after transplanting.  The leaves will wilt today, but tomorrow the plants will be perfectly healthy!  Also, consider adding a small, portable fan.  Plug it in first thing in the morning to dry the dew faster, and during the hottest part of the day.

I have never grown tomatoes, or any fruit or vegetable, in a container.  I forget to water them.  Because the soil in containers dries up so quickly from our hot sun, the soil becomes dry sand very quickly.  If you do want to grow plants in containers, do not use clay pots.  They are porous and whisk water away from the plant.  Also, be sure to add peat moss to the soil, and use only light colored containers.  Peat moss retains water, but you must water the soil regulary.  Peat moss is exceptionally difficult to re-wet once it has dried out. 

I use only natural, organic methods, unless absolutely necessary, but never after the plants start to fruit. For me, the point of growing fruits and vegetables is to have fresh food that is not full of chemicals.  Most insecticides will kill all pests, even the "good bugs" (ones that eat the bad ones like parasitic moths and ladybugs).  Use a few drops of dish soap in a gallon of water as an alternative to insecticides.  A tablespoon or two of baking soda in gallon of water works great for getting rid of mold, mildew, and other fungi.  Local garden centers sell neem oil and other environmentally friendly products; check the label (if you can't pronounce the ingredients, it is not a good sign).

Tomatoes are easy to grow, making them great candidates for beginners.  The fruit seems to take forever to turn from green to red, but the plants produce like crazy, especially if picked regularly.  They germinate quickly, and are easy to transplant.  Home grown tomatoes taste so much better than store bought ones.  Plus, you can grow various types of tomatoes that you can't always find at the grocery store.