Well, I know I said I would do a post about composting next in this series, but I decided a post about the dastardly cabbage looper was more appropriate. This is also a post in which I admit my failures as a gardener. Can’t win ‘em all!
The cabbage looper is a caterpillar that becomes a moth after metamorphosis and has a been a royal pain in the butt for me this summer. Cabbage loopers love plants in the cabbage (brassica) family, including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and collard greens. They will also go after tomatoes, potatoes, and cucumbers. The little green caterpillars eat holes in the leaves and keep the cabbages (in my case) from heading well. The moths lay nasty little eggs in slimy clutches in the cabbage, which of course spawn more cabbage loopers and drive me batty (not too mention the disappointment I feel at having my future sauerkraut literally nipped in the bud!).
We first noticed the problem about a month ago. The cabbage leaves were looking pretty chewed like this:
I picked around near the head and pulled green caterpillar after green caterpillar out of the cabbages. Despite my best efforts to nab the caterpillars and squish them, we still have had lots of the moths, which can be brown or white. The moths lay the nasty eggs I mentioned before. Here’s a couple of caterpillars AND eggs in my cabbages (and here’s my sigh of defeat):
So what do you do about cabbage loopers? I’m running an organic operation in my garden so insecticides are out of the question (and who wants all those chemicals on their food, anyway?). My mother said to try putting chili powder on the cabbages. My mother-in-law recommended pouring milk on them. A farmer friend said they catch the moths in butterfly nets and squish the offending bugs. Another farmer friend said to use Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which is a bacterium that targets insects (it doesn’t affect people), though using anything like that is a bit sketchy she said, and I agree. She also swats the moths with ping pong rackets. This sounds the most fun, bounding about the garden with a ping pong racket of mothy death, plus the fringe benefit of actually feeling like you made a difference in the moth population’s demise.
Here’s hoping your cabbages are looper-free!
Sorry for the complete lack of posts the past few weeks, people. It’s summertime in Montana which means we’ve had some visitors! And I think those visitors would rather I hang out with them than update my blog. Apologies, blog friends. So, to make up for my neglect, I’m going to post quite a few times this week! I’ll update you from the backlog of the past few weeks.
First up: a little garden update. While I write this, the sky is darkening and there’s a dislocated thump of thunder in the distance. We are so excited for rain, and we hope it does actually rain instead of passing tantalizingly overhead. It’s been very warm here, in the 90s, which is not normal, folks. Aaaah, global weirding. Anyway, it’s finally cooling down, back into the 70s. And I think my poor plants will appreciate the reprieve from the heat. They’ve been rather limp the past week, despite their daily dousing.
These photos are from three days ago, but things haven’t changed much in the garden since then. Things are continuing to ripen well. We’ve pulled three nicely sized zucchinis out and we’re having a bumper crop of green beans. Here’s our Thai peppers reddening into ripeness.
Remember the pumpkin photo from July 31?
Here’s the same pumpkin three weeks later:
The sunflowers are much taller these days. The tallest is about seven feet tall. Here’s yours truly again for scale. Seems like every few days we have a couple more lovely sunflower blooms out there. I planted two varieties of sunflowers: the standard yellow sort and one called Mexican Torch. I adore the Mexican Torch variety. Here’s a bloom:
The bees like the sunflowers too.
It’s been three weeks since the last garden update, and my how things have grown! I find myself grumbling about the heat, but when I am doing that I must remind myself that the heat is making my garden flourish.
Here’s June 19:
Here’s July 6:
And here’s July 30:
Some things have already started to flower/go to seed, like the dill and cilantro in the photo above. Pulled up the spinach last week, and will turn under the lettuces next week (they’re starting to get bitter, which means they’re about done).
The plant I can’t wait to check on every day is one of my pumpkins. Here’s the beauty:
Remember that tiny little carnival squash plant? Here’s what it looked like in early June. It’s the first squash at the bottom of the photo between the corn:
Now if only the weeds weren’t keeping pace with the vegetables…
My rainbow and ruby red chard is really going to town (as is my romaine lettuce) even after repeated cuttings.
So much so that when I’ve been offered lettuce the last few weeks at the farms I volunteer at, I’ve turned them down. I’ve given away a lot of it, too. Must be doing something right out there.
In addition to making salads with the chard leaves and stems, my husband and I also enjoy sauteing it in a skillet with olive oil, just until it’s a vibrant green. We add some garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and pierogis (which we have to make ourselves since we can’t find them in groceries stores around here… it’s just mashed potato and onion in a dough shell… sort of like ravioli). It’s a delicious meal.
I hope your gardens are bountiful!
Not only is the garden a place for plant growth, it’s a gathering place for insects and animals eager to enjoy nature’s bounty. Sometimes those animals and insects are what we consider pests, such as gophers (the war for the backyard continues!) and caterpillars in my cabbages. But many insects are beneficial in the garden. Bees have been headlining the list lately with the issues over hive collapse disorder, but other bugs are important, too. Ladybugs are a good example, because they eat aphids.
Anyway, here’s a sample of what’s creeping and crawling in my garden lately:
Here is a bee (it only looks green… it’s not a fly) gathering pollen from a male pumpkin blossom (the pumpkin is one of many plants that is considered “bisexual,” having both male and female flowers… more on that in a minute). Can you see the pollen on the bee’s legs?
Joining the ladybug beetle in the dill is a wasp. Humans definitely value bees over wasps for their pollen spreading services, but wasps are predators and are helpful in their own right. In the lower righthand side of the picture, there is an ant. There’s another in the middle bottom of the photo. I hope the wasp was hunting ants!
Oh, and since I mentioned the pumpkin flowers earlier, here’s a brief biology lesson: Many plants are considered bisexual or “perfect,” which means they have both male and female flowering parts.
Pictured above is the male pumpkin flower with its slender, pollen-containing stamen. Male pumpkin flowers usually come onto the scene before the female flowers, but eventually there are both at the same time. Pollen from the stamen will be carried by bees (or you can be your own bee: pick the make flower and rub the stamen on the female flower) to the female flower’s multi-segmented stigma, shown in the photo below. The pollenated female flower will go on to become a pumpkin!
I have to say I find it endlessly amusing that while some humans seem to consider anything but heterosexuality peculiar,
bisexuality in flowering plants (“angiosperms”) is considered perfect. Oh, the irony.
Anyway, that concludes today’s bug lesson! I hope you’ve enjoyed the up-close-and-personal view of the bug world in my garden. All this talk about bugs has me wanting to re-watch “Ants.” Remember that movie? It was the more adult version of “A Bug’s Life,” and the better of the two in my opinion. Think they’ve got it on Netflix?
I like roses as much as the next girl. Lilies, too. And sunflowers. Sunflowers were the main flower in my wedding bouquet. But the traditional flowers you can buy at the florist aren’t the only flowers you can use for beautiful bouquets. I’ve been enjoying some more wild-looking, nontraditional blooms lately. Before we turned the buckwheat under, I picked some of the stems for their lovely white flowers. I’ve added some stems from my flowering dill and cilantro plants, too.
Isn’t this bouquet lovely? And it smells great, too! Like dill and cilantro. Can’t decide if I want some pickles or some Mexican food when I take a whiff of it.
Dill is part of the Umbelliferae family. This name describes the way the flower grow. Their umbrella-like blooms are called umbels. Carrots are also part of this family.
Isn’t it pretty on the windowsill? And hey, there’s our first two tomatoes! Those two are about to be lunch!
Starting now, and in the future, I plan to write occasional informational posts about growing food/living self-sufficiently/homesteading. I’m going to call this series Green Thumbs. I’m hoping to build a bigger readership in the homesteading/farming/gardening set as my goal in the next few years is to start my own CSA. I have a serious, SERIOUS desire to have my own farm. Barnheart, it’s called. That term was coined by Jenna Woginrich, one of my farming idols. Barnheart is an incurable longing for a farm of one’s own. Oh, does that describe me. And having something of a following will help me gain customers, too, when I am finally able to achieve my dream. There’s a lot standing in my way, the chief concern being how the heck I am going to afford land where I live. I will have to compete with people selling out their land for development into subdivisions (cows not condos, people!). Retiring farmers/landowners can get a lot more money for those subdivisions than they can from a young family who wants to farm, even with the crappy economy. We need to find someone who wants to see their land remain a working farm, and who is committed to that end. I’m looking into land link programs, which help aspiring farmers find folks selling land. I figure it can’t hurt to join now, since it will probably take years to get linked up, if ever. We plan to let our local extension agent know our desire, to see if she can help us find land. There are USDA loans, and other such funds out there. We WILL buy land in the next few years. It just feels so far off now, unfortunately. I’m trying to find comfort in my garden, which is doing very well, and considering it practice for the future farm.
So anyway, the first Green Thumbs post is about buckwheat. Buckwheat is such a neat crop, I thought it would be a good starting point. Buckwheat is a cereal grain, but has an amino acid composition nutritionally superior to ALL cereal grains. It has a lots of lysine. Did you know the amino acid lysine helps get rid of cold sores?
In addition to buckwheat’s use in flour (buckwheat pancakes are awesome!), buckwheat is also a great smother and green manure crop. Because buckwheat germinates and grows so rapidly and because its canopy is quite dense, it can be used to smother weeds. These include the horrible quackgrass, Canada thistle, sowthistle, creeping jenny, leafy spurge, and Russian knapweed. In Montana, quackgrass, knapweed, and leafy spurge are common invasive weeds. In my garden, I am using buckwheat to smother grass, lambs quarters (which is actually quite tasty and great in salads!), and thistles.
As you can see in the above photo from my garden, buckwheat’s understory shades the ground below and crowds out weeds.
Buckwheat is also a green manure, as I’ve mentioned before. A green manure is a crop that one turns under once it flowers to add nutrients to the soil. The plant material of buckwheat decays rapidly and the resulting humus improves the soil, the soil’s ability to hold moisture, and the nutrient availability to succeeding crops.
Buckwheat thrives in poor soil. Later in the summer, when many flowers have expired, buckwheat’s flowers are a crucial source of nectar for bees. It is an indeterminate plant, which means its continues to grow until killed by frost. In the northwest, it’s typical to get three crops of buckwheat during a short growing season, as long as it’s tilled under at flowering. I’m planning to leave my current crop in flower for a few days, maybe a week, for the bees. Then I will turn it under for the green manure and plant another crop of buckwheat.
At the back of the garden, one of my beds is really struggling with grass. I’m planning to plant the entire bed to buckwheat next summer, to beat back the grass. It is partially planted to buckwheat now.
Here is a photo of buckwheat that was seeded about a little more than a week ago (buckwheat typically takes 3-5 day after planting to emerge from the soil):
And here is the buckwheat I planted a month ago:
As you can see, there are plenty of weeds around the buckwheat, but there are few in the buckwheat stand.
And this taller stand is about to flower, too!
Here are buckwheat seeds:
To seed, broadcast by hand in the area you want your buckwheat. Cover at 1.5 times the depth of the size of the seed (which makes raking a light cover over, about half an inch in depth). Pat firmly, as buckwheat has a small root system and prefers firm soil. Water daily. When the buckwheat comes in, it can be patchy, but fills in quickly. Below is an example of the buckwheat I planted more recently:
We haven’t decided yet if we’ll try to get some buckwheat from our last crop of the season to use for flour, but I think we’re going to try. We’ll pick it by hand and mill it ourselves, if so.
EDIT: To turn over your buckwheat, cut it if it’s pretty wooly, as mine is, like you would grass (I’ll be using scissors or a pruner), so that there isn’t so much leggy biomass. Then using a shovel, push the biomass into the ground to a depth of 3-6 inches. Follow with another crop of buckwheat, or if it’s the end of the season, cover the bed in mulch or straw until spring to preserve your topsoil.
I hope this has been helpful and informative. Please let me know in the comments if there is a way to improve upon this post, and if there’s something you’d like to learn about in the future. UP NEXT: Composting.
Special thanks to Purdue University’s horticulture department for this fantastic article about buckwheat.
Gardens are beautiful places, and that’s one of the many reasons I enjoy spending a lot of time in mine. I love my stroll across the lawn every day to the garden. I like watching the growing things, and smelling the unique and instantly recognizable scent of soil and plants working together to feed me. A few days ago, I found a toad chillin’ under the broad leaves of one of the strawberry plants. Birds perch on the fenceposts. Butterflies and bees flit about. When we turn over the compost pile weekly, worms twist about before burrowing back into the pile (doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing in there!).
Here are a couple of photos of the beauty in my garden:
Here’s a much-needed garden update post. I’m proud to report that despite the hail a few weeks ago, everything appears to have rebounded and is growing away. We’re supposed to have a string of hot days (well, hot for Montana: 80s and 90s) and that means big growth days! Here’s a photo of the garden from the June 19 post about the garden:
And here’s from today:
Clearly things have been happening out there! A few of the stalks of corn have the beginnings of ears, we’re taking regular cuttings off the herbs, the Asteraceaes and the Chenopodiaceaes (Gotta keep up my plant biology terminology! But for those of you not trying to keep up your plant biology terminology: lettuces and chards.) are going gangbusters, you can hear the beans growing, there’ll be flowers on the squash any day, and the strawberries are turning red. And of course, the weeds are constantly threatening hostile takeover.
My tomato plants are pretty pathetic looking. They got thrashed by the hail storms. One of my neighbors has beautimus-looking tomatoes. I have Solanum lycopersicum (woo plant biology!) envy. However, despite their ragged appearance, there are several little tomatoes on each plant. We won’t have much of a tomato harvest, but will we have one at least!
My red romaine lettuce looks great. This is the second year I’ve used seeds from Baker Creek, and I’m again pleased with the results. Isn’t that some great color? We’ll be doing our first harvest tomorrow! Exciting!
Here are my snow peas. They’re just getting big enough to need to climb the trellis. Yesterday I put out some twine for the vines to climb onto the piece of old wooden fencing we found in the field that we’re using as the trellis.
This is my first time growing onions, but clearly they don’t need much assistance! I planted the onions from sets I got from my mother-in-law and they’re thriving. They’re nearly a foot tall! Here’s hoping the onion bulbs below look as great as the shoots above.
In an effort to beat back the weeds and put some nutrients back into the soil, we’ve planted a lot of buckwheat in various places around the garden. In the above photo, it’s the lush looking stuff with heart-shaped leaves to the right of and behind the cabbage. Buckwheat is a great smother crop, and, if turned under once it flowers, makes a nice green manure. So far, we’re pleased with the results! So much so that we recently seeded a bunch more around the garden to help with the weed problem (darn thistles, grass, and bunches of unnamed nasties!).
Here’s those beans I was talking about earlier. They’re doing great. Totally exceeding my expectations. Of course, I didn’t expect them to do anything at all, but then again my problem last year with them was more likely the climate than the beans. I’m glad they’ve decided to be the all-stars of the garden this year (so far). I’m not kidding when I say you can practically hear these guys growing.
My husband and I are very pleased with the garden’s progress. And impatient too, because we want to start harvesting! Good thing the romaine is ready.