What’s Growing: Week 11, 2021

What’s Growing: Week 11, 2021

I just had a fantastic weekend! It actually felt – almost – like a non-covid weekend. We had an outdoor birthday to attend for our daughter, and an outdoor gathering with my family for some mutual birthdays. And for parts of Saturday and almost the entire day Sunday I spent in the garden. I want to thank my kids for being distracted enough to let me work!

First off, here’s the heated greenhouse:

Tomatoes, peppers, strawflowers, amaranth, tomatillo, china asters, delphiniums, statice, snap dragons…etc. All have done….ok…. Except the chrysanthemums. I followed directions but I’m wondering if the light isn’t strong enough. I’ll follow-up.

I’ve used these solo cups for a few reasons. First, I ran out of pots and they are cheap and easy to find. Second, I find it easy to write on for plant ID. (I don’t want a repeat of last year). Lastly, if any of these go unused, they will be sold, and the cups look like a fun way to present them.

Cold house: Lots going on here.

It’s a bit of a mash-up. Primarily because I experimented with overwinter plantings to see if they’d survive the cold and low-light in the house. They did, so I have 4” pots of brassicas, mustards, spinach, lettuce and a couple of beets. But, the official plantings of this year include parsley, and celery, alyssum, sweet peas, snap peas and shelling peas, amaranth, onions and trays of cilantro, sunflowers, arugula, and mustards. All have done surprisingly well.

The 4 inch pots will go direct to the garden, and most of the plugs will go to 4” first. Sunflowers, may skip a step and if the weather is iffy, they may go into 11” pots, but outside on my deck. I find they are susceptible to slugs (well, what isn’t?) But they appreciate the space and full light.

Direct Sow/transplant:

Some of those “overwintered” plants made it out to their beds this weekend. It’s premature, and I half expect them to be devoured by slugs, but seeing as I have back-ups, it’s worth the risk in case they survive. 

I took another gamble. I prepared the new brassica beds by planting some overwintered ones, but I also transplanted some from the previous bed that never matured from last fall. I may be transplanting root pests as well, which is the risk. But the reward, if they survive and behave as if new this year, is an early crop of broccoli, kale and cauliflower. My gardening plan requires rotating beds…transplanting isn’t ideal.

As you’ll see in the picture, the small plants are new from 4” pots and the big ones are transplants. The far side contains two red cabbage transplants and the rest of that third of the bed is flax. 

What’s remarkable about this bed is how poor the soil is and how much of a difference that makes with brassicas. So for the two-thirds with brassicas, the top foot or so was tossed up into it’s clay chunks, then mixed with airy, peat compost and resettled. I got my sweat-on for that. 

The other brassica bed was only 1/3 prepared. The old rutabagas will be left alone for now. The soil was a bit better than the previous bed, so no tilling was required. 

I put a few cold-house mustards into the “mixed mustard” side of this bed. I find mustards to be the “canaries in the coal mine” for slugs. If they get eaten, I’ll know the state of the yard. You will notice the cups. Those are buried up to their lip and half filled with beer yeast and a sugar water to try and attract and drown slugs. I’ll post about that another time. 

The beet family bed (chard, amaranth, beets, spinach, arugula) has all been seeded, expect the amaranth, but I put some cold frame spinach in to see if they can outgrow the slugs this year. Again, I have back-ups, and if this works we’ll have fresh spinach salads in a couple of weeks.

Here was a big job:

Our strawberry bed has two types of ever-bearing strawberries. The middle third is “Tri-star”. It’s a big picture-perfect berry. The ends have another variety – it produces more fruit, but they are smaller and of random shapes. My wife found she preferred the big ones because it was easier to manage: she was less likely to miss one, which would rot. So, I pulled all the plants from one third, potted half of them (110) and then cut runners from the Tri-star plants and pushed them into the newly cleared section. If this goes according to plan, we’ll have two-thirds of the bed producing tri-star and one-third producing the other. Plus, if the potted ones establish, we’ll likely pawn-them-off at the stand. 

One brassica bed was mostly cleared except a few kale left to flower (good for bugs). That bed, also divided in thirds, was planted with barely in one, oats in another, and the last section left bare for corn…which is still a few weeks away, so I may put something in there in the meantime…maybe chick peas. 

The other previous brassica bed as only cleared of one-third. This was given some of the overwintered lettuces and alyssum (to attract predators to protect the lettuce.)

I also checked my fruit trees. The peach and nectarine are blooming and the pears look like they are close. My pears, however, have suffered from pear leaf blister mite. It’s a total pain in the butt, and nearing the point I need to cut down the trees and get rid of them.

Pear Leaf Blister Mite is a microscopic mite that, in high numbers, will stunt and kill a pear tree. In bad situations it can even transfer to other trees like Apple. They overwinter inside the nodes that will become the new shoots and blossoms the next year. They are sealed in and protected from predation. However, there is a period where they are mobile and work their way along the branch to new shoots and into next year’s leaf nodes. It’s at this stage they may be susceptible.

Last year I applied Neoseiulus fallacis – the all-purpose foliar predatory mite that destroys pest. However, I had little results (expect that it found it’s way to my hop vine and prevented it from getting spider mite last year). It probably didn’t work on the Blister Mite because fallacis is such a good predator that it spreads itself thin – as little as two mites per square meter. So when the blister mites went mobile, the one or two fallacis likely couldn’t keep up with the hundreds of thousands of blister mites.

This year, I’m trying the work-horse of thrips predation, the foliar predatory mite neoseiulus cucumeris. It’s not as great a predator, but it is dirt-cheap and instead of applying two per square meter I’ll be applying several hundred. Better yet, I’ll use these specially designed slow-release bags to allow cucumeris to emerge over a few weeks. Now, my pears will have a constant presence of predators ready for those blister mites. It’s still a guess whether they’ll eat the blister mites, but the evidence suggests they will, since they eat other microscopic mites like russet and broad mites. I’ll keep you posted how this goes!

I’ll also be – once again – inoculating my yard with aphids. In the past I’d bring a plant home covered in aphids to attract predators. I had done this to find native aphid predators for commercialization, for which our hoverfly was the product. However, this year, I’ll be doing it specifically to boost aphid predator numbers. Last year a black aphid made its rounds, never decimating any plants, but being a continual presence. That is sort-of the best-case-scenario, as it means predators are always present, but I’m hoping to reduce the threat a little by establishing those predators early. This time of year (mid March), my aphid covered plant will attract brown lacewings and aphidius wasps (aphid parasitoids). Aphidius don’t really stick around all year because it is different species that are active at different times because they parasitize specific aphids. It’s complicated, but there are hyper-parasitoids (parasitoids of the parasitoids) that actively reduce the Aphidius populations. But, it’s still not a loss, as any aphid predator is a nice addition to the garden. Remember, never buy ladybugs.

Late Sunday, when the rain and wind picked-up, I moved into the garage. I bottled three kegs of beers and washed the entire brewery. I’ll have 5 beers to make this month to keep on schedule. Hopefully, when the pandemic ends I’ll have more friends coming over for a pint. In the meantime, there is lots of slug bait being produced.

Not too bad for a weekend, eh? And boy, was it satisfying.

Here’s my sowing chart to see, again, what I’ve done and what’s upcoming. 

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