Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Winter time is here again

Nine PM, and I'm in a rain jacket and gloves with a headlamp under my hood wrangling wet plastic over the garden, because the weatherpeople were right for once and it's sleeting. I'm not actually worried about the temperature so much, but I'm now on my second set of beet and lettuce seedlings, and the third set of spinach, and I figure they can use all the help they can get.

As you may recall from my last post, lo those many weeks ago, something mysterious had decided to chew on every new plant in the garden. I suspected insects and disbelieved my rodent-phobic wife's accusations against the squirrels. But that was before I caught one of the furry bastards in the act of jumping into the Swiss Chard box.

I released the Kraken on him ...

But he was too fast. (The Kraken, by the way, has honed her hunting skills since the departure of her mentor, and has already upped her career body count by one.)

The squirrels still don't seem to get the message though, which is why I had to institute some food security measures.

The chard has been netted.

The beets are on lockdown.

Lettuce dreams of freedom.

And the spinach is awaiting due process.

I think operation "garden-tanamo" has been a success, as everything is putting on new growth and not getting eaten to the ground. However, I worry that all the setbacks may not bode well for my fourth-season gardening. With the sleet currently falling outside and first freeze looming, these leafy greens have missed out on some prime cool sunny fall days.

And, hard as it is to believe, we're about a month away from tomato seed-starting time! I might be pursuing a different approach on that front this year though.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Round 2

I'm about to kick it with the Scientific Method, 7th-grade style. So get ready.

1. Question: Is there something about cantaloupe plants that cause them to repel Squash Vine Borer moths? If so, could that trait be used to protect other plants from SVB infestation?

2. Research: Cantaloupe is theoretically one of the preferred victims of the Squash Vine Borer. However, cantaloupe in the garden have remained completely untouched by SVBs this year, even as squash have been completely decimated. It has been observed that while the cantaloupe vines look almost identical to squash vines, they tend to exude a strong sweet odor that squash plants lack.

3. Hypothesis: Cantaloupe vines could be used as either a cover or camouflage to prevent SVB moths from laying eggs on susceptible squash plants.

4. Design experiment: Plant a squash plant between two hills and among the spreading vines of cantaloupe plants. Plant a control squash nearby, but away from the cantaloupe. Watch for signs of SVB egg-laying and larvae infestation in both plants.

5. Conduct experiment: Two identical acorn squash plants were purchased on July  25th at the Natural Gardener. While in the store, investigator's wife embarrassed him by trying to take sneaky photo of investigator and John Dromgoole, causing investigator to retreat to the windchime department.

One squash was planted  midway between two established Ambrosia cantaloupe plants in a hole amended with cottonseed meal and kelp meal.

Where's Waldo?

The other squash plant was planted in a similarly-amended hole 5 feet away in a bed that currently has one basil plant in it.

6. Record data:

7. Draw conclusions:

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Sharing the wealth

A friend just sent me this.  It's funny 'cause it's true. 

This weekend marked the beginning of the endgame. Now that the tomato harvest is on the downside of the curve, every fruit is a little more precious and now is when the little bastards have chosen to strike.

Despite the maiming and the mauling, the squirrels have finally found the treasure. And none of us -- human, rodent or terrier -- will rest until it is all claimed.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

One down

While I may have suspended my squirrel eradication campaign, I neglected to notify junior gardener number two of the change in policy.

Isn't she a sweetheart?

Addie achieved her second career kill this morning when a very stupid squirrel decided to re-enter the yard after having been chased out. On re-entry, he made it to the safety of the oak tree. But rather than waiting for me to get sick of the dogs barking and bring them inside, like the smart squirrels do, he bolted for the fence and never made it.

Retrieving a squirrel from a terrier is not an easy task, but here are some tips. If you can get the other terrier indoors, the first one will bring the squirrel right up to you to show it to you and receive full credit. She will not let you hold it, however, until you pick her up by her hind legs and hang her upside down.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Let's work together on this, America!

I realize I probably seem a little obsessed with the squash vine borers, but come on! A couple of squash plants could provide us with vegetable dishes for every meal of the summer if left to their full potential. But all it takes is one or two tiny worms to kill a whole plant.

I've officially given up on squash round one. The plant I thought was doing the best failed to bounce back from its daily wilt today (6/4), so I pulled it and slit open its stem to find this guy

and his little brother.

The round-two squash seedlings are doing well and will go in the ground soon. But that's really just an appeasement strategy. What we need is a solution. And today I'm stepping up to the plate to provide the leadership needed to find one.

The Crazy Billionaire X-Prize for Squash Vine Borer Abatement

To the person or team who concocts a reliable method for preventing the infestation of food crops of the family Cucurbitaceae by the larvae of Melittia Cucurbitae I will award a homemade cookbook containing my family's many favorite recipes for the preparation of squash and zucchini. Details of the winning method or invention will be published on this Web site under Creative Commons license for the good of all humankind.

If we can put a man on the moon and make a square watermelon, we can beat this little worm, people. Let me get you started with a couple of ideas:

1. Somehow that moth knows a squash plant when it sees, or smells, it. I don't know if its pheremones or what, but can't we concentrate it, bottle that shit and spray it on a glue trap? Or how about a big fake squash plant covered in glue -- something that will really grab hold of the old ovipositor and never let go.

2. I've noticed my squash plants tend to have ants crawling on them. Now if Monsanto can genetically engineer a potato that will kill a potato beetle, why not an ant that loves to crack open and eat delicious moth eggs?

Anyway, that's just spitballin'. I'm sure you'll surprise me with something better, gardeners of the world.

Let's do this.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

I must confess

I've been struggling to put into words for some time my discovery that everything I do or think is just a natural response to my particular socio-economic situation and therefore thousands upon thousands of other people are doing and thinking the same things, no matter how unique I may think I am.

Generally, my guidebook in this existential journey is a publication called the New York Times. Day after day, they publish articles that neatly illustrate activities and thoughts that I have recently "discovered", usually quoting 3 or 4 people from different East coast communities to really illustrate the breadth of the trend.

What can I say? I'm white people.

So seeing this article, concerning the ethical struggles (or lack thereof) gardeners have with varmint-killing, was especially liberating from a garden-blogging perspective.

Concerned that garden-blog readers might not have a lot of crossover with killers of woodland creatures, I might have gone forever without ever writing about the recent time I borrowed a friend's high-powered pellet gun and took a rushed shot at a squirrel lurking around the cantaloupe bed.

I managed only to hit him in the left-front paw, which gave me the chance to fast-track all the ethical dilemmas I had glossed over during my rush to grab the gun. I did all that thinking while gathering up my gloves and a hammer on my way out to visit my new friend who was catching his breath by the back fence. However by the time I got out there, he was gone. I've since seen him scurrying on the fence and power lines with a tell-tale limp.

However, knowing what I know about demographic fatalism, now verified by the NYT, I can tell the story safely with the knowledge that gardeners everywhere are happily shooting, beating with shovels, drowning in rain barrels, snapping the necks of and otherwise killing all manner of squirrel, rabbit, mole, woodchuck and snake on a daily basis.

Hell, with only one gimped squirrel under my belt, I'm a regular Francis of Assisi.

I will say the squirrels have not touched a single tomato so far this year. Maybe they just need some more time to find them, maybe my experiments with cayenne pepper and pepper spray are having some effect.

Or just maybe Squirrelly Tremain is out there telling his friends which yard not to fuck with.

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