Saturday, August 20, 2016

August Insect Invasion - Japanese beetles and likable fliers

Has it been a more noticeably buggy year in your garden?  Are you seeing more wasps, lady beetles or bumblebees this summer?  If you're answering no then perhaps you're at least seeing some hummingbirds and painted lady as well?  Then surely roly-pollies?

Here in central Denver and the Cahill residence it seems like an insect convention is going on, almost an invasion of flying objects in just about every corner of the garden. We even have plenty of ants - some are fliers. Let me get the worst offender out of the way first (you can search for many of my Japanese beetle blog entries). JBs are still in area gardens and they are hungry and horny. I often hand pick several couples a day right in the middle of their... well you know. 

The likable fliers are really fun to watch this season.  If you read an earlier summer blog you may know that I designed and planted three new beds (still need to write the before and after blog). Anyway, I included many pollinator friendly plants, one bed is mostly Plant Select® plants. Broad-tailed hummingbirds visit at least twice a day finding the agastaches irresistible. The native, honey and bumble bees are flying, feeding and pollinating like there's no hurry to be anywhere soon.

I recently wrote a Denver Post Punch List article on what's flying in the garden. I mentioned paper wasps and the high numbers, at least in my garden. Thank goodness they aren't aggressive stinging types like yellowjackets, but my do they nudge around on so many plants. They must really be hungry!  Sometimes I actually want to say to all the fliers, hey, I'm walking here!  Sound familiar?

It's all good - a humming, buzzing hot summer. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Smart Pots Deliver!

Finding quality and tasty homegrown fruits and vegetables this time of the summer is as easy as switching your cell phone to mute. And you'll want silence and no interruptions when savoring fresh green beans off the vine or handfuls of cherry tomatoes when passing by a bountiful plant. Now, right now in early August IS the reason we gardeners, plan, wait, amend, test, plant, fuss, cover and then rejoice!  If you don't grow your own vegetables, no problem.

Every local grocery store, farmer's market, Farmshares/CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and some street intersections are selling stuff that tastes great. What's on your plate?  How are you plants faring so far this summer?  Here's my report.

I'm in my fifth season of using Smart Pots to grow vegetables. This year I'm using them to grow tomatoes, basil and potatoes. If you don't know about smart pots then you're missing out on one of the easiest, plant and root friendly containers on the market. These porous, award winning, reusable, fabric pots (available in several sizes and three colors) practically ensure garden growing success for any green and non-green thumbed person. As well stated by one of their retailers, smart pots are the cotton shirt of the container world. Plants growing in smart pots don't get as hot - they breathe, allowing air to flow all around the container.  The plant feels comfortable, just like we feel when wearing a cotton shirt.  Roots subsequently grow larger and don't get caught up growing in circles like they do in other hard material containers. Once a root in a smart pot hits the side of the fabric, the root forms new roots that will grow up, down or side-to-side in a process known as root pruning. No circling, just more root growth! 

Seasoned gardeners can try new plants and tuck smart pots anywhere in the landscape. New gardeners or small space gardeners will love that they can be used during the growing season and easily emptied and stored over the winter. To top off their ease of use, over watering is practically impossible with the porous nature of the container. Just use a tray or tarp underneath so soil won't seep out onto concrete or wood surfaces. If used on bare ground, no need to use anything under the smart pot.

Hands down our "Big Boy" tomato growing in the #20 smart pot is well developed, healthy (despite some hail damaged leaves) and full of nice green fruit, just minutes away from turning red.  These tomatoes seem happy, so the person growing them is happy (me).

I direct seed lots of basil each summer and consider it one of nature's best plants, an A+. Unfortunately my in-ground basil plants contracted downy mildew (as diagnosed by the Jefferson County Plant Diagnostic Clinic) a couple of years ago. Downy mildew is not exactly a fungus like powdery mildew, it's more of a nasty pathogen closely related to water molds.  It can be reintroduced to a garden by infected seeds, transplants or spores that happen to blow in. I'm hoping to out smart this pathogen by using smart pots to grow basil plants quickly for day to day use. I'm also harvesting often and freezing or "putting up" small batches of leaves packed in olive oil for use all winter. 

Here's my "out smart downy mildew" procedure:

I heavily direct seeded basil in two small raised bed smart pots. In a matter of days - fourteen or so, I was harvesting basil micro-greens that tasted out of this world delish. And as often happens with basil that is left to grow too long between harvesting, the leaves can taste a bit soapy (at least to me and one of my garden friends, and former caterer). NO soap or bitterness at all in the micro greens, plus by harvesting leaves in the 6-leaf stage, there's less chance for poor taste or succumbing to downy mildew (I hope). One other tip, I covered them with the lightest weight floating row cover when the first Japanese beetles showed up in June. The plants don't mind the cover a bit, it's allows 85% light transmission and the plants just keep growing as usual. In the next few days I'll harvest all the plants and start the process over, well before the chance of frost.