Birds, Bugs, and Seedlings
I got a peek at the baby doves this week. They are growing fast, but I still haven’t heard a peep out of them. Now that the babies have some feathers, mother and father doves are able to leave the nest and spend some time together. It’s clear they enjoy each other’s company.
This week, I saw another fascinating insect. At first, I thought it might be a blister beetle, but there were no stripes or spots on its wing cases. And, as far as I know, there aren’t any lightning bugs west of the Rockies. That’s when I realized it was a soldier beetle. One of the Good Guys. Soldier beetles eat aphids and the eggs and larvae of many moths, beetles, armyworms, and other pests. I was happy to let it go where I it, among the forest of borage plants that appear each spring.
Another insect has me baffled. I collect insects when I find them and try to identify them. Until I know what they are, I keep them in clear plastic containers. In this particular container, I had a piece of netting covered with what I thought were stink bug eggs, a butt-less honey bee I came across while collecting honey, and a cottony cushion scale egg sack. Early this week, a bunch of tiny black flies appeared in the container. I assumed they were male scale insects but then learned that those are much smaller than these flies. I still don’t know what the flies are, but I did get some photos of the male scale insects, so that was exciting.
My perennial beets have started to produce flowering stems. The first time it happened, it really surprised me. Beet stems get pretty tall and then they hang, willow-like. They are very pretty and I will collect seeds when they are mature.
Speaking of seeds, I’ve lost count of how many varieties of tomatoes, beans, and peppers I started this week, along with carrots, chard, and basil. There were arugula, cabbage, and sunflower seedlings to transplant and the lettuces and chicories are thriving.
Every year, my asparagus harvest gets better. The first year, nothing looked like it was going to grow. The second and third years, all I got were skinny, ferny growths. But now, I am getting some delicious, fat, juicy, purple asparagus shoots that never make it into the house.
Finally, I rigged some netting around my young pear and apricot trees. I have no intention of losing any of those crops to squirrels and birds!
I hope that you are staying safe and well and are able to spend more time in your garden.
Remember, you may have neighbors who could really use some of your extra produce during quarantine. Let’s keep shopping trips to a minimum.
April Antics in the Garden
Six weeks into quarantine and I still have plenty to keep me busy in the garden. In fact, April is usually pretty busy and this year is no exception.
Temperatures are slowly rising and I have started more beans, a batch of tomatoes and peppers, and even some melon seeds. I’ve discovered a new pest, there’s something odd happening in my corn patch, and my nectarine tree isn’t doing well. The big news this week was my first honey harvest.
While many beekeepers are struggling to keep their hives healthy and productive, mine came through the winter healthy enough to swarm a second time. My friend, John, came over to collect the swarm and he helped me swap out heavily laden frames from one super and I added a new super on top. The bees were pretty calm about the whole procedure. Some of the honey had crystalized, but I ended up with 27 pounds of honey and 6 pounds of beeswax. I guess I’ll have to try my hand at candle-making.
Corn crop quandary
After caging one of my raised beds and planting corn, lentils, and yellow watermelon, I noticed one half of the corn is coming up beautifully and the other half doesn’t seem to be doing anything at all. It may be that they are different varieties, but, more likely, it has to do with the fact that the corn planted on the right was from last year’s seed. It may make it and it may not, but the corn on the left is doing well. If you look closely at the photo, you can see peas growing along the back, which I had thought failed, and, in the middle, you can see new growth on a broccoli stalk I had cut back to soil level. These plants never cease to amaze me.
Potato crop rotation
I decided to move my potato crop from a raised bed close to my patio to the bed farthest away. Once potatoes get established, they don’t need a whole lot of attention or protection. They had been growing in the same bed since 2015 and crop rotation is a good way to disrupt potential pest or disease problems.
Digging up all the potatoes and potato plants, I discovered dried fruit beetle grubs and wireworms. Wireworms are the larval stage of click beetles. They are bright yellow and a little more than one inch long. They have hard bodies and they burrow into root crops and stems of peas, beans, and melons, so I’m glad I decided to move my potatoes. My chickens were happy about it, too, but for different reasons.
Something bothering my beets
Speaking of soil-dwelling pests and being bothered, I discovered a new one in my beet patch. Harvesting a couple of beets for dinner, I discovered that the roots were significantly smaller than they should have been and that some very tiny, white centipede-like creatures were crawling around on the surface. Dang it. My beets have symphylans. Also known as garden centipedes, these tiny, fast-moving pseudocentipedes are not really related to centipedes at all. They are their own thing and they are a pain in the garden. Their presence explains why nearby kale seedlings never thrived. The only thing I can do is remove vulnerable plants, till the area a few times, and hope the symphylans don’t migrate into other areas of this 25’ long raised bed. Since these pests frequently burrow down 3-feet into the soil, chemical treatments are rarely helpful. I’ve read that beans aren’t as vulnerable, so I’ll plant beans there and see what happens.
Warty leaves on my nectarine tree
Once again, my nectarine tree has been infected with peach leaf curl. Our recent heavy rains made applying fixed copper ineffective and provided the perfect medium for fungal growth. Hopefully it won't lead to other problems, and I still have plenty of nectarine preserves from last year.
I’m not sure, but I think the Barbary dove eggs have hatched. There was much cooing back and forth between the parents a couple of days ago, though I haven’t seen any frequent feeding trips yet.
I hope you are all staying home and well, and enjoying time in your garden!
Kate Russell, writer, gardener, and so much more.