Musings on the Garden

BY DOUG GERAETS

Now that the growing season is over, reflecting on the past year in the garden is fun and informative. The calendar said the season started but warm weather and plant growth were delayed; perennials were especially behind (remember the MG Plant Sale preparation!). Setting plants in the garden wasn’t delayed as transplants were hardened off and planted by early May.

Tomato plant post-herbicide drift damage showing curled leaves and reduced blossoms

Once my garden was planted and transplants settled in, growth proceeded rapidly. Sufficient rains kept things growing, although we experienced a few prolonged periods of dryness last summer that required watering, especially the tomatoes and peppers. I like to trickle water at the base of the plants using a single garden hose and a very slow flow of water.

Something unusual happened to my tomatoes this year—they suffered damage from herbicide drift from a nearby farmer who applied 2,4-D in his soybean field on a day with 10–15 mph SE wind.Half of my 15 plants showed injury: curled leaves,stunted growth, and no blossoms. It took many weeks for the damage to gradually reverse and when it did the plants produced new growth, flowered,and produced fruits. Much of that occurred late in the season so the plants experienced top-heavy vegetation and much smaller fruits that did not ripen completely.

A lot of plant material ended up in my compost trench—notice I said trench. I don’t practice traditional bin composting as I find it too time-consuming and labor-intensive. Instead, I dig a large trench two feet deep and layer plant material and kitchen scraps between layers of soil until I cover everything with about 6–12 inches of topsoil … more about that technique in a future newsletter.

Despite the herbicide damage, we managed to harvest enough tomatoes for our canning and freezing needs, in addition to extras to donate to local food banks. When you plant enough tomatoes and peppers you will have a surplus to share!

It seemed to me that pest insects were not as bad this year. Gnats and mosquitoes did appear through the summer but not in insufferable quantities. In addition, the most damaging pests in the garden— Japanese beetles, squash bugs, and grasshoppers—did not seem to be as prominent this year.

Eggs of parasitic braconid wasp
attached to hornworm.

Striped and spotted cucumber beetles, however, did make their appearance in July, and by early August my cucumber vines succumbed to the bacterial wilt disease they transmit.

One insect that we did find in large populations but not until September, which seemed unusually late, was hornworms. Not only can they decimate tomato plants in a very short period of time, but they are large and nasty looking. I probably picked off about 30–50 worms over a 10–14 day period. A few were covered in white eggs that look a lot like white rice protruding from the worm’s body. Those hornworms I left alone. Braconid wasps, Cotesia congregata, lay their eggs on hornworms to provide their larvae food, killing the hornworms in the process.

We’ve had some spectacular late summer and fall weather to continue work in the garden. Just about everything is harvested, except for a partial row of Kennebec potatoes and some leeks, and some vegetation to be cleaned up and composted.

I’ve managed to do some fall tilling to incorporate mulch and leaves into the garden. So I guess you can say it was an eventful year of gardening. Every year is unique and I always learn something new or vow to do something better
in next year’s garden. That includes tying up my pea vines (sugar snap and snow pod) so they aren’t blown over by stormy winds, and pruning my indeterminate tomato plants so they don’t become out-of-control and excessively crowded. Now, about those weeds!