Friday, June 4, 2010

Tis the season

Memorial Day is the target date for all gardeners in these parts to put in their vegetables. This year we were blessed with terrific weather for the week before and after, broken only by brief passages of rain to water it all in and refill the rain barrels. So, no problem meeting the deadline, despite having an injured foot.

As part of the annual planting marathon, I now rig up plant protectors; for instance, wire cages covered with lightweight insect barrier fabric over all the broccoli. An experiment with this setup last year worked, sparing half my crop from the little green worms that crawl out of the heads when you're preparing the harvest. This year I'm covering all the broccoli and hoping for a repeat performance.

Liking the barrier idea, I placed hardware cloth (metal mesh) over the green bean seeds so birds won't pick off the hulls when they rise to the surface ahead of the sprouts, and critters won't dig them up.

Then I put Wall-o-Waters around tomatoes and cucumbers. These gizmos, which are essentially solar teepees, are made by different manufacturers in different sizes and colors, all in a soft, durable plastic formed of tubes you fill with water. They protect tender seedlings from chill and wind, and can be pulled open or pinched shut as conditions warrant. In theory, they can extend the growing season by several weeks. I haven't used them long enough to prove this yet, but initial results are encouraging.

I always place a yogurt or butter tub, or similar plastic cup with the bottom cut out, around the base of all transplants. Originally I did this upon advice to discourage tomato hornworms; it seems to work against other undesirables as well, plus makes a contained area that holds water.

In response to last year's slug infestation, I purchased some Sluggo -- granules of iron phosphate that are toxic to slugs but, again theoretically, safe for pets and people. I'm not real sure about that, so I only sprinkled it in the areas under cover, so the birds won't pick it up and cats won't get it between their toes. I'm also leaving the bed unmulched, to make a dry and crusty surface for the slugs to suffer on while crossing, instead providing a moist haven for them to thrive in. This creates a lot of splash-up against the undersides of leaves, which can create disease conditions especially for tomatoes, so for them I put down fabric mulch. We'll see if that helps.

Where possible, I place some sort of frame around my plants at the beginning and end of season, to which I can attach plastic or fabric for frost protection. It can come as late as June 15 and as early as September 15, and it's so much easier to have frames already in place when you have to fling covers over everything. Someday I'll have cold frames and hoop houses, but until then I wing it with found materials, tie-wraps and clothespins, and a few reusable accessories.

Over time, even such simple protectors have proven their value in this chilly, erratic climate.

Carolyn Haley

Author: The Mobius Striptease (e-novel, Club Lighthouse Publishing)
Open Your Heart with Gardens
(nonfiction, DreamTime Publishing)
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