What to do and what not to do to stay one step ahead of extreme weather.
Our garden yields have steadily declined since we began our dream retirement garden in New Hampshire seven years ago. While some of it can be blamed on "user error" -- late seeding, inadequate planning, poor soil preparation -- weather has played an increasing role in preventing us from staying one step ahead in our pest management strategies. Plant health and insect life cycles are inextricably tied to weather. If erratic weather weakens the plant, the insect moves in.
This decline, plus the reclassification of our growing zone from Zone 4-5 to Zone 5 (see Garden Links) confirms that global warming is a reality. The following are reminders for us to try to stay one step ahead next year:
* Sunflowers in 3 rows abutting west fence. Mid-or late season greens or tomatoes for 2 rows on north (coldframe) side of garden. Or, cover crop in spring for fall planting greens, Br. Sprouts.
* Save 2 - 50' rows for succession plantings lettuce, beets, greens.
* Yield perfect with 6 each cherry tomatoes (gold and Sw. 100), 5 slicing tomatoes, and 5 drying tomatoes. 'Principe Borghese' drying tomato performed poorly under wet conditions of early 2004 summer. Replace with regular paste (Roma) tomato.
* Time seeding all sets (except brassicas) for transplanting in mid-June instead of June 1st.
* If trying a spring crop of broccoli, try seeding in mid-March and set out in mid-May, before cutworms begin their life cycle. Buy a quick-maturing variety of broccoli, e.g., Packman (hybrid, Johnny's says 50 days) or De Cicco (nonhybrid, 48 days) instead of our old standby, Premium Crop (hybrid, 80 days). Or, seed a fall crop next June!
* Focus on quality, not quantity. Allow more growing space in the seeding room for 3" pepper pots. Covercrop 2 rows, gro
* Peppers transplanted into a 12-plug tray appear less robust than those that were transplanted into 4-cell trays or 3" pots. This is the second year that has happened. Next year, the plug tray will be used for herbs, tomatoes, brassicas, or ornamentals.
* After tilling and before laying black plastic, treat soil with Bt to help control cutworm and other larvae. Continue dousing soil every 10 days during spring.
* Start seeding slow-growing verbena, ageratum, lobelia -- all annuals -- in February.
* Seed hollyhocks and sunflowers indoors. Both were direct-seeded in June and performed poorly. Start hollyhock in early March and sunflowers in May.
* Our favorite table tomato, Celebrity, has performed poorly the past two years, losing most vegetation to blight. Try another variety -- Big Boy, Better Boy, Rutgers, some old standbys.
Early Spring. For the past several years, this gardener took the advice of our brother-in-law and waited until June 1st to transplant our sets, despite our frost-free date of May 20th.
Now, the cutworm forces us to move that date forward to mid-June. The last sighting this year was June 19th. Replacement sets set in ground mid-June survived and formed heads in July, thanks to unseasonably cool and weather. Our neighbor planted store-bought sets (about 8" tall) May 15th and harvested all of them around June 18th. Next year, try seeding around March 15th. By the time cutworms appear, the transplants may be big enough to withstand damage.
June 13th: vegetable weevil and asparagus beetle appear. Used bug brew approach on weevils and Bt on beetle larvae.
* Unlike last year's rainy June, this year was a true spring, cool mornings and
evenings, and enough precipitation to perk up our naturalized plantings, plenty
* July 10th: Adult asparagus beetles disappear and their larvae are under control by spraying every 10 days with Bt.
* Japanese beetle population increases, beginning on asparagus plants.
* July 12th: No sign of vegetable weevils. Reemay protecting its favorite, tomatillos, is removed.
July 15th: Less mature, hotter pepper plants suffer huge setback during the last week of rains by an invisible insect or worm chomping on the leaves. Squash bug found on several damaged plants, even though we don't grow squash. No larval castings visible, but applied Bt just in case.
July 25th: Mystery insect discovered in the soil, first in pepper
plants, then everywhere! See July Archive for
photo. Our best guess: pepper weevil, hitchhiked on store-bought replacement
* First broccoli harvested.
* Rain continues with higher temps.
* Mystery insects reported last month at soil level declines. Japanese beetle population subsequently soars. Is there a connection?
* Mystery insect in soil declines. Japanese beetle population soaring.
Squash bug (immature, green) identified on hollyhocks.
* First tomato hornworm found on pepper plant - sprayed Bt
* NH Master Gardener identifies our mystery bug from the image sent to him: Asian Garden Beetle.
* Rain past two weeks.
* No tomato hornworms sighted, or visible signs of hornworm damage, although neighbor reports serious infestation.
* Farmer's Market vendors report this has been a bad year for peppers due to excess precipitation and cool temperatures.
In Garden 2003, the first hornworm tomatoes appeared August 6th, but only for two weeks. Watering minimized by 5"-6" of rain in last week of July and first couple weeks of August 2003.