I OFTEN SAY how the only thing I know with certainty about gardening, even after 30 years of experience, is this: Things will die. Just before my open garden day last week, a giant yellow magnolia called ‘Butterflies’ in the front yard decided quite unceremoniously that it was time to go. R.I.P., ‘Butterflies.’ But what felled you, I wonder? It was all so sudden–before I knew it, you were on the ground, and being carted away (above). [read more…]
pests & diseases
My adventures with garden pests: How to prevent or get rid of ones as big as a deer or woodchuck or as small as a Viburnum leaf beetle larvae or fungus disease -- all from the point of view of an organic gardener.
I HAVE ALWAYS CAGED my tomatoes, but many experts agree that staking–and regularly pruning and tying the staked plants as they grow–is the most space-efficient and also most hygienic tactic of all, helping manage the potential for disease while yielding plenty of fruit. With tomato-transplant time just ahead here, I’ve been studying up with experts like Tom Stearns (that’s his High Mowing Organic Seeds tomato trial field, above) on how to stake and prune tomatoes, and other tips for producing a healthy, bountiful crop. [read more…]
I PRE-ORDER CERTAIN ANNUALS—reserving whole flats of favorites with my local garden center to make sure I won’t get shut out. Normally that early commitment includes a favorite peachy-colored impatiens, but this year, I’m not so sure. Impatiens downy mildew ravaged the popular bedding plant in many parts of the country last year, so I asked Margery Daughtrey, a plant pathologist and senior Extension associate with Cornell University, what the early line is from where she sits in her Suffolk County, Long Island, lab–and some substitutes I might consider for that annual order of mine. [read more…]
I ALWAYS SAY “feed the soil, not the plants,” which for decades has meant to me to turn in compost—lots and lots of compost, and then more—and every few years a topdressing of organic fertilizer. Lately I’ve been curious what more I can do, as stressors ranging from dryspells to disease test me and the plants. I’d often read about inoculating the soil with mycorrhizae–myco means fungus and the suffix means root, so literally root fungi, a word used to indicate a symbiotic relationship between the two. Until last fall, at garlic-planting time, when I purchased $49.50 worth (enough for the garlic, plus my whole vegetable garden) I’d never experimented hands-on. More about my mycorrhizae adventure: [read more…]
I THOUGHT IT WAS A FOOT-LONG STRAND of twine, except that it was moving, arching upward from the doormat again and again. What in the world? On that damp December day, I met my first nematomorph (above)—an ancient sister group to the nematodes capable of turning crickets into zombies that probably has some role in the bigger picture of insect control. I learned all that after a Google search for “thin worm” led me to the work of Ben Hanelt of the University of New Mexico, and the parasitic “horsehair worms” he’s wondered about since high school, and devotes his distinguished career to the study of. Ready for a stranger-than-truth tale of science fact and fiction? (And don’t panic—they have no interest in you or your pets.) [read more…]