Monday, September 1, 2008

Organic gardening tips

The end of summer is a bummer in many ways... but not in the mid-Atlantic garden! Right now farm stands and backyard gardens like mine are loaded with juicy red tomatoes. I have so many, especially cherry tomatoes, that I've been giving them away (so hey, email me if you're local and want some).

This bumper crop of mine would be even bigger if not for the slugs that have invaded. I figure that my soaker hose is a bit too effective at keeping the soil moist, and has created a damp haven for slugs. Perhaps this is also why my zucchini aren't thriving as usual? More on zucchini later, but back to the slugs. Like many humans, it turns out that slugs have a thing for beer. So I dug a little pit and filled it with a plastic dish of beer into which they could tumble to their alcohol-soaked deaths. At least they die happy, right? I caught two last week, and look forward to catching the others who keep attacking my lovely Big Rainbow heirlooms.

Before I get off the subject of tomatoes, did you know that marigolds make great companion plants? I've read that the scent repels certain tomato pests like whiteflies and nematodes, depending on which variety you plant... but at the very least, they look pretty.

Elsewhere in the garden, my zucchinis are plagued by powdery mildew. I have yet to find a good remedy for this: it seems that prevention is the best cure. Before I got religion on organic food and gardening, I tried chemical sprays that were semi-effective, but my latest attempt is a natural neem oil spray. This oil is used in holistic Ayurvedic medicine in India, and also makes a good bio-pesticide.

Another nasty zucchini problem is that of squash vine borers. These little buggers will tunnel their way into the stems and kill plants from the inside out. You'll know you have squash vine borers when your plants start to wilt for no apparent reason. Check the stem for what looks like piles of sawdust around dry cracks: that's where the larva is hiding. Slit the vine along the crack and extract it, then bury the wounded stem with dirt to encourage healing. Last year this trick worked for me, but this year I cut too deep and lost the plant. Be careful! Read more about garden pests and how to eradicate them at the University of Maryland's Home & Garden website. Their plant diagnostic page is most helpful.

While I'm on the topic of natural gardening products, have you heard of Terracycle? This is a great company that sells worm poop as garden fertilizer: my favorite part is that they use waste products for all aspects of their business, from the fertilizer itself to the containers in which it's sold. That, my friends, is recycling and eco-capitalism at their finest. As they say in Cradle to Cradle, waste = food.

1 comment:

Baltimoron said...

Ugh, I too am now plagued by the powdery mildew. I was wondering what that was and now my zuc looks terrible :( I'll let you know of I come up with anything good to help. I spray a little dawn in water on my roses to stop aphids and my hollyhocks to stop rust; I'll try it and let you know. Technically Dawn isn't organic I guess, but I don't think its harmful for the plants or soil or humans...?