Sunday, June 23, 2013

Chihuly Gardens and Glass

This isn't my usual type of post, but I just had to share.  This weekend I went to the Chihuly Gardens and Glass in Seattle for the first time.  This place is heaven for gardeners and artists alike.  Stunning and inspiring.

The outdoor gardens marry garden design with Chihuly's whimsical, Dr. Seuss-like glassworks, whereas the indoor component incorporates, among other exhibits, an all glass "garden" in brilliant technicolor.  According to the explanatory placard, Chihuly modeled it after his mother's garden. 

Here's some eye-candy.


Super Tiny Grey Soil Bugs

There is a particular patch of my garden where the soil seems infested with extremely tiny grey bugs.  They're very hard to see, given their size and color.  In fact, I noticed them sort of by accident when I disturbed some soil with my hand and saw movement.  I had to get down at ground level to really see them.

I took some video, but honestly, unless you maximize to full screen, you can't really even see them.  If you could see them, what's useful about this video is that a roly poly bug ambles through and you can compare the size - the roly poly bug looks like a volkwagen compared to the grey soil bugs.

Some other characteristics of these bugs:
- They are fast and if disturbed will hop like fleas
- I have never seen them on any plants, only in the soil
- They do not appear on the surface of the soil.  It's only when I dig down a little that I see them.
- Their bodies appear pear-shaped.
- I can't tell how many legs they have

I haven't seen them before and haven't observed them elsewhere in my garden this year.  I have a theory that they might be springtails, but I am not sure. 

I wonder if they could have been part of the problem with my radishes, because where I'm seeing them is my former radish patch (which was also overrun by ants). 


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Leaves Turning White and Papery - Peppers and Tomatoes - Answered

Today after work, I ambled out to the garden for my daily check-in.  To my dismay, my sweet peppers and tomatoes are exhibiting a problem that's totally new to me.  Portions of the leaves are turning white and going all flimsy.  When viewed from underneath, it's clear that something has sucked out all the green part of the plant and left just a paper-thin white remnant in the shape of the leave but with no internal supports.  The white part is like a soft gauze.

I don't know how else to describe it.  Here are some pictures:

On the picture above, you can see that the tips of my pepper plant are complete turned to gauze and the affected area extends around the entire perimeter of the leave.  On the left hand side, that portion that is hanging down along the center of the leave is a part that tore off when I tried to handle it.

Here are a couple of other plants.  In the picture immediately below, you can see the papering on the right hand leaf, but on the left hand side, that's not a flash glare on the leave but rather whiteness from the same problem.  

All of the above pictures are of my pepper plants, but there is at least one tomato suffering from the same ailment.  The tomatoes and peppers are planted adjacent to each other. In the below picture, again, while it looks like sunlight is reflecting off the right-hand leaf, it's not.  I took this at dusk.  That is whiteness of the leave all around the edges. 

This is freaking me out.  If this much damage can happen in a 24 hour period, I fear what I'll come home to tomorrow.  Decimation of my peppers?

All of these plants have been hardened off and have been outside weathering heat and cold for some time now.  So it's not sunburn. 

I looked diligently for pests and could find none on the leaves.  Perhaps it's a disease??

Amy - help!


I haven't ever encountered this before, but I'm afraid it might be a kind of virus. There are several mosaic viruses that are vectored by aphids. You can't kill the aphids before they infect your plant, and both peppers and tomatoes can "catch" them. There is the cucumber mosaic virus, the tobacco mosaic virus, the alfalfa mosaic virus and a few others. If I had to make a guess, it would be cucumber mosaic virus, as it affects the most plants. Unfortunately, there isn't any treatment. There is only eradication and prevention.

Once an aphid has contracted the virus, it can only infect a plant within a few hours. But flying aphids actually move around quite a bit, so the viruses can spread very quickly. They like to probe a lot of different plants until they find the right one. It's nearly impossible to control for the aphid population if the virus is spreading around your area.

The tomato plants look more like the typical mosaic virus, in that there are separate spots around the leaves that turn white. But the symptoms are pretty varied.

I've gotten to this a little late, so can you give an update? Sometimes plants can overcome the virus, but the general consensus involves sacrificing the plants. Otherwise it can spread. Unfortunately, the other recommended action is to get rid of all weeds in the area. I understand how difficult that can be, if you don't control an entire field. Can you check for symptoms in some of the weeds in the area?

Now for my disclaimer: it's entirely possible that there is some insect that causes these symptoms and I just haven't encountered it yet. Before sacrificing all of the plants, it would be worth it to pull one and check it's roots, under the leaves and all over it. It could possibly be a powdery mildew, but you should be able to rub that off.

I wish I had a better answer, but this type of damage makes me nervous too. Especially the damage I see on the tomato plant.


I think you might be right.  I did some further internet reading on mosaic viruses.


This really really really sucks.  I do remember finding some clusters of aphids on my peppers during the hardening off process, back when I had two flats into which I crammed all of the peppers and tomatoes together.  The aphids may have come from my yard or they may have come from the ONE tomato plant that I bought (at the Tilth sale) and set in with all my home-grown seedlings.

But I fear I might be the vector.  I tend to touch my plants when examining for insects, turning over the leaves and such.  I have certainly not been washing my hands with hot soapy water in between touching each separate plant, or disinfecting my garden tools by boiling them for 5 minutes, as recommended by the UMN website. 

In the time since I last posted, things haven't changed much, although the problem does seem to be getting worse with respect to the peppers.  Here are some additional photos:

All of the above pictures are on my peppers, which are planted in front of the tomatoes. 

This picture below is one of my tomatoes that I planted separately in a pot against the house.  It has a lot of white spotting, and something has also been eating the leaves.  The fact that this tomato exhibits the white spotting tells me that the spread of virus occurred back when I had all of the seedlings in flats together with the peppers, rather than spreading in the garden bed (because this one is in a different part of my yard far away from the garden bed).  

My plan:

1.  Pull out the peppers and the worst-infected tomatoes in order to try to save the tomatoes that so far look uninfected.  This makes me very sad, by the way.

2.  STOP touching the plants with my hands and will boil my hand tools today and wash with soapy water.

3.  Throw away my pink gardening gloves that I used when doing most of the planting and tending of these plants.  I have some new ones that I haven't used yet this season, and I'll switch to those for handling soil and any other plants. 

4.  Cross my fingers and toes.

I'll post updates along the way.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Small Green Caterpillars on Kale Leaves - Answered

I've been trying to figure out what's eating my Tuscan kale.  I took the time to examine the leaves very, very closely, and found the culprit.  Tiny green caterpillars.  Before I squished them to death, I took a couple of pictures.

After I squished them, I applied Bt to the kale plants as well as the neighboring broccoli.  Hopefully that will do the trick.

I am curious what type of caterpillars they are - i.e. what type of larvae these would become if I had allowed them to live.


It's a little hard to tell considering they are so small. I would guess a cabbage looper. But Bt should probably help whatever kind it is. When they move, does their abdomen curl up towards their "chest," making a loop? Like this:


They will turn into a moth, which means that you probably won't see the adult too much. When you find these, they sometimes get into the heads of lettuce or brussels sprouts. When a plant is established and healthy, they often don't do enough damage to warrant a treatment, but they can cause problems in young plants. And the damage isn't very pretty, as they are chewing holes in your pretty leaves.

Regardless, the Bt should help, along with squishing them!

The Invisible Garden Pest: Wind

[From May 14, 2013] 

I can't blame insects this time.

When I got home from work on Monday, I found three of my tomato plants keeled over inside the portable greenhouse. The greenhouse itself had been pushed to the side, even though it was staked down at all four corners. My salad burnet looked like a large hair drier got to it. (Surprisingly, the tender pea vines looked just fine clinging to the mesh trellis.)

I knew today's storm would affect the garden.  During my drive home from work, I passed through sunshine, a rainbow, dark blue clouds, torrential rain, heavy winds, and then sunshine again. Apparently my garden had gone through the same thing, or at least through the heavy winds. Earlier in the day at work, we saw lightening and flickering power.

As soon as a I got home (by then the rainbow had passed and the sun was out), I hopped out of the car and straight over to the garden.  Two of the felled tomatoes' stems were bent but not broken.  The third was beyond repair with a totally severed stem.  From my garden shed, I grabbed some bamboo stakes and twine. Gently untangling the twisted and bruised leaves, I righted the plants and anchored them to the stakes.

The thunderstorms had also dropped the temperature several degrees, and I worried the tomatoes might suffer additional shock from what would obviously be a colder night.  Once I felt satisfied they were staked and tied, and once I re-anchored my greenhouse, I filled a watering can with warm water from the kitchen and gave the tomatoes a nice warm bath for their roots. (This gardening tip I got from an old book called Gardening with Weeds.) I filled it up several times until the soil was soaked.  Then I zipped up the greenhouse and put the tomatoes to bed, hoping that they would recover.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ants in the Garden

This is a follow up to my recent post on radishes.  After applying the Bt, the ants (and whatever else) temporarily disappeared.  But they returned a few days later, with a vengeance.  Now, the ants have spread to the broccoli, which are planted adjacent to the radishes.

The radishes are pretty much totally decimated.  At least two of my broccoli plants keeled over today.

I'm baffled.  It really does appear that the ants are eating my radishes and broccoli.  The ants appear to to tunnel around the stem of the plant where it emerges from the soil, and underneath.  They tend to swarm there.  Several of them hang out motionlessly on the damaged part of the stem.  To my eyes, they sure look like they are eating the stem or sucking moisture from it.

Here is a video:

The damage to the stems does look a bit like cutworm damage.  It looks like something is shearing or shaving the stem at a particular place right where it sits below the soil.  The ants swarm all over that sheared section.  

Not to gross anyone out, but I was also working in the front yard garden today and found a huge swarm of ants.  I found them adjacent to my raspberry patch, where I just pulled out a tired old sage plant to make room for some new plantings.  I did not see any signs of plant damage but was shocked to see so many ants.

On the chance that it is caused by ants, I bought some diatomaceous earth today.  I also applied a second round of Bt again, in case it's cutworms.  For both, it takes a few days to work.  I will post an update in a few days. 

Here is the bottle of concentrated Bt.  I used a capful and mixed it with a half gallon of water.  I put that into a spray bottle and sprayed it on the radishes and broccoli to coat both the tops and bottoms of the leaves as well as possible.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Unusually Warm Spring

I don't want to jinx it, but this spring has been awesome.  Typically, northwesterners suffer through a slug-ridden, bone-chilling damp May and June, while the rest of the country enjoys the onset of summer.  Not this year (at least so far).  Hooray!  The first two weeks of May have seen warmer and sunnier temperatures than ever recorded in Seattle.

Even the supposedly-cool weather loving vegetables like spinach and lettuce benefit hugely from the increased soil temperatures and extra doses of solar energy.  Honestly, it makes me jealous of gardeners who live in places that get this weather every single spring. 

Here's a photo time-line of one of my raised beds.  I started everything from seed directly in this bed:  peas in the back; arugula in the middle left;  spinach in the middle right, and lettuce up front.  The chives in the front right come back every year on their own.  I planted the seeds in mid- to late-March.

April 3, 2013

 April 3, 2013

 April 26, 2013

May 2, 2013

May 2, 2013

 May 11, 2013

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Starting From Seed: Tomatoes and Other Vegetables

February seems so long ago.  Back then, I developed a routine of getting up in the morning in total darkness, wrapping myself in a warm cozy robe, making coffee, and then going out to my sunroom to turn on the fluorescent light over my seedling trays.  At night, again in total darkness, I turned off the light just before going to bed.  It's not as if I was getting up ridiculously early or staying up super late. In Seattle, the winter days get very short, so everyone goes to work/school in the dark and comes home in the dark.

My intent was to leave the light on the seedlings for about 16 hours per day. That way, they would get artificial light plus whatever diffuse sunlight came through the overcast pacific-northwest-winter skies during the day into my sunroom.  

Today, only about 2 1/2 months later, my seedlings have overgrown their original trays.  Some already migrated out into the garden, while others graduated to larger individual pots.  My tomato seedlings are pushing 11 inches tall!    They grow up so fast. 

I don't use much equipment for seed starting.  In fact, there's just one "tool" I find invaluable - a seedling heat mat.  I got mine at Fred Meyer (a west coast version of Wal-Mart) for about $20.  It has lasted several years.


For light, I use an old fluorescent office lamp that used to be my father's, and which I used as a kid to do homework at my desk.  I suppose I could buy a special light bulb for it, but honestly, this seems to work just fine.  It's an ugly old thing, which you can see in this picture:

Other than that, all you need is potting soil and some containers to plant in.  One year, I used yogurt cups that I had saved and washed.  I just poked holes in the bottoms.  Now I have a couple of trays and some oblong seed pots that I saved from plant sales over the years, and I reuse them every year.  I like them because they all fit like puzzle pieces into the watering trays.

Oh yeah - and you also need SEEDS.

Half the fun of starting from seed is ordering the seed catalogs in the winter and planning out your garden while it's still snowy/snoggy outside.  I prefer Territorial Seed, primarily because they grow everything in the northwest, so I know that if they were able to grow it and collect the seeds from it, it'll have a good chance of growing in my garden too.  For the same reason, I have also had good luck with Ed Hume SeedsSeeds of Change is a great catalog for finding heirloom seeds, and it's also a gorgeous publication with an uber-organic, anti-Monsanto vibe.  I don't think there's a print catalog for Renee's Garden Seeds, but I like her herb seeds especially.  Renee's is based in California, near Santa Cruz.  The climate there is also not unlike the cool-ish, foresty climate in Seattle, which might be why I like her seeds.  Finally, even though it's not from my region, one of my fav-o-favorite seed catalogs to receive is from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  It's gorgeous.  I also have a soft spot for Baker Creek, because it originated in Mansfield, MO, not to far from where I grew up. 

My advice on where to buy your seeds - try to find a seed producer in your region.  The seeds you buy from them will be varieties that fit your climate and/or have acclimatized to your area.  Even better, if your friends save seeds, you can get them for free.  This winter, my friend Barb gave me several small envelopes with seeds from her garden, including artichokes, kale, and chervil.  So far, they have all germinated just as well as store-bought seeds. 
Here's a quick inventory of what I started indoors this spring:
  • Tomatoes- regular and cherry
  • Various lettuces
  • Broccoli 
  • Broccoli raab
  • Sweet peppers
  • Beets
  • Squash
  • Melon
  • Artichokes (from the seeds that my friend gave me)
  • Basil 
  • Chervil (from the seeds that my friend gave me)
  • Tuscan kale
  • Marigolds/Candytuft/Larkspur - about 4-5 inches tall each
I also started several sets of seeds directly in the garden, for those that germinate at cooler temps:
  • Snow peas
  • Spinach
  • Arugula
  • Butter lettuces
  • Carrots
  • Radishes (see previous post)

Here are some photos of my seed starting endeavors.

Here is the bed where I planted peas (growing under the netting), buttercrunch lettuces (far left), arugula and spinach (middle): 

Close up of the arugula (foreground) and pea shoots: 

Potting up tomatoes:

These are all tomato seedlings, with the exception of the three in the center, which are sweet peppers.

Tomatoes getting bigger: