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: