Buckle up, readers! This week brings another tumultuous adventure in organic pest management. Don’t worry, it’s not all insects and fungi, there’s also exciting news about hoses, harvests, cucumbers, and more, so grab your favorite insecticidal soap, check the area for squash bugs, have a seat, and read on.
Harlequin Bugs: I’m Not Laughing
Let me take you on a trip down memory lane. A little less than a year ago, I walked by the Community Garden on the way to class repeatedly, staring wistfully at all the greenery, but I had no idea how to get involved. One day, I walked by and a group of people were surrounding a tall plant. I was ecstatic- it was my Chance!
I ran up and asked if I could join, and they said, “Sure, we’re picking harlequin bugs off, you have small hands, that’s perfect! Just grab them and put ’em in the jar!”
Now, to say that bugs made me squeamish is an extreme understatement. But I wanted to be around plants, and I wanted friends that wanted to be around plants, so guess who hand picked some harlequin bugs that day?
All this to say that Harlequin bugs and I go way back. We’re old frenemies. We have a history. And not one time in our history have they ever made me laugh. They are, ironically, no laughing matter!
They’re actually named not for their humor but for their coloring. Their orange, black, and white shells are actually kind of beautiful, though that effect wears off when you realize how dang destructive they are.
Tell-tale damage from Harlequin bugs includes holes, discoloration, and yellow spots. They absolutely ravaged the Red Russian Kale.
Their eggs are white with black rings. They lay them on the underside of leaves. I can confirm that while the picture is pretty, it’s really freaky to find them in person and realize that they contain a bunch of tiny bugs.
It’s hard to combat Harlequin bugs as an organic gardener! They love Kale, Cabbage, and anything in the Brassica family. They’re really attacking the Kale right now. I’m taking two main approaches to get rid of these guys: Hand picking and Neem Oil.
The first approach is to hand pick the bugs off of the Kale and into a tub of soapy water. It’s just a solution of dish soap and water, and because of the scale of the garden it is feasible for me to go through and inspect the Kale. I pull off all the harlequin bugs and eggs and scrape them into the tub. The bugs are at different stages in the life cycles, some are big adults, some are very small, and some are still eggs, but I don’t discriminate. I carefully pick all that I can off of the plant and into the tub. Bye-bye bugs!
The second approach is to spray Neem oil, which is an organic insecticide and fungicide. It doesn’t hurt beneficial insects, and it works sort of like a hormone, confusing and deterring bad bugs (learn more here).
Flea Beetles: Please Bug Off
Flea Beetles have something in common with Harlequin Bugs: my disapproval. These little weirdos are attacking the eggplants! The eggplants are still young-ish, so seeing them covered in black bugs and riddled with holes nearly made me go grey this week. I just want all my plants to be happy and healthy!
After some googling, I discovered the weird, tiny, jumping fiends are called Flea Beetles, notorious for attacking Eggplants.
I’ve been spraying the Eggplants with Neem oil as well. Who ever said diamonds are a girl’s best friend clearly never met an organic gardener. If someone proposed to me with a bottle of Neem Oil, there’s a 90% chance I’d say yes (Or at least take the bottle and politely decline).
Powdery Mildew: Ew, Ew, Ew!
Last but CERTAINLY not least on the list of alarming garden maladies this week is Powdery Mildew.
At first, I noticed a spot on one of the pea leaves. I thought it was strange, but didn’t question it too much. I took a picture, and decided to check back the next day.
Oh man, this is a problem that will not be ignored! Powdery mildew is a fungus that presents itself in a powdery, white-ish manner. It started off as a few spots and then turned to a dust like covering of entire plants.
My guess is that one of the primary things spreading it is a weed, Henbit, that’s known for it’s pretty purple flowers, and it’s rampant in the garden. It seems to be very susceptible to powdery mildew and is spreading it from bed to bed.
Enough is enough! Neem oil, AKA my favorite thing on the planet, is also a fungicide, so I sprayed everything down liberally and I’m going to continue treatments until this clears up. I also spent several hours yesterday weeding, paying special attention to the infected Henbit, to hopefully prevent any further spread.
The good news is that the neem oil does seem to be helping! I just need to keep at it, and hopefully I can eradicate this.
Harvests, Hoses, Cukes, and Soil
With all this craziness going on, there’s still an abundance of lush life flourishing too! This week, with lots of help from a wonderful volunteer named Lauren, I was able to harvest the first of the Cosmic Carrots, reconfigure the irrigation system, and trellis some cucumbers, among other gardening tasks.
Red Russian Kale
Between fending off beetles and fleas, I harvested a bunch of Red Russian Kale this week. Red Russian Kale is known for its beautiful purple stems. It’s great raw and in a variety of recipes. Even with all our bug trouble, most of our Kale is just fine! Some volunteers at Bell Air told me their tricks for dealing with buggy produce, which is to soak it in salt water before eating it. That way, all the bugs and debris fall off!
This variety of Carrots is out of this world! They’re called Cosmic Carrots. They’re purple on the outside, but orange on the inside. They’re delicious! A few of them were ready for harvest this week, but most of them need some more time.
Hose Fiasco: Parts One and Two
One day, I’ll write a book about the struggles that I have had with the Community Garden’s irrigation/hose system. It’ll be a book in two parts, and it’ll have drama, heartbreak, loss, and more. For now, I’ll summarize; we have a rain barrel, which is amazing, but doesn’t have a whole lot of pressure. So up until now, we’ve been watering primarily with watering cans. There was a hose next to the rain barrel, but it was really old and hole-y and kinked up and extremely tangled (see: hose fiasco part one).
Recently, Lauren and I took a trip to Lowe’s (Thanks to Lauren’s having a car and willingness to drive me, she is basically my Garden Fairy god Sister) and bought a hose and a new connector.
Now we can fill up watering cans near the beds! Less trips walking to the rain barrel will save time and energy. Also, the hose is long enough, when hooked up to other hoses, that I can water a few beds without watering cans! It’s an amazing feeling!
These cucumbers are growing like crazy! We’ve trellised them, but they continue to climb and take over everything they can. They’re already starting to produce fruit!
Last week Lauren and I fixed up an old bed. We filled it with soil and compost before planting lettuce, radishes, and bush beans. Feeding soil with compost before planting is very important in order to ensure that it will provide plants with plenty of nutrients.
In Vegeterian Myth. Lierre Kieth asks, “Was the soil actually eating? What was soil? Was it, too, alive? One tablespoon of soil contains more than one million living organisms, and, yes, every one of them is eating. Soil isn’t just dirt.”
Keith goes on to detail her resistance to the idea of NPK, fertilizer, and manure, as it conflicted with her vegan ideals when she first began gardening, and her ultimate acceptance of the life and needs of soil. It’s easy to forget that “soil isn’t just dirt,” as she phrases it, but it’s vital for gardeners and farmers at all scales to remember to feed your soil with compost or other nutrients to keep it a healthy growing environment for your plants.