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The Good, Bad & Ugly of our Organic Garden

With the wettest May on record and historic amounts of rainfall, our garden is flourishing. We enjoyed some time at the beach for an extended Memorial Day weekend and came back to find the beginnings of what we hope to be a bountiful summer harvest.

This year we’ve got cucumbers, hot peppers, sweet peppers, eight varieties of tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, tatume squash, watermelon, four types of green beans, leeks, Swiss chard, okra, eggplant, garlic, potatoes, blackberries, blueberries, and plenty of herbs growing in the garden.

Here are a few highlights of the good, bad and the ugly of some of the plants we’ve had mixed results with in the past (in Brian’s very first blog post!).

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Tomatoes

Good – The plants are growing really fast, 5-6 feet tall now, despite planting a month late. I’m convinced that this great growth is due to several factors. The 12×4 raised bed is my most oldest and has therefore received the most TLC over the years, including lots of compost and soil amendments like alfalfa, greensand, kelp meal, and humate. The bed also gets 10+ hours of sun from May-August, which tomatoes love.

I’m excited that my new trellis system is in place and ready to support eight-foot-tall plants. These trellis monsters are the product of three years of experimentation that included several absolute busts.

Bad – Excessive rain is causing about half of the ripe cherry tomatoes to split, get buggy, and become inedible. This is natural and should subside as the rain levels get back to normal.  Another challenge related to the growth is the plants have already become a bit crowded, which can lead to fungal issues from decreased airflow around the plants. I believe this potential issue will be mitigated by the cornmeal I spread in the soil at planting time which acts as an anti-fungal. I’ve also pruned the bottom 18″ of lower leaves off each plant to promote good airflow at the base of the plants. I told my wife we might have to sacrifice one plant, removing it to open up the bed a bit. She looked at me crazy, so I’ll hold off on that tactic for the time being.

Ugly – A couple of larger Celebrity tomatoes have had blossom end rot despite adding Epsom salt at planting. I’ve added some more Epsom salt and compost to hopefully fix the deficiency causing the issue.

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Squash

Good – All squash (yellow, zucchini, butternut, tatume) are growing fairly well.

Bad – The squash vine borer is back for another year. This moth has devastating, I should say deadly effects, on many squash plants, particularly traditional yellow squash and zucchini. This is the third year I’ve lost plants to this pest that puts its eggs on the lower portions of the plant stems. Upon hatching the larvae, they bore holes into the stem where they feast. As they grow in size inside the stem, the damage they cause will suddenly show itself in the plant’s wilted leaves. At this point, it’s too late and your plant will likely be dead within a day. Treating the stems regularly with BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis) powder or spray is highly effective if you’re consistent and don’t have too much rain. With the recent Texas flooding, you can guess our problem.

I’ve had great success growing a few varieties of squash that the Vine Borer doesn’t seem to like such as Butternut Squash, Spaghetti Squash, and Tatume. The pest also seems to leave watermelon alone, so long as there are Yellow Squash and Zucchini around.

Ugly – The grasshopper damage is noticeable but not seemingly causing real issues. They don’t seem to cause much damage, a few holes in leaves here and there, so I don’t worry too much about it. The past couple of years, excluding this spring, I’ve set out organic grasshopper bait, such as Semaspore or Nolo. You have to put that stuff out early for it to be effective, when you see the newer, younger grasshoppers appear. I missed the timing on it this year.

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Green Beans

Good – Unlike the past two years, spider mites have not begun to damage my green beans.

Bad – The spider mites haven’t caused damage because I hadn’t sowed the beans in the ground yet! This late planting, a few days ago, was intentional though, as I noticed spider mite damage on my snow peas a few months back. I vowed to get the pests under control before planting green beans, which are incredibly susceptible to spider mite damage. Each of the past two years, I had to pull my spring planting of beans by early July due to the infestation.

Being in my third full year of organic gardening, I’ve vowed to use no wide-spectrum pesticide sprays this year, even if it’s an organic spray. The reason being is that my garden is now hosting a wide variety of beneficial insects including, just to name a few, soldier beetles, syrphid flies (hoverfly), praying mantises, ladybugs, assassin bugs, and a variety of ground beetles. Organic pesticides such as Spinosad are often used as wide-spectrum sprays, but they can have devastating effects on beneficial bugs. You may get short-term (1-2 months) benefits in reducing pest populations, but since you also set back your beneficial bugs, your bad bugs will likely come back with a vengeance.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in organic gardening is ALWAYS let nature attempt to handle the problem first. If intervention is required, I’ll attempt to aid nature by adding natural predators first. Pesticides are a last resort and the best option is to use the most narrow spectrum yet targeted organic pesticide available. Stay tuned for a future post on pesticides. Although I’ve never used a synthetic pesticide, I have no problem saying that just because it’s organic, doesn’t mean it’s okay to use.

So how am I attempting to get the spider mites under control before my green bean plants start growing?! I released 2000 predatory spider mites (spider mites that enjoy eating other spider mites) a few weeks ago, and it seems to be helping. I will likely do one follow-up release soon. This stuff better work as it’s pricey.

Ugly – Nothing to report! The green beans haven’t even sprouted yet. Hopefully when they do in the next few days, I’ll have the spider mite populations under control, so that my plants stay beautiful and give us enough beans to stock up the deep freezer.

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It looks like the heavy rains are over, and we’re well on our way to a sweltering South Texas summer with scorching temperatures. I’ll be missing all of this rain when I have to turn to supplemental watering soon, but I’ve got the entire garden set up on a drip irrigation system. Stay tuned for an easy tutorial on how to convert an existing turf grass sprinkler zone into a highly efficient drip irrigation system for your garden.

What’s growing in your garden? Share with us in a comment!
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  • Christina Williams Routon

    That sounds like a wonderful garden. I do not have a green thumb, so you guys are doing well.

    • Meghann2014

      Thank you! I don’t have a green thumb either, so I’m glad I married someone with one.