Friends and Foes

Managing Late Blight Organically

Is probably impossible, but after losing all the tomatoes in New York, we’re trying to see if at least one of the Maine tomato patches ( 2 outdoors, one under plastic) can pull through and produce.

Organic management tools include:



Being There

Being Careful

Being Realistic

Being fond of cherry tomatoes

And perhaps most importantly, Being a procrastinator – at least in our case… If I’d done all the tomato grafting I’d planned to do, there wouldn’t have been any leftovers in the greenhouse.

 Tomato plants in the greenhouse have so far escaped the blight.

Tomato plants in the greenhouse have so far escaped the blight.

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Blight, Rust, Mold, Rot, Slugs, Snails and Earwigs

are all the wages of a wet summer, but the greatest of these is Late Blight. Our resident mycologist has the scientific perspective – and as he is also our tomato maestro, a very heavy heart. Here is his report on the New York garden, with a full explanation of the disease and how it spreads:


By Bill Bakaitis

I was in Maine when the word came in: Late Blight was laying waste to tomato fields in the Hudson Valley.  Oh, say it ain’t so I pleaded.  Leslie and I had been extra cautions this spring in starting from seed, setting out, cultivating, and protecting our tomatoes, fifty or so plants of some twenty or so varieties, mostly open pollinated heirlooms. They were specially grown from selected seed in our own greenhouse and in another in Maine; some heirlooms were painstakingly grafted onto disease resistant rootstock. The spacing was good. The plants were held up by a twine-between-post well-ventilated system, the ground carefully mulched with bright straw over paper, and all the lower branches were removed so as to exclude the transmission of soil borne pathogens. In addition the plants had been treated with Bacillus subtilis (Serenade tm) to protect against fungal infection. Say it ain’t so I prayed as I piled into the car and raced home through a driving rainstorm, thick as I had ever experienced.

But it was so.

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Getting Rid of Groundhogs, aka Woodchucks and Whistlepigs

If only. As a species of aggravation, Marmota monax, the largest and most pestilential member of the squirrel family is impossible to get rid of. There are a number of reasons we will get into in a moment.

First, however, the good news: you can get rid of one or more individuals, and that can often make the difference between having a harvest and not. Furthermore, you can get rid of them using a live trap, especially if you use one from Williams Trapping Supply.

young groundhog in live trap, about to take a trip

young groundhog in live trap, about to take a trip

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Rain and Rain and Rain Again, 5 Tips for Dealing With Constant Damp

In Maine, the chilly rain is now bidding fair to be every day for the entire month of June, and it’s not much better in the Hudson Valley. Or not much less rainy, anyway. It IS better there in general because it was warmer longer sooner, giving plants a good head start  – and the rain itself is warmer.

I keep telling myself this too shall pass – There’s photographic proof from last July, when Lois was painting in the garden.

There can be so much sun you need an umbrella for that

There can be so much sun you need an umbrella for that

But it’s difficult for me to listen to me, so I’m glad there are a few things I can do to help  avoid total catastrophe.

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Why Plants Are Variegated

Maybe. At least it’s a plausible explanation from what might be called a reliable source, the scientific journal Evolutionary Ecology.

Here’s the summary, with illustration and caption, from the BBC (photographer uncredited, unfortunately):

The Plant That Pretends to Be Ill

A leaf damaged by mining moths (left) compared to one faking it (right).

A leaf damaged by mining moths (left) compared to one faking it (right).

Short version is they do it to look sick, thus fooling the bugs that might make them sick into thinking they’ve already been drained of vitality.

Words cannot express my investment in this explanation, but if YOU have been expensively seduced (over and over) by some gorgeous variegated thing, only to find when you got it home and put it in the garden that it just looked sick, you will know what I mean.

Ladybug or Squash Beetle or Mexican Bean Beetle?

It can be hard to tell. The  squash and bean beetles are orange with black spots and so in many cases are the ladybugs, aka lady beetles.

Two clues:

1. The vegetable eaters are mostly on the vegetables they eat.

2. Most  of the common ladybugs have black heads; the pests don’t.

Ladybug, so glad to see you

Japanese, squash and bean varieties notwithstanding, beetles in the garden can be a very good thing. Here we see a lady beetle ( probably the Asian one, Harmonia axyridis, although I wouldn’t swear), working on the aphids in the trap crop lambs quarter.

leslie land ladybug-on-lambsquarter

When young, lambs quarter is one of the most delicious greens any garden can grow. As it ages and toughens, swarms of aphids come to infest it instead of your fava beans. Very convenient.

less good of the beetle, better of the aphids. Never eat anything bigger than your head.

Less good of the beetle, better of the aphids. Never eat anything bigger than your head.

(Desperately Seeking) Legume Inoculant, or, A tale of two Agways

Background: The day is warm and so is the soil. I decide to push it and plant some peas, even though the forsythia is only swollen instead of blooming and

 Crocus are still the main attraction.

Crocus are still the main attraction.

I look in the seedbox

 It's in back. I couldn’t bear to edit him out

It's in back. I couldn’t bear to edit him out

Gee, I thought I bought some.

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Amaryllis Won’t Bloom? Daffodils Not Flowering?

“ Why won’t my amaryllis re-bloom?”

If only I had the proverbial dime for each time a reader wrote to me – at the New York Times, at Yankee, at (oh distant past) McCall’s – asking that question, I’d be rich. And if there were also dimes for “ why didn’t my daffodils flower?” Bill Gates would have to look to his laurels.

Amaryllis reblooming; this one is about 5 years old.

Amaryllis reblooming; this one is about 5 years old.

Answers were and are mostly about getting enough sun on the leaves that feed the bulb. Flowers for next year are already formed when these bulbs go dormant, so the stronger they are at that stage, the better the flowers will be. Good drainage is also essential, especially while the bulbs are leafless. And they prefer near-neutral soil, though they can make do in most cases.

Wet or very acid soil, shade, leaf-braiding and cutting leaves before their work is done are the most likely suspects when amaryllis or daffodils won’t flower. But there’s also another culprit that gets a lot less attention: the narcissus bulb fly, Merodon equestris.

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The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Gardeners

Or is it The Seven Pillars of Horticultural Wisdom, or the Ten All-time Top Garden Tips?

As everyone’s resolutions remind us, something there is that loves a number attached to advice, a number smaller than the one I regard as most realistic: The Twenty Three Thousand, Four Hundred and Sixty Two Things It’s Important to Remember Before Getting Out of Bed.

So be warned. I haven’t really honed it down to only seven; these are just the first seven essentials that came to mind when I decided to do this. And not in order, either. (details after the jump)

* Make Compostcompost-bins-at-stonecrop The compost bins at Stonecrop

* Use Compost

* Plant Crops in Wide Beds


Feed the Soil, not the Plants

Share Something

Be There 

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