A great sustainable way to collect water for use in your garden and flower beds is to use a rain barrel. Placed beneath a down spout, these barrels will collect free water every time that it rains. We have one 45-gallon barrel placed in the front of our home and a 60-gallon barrel in the back. It is amazing how quickly they can fill up. A watering can left beside each one makes it easy to water flower beds, window boxes, and the vegetable garden. Okay, the last one may take a bit more effort but consider it free strength-conditioning! The barrels come in many different styles and sizes including a collapsible version which makes for easy winter storage.

Vegetable gardens need a consistent supply of water in order to achieve their full potential, generally 1” per week. Since Connecticut’s average rainfall is 3-4” per month it would seem that rainfall alone would be sufficient. However, sunny days with temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s and warm nights will increase the demand as will sandy soils that drain more quickly than clay soils. It isn’t easy to gauge the amount that is actually available to the plant roots.
Unless you are using soaker hoses or drip irrigation, it can be difficult to direct water to the roots of a plant. So much tends to run off to where you don’t need it. Last year I tried a new method of delivering water to the tomato plants using purchased disposable aluminum angel food/bundt cake pans.

Tomato plant with foil watering pan   Photo by Susan Pelton

 

 

With an awl or a large nail, punch holes through the flat bottom of the pan and also through the center core. Do not put any holes in the outer sides as you want the water to be directed in and down. When planting, dig a hole that is the width of the pan but not quite as deep. You will also need to dig an area in the center of this hole into which the seedling will sit. Holding the seedling in one hand gently thread the stem and leaves up and through the center cone of the pan. Place the seedling and pan into the prepared hole filling in with soil under the pan if necessary. Press down gently to seat the pan. The rim should still be about ½”above the soil line.

Water is poured directly into the pan where it then seeps into the soil. It makes it very easy to see how much water is being supplied and fertilizer supplements can be put into the pan where they will be released. As the plants are surrounded by foil it may decrease the amount of soil-borne pathogens that might splash up onto the plants. The results of this project were good enough to do it again this year.

 

 My second experiment at target watering was directed at the cucurbits in the garden. We all know that squash, cucumbers and zucchini are often planted in hills. Every year I get the mounds nicely set, with lovely little plants growing forth, but it seems that every watering erodes the hills until there is nothing left. And most of the water applied just seems to trickle down the sides. I punched holes into the bottom and sides of empty soup cans and pushed one into the center of each hill. Seeds were planted around the cans with the hope that the water would reach the roots. It worked to some extent but the hills still tended to erode.

This year, as I was hanging some wire-framed coco fiber-lined baskets, a thought occurred to me. Why not invert the basket and let the liner and frame hold the squash hill in place? I cut a 3” hole from the base of the coco liner, filled the basket with garden soil, and inverted it directly on the spot in the garden. I then planted the seeds in the hole which was now at the ‘top’ of the basket.

 

 

Squash mounds Photo by Susan Pelton

 

 

 

 

 

 

All watering is done directly into the center hole and the coco fibers prevent the soil from drying out. The wire frame of the basket also makes a great support for plant stakes that keep the vines up off the ground. So far this year the results of these innovations have been good and the plants are thriving.

 

 

 

Watering directly to the base of the Squash  Photo by Susan Pelton

 

There isn’t anything as delicious as tomatoes, squash and zucchini fresh from the garden! Here’s a recipe to try that makes use of these ingredients: Slice them into ½” rounds, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill until cooked through.

Fresh zucchini, tomatoes, and mozzarella  Photo by Susan Pelton

Starting with a base of fresh or grilled polenta, stack the vegetables alternately with rounds of fresh mozzarella and pesto. Enjoy!

Zucchini & Tomato Napoleon  Photo by Susan PeltonSusan Pelton

 

Late summer in the vegetable garden can be a time of great harvest and a time of disappointment. The spring planted lettuce, spinach and radishes have all gone to seed, and insects and disease are taking their toll on crops that have lasted til now. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are producing their bounties in large amounts and cleaned out beds hold the promise of another round of seed planting for greens. Try kale, winter lettuces and chard. Below is a visual tour of what is happening in my garden.

- Carol Quish

Eggplant ready to be picked. photo by Carol Quish

Eggplant ready to be picked. photo by Carol Quish

Sweetie Cherry Tomato plant with brown leaves stripped off of the bottom of the plant to reduce fungal spores in the tomato bed. photo Carol Quish

Sweetie Cherry Tomato plant with brown leaves stripped off of the bottom of the plant to reduce fungal spores in the tomato bed. photo Carol Quish

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Red Onions beginning to have their tops fall over. Harvest after tops die back. Photo Carol Quish

Peas plants have been removed making room for Bright Lights Swiss Chard to grow. Photo Carol Quish

Peas plants have been removed making room for Bright Lights Swiss Chard to grow. Photo Carol Quish

Pole Green Beans are in need of picking! Photo Carol Quish

Pole Green Beans are in need of picking! Photo Carol Quish

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Zinnia’s are keeping the pollinators happy so they continue to visit the garden. Photo Carol Quish.

Every garden needs some blooming flowers. Keep up with dead heading to the the flowers coming. Photo Carol Quish

Every garden needs some blooming flowers. Keep up with dead heading to the the flowers coming. Photo Carol Quish

Zucchini leave attacked by powdery mildew. I should remove this so the unaffected plants might be protected. Photo Carol Quish

Zucchini leave attacked by powdery mildew. I should remove this so the unaffected plants might be protected. Photo Carol Quish

Waltham Butternut Squash vining its way over the potato plants. Photo Carol Quish

Waltham Butternut Squash vining its way over the potato plants. Photo Carol Quish

Red Kuri Winter Squash pitiful harvest. Vines were killed by the Squash Vine Borer. Photo Carol Quish

Red Kuri Winter Squash pitiful harvest. Vines were killed by the Squash Vine Borer. Photo Carol Quish

Late ripening blueberry variety keeps the fruit season coming. Photo Carol Quish

Late ripening blueberry variety keeps the fruit season coming. Photo Carol Quish

 

The sphinx, or hawk, moths are relatively heavy- bodied and are strong fliers. Some are important pollinators of trees and shrubs, especially those having white or light- colored flowers. Most sphinx moths fly at night, so we may not see them except as they are attracting to lights outside the home. The clearwing moths, such as the snowberry and hummingbird, do fly during the day and are common visitors to home gardens.

Below left: Virginia Creeper Sphinx Moth  Below Right  Hog Sphinx ( Virginia Creeper ) Caterpillar
Hog sphinx moth and shadow on birdhouse??????????

Just as the adults are large- bodied and heavy set, the sphinx caterpillars can also become quite the behemoths when compared to other caterpillars common to New England. They usually have a conspicuous horn on the hind end, but some species start off with a horn and end up with a “ button “ ornament instead. Most of these caterpillars feed on trees and shrubs, but some, such as the tobacco and tomato hornworms and the hermit sphinx feed on nightshades or basil respectively. Because of their size, damage to host plants can be substantial as they approach the final instars.

snowberry clearwing late instar. 2011 jpg

Snowberry Clearwing Caterpillar is found on honeysuckle

If you want to find hornworms, knowing the host plants is the first step. Many species can be found on grape and Virginia creeper. These include the hog ( or Virginia Creeper Sphinx ), the Pandorus sphinx, Abbot’ sphinx and the Achemon sphinx. Look underneath leaves where feeding is evident, then look for leaf stems left behind as caterpillars get larger and move toward inward leaves. If tomato leaves are disappearing, the Tobacco hornworm may be lurking nearby. Although this caterpillar gets huge, it can be surprisingly difficult to see as its color blends in with tomato foliage and stems. The final instar can eat you out of house and home in no time. I once raised one from an egg found on nightshade and it grew to the size of an Oscar Mayer hot dog. Fecal pellets are another indicator of caterpillar feeding, and the sphinx variety are elongate and have six deep grooves and may be quite large as caterpillars approach the penultimate and final instars. Eggs are usually laid on the undersides of leaves and are large and spherical. A large, green spherical egg found on a tomato leaf is most likely that of the tobacco hornworm. If you are not interested in raising this caterpillar, crush the egg and future feeding damage can be avoided.

Blueberry or huckleberry are the host plants of the fabulous Huckleberry Sphinx. When small, its horn is striped with lemon yellow and raspberry red ( one color short of Trix™ ). Its body is granulose, looking like it has been sprinkled with large crystals of sugar. As it matures, raspberry markings develop on its sides and back. Last year I found several of these on both host plants and at various locations. Each year is different, though, and abundance or apparent scarcity of species fluctuates accordingly.

Huck Sphinx

Huckleberry Sphinx Caterpillar on blueberry

When at rest or when disturbed, sphinx caterpillars position themselves in a posture that reminds me of a seahorse. Some thrash from side to side and some may regurgitate a green fluid as well. Some actually will nip, and Abbot’s sphinx and Walnut sphinx caterpillars make sounds when threatened. All these means are probably very effective at dissuading birds, but predatory wasps seem to be able to get past all that behavior. When you find a caterpillar with cocoons all over it, the internal feeding of cotesia or braconid wasps has been completed and the caterpillar is doomed to die a slow death. It is unfortunate that many introduced parasites that were meant to control pest caterpillars are now decimating benign native species, but that is just a sad story of good intensions backfiring.

Pandorus cat small size on Va. creeper Finley St

Pandorus Sphinx Caterpillar

sphinx paw paw or whatever

Paw Paw Sphinx found on winterberry

If you raise sphinx caterpillars, make sure that final instars have a suitable pupating medium, such as abundant mulch, plant litter or soil. Or simply release onto a host plant and let nature take its course. Caterpillars tend to be sedentary more than mobile and they have a good gripping ability which makes them easy to transfer to fresh food material. Keep pupa moist over winter and provide air to containers to keep from developing mold. Be vigilant and release as they eclose. Moths emerging in small containers may not be able to expand wings fully, and will be doomed as wings will harden deformed.

4-horned sphinx on elm 9-9-13

4- Horned or Elm Sphinx

Sphinx caterpillars are very commonly seen in the fall as they travel over lawns, driveways and paths on their way to pupate. If you see them, just remove them to a safer spot and they will find their way to a good spot to pupate for the winter.

Pamm Cooper All Photos© 2014 Pamm Cooper

Promising little baby zucchini or summer squash that decide to turn yellow on one end (the blossom end): what is it?

Young zucchini aborted due to poor pollination. J. Allen photo.

Young zucchini aborted due to poor pollination. J. Allen photo.

Well, a likely culprit is poor pollination. We experienced this both last summer and again this year, mostly on the earliest fruits to form. Then, when they were only a few inches long, the blossom end turned yellow and began to rot. After researching the problem, it seemed that poor (incomplete) pollination was the problem. A few days later, armed with cotton swabs (a.k.a. Q-tips), we headed out to the garden to attempt to pollinate by hand. When we got there, we found several bees buzzing around in the squash and cucumber flowers so we decided to wait and see if things would improve on their own. They did.
Quite a few zucchinis were successfully harvested and then the plants were lost to Plectosporium blight, a fungal disease. The primary symptom of this disease is white, diamond-shaped spots on the infected stems and sometimes the fruits.

White, diamond-shaped spots on zucchini stems caused by Plectosporium blight.  J. Allen photo.

White, diamond-shaped spots on zucchini stems caused by Plectosporium blight. J. Allen photo.

The poor pollination symptom could easily be confused with the disorder known as blossom end rot which is caused by a deficiency of calcium during fruit development. More info on this: http://pender.ces.ncsu.edu/2013/05/why-are-my-squash-rotting/ .
We’ve had a few squash bugs, too, but they haven’t caused much damage. Here are a couple of them mating in the sun on a young butternut squash. Eggs and nymphs were found too! As you can see, for me it’s almost as much fun to find problems in the garden as it is to watch the plants grow and produce a harvest.  By J. Allen.

Squash bugs mating. J. Allen photo.

Squash bugs mating. J. Allen photo.

Squash bug nymphs.  Univ. of Minnesota photo.

Squash bug nymphs. Univ. of Minnesota photo.

 

Like many gardeners, I love my tomatoes and, I love to try new plants, especially novel vegetable varieties and cultivars – always looking for that culinary adventure I guess. Aside from my basic red staple tomatoes, I grow or have grown orange ‘Sungold’, ‘Yellow Treasure’, ‘Brown Betty’, ‘German Pink’, ‘Green Grape’, ‘Great White’ and ‘Mr. Stripey’. But until now, I had not tried a blue one. This year a good friend of mine gave me 2 blue varieties, ‘Fahrenheit Blues’ and ‘Indigo Rose’. 

Indigo Rose tomato

Indigo Rose tomato

I just picked my first ripe ‘Fahrenheit Blues’ and took a quick picture before popping it in my mouth. Very juicy and tasty with a definite tomatoey flavor. Blue tomatoes are not actually blue like the sky. They are more purplish-blue, like an eggplant. They start off green and turn a dark purple, almost black as they mature. Part of my tomato had some red and it and that is because the leaves prevented the sun from reaching that part of the tomato. If you cut one open, the flesh looks similar to a red tomato although I think it is a little more darker and vibrant.

Fahrenheit Blues flesh is red and vibrant.

Fahrenheit Blues flesh is red and vibrant.

So where did blue tomatoes come from? I believe the first one was bred by Dr. Jim Myers at Oregon State University. He was looking to produce luscious, dark-colored fruits that have high levels of an antioxidant called anthrocyanin, the pigment that gives blueberries and black raspberries their color. He used traditional plant breeding techniques crossing domestic varieties with wild tomatoes having the anthrocyanin gene. His first release in 2012 was ‘Indigo Rose’. Clusters of 6 to 8 two-inch or so tomatoes are covering my plant now which is indeterminate and does need staking. In fact both of the varieties I am growing need to be staked.

Several other breeders have also produced blue tomatoes, some through conventional breeding and others by incorporating genes from another plant like a snapdragon.

While ‘Indigo Rose’ is supposed to be fairly disease resistant, all of my tomatoes are showing signs of septoria leaf spot. I just went through and removed all the diseased foliage this past weekend.

The hardest thing about the blue tomatoes is telling when they are ripe. The fruits go from a shiny eggplant purple to a dull purple-brown color. Or you can cheat and just look at the bottom which is not exposed to the sun. It should be a ripe red color.

Blue tomatoes not exposed to full sunlight ripen red, although usually this is just seen on the bottom.

Blue tomatoes not exposed to full sunlight ripen red, although usually this is just seen on the bottom.

When I was out grooming the plants, I noticed one tomato with really sparse foliage when just a few days before it looked healthy and bushy. Upon closer inspection were two large tomato hornworms. One was very happily munching on my tomato leaves and stems and the other was in slow decline as he (or she) had the cocoons of a braconid wasp on its back. The wasp lays eggs under the skin of the caterpillar which hatch and feed on the insides of the hornworm before chewing their way out through the skin. They then create these cocoons to pupate in and emerge from the cocoons as adult wasps ready to seek out another meal.  

Tomato hornworm parasitized by braconid wasp.

Tomato hornworm parasitized by braconid wasp.

Now if only a natural enemy of those cross-striped cabbageworms would show up in my garden!  

 Dawn P.

Male squash blossoms, C.Quish photo.

Male squash blossoms, C.Quish photo.

Where are all my summer squash? Why do my plants have many blossoms and not squash? These are a few of the questions I hear about yellow and zucchini squashes when the squashes look like they should be setting fruit. Be patient, gardeners, squash will come.

Squash plants produce separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The male flowers contain the pollen, the male part the reproduction process.  The female flowers have the ovary at their base. The ovary looks like a very small squash. This ovary will not develop and will be aborted,(dropped off), of the plant if pollen is not moved from the male flower to female. The process is called pollination, resulting in fertilization, then the ovary will develop into the fruit, the squash. The male flowers are produced and open a few days before the female flowers open. So the males are ready before the females. (I am not going to comment on this.)

The male flowers are on a long stem with no little squash at the flower base.

Male Squash Blossom, photo by C.Quish

Male Squash Blossom, photo by C.Quish

Male squash blossoms, C.Quish photo.

Male squash blossoms, C.Quish photo.

The female shows the small squash.

Female squash ovaries at base of flower. C.Quish photo.

Female squash ovaries at base of flower. C.Quish photo.

 

Insects such as bees are the common pollinators of squash plants. They feed on the nectar in the flower, and in the process pick of pollen from the male flowers, dropping some in the female flower when the move into it. If all goes well, fertilization happens and the squash will develop.

A common pest insect of summer squash is the squash vine borer which lays eggs on the stems of the squash. The eggs hatch into a larva which tunnel into the stem to feed. Their feeding damages the inside of the stems and the water conducting vessels of the plant, causing part or entire collapse and wilt of the plant. The squash vine borer is a clear winged moth with 1/2 inch long orange abdomen with black dots. It flies during the day and rests at night. The SVB is attracted to the color yellow. A trap can be made by filling a yellow bowl with with soapy water. The SVB will fly into the bowl and drown. Place trap near squash plants. Other management options are to plant a second crop of summer squash in early July that will mature after adult borers have finished laying eggs. Pull and destroy any plants killed by squash vine borers to keep the larva from overwintering after feeding for four to six weeks. They exit the stems and burrow a few inches into the soil to pupate  where they stay until the following summer. There is only one generation per year..

I use a row cover as a physical barrier that keeps out all insects. The row cover is a poly spun fabric similar to mosquito netting placed over all of the squash plants in the bed, then held down with weights to exclude all insects. The row cover also excludes the pollinators, so I have to either hand pollinate each female blossom or remove the cover once the female blossoms appear to allow insects in to do their job of pollinating. If hand pollinating, do it in the morning as the pollen is most available then.

Row cover protecting squash from insects reaching the plant. C.Quish photo

Row cover protecting squash from insects reaching the plant. C.Quish photo

Squash vine borer adults, Photo UMN.edu

Squash vine borer adults, Photo UMN.edu

 

Squash vine borer larva and damage. Photo UMN.edu

Squash vine borer larva and damage. Photo UMN.edu

 

-Carol Quish

When most of us hear the word ‘hornet’, it’s not a very positive thing. If one happens to fly by within a few feet, they don’t get a very warm reaction. At least they are unaware of this. They’re just out foraging for food for their young and that’s what their focus is. At least until they sense a threat to their nest. Bald-faced hornets are very protective of their nests and a perceived threat is the most likely instance when they will sting. And when they do sting, it may be very painful (the venom is more potent than that of bees) and they will sting repeatedly. So what’s so good about them? Like other wasps and bees, they play a role in pollinating flowers, especially late in the season. Early to mid summer is spent collecting insects to feed to their larvae, thus helping to control insect pest populations, including that of the nearly equally underappreciated yellowjacket.

Bald-faced hornet coloration. Photo from en.wikipedia.org

Bald-faced hornet coloration. Photo from Ohio State University

The bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) is not a true hornet, it is a yellowjacket wasp. Members of the genus Dolichovespula all build large, papery nests in trees, shrubs or on structures. The paper wasps build exposed nests in which the individual cells are visible. The bald-faced hornet is native to North America and is found throughout most of the 48 contiguous states, Alaska and Canada. To find out a little more about this sometimes intimidating insect, let’s take a look at its life cycle.

The overwintering stage is the fertilized queen. In the spring, each fertilized queen selects a site for a nest and begins construction. These hard workers collect tiny bits of weathered or rotting wood from trees and fences and mix it with saliva by chewing it. This results in a sticky, papery material that is used in nest building. The grayish-brown nest is small at first and is attached to a tree, shrub or building, usually at least three feet off the ground. The surface may have streaks of gray and tan that give it a swirled appearance. The queen constructs several cells within the nest and deposits one egg into each. The young are fed and tended by the queen and grow up to be sterile female workers. They take over the feeding and nest tending duties while the queen spends the rest of the summer laying eggs.   Eventually the nest will contain several layers of cells resembling a honeybee comb, may be as large as a basketball (or more!), and will be home to hundreds of hornets.   In late summer to early fall, fertile females and males are produced and mating occurs. Fertilized females from this generation will overwinter and all other members of the colony will die of old age or freezing.   The fertilized females overwinter in sheltered places such as tree stumps and become next year’s queens.

As mentioned above, the bald-faced hornet is beneficial both for pest control and pollination. During early to mid summer when there are many larvae to feed, insect prey are caught, chewed up, and fed to the larvae. Insects preyed upon include yellowjackets (a favorite), flies, caterpillars and many other insects. Once the number of larvae in the nest declines, the hornets’ diet consists mainly of nectar and pollen from flowering plants. They will also forage around sweet foods at picnics, etc, and can be a nuisance at times.

Typical nest in a tree. Photo from en.wikipedia.org

Typical nest in a tree. Photo from en.wikipedia.org

Upside-down flask-shaped nest in early summer.  Photo by J. Allen.

Upside-down flask-shaped nest in early summer. Photo by J. Allen.

The nest itself is an impressive structure for its materials and method of construction, its durability, and its functionality. Some nests are constructed around a small twig or branch which gives them added resilience in the wind. The entrance is located on the bottom of the nest and there are vents built into the top to allow hot air to escape. Early in the season, the nest sometimes has the shape of an upside down flask with a long entrance tube. The one shown in the photo was seen in the woods in Granby, CT. Nests are only used for one season then abandoned. However, sometimes other insects and spiders will move in for the winter. Birds know this and might tear apart abandoned hornets nests looking for food.

Because these hornets rarely sting, except in defense of the nest, it’s best to leave them undisturbed unless they are within several feet of human activity. In these locations, you may decide to remove the nest, preferably before the population builds up too much. If you’re allergic to bee and wasp stings, or just nervous about attempting removal, have this done by a professional pest removal service. If you decide to do it yourself, there are precautions that should be taken. Use a wasp and hornet spray and apply the product at night when hornets are least active and most will be in the nest. DON’T stand away from the nest and spray the outside. This will get the hornets all riled up, won’t kill them, and they will be in a stinging mood for several days. The spray must be applied directly into the entrance of the nest while holding the nozzle against the hole (if possible) to prevent the hornets from escaping. Some products can spray a stream up to 20’ if needed. Wear long sleeves and long pants, protective gloves and goggles, and a head covering.   You may have to do more than one application a day or two apart to get those individuals that weren’t at home the first time. Pesticides are poisons. When using them, always read and follow instructions carefully.

Prevent stings by:

  • Avoiding disturbing a nest. When working in shrubs or trees, check carefully before you begin to see if a nest is present.
  • Avoid using perfumes or wearing brightly colored clothing for outdoor activities.
  • At picnics, keep food covered as much as possible, especially late in the season. Be cautious about drinking sweet beverages like soda or lemonade from cans to avoid swallowing a wasp/hornet and getting stung in your mouth or throat.
  • Keep trash containers well-covered.

In the event that you get stung, the following treatments are recommended. For a known or suspected allergic/anaphylactic reaction, call for medical help immediately. For a non-allergic (localized) reaction:

  • The bald faced hornet has a smooth stinger and it will not stay in your skin unless you swat the hornet and cause it to break off. If this happens, remove the stinger with tweezers.
  • Cover the sting site with an ice pack for five minutes at a time.
  • Over-the-counter pain and itch remedies can be helpful. Avoid scratching.
  • Native Americans apply mud to stings for 15 minutes or so to help draw out the venom.

By J. Allen

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