My many fall and winter Brassicas are sizing up nicely, but the ones not tented with floating row cover are showing a little chewing and some curling leaves. The culprits are cabbage butterfly larvae, snails and aphids.
Predator insects are still plentiful in the fall, but these pests can stunt the growth of young plants at a time when they need to be powering into winter with a strong growth spurt. To ensure robust, healthy plants, I am going hunting.
The larvae of the cabbage white butterfly or imported cabbageworm (Pieris rapae), often called the cabbage moth, are my first prey. Mostly what I’m finding right now are the slender green worms. They can hide — almost — by stretching out for an afternoon nap in the stem of a young leaf. They are further protected from my predatory grasp by secluding themselves inside the youngest leaves, the curled and furled ones sprouting from the plant’s center.
Carefully, so as not to snap the tender growth shoots, I unfurl the rolled green shoots and lightly scoop through the inside with a fingertip.
Then I bend back the plant’s slightly larger leaves and unfold them one at a time, checking the base of the stem for the pale green body. Finally, I flip the leaf over between fingers and eye the back, in case one of them is on the move. (I look also for the elongated eggs, white or yellowish, on the undersides of the leaves. Those get squished too.)
Just the act of inspecting the plant can cause these critters to fall to the soil below, where they would pretty promptly inch under a leave and climb back on the plant, so I scan the soil surface too.
These pests can go through 3 to 5 life cycles per year, and can be in the garden from April through October. The jerky white butterflies with black wing dots flit around from plant to plant. Amazingly, they mate in the air. Their eggs take 4 to 8 days to hatch, and the green worm larvae lives for 3 weeks before pupating, where they cocoon themselves for a couple more weeks before emerging as a butterfly and beginning again.
I think — I hope — they’re on the year’s last life cycle.
Green and grey aphids are a regular presence in my garden, and I’m finding small colonies on the broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale. They take up residence on a stem or in the folded end of a leaf, and as they suck the juices out of the tender leave edge, it curls, providing them a cozy home.
Ones hiding in the leaves are fairly easy to spot, as the leaves also turn slightly purple on the edges when attacked in this way.
Again, my preferred method is to gently curl back the edges of the leaf and expose them. As they are also soft-bodied insects, they also will get quickly smooshed in between a thumb and forefinger. There is a little inevitable damage to the leaf area that was their home, but it’s much preferable to letting them form a stronghold there and begin to feed farther down the leaf and fill the stem, as they would like to do.
When the aphids have colonized the base of a set of leaves, or the stem of a plant, a hard spray of water from the hose, straight down into the center of the plant, will wash them all off and drown a lot of them. Most of the rest are too weak to climb back onto the plant. I find that I need to return and do this again in 3 days to make sure I’ve gotten them all.
I used to see a lot more slugs, but the garden ecosystem has evolved to be more hospitable to snails. They are moving from my dying summer plants into my winter beds. It’s happening at a snail’s pace, but that’s fast enough for me to put on my camo gear and start stalking them.
These guys are a lot more visible than the others, as their brown shells stand out on a green leaf, even at a smaller size. They especially come out on a cool or rainy day, or right after dark.
Sometimes I’ll find their gelatinous, round white eggs in a cluster on the edge of a bed, usually near a rockery or some other good hiding place.
But the hatched snails, or slugs, are most often found on the underside of the leaves, and they are quickly transferred to the underside of my foot on the path. Score another one (or ten) for the big guy.
These creatures are fascinating, and are all part of nature’s plan. And I don’t mind sharing a bit of my food with them. But this time of year, when the tastiest things on their menu are the young plants that will comprise my winter dinners, I am in a less permissible mood. Fall is for hunting.
In my last post, at the height of a summer hot spell, I thought it would be fun to say “Winter Begins Now” and show the garden with snow on it. Well, the heat has abated, and I’m not in any hurry to slip out of summer mode. However, I am still pushing forward on fall planting.
The Japanese turnips — first sowing July 15, second sowing July 27 — are coming along.
A sowing of beets was less successful, as I had some three-year-old seed. But some of them sprouted, as did a nice row of Rainbow chard.
The first sowing of Brussels sprouts got potted up to 4-inch pots about 10 days ago, so they were ready to be planted out. The second batch is still in pots.
So today I sowed in some more beets, transplanted those Brussels sprouts, sowed two rows of Black Spanish radish and two rows of overwintering red onion.
I covered all the crops except the onions with hoops and floating row cover. This helps shade them a bit if we get another heat wave, but I did it more to keep the pests off the young plants. The white cabbage moth can lay a lot of eggs and wreak havoc on brassicas, and the spinach leaf miner loves to attack the young beets and chard. (Soon I’ll plant fall and overwintering spinach, and will have to cover that too, to thwart the leaf miner.)
Here are some more images from today’s gardening:
It seems crazy, doesn’t it? What you want is this:
and if you want to feed yourself this winter, you should be thinking also about this:
Oh boy, kale!
Yeah, right now I’m feeling that too.
But consider: plan ahead now, not just for kale, but for the Asian greens, beets, carrots, endive, European greens, lettuce, parsnips, peas, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips.
Some of those foods will taste very good long after the last tomato has been sliced open. And some take a very long time to cultivate.
So here’s a quick list of what to plant when, with a few suggestions of varieties to try for fall and winter:
But, you might ask, where is the kale on this list? Chill out, kale lover. I’ll tackle the Brassicas (kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli) in a future post.
Look at all that food! You have plenty of opportunities to try new vegetables in your garden this year. When a bed comes open as you harvest your summer crops, try one of these as a culinary experiment.
Bon jardinage and bon appetit!
We didn’t have Earth Day when I was growing up. But we had plenty of earth on our North Dakota farm. We called it dirt.
About this time in the spring, as ground would warm and the snow would melt off, we’d start the planting season by picking rocks.
I’d join my many siblings on a walk behind the tractor, which slowly pulled a shallow steel bin. We’d fan out, each grabbing a stone the size of his or her ability, the older kids teaming up to grapple with the larger rocks. We’d toss them into the bin and enjoy the satisfying clang.
When we came across a particularly stubborn or hefty boulder, Dad would stop the tractor, get out the crowbar, and as many as were needed would grab onto it and heave it or roll it into the bin.
When the bin was full enough, Dad would back the bin up to the rock pile at the edge of the field and dump the load. Every year, the rock pile grew as the frost heaved the stones up from the deep.
That the earth spit rocks at us every year, we did not take personally. It was not a metaphor for the hard life of farming, even if it could have been. It was not a hated chore, although it was a difficult one.
This was just something that had to be done in order to grow wheat. You could not subject the cultivator’s tines or the discer’s blades to a soil full of rocks.
My two main vegetable beds in the front yard are ready for planting. I’ve cleared the winter vegetables, forked dolomitic lime into the soil to restore a neutral pH, and covered the bed with a wire mesh to keep the cats out. I even cleared a few rocks that had sunk into the dirt, and placed them in a little pile on the edge of the garden.
This year, the larger bed is going into grain. Not wheat, although varieties are being tested for the western Washington climate. Rather, I’ll be planting amaranth and quinoa, two amazing, colorful and very different edible seeds. I saved the seed from my small stand of each last year, so now I can cover the bed.
It will be great to watch it wave in the summer breeze. It will remind me of the visible wind on the prairie, swathing through the amber grain, flowing like a river.
If you haven’t yet taken a class at Craftsy.com, now is your chance. It’s the perfect time to learn some new gardening techniques. And, I am collaborating with them on a free class giveaway!
Here’s the video trailer for my class, “The Extended Harvest: Vegetables for Every Season.” We’ll be giving a free class to one lucky entrant who checks out Craftsy between now and Friday, March 13.
To enter the contest, follow the link to my Craftsy class and create a free account. That’s all you need to do to be entered. While you’re on the site, browse around. You’ll find a number of short, free classes that will give you a great idea of how to use Craftsy.
I appreciated the professional, thorough approach the Craftsy folks took in helping me create this class.
We went through an extensive process to plan and organize the class material. Then, a producer, videographer and other staff came to film in my garden — three intense days of work that produced more than 30 hours of video!
They edited it down to 7 lesson, each about 20 minutes, for a total class that’s just over two hours.
You can watch one lesson at a time, or just parts of each, picking up where you left off. Re-watch any or all of it, as many times as you want. You can take notes, ask questions, and share with the class your own gardening projects. It’s easy and interactive.
I’ve become a fan of other classes, too, learning new gardening tips from other instructors, delving into a photography class, and trying an art class on drawing. There are many other topics, too, from knitting to cake decorating — a wide array of crafts and skills.
These online classes at Craftsy help you keep learning for life and mastering new skills. That certainly sounds like a formula for a healthy mind and a great garden!