The spinach leaf miner has been a scourge in my garden this summer. While I’ve been snipping and destroying affected leaves, which is the best tactic once your plants are under attack, I’ve also been conducting an experiment to see if I can avoid the pest.
Leaf miners attack the leaves of spinach, beet and Swiss chard, and their presence can be devastating and unsightly. At our Master Gardener booth at the Ballard Farmers Market this summer, we have had more questions about leaf miner damage than any other problem. Clearly, this is a pest that has flourished in northwest Seattle this summer.
Here’s what the leaf miner (Pegomya hyoscyami) can do to a leaf:
That photo is a bit dramatic, because of a recent rain that rotted the damaged parts of the leaf.
Here’s perhaps a more typical view of the damage:
What you see is the result of the pest larvae burrowing into
the leaf and mining their way through the cells. They arrive at the plant via a small fly, which lays its eggs on the underside of the leaf:
One way to thwart this pest is to regularly search for those eggs and destroy them when you see them. But if you love beets and chard like I do and have a lot of plants, this method is difficult. So I tried another way.
This summer I started a batch of Rainbow chard in a large pot and covered the pot completely with floating row cover, the spun-bonded polyester fabric that is so useful to us cool-season gardeners.
As the plants grew, I had to prop up the material to get a sprayer for my watering system into the pot. I used interlocking wire flower stakes to hold it up. Here’s what it looks like:
And here it is with the floating row cover removed:
Although the chard is planted rather thickly and hasn’t achieved its full size yet (I’m thinning as I eat it), I found that I could completely avoid the leaf miner with the floating row cover. I have been monitoring the pot regularly and have seen no damage. Just six feet away in the adjoining bed, I had such heavy damage to a row of baby beets that I had to harvest them prematurely.
As I continue my fall planting of beets and chard, I will again cover the plants with floating row cover. I’ll also plant the new crop far away from the area where the plants got hit the hardest. Crop rotation and floating row cover are tried-and-true non-toxic ways to reduce pest damage in the vegetable garden.
My wife and a bunch of neighbors saw these unwanted visitors parading through our city block yesterday:
Yes, dear, those are deer. Blacktail deer, according to a hunter friend from the country.
Which is where these two must have come from, unless my neighbors Craig and Karen put on awfully good Halloween costumes.
We live on a steep street with the houses pretty tightly packed. A downhill neighbor saw these guys in another yard before they ambled through her yard, then the next, then our yard (more on that in a minute), and then went up the street.
At that point, Susie was driving home and saw them in the middle of the street. She ran inside and got the camera. She snapped their pictures in two yards up the block before they calmly navigated the steps out of the yard at the top of the block and headed south.
I sent the pictures to the PhinneyWood blog, which got a lot
of comments and Facebook links from posting them.
I guess there’s so much food in these city yards that our country visitors can just snack a little here and there and have a progressive dinner as they amble through the neighborhoods.
We’re lucky. I have many friends in suburban and rural homes whose yards are stripped clean of flowers, vegetables, and any desirable vegetation from the ground up to the height of a deer’s head. The only way to grow a vegetable garden in deer country is with a big, sturdy fence.
Later yesterday there were further sightings of these two, but as far as I know, no roadkill reported.
I won’t say that I was happy to see this wildlife clearly out of their natural habitat — and definitely in a dangerous environment — but it was a good reminder that we’re never
too far from nature, in its many forms.