Battling summer garden problems
Our vegetable garden has been trampled by insects, disease and rabbits. And I love it.
My wife doesn’t share my passion, however. She’d rather harvest the bounty that was promised on the seed packet than look at half-eaten peppers or deformed cucumbers. But as an educator, I love it when things go wrong. I can show students how to fix it.
We trained several squash varieties to climb fence posts to be ornamental as well as productive. Only one still lives. Most of them drowned in the wet spring. Next year, we’ll mound the planting bed to help with drainage.
We weaved the surviving squash through deck rails only to see them suddenly wilt in July. Closer investigation revealed sawdust-like material around holes in the vine. A fat and happy squash borer wiggled out of a hollowed-out stem.
Interestingly, the only surviving squash vine has been just fine, likely illustrating resistance. Next year, we’ll plant resistant varieties earlier in the season to avoid borers.
Cucumbers were planted in spring. We picked fresh baby cucumbers and diced them into salads until early June when the leaves began to exhibit yellow spots.
Downy mildew is a disease that first appears as leaf spots. The pathogen is contained by leaf veins and results in distinctly angular lesions. As the disease progresses, the foliage slowly wilted but the plant didn’t die.
However, it no longer produced cucumbers, either. However, we harvested a cucumber in late July that we brought inside only to find a caterpillar has already bored through it. Next year, we could spray fungicide but will probably look for varieties resistant to downy mildew.
We planted four varieties of tomatoes in the center of a bed and tied it to an expired yet picturesque tree trunk. In June, early blight disease appeared on the large tomato variety.
Stems began to wilt as the disease progressed.
However, the cherry and grape tomatoes proved to be resistant even when coming in direct contact with diseased foliage.
Growing tomatoes in the ground can be challenging because of inherent disease and they should be annually rotated to different locations.
We’ve had fewer disease problems by planting in containers, although keeping them adequately watered was difficult by mid-July.
We planted sweet potatoes in raised planters that have spilled over the edges and provided wonderful visual appeal.
While the vines crawled across the patio, a rabbit has been nibbling them back to keep us from stepping on them all summer.
Last year, we had rats helping themselves to our garden. We don’t mind the rabbit because, let’s be honest, he’s cuter.
Since then, the rabbit has moved into the fenced section of the garden. He chewed a hole in the plastic fencing so perfectly round that Bugs Bunny couldn’t have clipped it better with a pair of scissors. In an effort to eat him, our dogs have plowed through the fence and, subsequently trampled the rows.
The rabbit continually escapes and proves my theory that it must be Bugs. Next year, we’ll bury metal fencing along the perimeter to keep the bunny out.
The sweet potatoes have also been infested with whiteflies since spring. The foliage looks speckled and slightly bleached from piercing-sucking mouthparts.
Whiteflies can be controlled with frequent applications of horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.
In mid-July, the sweet potatoes were attack by another insect.
All the tissue had been consumed between the veins leaving behind skeletonized remains. This is a classic symptom of chewing insects.
Upon closer investigation, tiny pellets littered the edges of the planter. This is frass, or insect feces. Turning the leaves over revealed Southern armyworms holding as still as possible.
As I reached for one, it immediately fell off the stem, which is a defensive mechanism to avoid predation. The damage has been severe but since it’s a small garden, we can pick the foliage feeders off by hand.
Next year, we’ll start scouting for the caterpillars in mid-July.
My only hope is that next year will bring more interesting problems to photograph.
Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him at tony.bertauski@trident tech.edu.