Thursday, February 18, 2010

A New Beginning

My oldest daughter is over 2 1/2 years old. I have recruited her to help with the garden this year. The magic words to get her involved are "get your hands dirty." She will ask me, "Daddy, can I get my hands dirty?" which means she wants to mix soil. I've got some old pots and a half a flat. We mixed some compost and manure and vermiculite and we have some sprouts growing: squash, tomatoes, peppers, cukes. Not a lot of them. She liked mixing the soil and watering the seeds but found the planting rather anti-climactic. Telling her they will have fruit in 80 or 100 days wasn't really meaningful.

I did turn the east bed and cover it with manure, blood meal, and lime. I've got a 55 gallon drum of compost tea brewing. I should get a chance to turn and enrich the west bed here in a week or two. I'll also be able to use my chipper/shredder to make some mulch.

Temps are in the 30s this week and though I'm anxious to get onions and carrots in the ground (I may sneak in some beets and radishes) I think they wouldn't do well. I don't have a lot of indoor space for getting things started early, so I'm going to plant seeds, let them sprout, then mulch.

Heavy on my mind is the vine borers. Two years ago they shut down my zooks and crooknecks and butternuts and even put a heavy dent in my cukes. When I search online for insect netting, I end up on British websites. Are they only sold in the U.K.? This year I will capture a vine borer adult. I want to get some pictures of the little beastie. I've seen one before. They lay eggs on the vine, then the larva bores into the vine and travels along inside, munching toward the heart of the plant. Everything on the vine away from the root dies. There is no sign of the larva except the pinhole entry wound, often surrounded by some yellow frass, and the dead vine itself. Once the bugger is in there, if you can find him, you can stick him with a pin--just poke it through the vine and kill him. Unfortunately, it would take daily inspection of every vine to stay on top of the problem and save my plants. I just won't have that kind of time. I will have maybe a 20 minute window each morning to water, weed, and inspect my plants.

So my strategy is to keep the adult vine borers from getting to the plants by covering them with fine mesh nets. I realize this will keep my pollenators out, as well. I will have to pollenate my plants by hand. I'll get a few cheap paint brushes and make the pollenating part of the routine.

The other option I'm considering is neem oil. I have used spray on soap in the past, but it is a tiresome and repetitive chore and never seems to be effective enough. Neem oil is expensive. $10 for an 8 ounce bottle. I'm not sure how far that will go. I'll have to do more research on it.

I'll try to get some pictures up soon. Also, soil testing. Maybe my daughter will help me with the soil testing this weekend.