Saturday, June 11, 2011

Most stuff growing. Some, not so much

Coming Soon--Sugar Snap Peas!

And lots of them!
I got ants in my plants! We think they are imported European Fire Ants, an invasive species that can be a pest when they feed on the soft tissue at the base of plants, affectively girdling them. The photo sequence below shows how it goes down:

This guy is not looking too happy...

What? Freaking Ants...
And the eventual outcome.

It takes us a while to respond to new pest problems. At first we wonder to ourselves, "what the hell?" loud enough so that the other of us will hear and hopefully come over and take care of the problem. This rarely works.

Then it takes some close observation and head scratching and, often, many a google search to come up with a diagnosis and plan. Unfortunately, the time lag this time was enough for the little buggers to completely decimate the broccoli. Eventually we started to treat new seedlings that the ants seem to prefer, transplanted brassicas, cleome and, of all things, marigolds, with spinosad, a certifiably organic biological insecticide. Then we attacked their mounds that are close to the plantings of these plants with a drench of the stuff. Next, once UPS brings it, we'll used a baited version that the worker ants are supposed to carry back to the nests and share with the whole colony, which should keep their population in check. I don't like having to take measures as drastic as this because it usually means something is out of whack. I prefer to get the whole system into a better balance so that these particular ants are better kept in check by a robust and thriving soil menagerie, but you also gotta do something when you see your hard work flopping over and dying one plant at a time.  

Tomatoes in the ground, lower bed

And the upper bed, with stakes
The onset of some hot weather got us into gear transplanting out tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. We got all of our tomatoes in over the course of one very full day and the next morning. As Hannah pointed out in her last post, many of our seedlings had stretched during a week of warm, but overcast conditions. We re-spaded the ground so that we could plant them plenty deep, but even still they were pretty spindly looking and quite vulnerable to the nasty winds that followed (in the same weather front that caused tornadoes in western Mass.) We ended up loosing quite a few plants.
unlucky tomato, broken at ground level
Luckily we had enough replacements waiting in the wings and the tomato patch is looking really good now with all the stakes driven in and the first round of string supporting the plants. We're growing over 20 varieties, including some new to us ones like "Japanese Black Trifele" and "Crimson Sprinter." We can't help but try some new ones every year.

The other thing you should notice from all the photos is how dry it appears. The serious winds and a good couple weeks without significant rain has really dried things out. The soil is seriously dusty on top, but still holding some moisture below. Luckily, as I type, it's raining again, the third day in a row. We won't be exposed as irrigationless morons just yet. There is just too much to figure out and, with the farmers' markets starting next week, we're more focused on making sure we have something to sell than figuring out some of the bigger picture pieces that are looming on the lower portion of our list. We'll get to it, eventually.

Hannah with a backpack sprayer full of fish emulsion fortified water, getting ready to water in tomato seedlings
And Ben looking a little toasty after pounding 150 stakes