Monthly Archives: July 2010

Pest report

All we’re harvesting this time of year is bugs. Well, that’s not entirely true. We have picked kale and cucumbers and dug a few potatoes just to make sure that they are there. But the majority of what we’re doing is dealing with pests.

Eric Sideman writes a periodic pest report for MOFGA. We get a lot of good information from him. Here’s our pest report, or here’s what we’ve been able to identify so far…

We first started seeing Colorado potato beetles two to three weeks ago. I’ve always hated potato beetles, especially the juveniles. They’re so slimy and gross. Instead of squishing them, this year we’ve gotten great satisfaction out of feeding them to the chickens. At first the chickens didn’t really know what to do with them. We think they were thrown off by food that moves. Soon they started gobbling the bugs down.

We’ve been picking the potato beetles regularly (two or three times a week). We still find some every time, but we see very few adults. They are doing damage to the potato plants, but we’re optimistic that we’re staying on top of them.

Potatoes probably killed by leaf hoppers

Even with the beetles, the potatoes were doing great until the leaf hoppers moved in. These small, green bugs suck the juice out of plants and inject a toxin that clogs the food conducting tissue. Eric Sideman describes them as “catastrophic.” We’ve been spraying them with an organic insecticidal soap, but some of our potatoes and beans are not going to make it.

Around two weeks ago we first noticed the cabbage caterpillars. These small green caterpillars like to eat brassicas, which include kale, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. There are several species, but I haven’t learned the difference between them yet. The caterpillars are the same color as the leaves of the plants, so they’re quite hard to find. So far we’re trying to control them by picking and squishing them.

Fungus on the tomatoes, possibly early blight

Our tomatoes have some sort of fungus on them. One extension agent thinks it’s early blight. We picked off all the yellow and brown leaves, and we got some copper to spray on the plants to protect them from fungus.

On a positive note, here’s what Andy wrote in an email about the garden recently:

Lots of green tomatoes

“I just wanted to give you a garden update since earlier this week I sounded so grim.  The potatoes are still not fairing so well, but from what I’ve read, you can leave them in the ground for a few weeks as long as it’s not too wet. The heat and humidity has broken a bit so that bodes well for the suspected fungus infection that the tomatoes have. Fungus doesn’t like dry breezy weather and that’s what it’s been the last couple of days, and will be most of next week. So there is hope!

Pie pumpkin


Yesterday I picked 68 cucumbers and Julia has made four gallons of pickles so far. We’ve got several pie pumpkins the size of cantaloupe and several cantaloupes the size of grapefruits and grapefruit the size…no wait, no grapefruit. The corn is growing like crazy and there at least half a dozen tiny baby Hubbard squash. No ripe tomatoes, but lots of green fruit.  Watermelons are growing well, peppers are hanging in there and the edamame are looking great. There’s more, but let’s just say that if we are lucky, most things will do well and we will have a feast to remember in September.”

Some of the onions are doing okay after the addition of wood ash



Chickens are out foraging!

We finished chicken tractor #2 yesterday and put the chickens out in the yard. It’s great to watch them happily foraging. They were looking a little cramped in the garage.

Chickens are out foraging!

The chicken tractor is simply a frame covered with one-inch chicken wire. We put a tarp over two thirds of the structure so they have plenty of shade. We also laid out chicken wire on the ground around the outside of the chicken tractor so burrowing predators can’t get in to the chickens.

Skunk the cat is very curious about the chickens. She likes to sit on top of the chicken tractor and guard them.

Prison guard for the chickens

We hope that by giving the chickens access to fresh pasture (we’ll frequently move the chicken tractor), they’ll be healthier, happier and tastier. Hopefully they’ll eat less grain as well.

pH matters

It’s the time of summer when there aren’t enough hours in the day. In addition to gardening and swimming and planning a wedding, my job for the Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association is also much more time consuming and busy in the summer. I haven’t had much time to write, though it doesn’t mean nothing is happening in the garden.

Garden on July 5th

Some crops seem to grow overnight. The pumpkins and potatoes are huge. The tomatoes and cucumbers and brassicas look great. But the onions and corn leave much to be desired. We’ve been trying to figure out why the onions have done so little even though they were the first seedlings we put in the ground. My father suggested the problem could be pH.

Many crops do best in slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7. Soil pH affects the chemical forms of nutrients like phosphorus and iron. When soil pH is too acidic or too alkaline, some nutrients convert to a form that cannot be absorbed by plants. Even in nutrient-rich soil, off-balance pH may cause plants to suffer nutrient deficiencies

In Maine, soil is often too acidic for optimum plant growth. Luckily, soil pH can be easily raised by spreading and mixing in ground limestone. When we got our soil tested in the spring, we found out that the pH was 5.6. We spread 350 pounds of lime and 65 pounds of wood ash (about half the recommended amount) and tilled it in. However, we expect that the lime hasn’t had time to completely do its work.

Potatoes are one crop that does grow well in more acidic soils, preferring a pH of 5.5. We didn’t spread any lime in our potato area, and the potato plants are enormous. The onions, however, prefer a pH of 6-7.

To see if we could solve the low pH in our onion patch, we dumped some wood ash around the plants. Wood ash raises pH and is more water soluble than limestone. We only had enough ash for part of the onion row. Today, after the rain had a chance to wash the ash into the soil, the part of the onion row we treated seems to be greener and larger. Before we spread ash on the rest of the onions, we’ll take a picture so we can assess the results more concretely.

We’ve decided to do an experiment with our tomatoes. Some people prune their tomatoes to improve their yield. Tomato plants sprout suckers where new leaves leave the main stem. When pruning, you cut these suckers off. I’ve always wondered whether pruning tomatoes really makes a difference. This summer we intend to find out. We pruned one side of the row and left the other half untouched. We’ll weigh the fruit we get from each side.

First batch of cucumbers and dill

Our first crop is ripening: cucumbers. We were very excited to make our first jar of pickles!

I’ve been adding lots of pictures to the Photos page of chicks, plants and more. Check them out!

In case you’re interested, I found this list of pH preferences for different crops:

  • Beans            6.0-7.0
  • Beets             6.5-8.0
  • Broccoli        6.0-7.0
  • Cabbage       6.0-7.5
  • Cantaloupe  6.0-7.5
  • Carrots         5.5-7.0
  • Corn             5.5-7.5
  • Cucumbers 5.5-7.0
  • Lettuce        6.0-7.0
  • Onions         6.0-7.0
  • Peas             6.0-7.5
  • Peppers       5.5-7.0
  • Potatoes      4.8-6.5
  • Squash        6.0-7.0
  • Tomatoes   5.5-7.5

Welcome baby chickens!

The call came at 7:30 this morning. “This is the post office calling. We’ve got some chicks for you.” We immediately drove the mile to the post office and picked them up. On the box the packing slip read, 51 chicks hatched the day of the postmark. They were mailed two days ago.

Once we got them home, we dipped each chick’s beak in water, which we had prepared ahead of time with a vitamin powder. We arranged plates of food and water containers in the cardboard circle we had prepared inside the chicken tractor, which is inside the garage. Their bedding is a layer of shavings with paper towels on top so they don’t eat the shavings. All the details of how to prepare for them we learned from my parents, who have been raising chickens for years. My mom writes a blog about raising chickens.

Baby chickens, just arrived in the mail from Pennsylvania

The chicks almost immediately began eating and drinking. Their instincts are strong.

These chicks are meant for dinner. We won’t keep them long enough to get eggs out of them. They are a variety called Freedom Rangers, which are supposed to forage well and produce delicious meat. They don’t grow as fast as the Cornish Cross broilers. It makes me a little sad to know that we’re raising them only to kill them. But I hope they’ll live a happy and safe 11 weeks, with fresh grass and bugs once they get a little older.

We plan to keep them in the garage for three to four weeks under a heat lamp (they like to be at 90 degrees in the beginning). Then we’ll move them out to pasture. We’ll move their cages every couple of days so they have fresh pasture.

We will roast the chickens whole for our wedding dinner, then carve them and serve. Yum! I can’t wait.