Garden Diary – It’s Hard Not to be Discouraged

Well my garden is a mess, and I’m feeling discouraged, which makes me not want to plant anymore.

There is a critter eating all my greens. I think it’s a chipmunk(s)

  • My peas are almost stumps, I think in a day or two they will probably be gone.
  • I had such hopes for the Asian greens this year. My husband and I build a little covering with coat hangers, scrap metal, and a roll of fiberglass screen to keep out the white moths (which bring the green worms) but they are clearly being nibbled by the critter.
  • And even my beet greens, which I thought were doing well, now seem to be disappearing to nubs.

Looking at the positive, the snap peas planted in a large recycling bin are doing quite well, so that should make me happy right?

I’m not. I’m in a garden funk.

My mother-in-law gave us a few of her excess plants, and all I’ve planted were 3 eggplants. I have a couple tomatoes and red peppers to plant, but I just feel sad. I’m not sure what’s wrong exactly, maybe the weather? I’m just feeling discouraged.

Organic Tomatoes Are Stressed, But More Nutritious

Yesterday, I read a fascinating article at NPR.

There is a new study suggests that organic farms grew tomatoes that were 40% smaller (than conventional), BUT were actually significantly higher in vitamin C, sugar and lycopene.

Their reasoning is because organically farmed tomatoes are “stressed-out” more than conventional due to less pesticides. The organic plants are forced to fight off pests naturally; the additional stress equates to additional production of stress-fighting compounds like Vitamin C and Lycopene.

Yes, we need to further investigate this study’s conclusion, but when I was researching tomato hornworms and cabbage worms last summer, many experienced gardeners advised that it was better for the plants to have a few pests because it made them stronger. It does make sense when you really think about it, doesn’t it?

The extra bonus is there’s so much more to a tomato than vitamin C & lycopene, so just think of all the tiny un-known micronutrients that are bursting from a responsibly-farmed tomato. Can’t get that from a lab-created vitamin!

tomatoes from my garden last summer

Organic Bugs Me

Yeah, sometimes eating organic gives you a surprise or two.

This afternoon, I was cutting off bits of the farmers market celeriac and plop, out fell a small (dead) worm. SURPRISE! GASP! EEK!

I tossed it in the trash, but then I also noticed another teenie one on the counter that was slightly wiggling. Tossed that one too.

So, what’s more gross? A couple of occasional worms or pesticides? I’ll take the bugs thank you!

Finding them always make me gasp and flutter, but it’s worth it when you know exactly where your food is coming from. Hey and bugs have to eat too, right?

Tomato Hornworms and the Awesome Braconid Wasp Super Hero

We were in the garden Sunday morning, and while I was glancing at my in-ground tomato plants, I noticed what looked like white spikey roots growing out of a tomato leaf. Mind you, my eyesight is not great, but I immediately thought about how weeks before, I noticed low branches were beginning to develop roots where they were touching the ground.

I took a closer look, and yuck! I was mortified to see a big fat icky green worm with rice-like eggs on it’s back. I wasn’t wearing my garden gloves, so I called DH to come and grab it off. Luckily, he broke off the whole leaf (more on that later) and kept the bugger intact.

I was fascinated by this little pest, so I took it into our workroom, grabbed the camera and took some photos.

Then I googled, and learned that we had a Tobacco Hornworm (with a menacing-looking horn on its back-end, that actually isn’t menacing or harmful at all!) and those weren’t eggs on its back. They are Braconid Wasp larvae cocoons.

(click for larger view)
hornworm with wasp parasite cocoons attached

The more I learned, the more grossed out but fascinated I became. It’s literally the movie “Alien” come to life!

What happens is the female braconid wasp lays eggs under the skin of the hornworm, and the baby larvae feed on the worm, as he sits, paralyzed on a leaf. They eat their way out of the layer of skin and spin themselves into a cocoon, where they continue to eat their “host” until they eventually emerge from their cocoons as adult braconid wasps.

hornworm with wasp parasite cocoons attached

I have had the worst case of heebie jeebies all day thinking about it, especially after seeing all the youtube videos and photos. Yuck. Just thinking about the wasps eggs hatching inside a living host and popping out is enough to give me nightmares!

But I was a good doobie, and I put the hornworm, complete with leaf, back over near our tomatoes. I’m hoping that all the wasps will hatch and feast on any hornworm pest population left in my garden.

Nature is wonderful, isn’t it? And I have discovered so much about nature in just a few short months, it’s amazing and thrilling!

It also makes me sad because so many home gardeners don’t think twice about using toxic pesticides instead of allowing Mother Nature a chance to handle it herself!

UPDATE 2012-08-19 ~ This morning, I noticed TWO more icky hornworms covered with the Braconid wasp cocoons, and I let them be on the plant. Exciting. I hope the wasps hatch and attack any future hornworms on my tomato plants.

Horned worm vs. Braconid Wasp – CTnaturalist Online
Tomato Hornworm covered with white cocoons of Braconid Wasp
Tobacco Hornworm Parasitoids Emerge from their cocoons

Gardening Diary: Pests

So, I think I’m just about done with planting. Yay! I still have a few plants leftover, but for the most part, the majority are planted, either in containers or in the ground. I feel very accomplished!

Onto the next issue! Pests!

Worms/caterpillars have been eating my rhubarb, blackberry and strawberry leaves like crazy! I don’t recall there being this big of a problem in past seasons, but maybe I’m just more observant this year.

I heard BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis) is a good pesticide that is approved for organic gardens. It is a naturally-occurring bacteria that targets specific worms/caterpillars and doesn’t harm other beneficial bugs or critters.

Right now, I’m picking off wormies by hand, which is so gross, but so far, I can handle it. I read that if you let the plant develop its own defenses, it’s a much stronger plant, so I’ve not applied any pesticides yet. I noticed that the strawberries are indeed growing more leaves to make up for the leaf loss. It makes sense, because in the wild, berries must fend for themselves, and they do alright.

Unfortunately though, there is one section of strawberries that are looking a bit small and anemic, but the others are healthy. The blackberries seem to be normal, although they are just at the flowering stage right now, but the leaves do not have that much damage. The rhubarb is having issues, but I think it’s due to having too little sun.

Now, a bigger problem will be my veggie garden. I already noticed a big ugly green worm crawling on the dirt yesterday, (probably trying to find its next meal,) and one more on a cabbage leaf this morning. DH’s poor watermelon plant looks like it’s been eaten pretty badly too. So, yes, I’m thinking BT might be the answer for my vegetables.

So far, the plants in containers are doing well, no sign of any leaf eaters!

I’ll be posting photos soon of the garden. It was a glorious weekend for weather. I can’t believe how hot it’s been and it isn’t even June yet. I’m hoping the heat keeps up so cucumbers, peppers, eggplant and tomatoes will flourish!

Very soon, my peas will be popping! I’m looking forward to pinching a few tendrils for my salad or soup! YUM!

Life is good here at my little farm! ha!