Broccoli & aphids, tomatoes, onions my

pamchesbayMay 5, 2013

Hi all - I've been quiet lately, but have been reading your posts. Seems like we are all having similar "challenges" from fluctuating temps, precip, and wind. Our highs have moved up from the 40s to the mid 50s and occasional low 60s, with 45-52 at night. The forecasters have been predicting mid-70s but doesn't happen. We've had unusual heavy rains and nonstop wind out of the NNE (20+ with higher gusts so it's nippy).

Most of my seedlings are still living on the screen porch - I repotted larger ones from their original 3" pots to large styrofoam cups -they are out-growing the cups now.

I'm looking at 40+ broccoli plants and about 20 bok choy that need to go into the garden today. planted napa cabbage and Komatsuna mustard spinach a month ago. The aphids are a huge problem, don't think I'll get any cabbage this year. I sprayed the cool weather crops with insecticidal soap which works until the next rain. Since we are getting heavy rain every 2-3 days, the soap isn't a good solution.

I'm thinking about planting the broccoli and bok choy seedlings (6-10" high), spraying them with neem or bt, and putting row cover on them right away - not waiting for the aphids to show up. Does that sound like a reasonable plan? I'm hoping the row cover and bt or neem will protect the broccoli from insects and the cold wind.

I planted about 1/3 of my tomato seedling a week ago - the day after planting, we got about 1.5" of hard rain. About 1/3 were beaten down to a pulp, but the rest are holding on. Plan to put the rest of the toms in the ground today - more rain forecast in next 3 days. Also have about 60 peppers - they seem ok for now so I'll probably wait to plant them.

Any ideas about how to protect the toms from getting squashed by rain and wind? Will row cover be sufficient? I don't have hoops for low tunnels but can put old tomato cages around them so the row cover isn't lying directly on them.

I have more questions but these are the most urgent.

Thanks guys!

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Pam, Usually when the aphids show up here, masses of lady bugs arrive about 7-10 days later and start gobbling them up. Oddly this year we have tons of lady bugs early and no aphids yet. It is possible the lady bugs are controlling the aphids before I ever even see them. Are aphids a regular problem there or is this out of the ordinary? Louise Riotte used to recommend dusting agricultural lime on plants infested with aphids, but since our soil here is already so alkaline, I've never used lime for them.

I think planting and covering up the plants you mentioned would be fine. However, you still need to check the plants daily for aphids underneath the covering. Nothing would be worse that having aphids multiplying under the row cover since the row cover could prevent beneficial insects from reaching the aphids.

The row cover will provide decent wind protection and, obviously, the heavier the row cover, the more protection it provides.

Row cover might protect the plants adequately from rain. It just depends on how heavy the rain is. We usually don't get heavy enough rain here at our house in mid-spring to pound tomato plants to a pulp. By the time we are warm enough for violent thunderstorms with heavy rain to develop, the plants usually are big and strong and generally remain undamaged. When I put tomato plants in the ground, I immediately hammer a stake into the ground close to each plant and use zip ties to hold the plant up close to the stake. This protects the plants from strong winds and the occasional heavy rainstorm. Normally I cage at planting time as the cages will give some hail protection, but this year we put hoops over the rows of tomatoes and covered the hoops with chicken wire and with heavy duty deer fencing. Now that the plants are growing well, I need to remove the hoop coverings in the next few days and get the cages around the plants while the plants are still a manageable size.

In some past years, I wrapped each tomato cage in 4 or 6 mm plastic on the same day I put the plants in the ground, in effect turning each cage into a mini greenhouse. I would remove the plastic as soon as the plants reached it so that hitting the plastic wouldn't slow their growth or make the plants misshapen. This works really well but is very labor-intensive.

My dad used to put #10 vegetable cans (he got them from the lunch ladies at our school cafeteria back then) around each small tomato plant when he planted them. He'd cut the bottom off the cans and work them a couple of inches into the soil so they wouldn't blow away. By the early 1980s he was using 5-gallon buckets in the same way, but cutting the bottoms off of them was a PITA. He also sometimes used black nursery pots the same way. By the time the buckets, cans or pots were removed from the plants, the worst spring winds had ended. Lots of gardeners here in my neighborhood use black nursery pots or 5-gallon buckets the same way he did, and on some recent cold nights I saw big molasses feed tubs turned upside down and lined up in a row in a garden. I bet they had been placed over tomato plants for frost protection.

The main way I protect tomato plants from wind or rain is by hardening them off well in heavy wind exposure after they've already had significant wind exposure indoors from a fan. I try to get them strong enough before they go into the ground so I don't have to worry much about severe storms hurting them. Oddly, when I started hardening them off this spring, it was not nearly as windy as usual. I remember complaining to Tim that the March winds were not strong enough. I felt like the plants were not as strong as usual at planting time. We did finally get our strong winds -- in late April and early May. However, the tomato plants tolerated the winds just fine.

This has been such a challenging planting season. I feel like I am so far behind on warm-season planting, but at least the cool-season plants have had the kind of weather they like.

It is not yet a bad pest year here. So far this year the only pests I have found doing damage in the garden are 2 army worms (one on a potato plant and one on a lambs quarters plant I was pulling out of a bed), 2 cabbage loopers and one cutworm. The garden is full of birds every day and I assume they are taking care of a lot of the pests.

Ever since we hit 91 degrees last week (before dropping into the 20s and 30s a few nights later), grasshoppers (older ones, not nymphs) have just appeared out of nowhere. Yesterday I found some fairly newly hatched grasshoppers ( about 1/8" long or maybe even a smidgen smaller) and one very small potato leafhopper. Well, cucumber beetles have been around all spring, but our fields always are full of them and there isn't much I can do about them. For every one I kill, 100 more appear, so I just don't even bother trying to control them. Aphids usually are not an issue here except for pea aphids some years, though not this year, on the sugar snap peas and for green aphids on the Piricicaba broccoli (and only on this one variety--it is an aphid magnet).

If aphids are a huge issue, you could buy and release lady bugs. Also, keep an eye on your soil's nitrogen levels. Aphids often flock to plants that are growing in high-nitrogen soils.


    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 9:07AM
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Hi Dawn:

I want to thank you for the advice - especially ways to protect tomatoes (and other plants) with stuff that's usually lying around. I wish I'd thought to wrap the tomato cages with plastic wrap when I planted them. Or that I thought to use the "put cans / pots / buckets over tender seedlings" strategy, but I thought they would be okay.

I planted about half of the tomato crop two weeks ago (second half going in today and tomorrow). A day or two after I planted them, we started having 20-25+ knot winds out of NNE. Cold, colder, coldest. I was sure the wind direction and speed would change soon - our prevailing winds in spring are usually out of the south. But the cold northerly wind continued for over a week, and I didn't protect those tender seedlings. About 60% survived but the survivors look pretty bad - like they've been through a war.

I've been reading posts by the folks on this forum for over a year, and I've learned so much. One thing I learned is that life in Oklahoma is unpredictable so you plant more seedlings than you think you will need. That advice does seem to apply to us, probably since we live in an exposed location, so I took it to heart. Tonight, I was planting peppers and noticed that many of the worst looking tomato plants seemed to have had makeovers. The dry, ratty, dessicated leaves are falling off, replaced by healthy green leaves. I was about to pull them and replace with new seedlings but am having second thoughts. These guys didn't get off to a great start but they survived so maybe they are stronger than newly planted seedlings.

Re: aphids. I haven't seen one ladybug yet. I've been thinking of mixing up a sugar-water solution and spraying it on plants. Also thought about making a batch of wheast - a concoction of whey, sugar, and water or of brewer's yeast, sugar, honey, and water mixed up, then used to paint sticks in the garden to draw ladybugs. I've never tried this, or known anyone who, to my knowledge, tried it. I have all the ingredients - even a steady source of whey since I make yogurt. Do you think it may work? I will be feeding the honeybees tomorrow, can make a batch of ladybug food too.

Lady bugs are drawn to plants growing in high nitrogen soil? Wow!

Take care,

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 11:28PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Pam, You're welcome. Healthy transplants usually can bounce back from significant wind damage.. I have found that they generally bounce back better from windburn than from sunburn. I'm glad yours are making a good recovery.

How tough are tomato transplants? I've had the poor things beaten to the ground by hail or frozen to the ground, and then a week or so later, you see new growth emerging from the ground. What I do nowadays, if I don't want to wait to see if they will regrow, I will put the replacement plants in the ground in between the frozen or hail-damaged plants. Then, whichever one grows best gets to stay.....usually you know within 2 or 3 weeks if the old plants will outpace the new ones. Much depends on whether the frozen or hail-destroyed plants had a good root system already by the time they were damaged.

My ladybugs were really late last year, but this year they were here in January! That is really rare, but then I did have a lot of overwintering plants from the fall garden.

You can try sugar water or wheast. My experience with both is that they will keep lady bugs happy if they already are around, but they won't necessarily draw in ladybugs if you don't have some really close by already. What works best for me with beneficial insects is that I grow tons of flowers with tiny flowers they like....sweet alyssum, overwintered onions, yarrow, Queen Anne's Lace, henbit, overwintered carrots, cilantro or chervil, etc.

This year the lady bugs are all over the potatoes, though I do not see any pests on the potato plants. (Clearly the lady bugs are eating something there because they are on the plants all day, which may be the reason I don't see the pests.)

Research has shown a relationship exists between plants fed excess nitrogen and pest levels. Research also has shown a relationship exists between plants fed excess nitrogen and certain disease pathogens That's why we don't feed our plants excessive nitrogen. Also, when you have an excess of one nutrient, it can impair the plants' ability to take up other nutrients. You can use this knowledge to your own advantage. Let's say you plant a group of sunflowers 50' from your tomatoes in an effort to draw stinkbugs away from the tomato plants. Just overfeed the sunflowers with nitrogen to ensure the pests will be drawn to their excessively lush, succulent growth.

Today my garden issue was a snake. I till tolerate all sorts of critters in the garden, but not snakes. I am having a bad snake and skunk year here. I'd be happy to deal with aphids instead. : )


    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 11:58PM
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OMG - what kind of snake? What did you do?

Like you, I tolerate nearly everything but snakes creep me out. Fear of snakes is so strong, it must be in our genes.

Pete is the designated snake killer but he is often away in the spring when they get active. I finally forced myself to become a snake killer too - it's no fun but it's seriously no fun to let those suckers get away so I'm glad I can do it when necessary.

We have LOTS of skunks too. Last year, we saw a Mama skunk waddling under the building where we have our office. The exterminator got Mama and seven babies!

At home, we have dog related skunk issues. Seems like at least one dog has a close encounter with a skunk 2-3 times a year. I've tried everything to get rid of the smell - a few things make it less but nothing makes it go away except time, a long time.

Have one flat of peppers and one of tomatoes left, then they will be done. Need to plant seeds for beans, okra, cukes, squash, etc - all the stuff that needs warm soil to germinate. Last year, I planted beans beans and squash on April 4. Very behind this year but it stayed so cold. The soil has warmed up in the last 2-3 days. Suddenly, feel like I'm seriously behind.

The English peas planted in December are finally ready to pick - on May 10!

Back to work!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 5:04PM
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Hi Dawn, I've been thinking about your advice re ladybugs. I have several of the flowers you mentioned growing wild - onions, yarrow, Queen Anne's Lace, mountains of henbit, cilantro. I planted potatoes very late - not seeing any insect activity on them yet, maybe I need to look closer. I'm going to pull the Napa cabbage - leaves have so many holes, they look like fine lace. Cabbage is not a good crop for summer.

You are serious about using extra nitrogen to grow big fat sunflowers to draw bugs away from the garden? I have a bed that can be used for that purpose. ;-)

I need to get the rest of the toms and peppers in the ground before the sun sets. I think summer arrived today, accompanied by swarms of mosquitos from ditches that are full of water. But mosquitos don't hold a candle to snakes. No way.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 8:41PM
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