The Joy of Landscaping

A Gardening Blog

Battling Insects in the Vegetable Garden

Part 5: A Beginner's First Year of Vegetable Gardening

Early this month, I planted the first vegetable crops into the garden: tomato, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumber, and red pepper transplants, as well as basil, bush bean and pole bean seeds. Put heavy duty metal cages around all 5 tomato plants, as well as other types of supports for the cucumbers, squash and peppers. Made a tepee using 6 bamboo poles and planted pole bean seeds around pole, so they will eventually twine themselves upward. Getting foliage and plants off the ground seems to be a good goal and is a more efficient use of space.

Did find that I'd made a minor mistake. I had 4' and 5' tall wire cages for the tomatoes. Two of the plants are cherry tomatoes, and I assumed they wouldn't get as tall as the regular indeterminate tomatoes. Wrong! The Sweet 100 and Sungold cherry tomatoes are already outpacing the others, and I researched and found that they can grow 8'-10' tall! Another lesson learned that assumptions can lead to doing suboptimal things! But the great thing (so far) about gardening is that most mistakes are not catastrophic. In this case, I bought some tall wood stakes and am tying the tallest cherry tomato stalks to them.

After planting, I felt like a new mother fussing about their newborn baby. I go out to the garden daily. My conclusion so far is that when trying to grow food crops, it's going to be a constant war against insects! Not big news to any farmer, but it explains the desire to have a chemical to "fix' the problem. I've discovered flea beetles, aphids, squash bugs (mainly their eggs), and possibly bean beetles trying to eat my plants. Staying organic, I've used insecticidal soap, Neem oil, yellow sticky traps, and diatomaceous earth in the battle with the bugs. It's impossible to keep them all away. So, I'm trying to keep the plants consistently watered, fertilized organically when appropriate, weeded, and removing damaged foliage to help the plants sustain the attack.

One of the more destructive predators are squash bugs, which not surprisingly, afflict summer squash. A good control method is to watch out for groups of eggs on the undersides of leaves, especially in the crevices. Then scrape them off into soapy water, or an easier technique is to dab them with duct tape to remove. I have read that having natural predators is a good control method, ie. have the "good bugs" eat the "bad bugs". For example, ladybugs apparently like to eat aphids. So this fall I'm going to plant perennials that attract ladybugs, such as coreopsis or basket-of-gold, just outside the garden to encourage ladybugs into the veggie garden.

Squash eggs on leaves

Row cover

Squash bug eggs on leaves. Row covers can also help with insects.

Supposedly one of the best organic techniques for minimizing insect problems is to use floating row covers. I was prepared to use them with the spring seeds but that didn't occur. So my experiment with them occurred today when I planted some broccoli seed and put a lightweight row cover over the bed. In the summer for insect control, the fabric should be very lightweight, .55 oz/ sq. yd. or less. Row covers are often used in the spring and fall as a way of increasing the temperature to allow earlier planting/ later harvesting of cool season veggies. The covers here are heavier, .9 oz and more). I found a DIY project on the internet that described using flexible PVC pipes and rebar to make hoops to drape the row cover over. I liked the idea and tried it, using 3 1/2" 10' pipes (that we cut down to 9' each), and 9 pieces of 3/8" 24" tall rebar for the 4' x 8' bed. The row cover fabric, 10'x15' was just the right size. As to clamping the cover onto the pipes, I found large binder clips to work the best. I had purchased some 1/2" "pvc snap clamps" but they are actually too big if you use cpvc pipes, which I did. I also secured the bottom of the fabric on the ground with some bricks. The row cover allows sunlight and rainfall in, but supposedly pests out. We shall see. Broccoli is supposedly very susceptible to flea beetles, which I've already encountered in other beds, so they may already be in the soil.

So far, the plants seem to be doing well. I've seen fruit beginning on almost everything except the squash.