If you grow organically, flea beetles are probably one of the top five most peskiest bugs in your garden. They are small black bugs about the size of a poppy seed. They feed on the leaves of plants and jump when disturbed. For young plants, it can kill them overnight. In our garden, the flea beetles pose the biggest threat to eggplants, tomatillos, potatoes, and arugula. We have found three ways to keep these pesky critters at bay: row covers, hot pepper spray, and used coffee grounds. Jon collects coffee grounds at work so we have an abundance of them to use in the garden. Simply spread the coffee grounds under the plant and reapply after it rains. In the above picture, fresh coffee grounds were sprinkled underneath a young tomatillo plant.
The challenge with only using row covers is that flea beetles hatch from the soil each year so your plants can get infested with the beetles even though they are in an isolated bubble. Row covers are the easiest form of pest control to use though because you don't have to worry about rain washing the hot pepper spray off the leaves and dissolving the coffee grounds into the soil. To give the fragile eggplants a head start we use both the row covers and coffee grounds. This year we did plant wormwood with the eggplants because we learned that they are a great companion plant. The problem with wormwood is that it emits a chemical that stunts plant growth, so we are not so sure how beneficial it is. Perhaps growing the wormwood in containers and setting them within the eggplant patch would be the better option.
Go here for another post about flea beetle control!
Cattle panels seem to be a versatile item around the homestead. Last year we used them for the greenhouse project and bean trellis. This year we are using them as a tomato trellis. I have seen gardeners cut the cattle panels into boxes or lay them parallel to the ground for supporting their tomatoes. We decided to try a simpler approach of not cutting the panels and just staking them perpendicular to the ground. The advantage to this approach is easy access to the weeds. We will see how this method works and give an update later in the summer.
In between the tomatoes we alternated basil and borage. Basil enhances the tomato flavors while tomatoes enhance basil flavors. In the picture above you can see a small borage plant to the left of the tomato. Borage is a companion plant that helps combat the tomato hornworms by attracting the parasitic wasp that lays its eggs on the hornworm. The wasp larvae kill the worm by eating it.
Look closely...there is a large hornworm on the tomato stem. If left alone, the hornworm will strip the entire plant of its leaves.
Here is a dead hornworm after the wasp larvae killed it.
Years ago when we started growing our own vegetables, I remember harvesting a bunch of spinach and putting the excess in the refrigerator crisper for the next day. Much to my disappointment, the spinach turned into a limp pile of rubbery leaves the next day. From this experience I learned that farms treat spinach and lettuce with chemicals so they stay crisp and fresh for several weeks at the grocery store. I quickly figured out how to keep our produce just as fresh for weeks at a time without the use of chemicals by storing the produce in a damp cloth bag. Simple! Basically I place washed produce into the damp cloth bag and place the bag in the refrigerator crisper. When the bag becomes dry, I run it under cold water again and wring out the excess water. I use this damp bag method for all of our vegetables including: celery, spinach, lettuce, kale, asparagus and pea pods. I have used this method for years and have kept celery crisp for 2 months easily! This cloth bag has saved us a lot of money over the years.
A weekly update on our adventures of trying to be more self-sufficient by using resources wisely. We explore a variety of topics that most broadly fit in the "Homesteading" category, i.e. beekeeping, organic gardening, edible landscaping/fruit forest, food preservation/canning, woodworking, soap-making, and environmental stewardship.