Tag Archives: Colorado Potato Beetle

The Unique Challenge of Colorado Potato Beetles | High Mowing Organic Seeds Blog

I just love it when one of my favorite sources of seed and gardening wisdom puts up a post like this one on my sworn enemy — the Colorado Potato Beetle.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

The Colorado Potato Beetle looks pretty but is bad news in the garden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apparently, I am not alone in my extreme dislike, okay hatred, for this little striped tank of a beetle.  Colorado Potato Beetles can strip plants almost overnight, each female lays hundreds of eggs….and all of those little larvae eat like a hungry Olympic wrestler (think 6000 calories a day).

Check out High Mowing Organic Seeds post on what these babies are, where they came from and how to handle them if they show up in your garden one sunny morning!

Oh, and Grow So Easy Organic: Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us –the book — is in final transfer to the MOBI (Kindle) format, a bit later than expected but coming to you soon!

via The Unique Challenge of Colorado Potato Beetles | High Mowing Organic Seeds Blog – The Seed Hopper.

Advertisements

Grow So Easy Organic – Eggplant

When you think of the most popular vegetables to grow in the back yard, you probably don’t come up with eggplant.  In fact, when Mother Earth News did a survey of who was planting what, the most popular homegrown vegetable was the tomato followed by peppers, green beans, cucumbers, onions, lettuce, summer squash, carrots, radishes, and sweet corn.  Eggplant didn’t even make the list!

Eggplant

The bigger the eggplant, the bigger the bitter.   (Photo credit: Asian Lifestyle Design)

Okay, so eggplant is not a favorite with a lot of gardeners but the reason just may be that most gardeners have never had young, sweet flavorful eggplants plucked off their own plants.   Instead they’ve tried those large, purple cylinders they buy in the grocery store.  I was the same way until I grew a few plants and discovered there is no comparison.

There are three tricks to getting full-flavored fruit from an eggplant; buy the right seeds, start the plants early and harvest the eggplant when they’re small.

My favorite eggplant is the round, striated one called Bianca Rosa from High Mowing Organic Seeds.   This is a Sicilian eggplant with light pink fruits that are streaked with white and violet. The flavor is mild and creamy with no bitterness and a low number of seeds.

How To Grow Eggplant
Growing eggplant is a bit like growing peppers – both like warm summer days.  In fact, I think eggplant is even more cold-sensitive.  To get eggplant to flower and set fruit, you need warm soil and a long, warm growing season – from 100 to 140 days with temperatures consistently between 70° and 90°.

I always start eggplant from seed.  And I always start them early – at least 10 weeks before my last frost date.  Like all my seeds, I start them in cells.  I don’t soak them overnight before putting them in the cell but you can to shorten the time to sprouting.

Once the eggplant seedlings get their second set of leaves, I transplant them into 2 inch peat pots, raise the tray up off the heating mat (I use two bricks – not high-tech but cheap and easy) but keep them there so they can have the warmth they need to thrive.  When they get to between 4 and 5 inches high, I transplant them again, this time into 4 inch peat pots.

Why not go directly from cell to the 4 inch peat pot?  Remember, eggplant like warm soil.  Take them from warm, moist soil and stick them in cold dirt and they get shocky – I know, I tried.  All my eggplant were stunted and fruit came late in the season.

So unless I plan far enough ahead to prepare the 4 inch pots and put them over the heat map to warm the soil (that’s unlikely), I just go from cell to 2 inch then 4 inch peat pot.

Once they have settled into the new pots and are thriving, I move the trays off the heat mats and onto my lighted plant stand (which I bought used almost 20 years ago and am still using).

When To Transplant Eggplant
Eggplant have the same needs as those of bell peppers.  Transplants should only be set in the garden after all danger of frost is past.  Remember, warm soil, warm air and warm days, lots and lots of all three are what eggplant need to thrive.

If your eggplant are happy, they will need more space than you might anticipate.  Eggplant should be spaced about 2 feet apart.  I don’t plant them in rows, I zigzag them.  Like pepper plants, eggplant can be pulled over by the size and weight of their own fruit so I use tomato cages for support.  I have also planted them along a fence line so I can tie the plants up once they reach maturity.

Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart in the row and stagger them so you can get 6 to 8 plants in less space.   Make sure you leave about 2 to 2/12 feet between rows, especially if you are planting in raised beds so you can get to the plants and the fruit, easily.

Care
Once in the ground, give the transplants a good watering to settle them into the ground.  I always mulch eggplant but before I do, I put a ring of composted soil around each plant to feed it.  Then I mulch with straw or grass clippings or both to keep the weeds down.

You can also use a nitrogen fertilizer if you don’t have any composted soil, feeding the plants when they are half-grown and right after you harvest the first fruits. But being a lazy gardener, I prefer using composted soil.

Once the plants are established, eggplant love the heat of the summer.  You only have to water if you are in a persistent dry period then wait for those lovely, sweet eggplant to start emerging from each lavender flower.

Oh, and keep an eye out for one pest that just loves eggplant – the Colorado Potato Beetle.

Bugs That Bug Eggplant
When you read up on eggplant pests, the one you will read about the most is the flea beetle.   Flea beetles chew tons of tiny holes in leaves.  If plants are older and stronger, the flea beetles will be more of an annoyance than a true threat to your eggplant.  And you can hand-pick and crush these little devils easily.

But if your plants are younger and tender, flea beetles can actually cause real problems.  To avoid this problem, keep plants indoors until early summer, as advised and once you transplant them, cover outdoor plants with floating row covers to keep the flea beetles at bay until the plants get older and tougher.

Some gardeners think flea beets are an eggplant’s worst pest.  I save that title for the Colorado Potato Beetle…on my Top 10 Bugs list for a reason.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

The Colorado Potato Beetle will eat anything, even eggplant.   (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The good news is that the eggs, larvae and the adult beetles are easy to spot and even easier to crush.

The eggs, orange-yellow in color, can be found in clusters of about 20 on the undersides of leaves.  Finding and killing them before they hatch helps decrease the odds of an infestation.

Just crush them gently (sounds like an oxymoron but necessary advice) with your fingers, trying not to damage the leaf they are laid on.

If the eggs hatch, the larvae are red to orange soft grubs about 1/2 inch long when mature. Larvae have black heads, little black legs and, as they grow, will have two rows of black spots on each side of the body. If you see holes in the leaves, check the underside for these babies.

When they reach maturity, the beetle phase, you will be able to recognize the adult Colorado Beetle easily.  The body is domed with distinctive yellow and black stripes running along the length of the wing covers.

These beetles are easy to hand-pick and crush.  I keep two small, flat stones in the garden by the eggplant to do just that.

The most common eggplant disease is Verticillium wilt which causes yellowing, wilting and death of the plants.  If you plant resistant cultivars and rotate crops – never planting eggplant where tomatoes or potatoes have grown the year before, you should be able to avoid this disease.

Harvesting Eggplant
Eggplant is one vegetable where size does matter – and it should be small.

If you harvest eggplant when they are young, you will be sure to get sweet flesh with none of the bitterness that larger eggplant bring to the table.

To find out if an eggplant is ready to be picked, hold the eggplant in your palm and gently press it with your thumb. If the flesh presses in but bounces back, it is ready for harvesting. If the flesh is hard and does not give, the eggplant is immature and too young to harvest.

Eggplant bruise easily so harvest gently. Don’t try to pull eggplant off the plant.  You will damage the plant and probably not win the tug of war with the stem.

You might even get stabbed by one of the spines on the stem.  So carry a sharp knife with you and cut the stem of the eggplant about an inch away from the top or cap of the fruit.  That method protects you, the plant and the fruit from damage.

I harvest all season long.  I love eggplant marinated and grilled.  And when I get too many or get just a bit tired of marinating them, I simply slice them, grill them dry (no oil) on the Foreman Grill and freeze them.  During the cold days of winter, I use the frozen slices to make wonderful Eggplant Parmigiana.

Eggplants don’t store well but you don’t want to leave them on the plants too long, either. Either harvest and use immediately for the best flavor or process them for the freezer.

No recipes for eggplant (other than marinated or in parmigiana) but a tip a chef shared with me.  When making Eggplant Parmigiana, mix the ricotta cheese, eggs, cooked and crumbled ground beef and tomato sauce together.

This way, you only have to layer once.  All 4 fillings are more evenly distributed and the finished dish has a creamier, richer flavor.  This tip works for lasagna, too!

Next week, zucchini and summer squash and everything you need to know to enjoy both, all summer long.

Grow So Easy Organic – Knowing What YOU Can Grow

This might seem like putting the cart before the horse….but before you buy seeds and lay out your fantastic garden, you might want to give a bit of thought to what you want to put in the ground.

This isn’t about zone or space, this is about time, money and actually enjoying what you grow instead of doing battle with it.

Plants or Seeds
The most basic question is do you want to put plants in the ground or raise your own plants from seed?  The most basic answer is how much time do you have?

If you’re like me and you’ve been gardening for a while (or you have a friend who is a hard core gardener), you probably do both.  But if you’re new to the gardening game, you may want to start with plants.

Buying plants gives you a chance to see if you really do like this gardening thing before you invest time and a bit of money in raising your own plants from seed.  I tend to do both.  I buy plants from the Amish farmers but I also raise vegetables from seed.

Growing from seed has some advantages, for example, you can plant heirlooms that you just can’t buy anywhere.  And you can condition your seed, by planting and harvesting for a couple of years which makes them even more suited to your soil.

I love growing from seed but there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. It does add a bit of time to your schedule because you have to start them indoors, in February and March (if you live in Zone 6b as I do).
  2. The seeds may not sprout so you would have to buy plants, anyway.
  3. You need a controlled environment – temperature and air movement – when the seeds are sprouting and until they get their second, true set of leaves.
  4. You will have to pay attention to the seeds – keep them moist but don’t drown them.  (Here’s where an osmotic planting system like the one sold by Gardens Alive comes in handy.)

Heirloom or Hybrid
By the way, if you want to save seeds from your plants this coming year and use them in the garden the following year, make sure you don’t buy hybridized seeds.  Why?

The simplest explanation is hybrid seeds are produced through cross-pollination, the mixing of plants of two different types for a specific reason, such as bigger fruit, disease resistance, a different look, etc. But the problem with hybrid seeds is you won’t be able to harvest further seeds from the fruit they produce.

Buy some tomato seeds of a specific variety, grow them and then harvest the fruit. Save the seeds, and you may get the same sort of tomatoes…or you may wind up with a different variety altogether. Or worse still, the seeds may be sterile.

Heirloom seeds, on the other hand, will produce the exact same type of fruit year after year, generation after generation.

Playing With Plants
I’m aces with tomatoes — all heirloom or organic seed — from Grow Italian or Territorial Seeds.  My blueberries yield over 60 quarts every year and my Montmorency cherries are a close second with 50 plus quarts.  Pear trees are just starting to bear fruit and the pluots are eagerly anticipated every summer.

But my fig trees are good one year and not so good the next.  And the peach and apple trees bear really bad fruit – spotty and buggy.  Cantelope grow beautifully in my soil but taste like dirt.  Broccoli Rabe comes up fast and easy but flowers before I can harvest it.

Potatoes love the soil but always fall prey to Colorado Potato Beetles and wire worms.

Knowing what I can’t grow upset me when I was a younger gardener but this old girl understands that knowing what she can’t grow is even more important than knowing what she can.  Why?

I no longer waste time or space on those veggies and fruits that just are not going to produce.  I spend that time honing my skills at growing and harvesting the myriad of foods that like my soil, my weather, my temperatures, wind and rain.

This is where I really experimented and where some of the worst carnage of my early gardening days happened.  But here’s a bit of advice that I got from my mom.

Mom Really Does Know Best
My mother’s garden in Virginia was 5 times the size of mine, literally.  At the age of 82, she was still out there in the early morning mist, hoeing her rows, weeding, watering and talking (yes, talking) to her beans, tomatoes, cabbage and corn.

While visiting one day, after a particularly large potato disaster in my garden – death by Colorado Potato Beetle – I whined that I would never be as good a gardener as she was.  Nothing ever died in her garden.

Mom laughed, leaned on her hoe and said, “Of course things die in my garden: I just turn them under and plant something else.”

Mom had to close my mouth because my jaw dropped about a foot.  It was like an epiphany – Mom killed plants too!  There was hope for me.  And there is hope for you, too.

So let’s dive into what I learned while wiping out whole populations of plants!  Maybe what I share will help decrease the number of “interments” in your fruit and veg plots.

Next week, an organic gardening favorite, tomatoes — how to start them, raise them, feed them, protect them and oh, yes, eat them!