Tag Archives: japanese beetles

The Summer of 2016 Is Ending

Am I crazy? Is summer really ending??

August heat baking my garden

Garden baking in the August sun

Today’s heat index in Southeast Pennsylvania says it will be 114 degrees out. It’s only August 13th. Summer isn’t over. It can’t be!

Bianca Rosa eggplant

Bianca Rosa eggplant enjoying the heat.

I am still harvesting like mad. My Bianca Rosa eggplant have given me 15 beautiful globes and there are more than that still on the plants. The Fox Cherry tomatoes are coming in so fast it’s hard to pick them (especially when you were silly enough to plant 10 of them!).

Growing giant Zucchini

Sicilian zucchini gone rogue.

The Sicilian Zucchetta are downright frightening in their productivity and sheer size.

I’ve been giving them away, cooking with them, jousting in the back yard and leaving them on neighbor’s doorsteps in the dark of night (too big for their mailboxes).

Green beans are producing about a pint a day and my Frigatello Sweet Italian peppers are just warming up, throwing off 5 or 6 peppers a day.

And I’m still getting beets, inter-planted among the tomatoes, keeping cool and waiting for me to harvest them.

Fox Cherries protect beets

Fox Cherry tomatoes shade my beets.


So how can it possibly be summer’s end?

It happens every year, I wake up and step outside before the dawn light and something has changed.

The feel of the breeze on my skin. The smell of the air. A tiny change in the song of the insects. Every year, there is a single moment when I know that summer is ending.

2016 Perseid meteor showers

Perseid meteor cuts across the night sky (courtesy AMS, Ltd)

This morning, sitting on my patio watching the Perseid meteor shower (image courtesy of the American Meteor Society, Ltd.), I knew as any long time gardener whose blood runs to soil and whose bare feet crave time connecting to the earth knows.

Summer into Autumn is always bittersweet for me. My garden, this garden, will never come again. Next year, the war with Japanese Beetles and the ongoing struggle with Mexican Bean Beetles will begin again. Triumphs and defeats will eddy and swirl across my back yard.

Sunflowers grace my garden

Sunflowers tower over my garden…and me!

But then there will be all that glorious, organic food flowing from my garden to my kitchen table and the tables of friends, relatives and neighbors, again.

And sunflowers, bachelor buttons, chamomile, marigolds and lemon verbena will open for the bees. Lemon balm, milkweed and borage will offer food and nectar to butterflies, wasps and beneficials.

Blueberries and blackberries will be joined by elderberries and goji berries, adding to the delicious, healthy treasures growing just steps from my back door.

And I will once again know why I garden.

Note: the image of the meteor, above, was taken by Eddie Popovits and used with the express permission of the American Meteor Society, a non-profit, scientific organization founded in 1911 and established to inform, encourage, and support the research activities of both amateur and professional astronomers


Battle Japanese Beetles – Organic Tips

Last year, Japanese beetles arrived early and stayed late!

Drowning Japanese Beetles

Japanese Beetles win!

As an organic gardener, all I could do was try to drown as many as possible but I was outnumbered.

They started with my green beans literally wiping out 8 foot high pole bean plants and chewed through my Bumble Beans, too.

Japanese beetles eat green beans.

Green beans fall to Japanese invasion

Japanese Beetles destroy Chinese Cabbage

Japanese beetles make lace with Chinese Cabbage.

Japanese Beetles strip my apple tree of leaves.

Every leaf on my apple tree turned to lace. Japanese Beetles!

Then they moved to my Chinese Cabbage. By the time they were done, the plants looked like a bit of lace tatted by devils.

Then they moved to my blackberries. They finished their backyard rampage by stripping every leaf off my 25 foot tall apple tree while I stood by, helpless.

So, this year, I plan on fighting back…organically, of course.

I have ordered 50 pounds of Surround – kaolin clay – from one of my very favorite (and quirky) places to buy plants and products in person and online  — Edible Landscaping.

I need to spray it on the plants when I first sight the Japanese invaders.

However, this summer’s weather is wreaking havoc with predicting their arrival! So, I was wondering if there was a web site that could tell me when these little devils would be arriving in my neighborhood.

That’s how I found Big Bug Hunt!

NOTE: Big Bug Hunt is just getting started which means they are just beginning to collect data so they can’t help us this year. That’s where we come in. Gardeners are asked to report bug sightings in their  back yards and zip codes.

The web site has a few hiccups so you’ll have to be patient if you want to participate.  And I hope you do so I can get a better handle on when the Japanese Beetles will arrive in my backyard!

European Hornets Persist in My Garden

European hornet in garden.

European hornets are big, bold but willing to share space.

In the interest of knowing my enemy…better….I wanted to find out where European hornets nest.

Penn State’s extension office gave me the full boat on these very big  hornets who, when challenged, can be pretty darned aggressive.

Apparently, they create nests above ground, often in abandoned trees.  I first saw these hornets in my garden 3 years ago when my figs outdid themselves and the hornets have since moved in but I don’t know where.

I do know that they love my blueberry patch – hence the Tyvex suits on my sister and I as we go blueberry picking.  The colanders are just for show!

Blueberry picking around hornets

Meg and I do battle with hornets for blueberries.

Apparently, our choice of attire was a fortunate one. These hornets don’t like black or dark clothing and will warn you off by butting you.  If you don’t get the message, they will bite to defend their nest but, for all their size, European hornets are considered “docile.”

That said, I still wear Tyvex — now when I try to pick blackberries because that’s where the hornets are in August.  Unfortunately, the hornets are still sharing space with the Japanese beetles that are still hanging on, chewing through my plants and eating only the ripe berries, of course!

Anyway, if you see any of these big boys in your garden, back away slowly. Don’t arm wave or bat at them.  They just want you to go away but if you don’t, if you appear to be a threat, remember that European hornets are big; they will bite with malice aforethought and they can sting 8 or 9 times.

Who says gardening is a quiet past time?  It’s always an adventure in my backyard and I’ll bet it is in yours, too.




Japanese Beetles Decimating My Plants

It must be July.

This is the month when the Japanese Beetles swarm in, over and under all of my plants and make veritable skeletons where once there was beautiful green.

Japanese Beetles destroy Chinese Cabbage

Japanese beetles make lace with Chinese Cabbage.

My Chinese cabbage fell to the Japanese beetles but I am determined NOT to lose the battle over my green beans and my blackberry bushes.

Unfortunately, because the beetles are so bad this year, I have resorted to using my apple tree as a distraction.

Japanese Beetles eat my apple tree.

Every leaf on this apple tree is eaten.


And the Japanese beetles are attacking with a vengeance.  The leaves are being eaten on every branch.  I hate using the tree to attract the beetles but, as an organic gardener, I have to or I wouldn’t have a prayer of holding the line in my garden.

So, how do I kill the ones that make it into the garden and chew through leaves of just about any plant?  Well, it isn’t pretty but my method works and it is organic.

Every morning and every evening, I fill a small container with dishwater, grab my big spoon and head out to the garden.  I spend about 25 minutes smacking beetles into the bucket.

Drowning Japanese Beetles

Japanese Beetles to drown in dishwater.

When I’m done, I usually have between 100 and 150 beetles floating in the water.

Okay is sounds gross and the resulting “bucket of beetles” looks gross but it works.  And there is a perverse satisfaction in slapping them into the water, knowing their destructive activities are over.

So, the battle continues and I have good and bad days relative to control but I don’t spray; I don’t give up and I do, eventually beat them back.

Volunteer sunflowers

Sunflowers make me smile.

And when I am feeling outnumbered or a bit down, I just look out my office door at  one of the hundred or more volunteer sunflowers that are in my garden and yard and smile.

And to make you smile, I am sharing a picture of my sister Meg, now known as Commander Colander Head, and I heading out to the blueberry patch to do battle with the vicious and varied invaders we call hornets.

This year I’ve got Bald-faced and European hornets and even hornets that look like bumblebees. And of course, there are honey bees, yellow jackets and genuine bumblebees.

So, when we go out to pick, we “suit up” – Tyvex suits are tucked into socks.  Muck shoes are worn and, if it’s really warm, nitrile gloves.

Blueberry picking around hornets

Meg and I do battle with hornets for blueberries.

The protective gear really does make it safer to pick.  And starting just as the sun cracks over the horizon also helps.

I’ve gotten about 85 quarts of blueberries this year and not one bite or one “fatality”, either human or bee!

Grow So Easy Organic – How To Choose & Raise Organic Blackberries

My second favorite backyard fruit is blackberries.

I tried raspberries, once.  I even harvested beautiful, sweet red raspberries, once.  Then I ended up with a bramble patch so thick and so full of stickers that it defied all attempts to control it.  It got so bad that I actually pulled the brambles down and ran over the whole patch with our riding mower…three times.

English: Blackberries in a range of ripeness, ...

Blackberries om varying stages of ripeness. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, I raise blackberries.  And every year I get about 30 quarts of beautiful, deep purple, inch long berries that I make into slump, buckle and jam.

Why was my raspberry patch such a disaster?  Why am I so successful with blackberries?  What did I do differently?

The answer is very simple.  I bought Doyle Thornless blackberry bushes.  And I only bought 3 of them!  No thorns, no arm wrestling with 10 plants that morphed into 20 in one season.  And no scratches or flying curse words.

Choosing Blackberry Plants

When I bought them, Doyle Thornless blackberries were about the only thornless plants on the market.  And they probably are the most expensive addition in my garden.  Nowadays there are other thornless choices but there are really only two types of blackberry plants – trailing or erect.

Both varieties grow exactly the way they are named.  Erect blackberries have arched canes that support themselves so no trellis is needed.  Trailing blackberries have canes that can’t support themselves so you either have to build a trellis to support them or do what I did.  This lazy gardener used the post and rail fence in her back yard as her trellis.

The fruit of erect blackberries ripens later, is a bit smaller than those of trailing blackberries and is not as big or as sweet.  So you may want to trade the ease of raising erect blackberries for the taste and flavor and abundance of the trailing kind.

One last word of advice about choosing your stock.  Make sure you know your hardiness zone and you know which blackberry varieties will live and play well in your zone.  Blackberries are pretty tough but can be harmed by extreme temperatures so check before you buy.

Where to Plant Blackberries

Whichever kind of berry you plant, the site is very important.  Sun is important but almost any soil (but very sandy soil), will work for blackberries.  Surprisingly, the single most important qualification of the site for blackberry plants is water.

Blackberries need a lot of water during fruit production but are damaged by water in the winter.  If water stands around the roots, winter and spring frosts can really hurt the stock.  So drainage is important.

When and How to Plant Blackberries

As soon as you can work the soil in your zone, you can plant you root stock.    That’s early spring in the North and late winter or early spring in the South.

As you know, I’m a lazy gardener.  So the way I figure it, I give my plants a good start and the rest is up to them.  Because I was planting along the fence line where nothing but crab grass and weeds had grown before, I did take a bit of time to prep the patch where I wanted to plant them.

But I didn’t get carried away and plant green manure crops like rye or vetch.  Blackberries grow just wild in the woods and do fine so I decided to go the easy way.  I loosened the soil by tilling it but that’s about it.    No soil sample and no manure or compost was added.

Doyle Thornless blackberries trail, so I spaced them 8 feet apart.  Erect varieties can be planted 2 feet apart.  If you are doing more than one row of either kind, make sure you leave 10 feet between the rows so you’ll have enough room to maneuver around the plants, pick, prune and generally see to the health and happiness of your plants.

If your root stock looks dry when it arrives, soak the roots in water for several hours before trying to plant them.  Use a shovel or a large fork to make a slit in the soil for each root you intend to plant.  Rock the fork or shovel back and forth to make the slit wide enough to put the roots of the plant in without cramping them or breaking them off.

Once you have a hole for each root and you’re ready to plant, trim the top of each plant back to just 6 inches long.  Remove each plant from the bucket of water, using the trimmed top as a “handle” and drop each root into its own slit.

On each plant, you should be able to see a line where the plant met the soil in the nursery bed.  Don’t plant the root any deeper than it was planted in the nursery.  As soon as the root is in the ground, firmly pack earth around it, first with your hands than with the heel of your shoe.

Once planted, I wrap a soaker hose along the entire length of the bed so I can provide a constant source of water during the growing season.  Once the soaker hose is down, I mulch all of my new plants with between 4 and 6 inches of straw.

During the first year, don’t expect a lot of berries.  Your plants have to establish themselves.  But make sure you keep the babies watered.  And make sure you mulch them heavily for their first winter.

Training and Care

Blackberries are easy to train along a fence or a trellis.  I simply tie my canes to the fence in the direction I want them to grow.  And I’ve learned to be a bit ruthless with which canes I keep and which canes I cut.

Erect and trailing blackberries will send out suckers and new canes.  Make sure you keep an eye on both so that you don’t end up with a thicket.  Even without thorns, it is hard to train, manage, harvest and prune if you are overwhelmed with too many canes.

Remember that the canes that produced last year are not going to produce in the coming year.  So I wait until late August or early September to cut back the ones that I know had fruit that summer.  I also take time to thin out a few of the new canes – leaving only the larger, healthier ones for next year.

You can cut suckers at this time too.  But if you lost a plant or two during the season, take a few minutes to get a replacement from the new stock in your patch.  To get new ones, I have two choices:

Just wait for a new sucker to push up through the ground.  Let it establish itself a bit then cut a nice round bit of soil around the sucker, dig it up and transplant it where you want it.

Or, just as easy, you can take a long cane, slash it once on the bottom side and bury the slashed bit in soil.

How to grow organic blackberries.

Thinned, tied up and mulched, my blackberries are dreaming of spring again.

Once you’ve thinned, trimmed and replaced, you can simply tie up the canes you want to fruit next year then mulch with 6 to 8 inches of straw.  Or, if you aren’t as lazy as I am, you can plant a cover crop over the patch that you can work into the ground, in the summer.

Whatever you do, don’t let weeds get a start in your patch.  Like asparagus, blackberries don’t like competition.  As big and as bold as the canes can get – some of mine are almost 2 inches in diameter, the size the fruit and quantity of the harvest will be affected if weeds get a chance to complete.

Next week, how to handle Japanese beetles and some great recipes for fresh, juicy organic blackberries.