It has been a good week for gardening with warm temperatures and over an inch of rain. I wondered how my tomato plants in the compost bin would do, but the experiment is a success. A week ago, see Compost Gardening Experiment, the plants were just at the top of the chicken wire compost container. This week they are twice as high and have small green tomatoes and many blossoms. Besides growing in fertile soil in the compost bin, an added benefit is the chicken wire compost frame which will be useful for securing a tomato support. The wire frame is also helping to keep the squirrels away from the plants. They don’t seem to like climbing the flexible sides of the frame. I had to repair damage from squirrels digging around the okra plants in a near-by raised vegetable bed, so I am happy to keep the squirrels away from the tomatoes plants.
In two posts, Make Compost Like Yoghurt and Chicken Wire Compost Container, I described a compost method I am trying. The purpose is to set up a compost pile that matures quickly to be used as a vegetable garden base. The master gardener who recommended the method said to leave it for 3-4 months and then to plant vegetables directly in it. Although not all the hay was converted to compost, the mixture had matured with a rich layer of compost under the top layer of hay. I added a small bag of purchased top soil, mixed it with the remaining hay and compost and planted two tomato plants. I left a layer of hay on the top to act as mulch.
Possible Problems: My concern is that there might still be enough active decomposition that the temperature could become too hot for the tomato plants. Although the plants are thriving, I’ll continue to monitor the temperature. Another concern is that there might be too much nitrogen for the tomato plants due to the rich compost. By adding the topsoil, I added structure to the mix to hold moisture, reduced the direct contact each plant has with the nitrogen in the compost while still providing the needed nutrients. The plants had nearly doubled in height in a week and have many flowers. Hopefully, we’ll have tomatoes soon.
We have the grade 5 section of the school student garden ready for planting again and with a lot of help from students. It never fails to amaze me that when I step outside with garden tools, students coming running to see what they can do. Three weeks ago after school, I entered the garden area with shovels and a bag of compost. Students in the school aftercare program were on the nearby playing field but I had 4 volunteers leave their game to help before I even started to work. The grade 5 science classes had removed the weeds the day before, so the aftercare group turned over the soil to loosen it, mixed in the compost and turned it again. They also added mulch to the walking paths between the rows.
Early this week at recess, I went out to work and again instantly had students volunteering to help, this time leaving their recess games to work. We have a new pile of soil beside the garden that the students used to build up the rows where we will plant. The garden was rained on since then, has had time to settle, and is ready for planting.
Tomorrow students will plant their seeds – the seeds that they gave me during Catholic Schools week. We have tomato, pepper, radishes, carrots and lima bean seeds. They are anxious to get started and anxious to see the first seed leaves poking through the soil.
Diagnosing and treating problems in a garden is a continuous learning process. Next year I will know that a black spot on a tomato indicates that the invasion has begun. Next year when holes start to appear on the tomato leaves, I will know where to look and what to look for. I finally found the cause of the problems, a caterpillar hanging on the underside of a branch, a southern armyworm. The nasty caterpillar in the photo and his friends that have appeared since then are large enough to pull off, but I have also treated cherry tomato plant with BT (Bacillus thuringiensis). BT is a microbial insecticide.
- The organisms used in microbial insecticides are essentially nontoxic and nonpathogenic to wildlife, humans, and other organisms not closely related to the target pest. The safety offered by microbial insecticides is their greatest strength.
- The toxic action of microbial insecticides is often specific to a single group or species of insects, and this specificity means that most microbial insecticides do not directly affect beneficial insects (including predators or parasites of pests) in treated areas.
- Because their residues present no hazards to humans or other animals, microbial insecticides can be applied even when a crop is almost ready for harvest.
- Because a single microbial insecticide is toxic to only a specific species or group of insects, each application may control only a portion of the pests present in a field, garden, or lawn. If other types of pests are present in the treated area, they will survive and may continue to cause damage. Conventional insecticides are subject to similar limitations because they too are not equally effective against all pests. Nonetheless, the negative aspect of selectivity is often more noticeable for microbials.
- Heat, desiccation (drying out), or exposure to ultraviolet radiation reduces the effectiveness of several types of microbial insecticides. Consequently, proper timing and application procedures are especially important for some products.
- Special formulation and storage procedures are necessary for some microbial pesticides. Although these procedures may complicate the production and distribution of certain products, storage requirements do not seriously limit the handling of microbial insecticides that are widely available. (Store all pesticides, including microbial insecticides, according to label directions.)
I’m trying to use organic methods, but the reality is that sometimes I have to do something or give up the plant to the pests. BT does not instantly kill the caterpillars, but there is less activity until the caterpillars die in 2-3 days.
I continue to research solutions to problems, but more importantly what I am doing is learning to recognize problems so that next year I will anticipate the problems and will be ready with solutions faster. Luckily I started with a small vegetable garden this first year in Florida. I would be more frustrated than philosophical about the loss of vegetables to the pests if I were managing a larger garden. The smaller size allows me to regard this as a year of learning, not a year of “farming”. In the meantime, we enjoy the tomatoes, ochra and radishes plus the herbs that we have harvested, and we are happy that everything we have eaten so far was organically grown without application of pesticides.
At the Gardening Goodies group last Thursday, as soon as the students arrived at the Hillsborough County extension office, they ran out back to see the garden. They examined the tiny green radish leaves poking through the soil, wondered why only one bean seed had germinated, and observed the growth of the tomato plants. Each student knew which marigold he/she had planted and carefully checked to see how it was doing. They marveled at the new flowers and were concerned about the few flowers that were past prime and withering.
Their interest and concern was delightful to watch.