Garden Fortress (In the Garden 2018 Episode 5)

In In the Garden by WDEV Radio

Original Air Date: June 2, 2018

Garden Fortress: Beasts, Bugs, Blights, Oh My!  Weeds, Hot Days, Cold Nights, Wind, Hail, Yikes!

garden fortress in the garden wdev vermont radio talk

There are so many elements that can in some way spoil your hard work in the garden.  There are beasts, bugs, blights, viruses, bacteria, weeds, soil imbalances and fertilizer needs. You need a sort of garden fortress to protect your plants.


The voracious appetite of a ground hog can level a new crop of green beans in the blink of an eye. Chipmunks will steal you almost ripe strawberries just before you get there, bowl in hand and mouth watering for a treat.  Mice, moles, as well as chipmunks can eat the bottom half of you root veggies.  I have had almost a whole 4’x4’x bed eaten from below. 

Birds are more of a problem with berries than with veggies.  I’ve watched birds fly off with a blueberry in his beak and back in minutes to steal another one.  I remember vividly the first time I saw that the ripe strawberries in the garden where gone to a chipmunk, “I can share, how much can they really eat?” I thought. Well they will eat them all, so I found out.  And come back for more! The birds will steal a few blackberries but the chipmunks don’t seem to like the thorns, so they leave them alone.  I have had chipmunks scale a dwarf apple tree and take a bit of not one be several ripe apples.  At least he could just eat a whole one instead of nibbling on a few apples. Sheeesh!  And once a chipmunk scaled a trellis to eat Sugar Snap Peas. 

Not Just The Small Animals Either

As if the little creatures were not enough of a bother, the last two years a bear has been knocking over out compost bins. This last fall the bear destroyed three bins completely, we had to recycle them.  They cost about $100 each so it was an expensive attack.  The deer generally leave us alone until fall when they like to level out Brussel Sprouts.  One year it was the night before our thanksgiving dinner.  I went out to pick them fresh for our feast to find almost all of the stalks stripped.  The deer will also level the Swiss Chard and the Collards overnight if there is any left.


That’s just the beasts.  The bugs are a whole ‘nother story! The infamous Cabbage Worm and now the Midge attack the Cole crops along with the Cabbage Root Maggot. Young plants are regularly attacked by cutworms, slugs, flea beetles and root maggots.  If you have ever watched a Horned Tomato Worm feasting on your plants, you will agree that they are truly monstrous!  They must be the inspiration for horror movies. 

I had one infestation of aphids the literally ate a bed of Chinese Cabbage I had in a hoop house.  I check in one weekend, everything was fine, the next weekend the plants were brown and dried out.  Yipes!  The weird thing is that I never saw them coming and by the time I noticed the damage they were moving to the next thing.  I will admit that I never have had a plague of locust!  I have had leaf miners attack my spinach, but the plant usually outgrows the problem. Colorado Potato Beetle lay bright orange eggs under leaves of potatoes and eggplants. It took us three years to get the Asparagus Beetle under control in our patch. Japanese beetles really eat hardy on my green beans and my Blueberries.  I manage squash vine borer by growing most of my cucurbits on trellis’ that seems to avoid the problem. 

Blights, Wilts, Fungi, Viruses, Bacteria, Mildews. Oh My!

In our region Late Blight is the most destructive of all of these, wiping out a whole crop of tomatoes or potatoes overnight.  Farmers and Gardeners alike can see their hard work vanish with no hope of recovery.  The most popular garden vegetable, the tomato, is affected by lots of wilts and diseases.  Fortunately Hybrids and NEW breeds have been developed to resist many of those diseases.  Already there are a handful of varieties are being goffered that are Late blight resistance.  Early blight is not as destructive and its cousin it still can cause trouble.  Blossom End Rot certainly is a disappointment.  I find that cracks in a tomato can be troublesome especially with cherry tomatoes.  Powdery Mildew can infect a whole patch of squash plants in a few day once it starts. 

Weeds, Simply Plants Out of Place

The best description of a weed is a plant out of place.  For instance blackberries are a great fruit but if left uncheck they become a pernicious weed.  Dill, claytonia, amaranth are all great garden vegetable but they are also ‘self-seeders’ in that the broadcast their seeds out onto your garden were they become weeds.  Dandelions are a weed unless you like bitter green then they are a gourmet green!  Lambs quarters are a common weed in the garden, often introduced in untreated manure. Some harvest them as a summer green like spinach so it can be a welcomed vegetable, weed or vegetable, you decide!

The best way to combat weeds in your garden is by making permanent pathways between you garden beds.  Secondly by panting using a grid pattern you create a shade mulch that discourage weeds in the beds.  Third is to scratch out small weeds as soon as you see them in your beds or in the pathway.  You can prevent an influx of weeds seeds into the garden is to harvest before things go to seed. Also keep the surrounding areas mowed to hold down the weed seed drifting into your garden. 

Hot Days and Cold Nights

It seems hard to believe but there is a thing as too hot for plants in the summer.  I was growing tomatoes in my little greenhouse one year and was surprised that the fruit set was not very good.  After some research I found out that it was too hot in the greenhouse, it was over 80 degrees and that seemed to make it too hot for the tomatoes.  I just an effort to make sure the I have better air flow in the greenhouse.  Needless to say I had better production out in my garden beds!

In the same vain I was having trouble getting a good crop on eggplant, peppers and basil, all heat loving veggies.  I noticed that the eggplant and peppers would flower but not set fruit. Again a little research I found out that when the nighttime temps go below 50 degrees, it stops the fruit from setting. I solved this problem very simply by using a hoop-house with one single sheet of plastic over the top but open front and back.   The ‘mini-climate’ within the hoop-house was just enough to keep the air temperatures in the hoop warm enough to set the fruit which matured int ripe fruits. 

Wind, Rain, and Hail

Wind is very difficult for tender sets and mature plants as well. Hard rain can satuate garden soil and hail can literally beat down your garden plants. 

Ounce of Prevention = Pound of Cure

With all these elements conspiring to spoil your hard work it is important to prepare your garden by building a perimeter of sorts, a ‘fortress’ to protect your garden.  Like so many things in life, prevention is the best cure.

Listener Questions

Asparagus and Beetles

Q: Ted from Shelburne planted 500 crowns of asparagus and referring to discussions about harvest from a few weeks ago, he firmly believes that the best practice is to cut the spears below the ground, cut everything not selectively for about 6 weeks.  Again he agreed that the asparagus beetle has to be treated aggressively. 

A: There is nothing more convincing that someone who has been there and done it.  We did talk about tilling the top two inches of soil once a year to keep the asparagus beetles down.

Carrots for Horses

Q: Al in Hampton, NY wondered if there was a way to grow carrots year-round so he could feed them to his horses.

A: It isn’t possible in this area to grow them year-round.  Once the days are sunny for less than 10 hours the carrots will stop growth.  They will go into a holding pattern or a kind of a dormancy were the mature carrots are in ‘cold storage’ so to speak.  So the strategy is to plant enough carrots to mature by December so you can continue to harvest until the next years harvest comes in.  There is an excellent book by Elliot Coleman on this subject called Four Season Harvest.


Q: Bill from Worcester wanted to know if you can plant the potatoes that have long stems pre-sprouted.  And should he cut this off before planting.  He prefers Kennebec potatoes.

A: I recommended that he select the seed potatoes that don’t have the long stems, and let the stems green in ambient light before he plants.  Yes, you can cut the long stems off as long as you have other eyes in the planted piece.

Cabbage Worms

Q: Rich from Starksboro wanted to know how to deal with Cabbage Worms.  He was surprised that the perfect soil was so dry underneath.

A: Cabbage Worms are usually treated with a Thuricide from Bonide is a bacteria that is toxic to the worms but not toxic to humans.  Also, the newer bacteria Spinosad is very effective.  You can prevent the moths from laying eggs by using a barrier with a hoop house or a tunnel with the fiberglass cloth Agro-bor and Remey.

Slug Tips

Q: Don from Northfield wanted to share a tip that he used for slugs.  He saves egg shells the bake them until they browned.  Then he crumbled the shells and sprinkles around the effected plants in a 4” circle.

A: Thank you Don for the tip.  Slugs also can be treated with Sluggo, Iron Phosphate in a pellet form, placed around your effected plants. 

That’s it for this week, thanks for listening.

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