Now that it's the second half of July, I wanted to share my progress with all of you senior gardeners out there. If you are growing even a little of your food, you are a green senior in an important respect.
In earlier posts I reported on my backyard urban vegetable garden and on our clash with Japanese beetles--this being only the second year we've ever had them. The photo above shows about a third of the garden, raspberries to the left and green beans beginning at the right. Most of the middle is tomatoes. As hoped, the marigold seeds I planted in front of the tomatoes are now plants able to peek through the chicken wire and get enough sun to bloom. The taller zinnias are happy in the back row.
There are benefits to having a climate with more rain. (Climate models predict more rainfall for my area in the next decades, followed by...lets not go there today. ) I read today that Iowa farmers are worried about the amount of rain this year, which floods areas of the fields, killing the corn. It is a more serious problem than the potential damage from wind and hail that comes along with more thundershowers. But so far, my garden is flourishing. Our neighbor's lovely linden tree did not make it through the last storm, with wind gusts over 70 mph. See below.
I've been saved from the labor of watering the garden from the garden hose, which gives me time to keep picking what's ready. I think frequent harvesting keeps the plants producing longer, maximizes yield, and minimizes damage from insects or mold. The newspaper mulch keeps mud from splattering on ripening fruit and is nice to walk on.
The edible pea pod plants and green beans are still blooming! The peas are especially surprising given the heat we've been having--high 80's and some days in the 90's. That's tomato weather, not pea weather. My daughter's broccoli, another cool season plant, is going great as well.
We've grown bush green beans many times before at different places we've lived, but I never noticed how they regulate their environment by turning their leaves. Mornings and evenings the leaves are facing the sun. In the heat of mid-day, the leaves are held vertically. That's when it is easiest to see the beans!
Our red raspberry plants produce two harvests--the first one is done, from the second year canes. The first year canes are setting fruit now. However, due to a few canes not keeping time with their age-mates, we've had berries to eat every day during the gap. I'm happy to see a few extra bumble bees and wasps helping out with the pollination of the second crop.
We continue to learn more about the habits of Japanese beetles. Our garden is largely unscathed, with just a few spotty areas of heavy damage. However, our neighbors have complained mightily. Most of them have ornamental plants that they don't watch each day and don't even know what insect has eaten their plant into skeletons. They are not doing anything to control them, and I'm just as glad they aren't using massive amounts of pesticides. I show them my jar of beetles. About once a week we dump out the dead beetles and put fresh rubbing alcohol in the bottom.
Several times a day we make the rounds with the jar, looking for Japanese beetles. We may find a couple, or half a dozen or more. It's not so much a chore because we like being outside and it's just steps out the back door.
However, looking over our back fence, we can see dozens of beetles swarming above the ornamental fruit trees in the neighbor's back yard. The upper leaves of those trees must be riddled, but probably trees of that size can survive that sort of attack.
We regret we did not check our own new fruit trees until recently. The plum tree has had significant damage.
So here's the scoop on Japanese beetles: if you regularly pick them off of plants, you can prevent a horde from showing up the next day. This seems true even for plants close by, even in the same yard. Get them off before they ring the dinner bell for their brethren, and that plant is likely to be spared major damage. Even though they prefer the raspberries, they will substitute another plant that they don't keep getting removed from. Such was the plight of the plum tree and a few of the zinnias.
The beetles have two escape maneuvers when they are disturbed. One is to fly off quickly in a sideways direction. The other is to let go and fall to the ground, where they disappear in a second. Those are the only defenses they have, other than there being nothing that wants to eat them here.
With the jar, it is best to hold the jar underneath the vegetation they are sitting on, and come down from above with the lid. In the heat of mid-day they are more likely to use the flight strategy, so I just grab them fast, firmly hang onto them, open the jar with the other hand and plop them in. Often one gets several at a time.
So, fellow urban gardeners, do not despair that catching Japanese beetles will get you nowhere. It will protect the plants from which you remove them while they ravage other things nearby... Fortunately most plants like trees can withstand this periodic leaf damage, and many other plants are just too far down on their preference list to be bothered. I've never seen them alight on the vast majority of plants in my yard, although they COULD eat them if need be.
It's time for me to make salad...good eating to all of you!