Strawberries, Pests, and a Secret Weapon

June 2018

When someone brings up early summer or says “it’s June”, my mind immediately goes to strawberries. What an incredible berry. I don’t know about you, but the flavorful bite that these red berries pack is enough to make even a child smile. In fact a couple of friends of ours have a child who recently crushed a tupperware container of them like Popeye eating spinach with extreme delight. I too get excited for this time of the year and the pounds of berries to come.

If you’ve ever eaten a fresh ripe strawberry, you know it is hard to go back to store bought ones. June 6th seems to be the time that mine begin to ripen and for the next four to six weeks they should flow in non stop.

With the warmer weather of summer, more and more plants are making it to the harvest basket. One plant that I try to always keep going, no matter what month or season, is lettuce. It’s pretty simple to throw together a salad for lunch when you have fresh lettuce leaves available at all times. The growth of this plant with the added heat and rain is pretty impressive. If you aren’t careful and forget to pick them often, they may grow so fast that they get away from you and become one of those ferns from a Jurassic Park movie. For those of you that do not have a garden, but are thinking of starting something small, lettuce is definitely one of the easiest to work with.

Taking a look at the garden as a whole, it really starts to fill out at this time of the year. Not quite as much as in July, but it is no longer a barren wasteland with more brown leaves and dirt than green plants.

Plants like peas, cucumbers, zucchini, and raspberries are climbing and flowering. They bloom daily in hopes that some insect or bee will come along and lend it some help pollinating.

And for those of you that have been following along with my previous pepper posts, because of the January start of these plants, I am nearing my first cropping of peppers already. By building up their strength through winter and spring, they are ready to withstand the weight of peppers much earlier than had I started them in April or May.

Although everything seems to be going perfect, those gardeners out there know that this is never the case. Every year there is some new lesson to learn, and some new battle to be fought. This year I have run into a new challenge that I’ve never experienced before.

About a month ago I began noticing some issues with the leaves on my beats and swiss chard plants. The leaves looked shriveled and soggy, as if they had experienced some sun scald. In fact, at the time, this is what I wrote the problem off as. Four weeks later and the leaves have continued to get worse to the point that I needed to investigate. Looking closer at the leaves, the browning looked like tunnels from one side of the leaf, zig-zagging down to another.

After running my hands over them, i would occasionally feel a bulge within the leaves and would notice a white larva thing on my finger tips. It moved!

After further investigation I found out that these were called leaf miners. These larva like guys would burrow in between the fibers of the leaves and eat there way around, killing the infected leaves. They eventually turn into some kind of fly, but until they do, they wreak havoc.

Surveying the remaining leaves, I feel I have let this go to far as there are far more infected leaves than good ones. It may be that I will need to start my beets over this year…

This makes me think, “how can a farmer afford to grow a single crop when so many things are out to kill it”?

Every year there are new enemies and battles to be fought. Cabbage worms, asparagus beetles, leaf miners, and Japanese beetles to name a few of the most recent ones. What can a lowly gardener do to get ahead? Planting flowers and plants that bring beneficial insects is one thing.

But what if they never come? I can not take that risk. So I’ve hired soldiers of my own. Four women have stepped up to the plate to help with all these insects. Not actual women - chickens.

We’ve decided to rent chickens for the year, and let me tell you they are a huge help so far. My wife calls them the Golden Girls. They gladly eat the cabbage worms and other bugs I throw in by them. This is honestly the first time I’ve ever given an insect to a girl and had them like me all the more for it. They also love to eat weeds as well. No longer do I need to haul weeds back to the compost when they will do the work for me. They also add their own fertilizer and break down big chunks of compost with their feet too.

In a way my strategy now is to fight nature with nature. And until the beneficial guys show up, these girls will happily do the work that used to take up a good chunk of my time. Who knows, eventually we should even get eggs. Now that is a deal in my book!

About the Author

Geoff has been growing plants and vegetables consistently for the last 6 years and actively experiments with, and writes about, all aspects of gardening.

1 Comment

  1. Geoff, Your garden looks GREAT, and I love the Golden Girls.

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