Monday, April 4, 2011

What I'm Up Against

The Gardens at Ben Rush
On Saturday I visited the garden site where I will be working this year.  It is located inside Benjamin Rush State Park. The garden committee was there and we did a walk through, picking up wooden stakes and other trash before the tracker comes to plow.  They told me that April 16 will be the start date for the gardens. This garden area is huge, each plot is 30' x 30' and there are over 300 plots, that's about 11 acres of land.  I chatted with the garden secretary and she clued me into what to expect.  

Deer and Potato Beetles are the biggest animal pests, but humans are the worst.

I was warned never to work at the garden alone.  The area is surrounded by forest, but this is a small state park, just on the edge of city limits.  There are homeless people and teenagers who hang out in the park, mostly they steal food, usually the watermelons and pumpkins, but they are also known for doing random damage.  There are also dog owners who bring their pets there for grooming, and leave the mess. Several murders have happened within the park, though they were drug related and had nothing to do with the gardens.  Great, some excitement for my dollar! 

So, a little research is in order to prepair myself. Aside from having pepper spray to deter pesky humans, what can I do about the four and six-legged creatures?

Potato Beetles, the biggest insect pest.  There are many other insect pests, but from the moans and groans that this beetle summoned, I envisioned hours and hours of picking them off of crops. 

Potato beetle
The Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata), also known as the Colorado beetle, the ten-striped spearman, the ten-lined potato beetle or the potato bug. It is approximately 0.4 inch long, with a bright yellow/orange body and five bold brown stripes along the length of each of its elytra (the hard sheath covering the back that protects the wings).  Colorado beetles are a serious pest of potatoes. They may also cause significant damage to tomatoes and eggplants. Both adults and larvae feed on foliage and may skeletonize the crop.

Potato beetle larvae
Insecticides are currently the main method of beetle control on commercial farms. However, many chemicals are often unsuccessful when used against this pest because of the beetle's ability to rapidly develop insecticide resistance.  I am not allowed to use chemicals at this garden and I wouldn't want to anyway.  So, how does one combat the problem without spending hours picking off beetles?  One way is to look for it's natural enemy.

Lebia eating potato beetle eggs.
 A ground beetle, Lebia grandis is a predator of the eggs and larvae of the potato beetle and its larvae are parasitoids of it's pupae.  Adult Lebia grandis ground beetles overwinter in soil in or near potato fields. In the spring Colorado potato beetles emerge from hibernation. By the time Lebia grandis beetles emerge a few weeks later, there are eggs and young larvae of their prey for them to eat and suitable pupae will soon be available for their larvae to attack.

Ladybug eating potato beetle eggs.
Good ladybud!
 Pink-spotted Lady Beetle, Coleomegilla maculata, both adults and larvae, are well-known primarily as predators of aphids (plant lice), but they also prey on many other pests such as soft-scale insects, mealybugs, spider mites and eggs of the Colorado Potato Beetle and European Corn Borer.   Ladybugs, also called lady beetles or ladybird beetles, are actually beetles in the Coleoptera family Coccinellidae. As insects go, they are a very beneficial group, being natural enemies of many insects, especially aphids and other critters that damage plants by feeding on their sap.
Bambi?  Or sinsiter garden saboteur?
Deer, probably the most annoying.  "They ate the tops of the tomato plants last year, and they didn't grow well after that." said a fellow gardener on Saturday.  And they will eat more than that: flowers, herbs, veggies, you name it.  Methods for keeping deer out of your garden have been explored for years, all you need to do is look online for some possible solutions. 

From using fishing line to the long established scarecrow, lots of folks have talked about what does and does not work in the prevention of deer raids on your favorite garden produce. 

I found some good articles on how to prevent deer and both have some interesting solutions to keeping them and other pests off of your valuable plants.  I'm wondering, thou, if I manage to get some monkshood, if the deer would end up poisoning themselves? Probably not.

Apparently the Ben Rush State Park community gardens are one of the largest in the world.  Wow, who knew?  The park is undeveloped, but next year the gardens will be closed and the city is going to "fix up" the park, making it more accessable for walkers and bikers. There will also be a few parking areas put in near the gardens, right now we just park along side the road.  The garden will get a much deserved rest after 40 years, with a good cover crop to refresh the soil.  Looks like I'll have to get a different space for gardening next year. 

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