The edible garden tour arranged by Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener of TempleIsrael took us to several gardens within walking distance of my house. The first garden we visited is a very pretty small garden created by Lisa Ranghelli and Bram Moreinis. This was their first garden and they showed their wisdom by saying they thought it best to start small. We admired the design, the assortment of vegetables and the exclamation points of marigolds. But we also noticed a summer squash plant that had yellowing and drooping foliage. How could a single plant in a well tended garden droop for lack of water? Well, of course, the problem was not a lack of water. Nancee Bershof, an experienced gardener, took one look at the plant and then named the problem – the presence of squash borers.
Never having any experience with squash borers I was as surprised as anyone. (It was probably too cold up in Heath.) The plant was pulled out and passed around enabling us all to examine the damage so that we would recognize the problem in our own gardens.
When I got home that evening I did recognize the problem in my own edible garden. I am only growing zucchini and yellow summer squash, so I could not see that there was anything to do but pull out the affected plants. However, if you plant butternut, or other squash growing on a vine, you can slit the stem and try to pull out the borer. If you are successful, you can then bury a section of the vine and it can make new roots and continue growing.
Prevention is the best solution to vine borers. Right after planting seeds, cover the site with a floating row cover to protect the plants as they emerge from the squash borer moth. You can also plant radish seeds around each squash hill because they will repel borers and squash bugs.
When the summer squash plants have established stems you can wrap two inches of stem with aluminum foil to protect them, and redo that foil wrapping every week or so, as the plant grows. The foil must touch the soil. Or you can make use of one of the safest organic pesticides, Bacillus thuringiensis often referred to as simply BT. You can begin a weekly regime of spraying with Btk, Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki that can specifically control caterpillar pests like cabbage moths and vine borers.
Mary Chicoine and Glen Ayers care for another edible garden, a veritable urban homestead amazing in its size and variety. There were fruit trees, a strawberry bed, cucumber trellises and countless vegetables. Well staked tomatoes grew in one area and we were told that the staking system was designed to keep the tomato foliage up off the ground to help prevent tomato blights.
Fortunately we did not see any tomato blights on our tour, but recently this has been a threat to our vegetable gardens and a disaster for farms. Tomato blights are caused by wind borne fungi spores. The spores take hold of tomato foliage when it is wet for several hours. There are several ways to reduce the threat. Plant the tomatoes in a way that allows good air circulation and keeps the plants off the ground. Use drip irrigation or at least water early in the day so foliage will dry quickly. Clean up all diseased plants and foliage and remove them. It is best not to compost affected plants, and always be sure to rotate crops from year to year.
Prevention is best, but if blight is caught very early it might be possible to attack the problem with fungicides like copper spray, oil based fungicides like Neem, or Actinovate a bacterial fungicide.
Happily, there are a number of blight resistant tomato varieties from Jasper Hybrid cherry tomato, Brandywine, Yellow Pear, Tigrella and Roma, among others.
It was inspiring to visit these edible gardens and see how much food can be grown on a town lot. I must also say that the riotously growing pollinator plants in the gardens, coneflowers, bee balm, rudbeckia, zinnias and others added color and beauty. As I take stock of my edible garden this fall I am trying to think of ways I might add a few more edibles than I have so far.
Between the Rows August 19, 2017