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Wow, I've really fallen behind in my garden blogging! I'll start off by saying that gardening has been a pretty decent treatment for two of my worst non-gardener traits: not wanting to ever get up early, and scoleciphobia--an irrational fear of worms/caterpillars. First things first, though.

In short, temperatures have dipped up into the 90s since mid-April, but even this week, there were days where highs still topped off at 71 (blissful days for me). Lows haven't gone below 50s this month, though. Of course, my memory may be failing me here. Only a few drizzly days, but the past few weeks have had some blustery days.

The sun is getting really high in the sky, and part of my containers holding my tomato plants is in the shade from noon on, though most of the plants are still getting shade since I've pushed the containers almost halfway off the patio floor (it's not as precarious as it sounds). In a couple of weeks, though, I may just drag them out and put them on the other side of the raised bed; if I do, I want to try to figure out a way to shade the actual containers so they don't dry out too quickly and don't become easy-bake ovens for my plants' roots. At least they're well-mulched. I wish I could attend the group's Container Gardening for Edibles class, but since I can't, I take solace in the fact that Vynnie's posted his 10 Tips for Successful Container Gardening. Please leave that info up forever, Vynnie!

At the beginning of April, I posted a photo of my first, lonely black prince tomato and wondered why my plant was dropping its blossoms. There's a wealth of information online about tomato blossom drop, and I read about temperature/humidity problems, nutrient problems, and lack of pollination--the latter turned out to be my problem. Giving my tomato stakes a few loving-yet-vigorous shakes in the afternoon has yielded good results, and while I still lose a few blossoms here and there, most stick and set fruit. Oh, giant tomato knuckles of staying-ness, how I adore you (the knuckles, or abscission layer, on my plants really do get big and strong when the tomato fruits decide to stick around). Anyway, all three of my tomato plants have fruit, and they seem pretty happy. I read that you can also give eggplants a slightly more vigorous shake to pollinate the flowers, so I've been doing that, too.



A lot of plants I thought were goners are coming back--the butternut and watermelon I thought were gone after birds (I think) shredded the leaves to get to bugs that would come up after watering. Maybe it was a mixed blessing and those bugs were after my plants? Regardless, while my watermelons are a bit slow in growing, the butternut have come back with a vengeance. These were the only plants that went straight into the ground, so I'm glad they're doing well. The oregano that had dried up to a few stubby twigs is coming back in spades and filling out the pot it had died in. The summer squash did perk up after I upped their watering--all the plants in the garden bed did, in fact. Except the yellow wax beans. I read that beans really, really love water, so I may have made a mistake in planting them at the perimeter of the bed where they'll lose water more quickly. I may try to transplant them to where the broccoli are after I pull them out--I don't think they'll last the summer otherwise, so I won't worry about any transplant shock they may suffer--it's darned if I do, darned if I don't. The peas next to them dried up completely on Thursday, which was very windy and dry, and they took the last of the peas I was hoping to harvest with them--sucked bone dry. I really need to remember to start them earlier in the season, when I'm supposed to--I was late by several months with these! Again, I'm glad for all the available planting calendars.

So far, the worst of the pests I've dealt with have been the cabbage loopers. The first time I found one, on my peas, I ran and grabbed my handy dandy boyfriend and threw him at the caterpillar. Since then, I've only grabbed him to help me once--when I missed one on the catnip, and it got bigger than I was comfortable with, and since THEN, I've disposed of a few that were even bigger. I've learned to spot their damage, and that's been invaluable--I've spotted them in one of the zukes, the peas, the tomatoes, the eggplant, the broccoli (no surprise there), the catnip, the bunching onions, and the leeks. The good thing about the loopers is they stay put--where I find the damage is where I find the worm. I found a different kind of caterpillar in my basil. I was sure there was something huge in the basil because of the damage, but after cutting off all the damaged leaves, all I was able to find was a tiny grey-striped caterpillar. Maybe others have finished their basil meal and gone off to do whatever they do when they stop caterpillaging. Whatever the case may be, the basil has been wonderfully resilient thus far. I think those same caterpillars may have started on my coleus; whatever's eating them has remained hidden since I've started looking for them when I first noticed the damage a few days ago. Maybe they only feed at night. I'm not sure if my phobia is treated well enough for me to go looking for wiggly beasties at night. I may invest in some Bt sooner or later.

I've had some green aphids on my peas, a few on the tomatoes, and a big bunch of black ones on some of my sunflowers, and I treated them all with soapy water. The black aphids seem the most resilient. The beasts. And the sunflowers are so small. =( The sunflowers also seem to be the victims of leaf miners. At least their damage is somewhat artistic--they're like the Jackson Pollocks of the plant-eating insects.

I've also had ant trouble. I can't identify them or even how many colonies I have. One might live in my neighbors yard. They trail though the middle of my watermelon/butternut patch. At first, I thought they were eating up the leaves, but they don't seem interested in the plants--just the moisture after watering. I put some poison down, away from the plants of course, and that seemed to get rid of them, or at least encourage them to go elsewhere, or find a route I've yet to discover. Another colony seems to live under the jasmine. They may be the same ants who found my hummingbird feeder in the lemon tree, and maybe the same ants who are now crawling through the raised bed and containers--never a huge lot that I can see, but it makes me nervous. I read that ants are at least good for aerating the soil, but they're also good for farming aphids. I'll keep an eye out and see what they're up to every day, and keep researching ways to handle them if I need to when the time comes. Worst case scenario, they start eating the things that I want to eat, too. I do find some in various edibles flowers sometimes.

Speaking of pests in flowers, I sometimes see tiny, long, thin crawly things in my zucchini flowers in the mornings when the flowers are open. It makes me wonder if my zukes have some sort of lice. I spritzed the flowers with soapy water, and that at least stunned the bugs to stop moving for long enough to make me thing they're dead before I run off to work (because yes, even though I've always been prone to sleep in until I absolutely have to get up, I get up 20 minutes early to spend time with the plants--a Herculean effort, getting myself out of bed like that, but worth it). I haven't freaked out too much about these zucchini lice because the flowers have thus far been male and not the fruit-bearing female blossoms, but the plants are starting to launch those into the world now, and I'll be much more protective of them. I'm already reading up on how to pollinate them when the time comes--so far, I've learned to use at least two different male flowers from two different plants. Fingers crosssed--I love my summer squash!


Crawling pests aside, I've finally also been invaded by the Bermuda grass. I mentioned it in my last blog post and had a good discussion about it with Anita. It took the grass just over three weeks to find its way into my raised bed, and it's been persistent ever since. Does this stuff really grown an inch a day, the way it seems to me? It was one of my main reasons to build the bed. One of the more prominent things on my mind has been the rest of the back lawn. I'm seriously considering solarizing it. Most of the personal stories I've read say that people just cover their lawns in plastic, usually black but sometimes clear, and leave it on all summer. Another source I read said to basically steam/solarize the grass to death: water the grass, then cover it for two weeks. After that, remove the plastic, water it again, and recover. I wish I'd bookmarked that page. I want to try solarizing this month around my raised bed, but I'm wary of what affect having plastic down around my bed will have on the bed itself. At worst, it will raise the temperature around the bed--bad for the plants/roots and for water retention. And of course, now I feel sheepish because there's probably a whole network of Bermuda under and in the bed that will remain safe from the solarizing. All I know is that two layers of weed barrier, cardboard, and newspaper, and then a foot of soil/mulch didn't keep the grass down. It's also invaded the landscaping gravel in my front yard, and that's been a wicked pain in the rear. I use needle nose pliers in the bed and gravel to pull the stuff up, preferably after watering, and it seems to be the best at getting more of the grass out then any other method. I don't think I can solarize gravel . . .

I know there are dozens of other things I wanted to write about, but I've forgotten them over the past month. This was the gist of it, though.

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Comment by Julie Elefante on May 2, 2010 at 1:43pm
Upon further research, I think the grass in my gravel is actually nutsedge, but I'll have to move the gravel over and go digging to make sure. If it is nutsedge . . . rats. Rats.

I forgot to give a shout out to a couple of the beneficial insects I've seen around--yellowjackets, who've been hunting buggies around the raised bed, and lacewings, who've been laying eggs here and there.

I also failed to mention our woodpecker who's been turning our date palm into Swiss cheese. I think some other loud, chatty birds have been nesting in the holes, or at least hanging out in them, and they definitely create a din over breakfast (sunrise breakfast, no less). I also think they've been, er, dropping bombs on my car and on the back patio, and even part of the house's back wall. I've seen date palms with their fruit bagged, so I have to look into that--when, why, and who might be able to do it for us. The woodpecker seems to have moved on, though--if it was trying to drill out some chow, it's either gotten its fill or just given up. It had been drilling other palms in the neighborhood, too. Haven't seen or heard him in a couple of weeks.

I also forgot to mention my compost bin--Hun picked up one of the recycled City of Phoenix recycle bins from Waste Management, and we've been working on filling it. I guess this weekend marks it's third week. Volume seems to be decreasing steadily, which I read was a good sign, and I plan to turn it sometime this week (this is daunting to me, as if I'll end up buried under the pile, which is really is only less than a dozen cubic feet). I need to figure out a turning tool--the square-edged shovel won't jab in there well enough, so I may invest in a pitchfork. And then there are the bugs. I cover new kitchen waste with soil, but the thing is still filled with fruit flies. I think I was just too slow in catching them. I'm going to build a trap or two so I'm at least not swarmed every time I open the composter's lid.

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