Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bugs and Other Urchins

This week at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden was notable for our interactions with ants, worms, bugs, mildew and other urchins.  There was also a water fight and music.


To start with, for the first time ever, a couple of plants were eaten almost to oblivion by tomato hornworms.  I had initially attributed the damage to vandalism, but then noticed overnight damage to the tomato plant next to my patio.  Upon closer examination, I found a five-inch caterpillar (that looks remarkably like the hookah-smoking caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland) resting upside down on a stem (where it had been feasting on the one and only tomato on that plant).  I’ve managed to avoid this problem in the past because I typically plant basil plants between tomatoes (and this deters these pests).   Not this year.   I ran to my garage to find a spray that had been there since I bought the house in 1998.  It did nothing.  I generously sprinkled sevin.  That provoked a reaction, but all it did was encourage the caterpillar to leave the plant and start crawling to the fence.   So, I grabbed a couple tablespoons of Neem oil and dishwashing soap, mixed it with 32 ounces of water in a spray bottle and attacked the caterpillar.  It suffered horribly before ultimately imploding and melting. (Notice the frass on the picture above on the leaf just below the caterpillar.  This is often how you can best find them because their coloring allows them to blend into the plant).

I took my spray bottle to the SACG and hunted caterpillar, but only found one (and it was not the giant tomato hornworm).  I killed it anyway because it was feasting on fennel.  I then turned to hunting squash bugs and their eggs.  Sabrina and I had found quite a few on Friday – particularly in the boys’ plot.  There were several mating couples (a sight you cannot un-see no matter how much you try) that we squashed.  Many leaves were torn off because of the number and central location of seeds which were laid.  I’ve attached a picture with five clusters of eggs.  (Can you find them all?)   Most leaves only have one cluster that you can tear off without killing or removing the entire leaf.  We may have to start pulling all of the summer squash plants out, but we’re trying to save the winter squash plants as long as we can.  When Cassie came on Saturday, we found many squash bug eggs in her plot on her spaghetti and other winter squash plants.  I found a few more egg clusters on the zucchini leaves in my plot along with about five adults.  My neem oil concoction came in very handy, then, because it kills adults and nymphs.  Sabrina has even found egg clusters on her corn stalks – those pesky buggers.

On Thursday, I finally began the process of mulching our flower beds.  I picked up one bag of the mulch that had become an ants’ nest.  I didn’t notice the ant attack until there were hundreds all over my legs, into my socks and up into my shorts.   Then, almost in unison, they began biting me all over my legs and feet.  I really began dancing then and had to squash them where they were.  Of course, that’s when Stoddart neighbor and former SACG gardener, Jeannie, decided to stop by.    I’m trying to maintain my dignity while taking off my shoes, shaking my socks, squashing and slapping ants and examining the cuffs on my shorts.  Quite a picture.  She advised me to not wear those clothes back into my house.  I didn’t.   However, after chatting with her about some vandalism on her car and neighborhood kids, I continued mulching until sundown.   There are welts all over my legs (particularly my upper thigh), so I won’t be wearing shorts again for a while.

On Wednesday morning, I walked over to the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry to donate some zucchini and delicatta squash.  While there, I ran into Marge and the Shady Lane Garden leader (near Hamilton and Livingston).  Marge liberated my zucchini to make zucchini bread for their open house on Saturday.  She showed me their new sprinkler system and also gave me children’s books to take back to the SACG.  She gets books donated to her every week by the Christ the King church members.  
Marge also told me about her bane this year: squirrels.  They’ve eaten half of her tomatoes and all of her peaches.  (I share her pain; the neighborhood kids ate all of our peaches before they even ripened.  Squirrels also eat about half of the tomatoes in my backyard).  Of course, we have no squirrels at the SACG, so I suggested that she start trapping them.  That did not seem to appeal to her.   I took the other gardener back to my house for tomato, basil and sweet potato seedlings and then over to the SACG for some vegetable seeds.  He admired our raspberry hedge and I encouraged him to return to dig up some seedlings that are growing around where our fence used to be.  The bane of his garden is deer.

On Wednesday night, a few of us enjoyed a wonderful, free concert by ProMusica at Franklin Park Conservatory.   There had been a threat of rain, but we dodged it.  We sat immediately to the left of the orchestra.   The Conservatory is beautifully lit up at night with different colors.  In this picture, it was blue.   There is another free concert this Wednesday as well.

On Thursday, we held the second annual water shoot-out at the GC Corral.  Last year, former neighbor and gardener, Tevon, had attacked me with his high-powered water gun.  Little did he know that I own such a gun myself.  (I am, after all, the fun aunt).  I then defended myself adequately for the rest of the summer against similar sneak attacks.  So, earlier this week, Micayla challenged me to a water duel; I demurred until Thursday.  All of the kids were told to bring their own guns.  However, kids today apparently do not own water guns, which I think is un-American.   It’s a rite of passage to run around your own neighborhood avoiding water attacks from your friends and enemies.  Luckily, I had three “antique” water guns (with no pumping capacity) that I could loan.  Cathy, Hope and Ben came and inflicted much wet damage with spray bottles.  A new neighbor grandmother came by with a regular water bottle to just pour on the kids.  Everyone got wet, unless you were unarmed and called out “sanctuary.”  After we ran out of water and returned to Garden, a neighbor supplied a few kids with some water balloons, but they didn’t last long.  (I wish there had been more pictures of the battle, but I cannot take pictures while I'm shooting or running. And, I had forgotten to switch my camera exposure from night (when I was at the ProMusica Concert on Wednesday) to day.  The rest of the pictures are streaked with sunlight).

The kids have again almost cleaned me out of books.  I had to start rationing them and reminding them to return the books they already have before taking more.  It’s time for me to restock from the Urban Connections basement library.

The boys’ plot has become an interesting display of politics.  Four boys initially helped plant, but only DeShaun has somewhat regularly tended it.   He’s been sharing his produce with other kids.  Now, a few of the original boys have returned and want to share in the harvest.  DeShaun is not happy about this and I cannot blame him.   I’m sympathetic to DeShaun on this, but for this week, I let the other boys have a few tomatoes and one zucchini.  I’m not sure that this will continue since they still aren’t helping with the work . . .

Sabrina has continued her weed-pulling frenzy.  She came to the Garden almost daily and moved from the alley to the west fence.  She’s been digging out the roots of the pervasive morning glory weeds, while leaving raspberry seedlings.  Zephyr is not quite as excited to spend his time this way.  She keeps him entertained by announcing the discovery of the occasional centipede and letting Zephyr scare them away (to protect his mother) by screaming at them.

Because it was supposed to rain AGAIN on Saturday morning, I conducted our food pantry harvest on Friday, but finished too late to take it to LSS.  So, SVDP got it again.  We had 15 pounds of tomatoes, so that should make up for what the squirrels ate this week at the SVDP.  As they do at the LSS pantry, the clients waiting in line got excited when they saw the bags of collards and kale I brought. Two different Stoddart neighbors stopped by yesterday asking for greens, too.

Answer: 5 Clusters of Squash Bug Eggs Are Highlighted
Yesterday, I focused on harvesting beans and pruning strawberries.  Then, lo and behold, Rayna stopped by.  We haven’t seen her since opening day because she’s been busy getting her masters in special education.  However, she completed her last final exam on Friday and hopes to spend more time at the Garden on weekends. She misses having fresh food and wants her old plot back next year.  Of course, I gave her a work assignment:  planting flowers in our flower beds.  Lowe’s had large containers of black-eyed susans and coreopsis on sale for $3/each.

The rest of my weekend is being spent making and canning pasta sauces and pickles.  I only have 2 dozen of mason jars left and will have to buy more.  I already ran out of lids last week and had to stop at three places before finding them.  Newsflash:  Lowe’s is no longer selling mason jar supplies.  Neither is the Kroger’s on East Main Street.  I found an adequate supply at the Broad Street Kroger’s and imagine that Wal-Mart still has some, too.
Finally, we continue to struggle with our melon harvest.  We found a nice melon in Hope’s plot and I recommended picking it because the nearby tendrils were brown (and it looked brown on the outside).   However, it was not ripe.  Cassie had already picked two of hers before I could stop her yesterday.  I’m still waiting on the verdict.   I don’t even grow them because I never seem to get the timing right.

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