Monday, June 30, 2014

Yard Sale!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Release A Butterfly!

Sponsor Your Own Butterfly To Release!

Saturday, August 2nd is Ashcombe's annual 
"Beauty of Butterflies," featuring all things related to butterflies.  Our butterfly release is so popular that many participants like to sponsor their own butterfly to release on that day.  We are offering our customers the opportunity to purchase a butterfly for $10.00 per Monarch Butterfly.  These butterflies will be shipped directly to Ashcombe 
and will be reserved in the names of all paid sponsors.  On August 2nd, you may pick up your butterfly and release it here or take it home to enjoy its beauty in your own backyard.  
Deadline for reserving your butterfly is July 15th.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Potato Beetles

Potato Beetles
The Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata, is a major potato pest throughout North America. It was first recognized as a potato pest in 1859 in Colorado when the beetle switched from its normal host, buffalo bur, a relative of potato, to cultivated potatoes brought into the region by early settlers. Once beetles began feeding and reproducing on cultivated potatoes, they were able to migrate eastward feeding on potatoes grown on farms and in gardens throughout the Great Plains and Ohio River valley. On average, the Colorado potato beetle expanded its range eastward approximately 85 miles per year, reaching the East Coast by 1874.

Adult Colorado potato beetles are oval in shape and 3/8 inch long. They have a yellow-orange prothorax (the area behind the head) and yellowish white wing covers (elytra) with 10 narrow black stripes. Females lay clusters of bright yellowish orange oval eggs on the underside of leaves. When young larvae first hatch, they are brick red with black heads. Older larvae are pink to salmon colored with black heads. All larvae have two rows of dark spots on each side of their bodies.

Life cycle
Colorado potato beetle adults overwinter in potato fields, field margins, windbreaks, and gardens. They become active in the spring at about the same time potatoes emerge (sometime in May). Adults feed for a short time in the spring, and then begin to mate and lay clusters of 10-30 eggs on the undersides of leaves. Each female can lay up to 350 eggs during her adult life which can last several weeks.

Eggs begin to hatch within 2 weeks, depending upon temperatures. Larvae remain aggregated (in groups) near the egg mass when young but begin to move throughout the plant as they eat the leaves. Larvae can complete development in as little as 10 days if average temperatures are in the mid 80s F while it will take over a month if temperatures average near 60°F. The fourth instar larvae drop from the plant, burrow into the soil and pupate. In southern and central Minnesota there is generally a second generation. By midsummer, all stages of Colorado potato beetles, eggs, larvae and adults can be present in a potato field.

Both larvae and adults feed on the foliage of potatoes and, if left untreated, can completely defoliate plants. In addition to potato, they may also feed on eggplant, tomato, pepper, and other plants in the nightshade family (Solanaceae). Old larvae (i.e. the last or 4th larval instar) are responsible for as much as 75% of feeding damage. Potatoes can usually tolerate substantial defoliation, up to 30%, when they are in the vegetative stage, but they are much more sensitive to the effects of defoliation when tubers are beginning to bulk and then can only tolerate about 10% defoliation. Tuber bulking begins soon after flowering, making this time critical for beetle management.

Treatment of Colorado potato beetles in home gardens can be challenging, but not an impossible task. Insecticides available to home gardeners are largely ineffective because of widespread insecticide resistance of the Colorado potato beetle. However, using a combination of pest management tactics helps reduce Colorado potato beetle numbers.

If potatoes are not available when Colorado potato beetles first emerge in the spring, they will seek out alternate hosts, such as nightshade and ground cherry. Clean up these weeds near your garden to remove them as a possible food source.

Planting an early maturing variety will allow you to escape much of the damage caused by adults emerging in midsummer. Check seed catalogs for varieties that mature in less than 80 days. Yields on early maturing varieties are not as large, and often these varieties do not store as well.

Crop rotation is largely ineffective because the Colorado potato beetle can fly long distances when temperatures exceed 70°F. Growing potatoes only every other year may help reduce beetle populations if no potatoes are being grown within a radius of ¼ to ½ mile away and temperatures are not excessively warm.

Handpicking, especially in small gardens, can be effective. Drop adults and larvae in a pail filled with soapy water. Also remove or crush the yellowish orange eggs on the underside of leaves. New adult beetles can fly into gardens so be sure to check your potatoes regularly. Handpicking may be less practical in larger gardens.

There are few natural enemies of the Colorado potato beetle. Stink bugs and lady beetles will prey upon Colorado potato beetle eggs, and the fungus Beauveria bassiana will kill both larvae and adults. However, natural enemies will have little impact on overall Colorado potato beetle numbers. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

All About Peppers

Peppers are members of the Solanaceae family and were introduced to the world when Columbus brought them back to Europe from native Indian gardens in the Caribbean.  Peppers may be sweet or hot.  Most gardeners grow sweet green or bell peppers and many do not realize that immature green or purple peppers will mature to red, yellow and gold!  If left to ripen longer, gardeners will discover not only this dramatic color change, but a dramatic change in taste from sour or bitter to sweet and mild as well.  Hot or chili peppers are a diverse group.  There are many types of chilies and they vary widely in their ‘hotness.’  Purchase and label hot varieties in your garden well to avoid surprises to your taste buds later!  In general hot peppers need higher temperatures than sweet peppers to produce a good crop, and often require a longer growing season.

GROWING:  Peppers grow best in light, organic, well-drained soil that is not overly rich and has a pH of 6-7.  They should be planted in full sun in soil where tomatoes, eggplant or other peppers have not been planted within the previous two years (prevents soil bourne diseases).  Peppers may be started from seeds or set out as starter plants after the frost-free date (May 15th in Zone 6).  Seeds should be started early to mid-March in our area, for they need 8-10 weeks to grow into a good sized transplant.  When transplanting pepper plants, place them 18-24” apart in rows spaced 2-3 feet apart.  Peppers need warm soil and warm nigh time temperatures of at least 55°F, so it doesn’t pay to set them out too early in the season for they won’ grow and may turn yellow and be permanently stunted.  Maintain even soil moisture for your plants throughout the season to avoid blossom-end rot and other problems.  Mulch, but not until the soil is thoroughly warmed!  When the first blossoms appear, give plants a light application of fertilizer.  Water it in well.  Too much nitrogen will produce lush growth and few peppers, but an application of fish emulsion or compost tea (water through which decayed organic matter has settled) when the plants are in flower is beneficial.  Magnesium is critical.  For magnesium-poor soil, scatter one teaspoon epsom salts around the base of each plant.

HARVESTING:  Sweet peppers can be harvested at any time after they reach full size, whether green, red or “breaking” (part green and part red).  As noted, flavor changes as peppers mature.  Immature green peppers have a crunchy, mildly tangy flavor.  Mature peppers are much sweeter and have more vitamins, but also have a short shelf life.  In areas with long growing seasons, a gardener can allow peppers to ripen fully before harvest and still expect a second crop.  Where the growing season is short, gardeners may only be able to harvest one crop of fully matured peppers.  Hot peppers get “hotter” as fruit matures, for the heat in these fruits comes from developing seeds.  Once seeds have formed, most hot peppers achieve their full  quota of  fiery flavor.

When harvesting any pepper, cut the fruit from the plant using a sharp knife or pruning shears.  Be sure to leave a small part of the stem attached to each fruit.

To prepare sweet or bell peppers, remove the stem, pith and seeds.  Slice and chop to use fresh, or freeze some for later use.  When preparing hot chili peppers for use, protect your skin with rubber gloves and don’t get oils from chilies in your eyes.  Remove stems, seeds and  pith under running water.  To peel, blister chili peppers under a broiler, then allow them to steam and cool inside a brown paper bag that is twisted close.  Peel, then dice chilies and store in vinegar for future use in cooking, salads and salsas.

All peppers can be dried for winter use.  Dry in a microwave or on drying racks or air dry and string until needed.  Cut sweet or bell peppers into 3/8 inch wide slices for drying.  Dry chilies whole.

~ Sunscald:  Whitish, sunken patches on fruit.  Plant more closely, keep watered, grow varieties with lush foliage, avoid over pruning.

~ Blossom Drop:  Avoid nighttime temperatures below 55°F.  Extended rainy or cool periods, or excessive daytime heat causes temporary blossom drop that will correct itself when weather returns to normal.

~ Blossom End Rot:  Black, dry or sunken patches on fruit.  Maintain even soil moisture with mulch and regular watering, avoid soil calcium deficiency with lime as needed, avoid high nitrogen fertilizer, improve soil drainage with organic matter.

~  Fruit or Foliage Deformities:  Avoid damage from herbicides applied nearby.

~  Wilting:  Avoid soil that is too dry or water logged.

~  Holes in Ripening Fruit:  Protect plants from birds, insects or rodents.

Monday, June 2, 2014

It's Tomato Time!

Tomatoes rank among the easiest and richest food.  Pot or tub grown patio and cherry tomatoes provide fresh salad making.  A half dozen plants in the garden will do for a small family.  Using plastic cover sheets, the bearing season can be extended 6-weeks in the open garden to early November.
BEST LOCATION - All day sun, good air circulation and soil drainage are a must; use a fast warming sandy loam soil if possible.  All soils are suitable when enriched with organic matter.  To help offset disease, plant in a different part of the garden each year and destroy plants when finished.  Do not use these in compost or allow to remain on the ground to decay.  For pots use only fresh soil mix.

SPACING - Allow 18 to 36 inches between plants in the row, with rows from 3 to 5 feet apart.  If plants are to be trained to stakes, set stakes first; these must be firm in soil and stand 6 feet.  Gardeners with limited space can use tomato towers.  Least work is by allowing plants to bush or sprawl out at will.

PLANTING TIME - Planting can usually begin by mid-May, after the last frost.  If plants get too tall or leggy from early started seedlings, lay on side in a shallow trench and cover all but the top 3 or 4 inches with soil.  Roots form readily all along the stem.  Water with a starter solution such as "upstart" by Ortho.  Shade plants for a few days.  Plastic covers are not usually needed after June first.

SUMMER CARE - Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers which cause excessive foliage growth.  Tomatoes need some pruning anyway, whether staked or not.  In stake training, it may be best to keep only one stem; tie to stake at ten-in.  Intervals using 2-inch wide strips of cloth.  When first blossoms appear, fertilizers and mulches can be applied.  Tomato plant food is used at intervals to September 1st; mulches of black plastic can be laid, or 8 to 10 inches of clean straw to blanket walks.  Mulches help conserve and level off moisture supply and control weeds. 

GROWTH - Indeterminate means that the blossoms and fruit develop progressively and the harvest lasts several months.  Determinate means that the blossoms and fruit develop on the vine at the same time. 

CUTWORMS - At time of planting, place a collar around plant to fend off cutworms which feed at night (common on sandy soils).  Half a milk carton, pushed firmly into soil, works well;  don't allow leaves to touch the ground outside, as worms climb.

WEED KILLERS - Such as used on lawns in the neighborhood; drift causes abnormal distorted foliage and stunting.

HORN WORMS - With warmer weather, green worms to 4 inches long feed  on leaves and fruit, one or two only per plant.  Pick off and destroy; if it is out of sight, shade bush and listen for ticking.  If by chance you find a worm covered with tiny cocoons (white), leave it; these are helpful parasites at work and your worm is dying!  Or use organic pesticide.

FRUIT WORMS - Large hole in fruit, many worms inside.  Pick fruit and burn, or bury.  Apply spray or dust with Sevin or Tomato vegetable dust by Ortho.

BLOSSOM END ROT - Black bottoms, enlarging.  Often on first fruit only; some varieties more susceptible.  Not a disease.  Thought to be caused by irregular moisture conditions, lack of lime.  Maintain even soil moisture.  

SUNBURN - Fruit top or shoulders yellowed or hardened.  Very light foliage cover needed, constant moisture.  Most notable on staked and rigidly pruned plants lacking sufficient foliage.  

BLOSSOM DROP - and no developing fruit:  night temperatures below 55°F, too much rain, prolonged humid conditions.