Damage control all part of gardening

Yikes. I was in Bellingham for six days.  I thought that six days wouldn’t be significant. That my garden wouldn’t miss me. Wrong. 

People, you need to do mindful watering. You need to look at your plants. You need to assess their needs. You need to THINK. 

Here’s what greeted me on my return — cutworms. The wonderful publication by the Cooperative Extension “Integrated Pest Management Guide for Alaska” describes cutworms thus: “Cutworms are soil-dwelling caterpillars of different species of familiar, night-flying noctuid moths. The large, robust, brownish caterpillars characteristically curl into a ‘C’ shape when disturbed. Cutworms generally feed at night on young seedlings and transplants; clipping the plant off at soil level. Some cutworms climb mature plants and eat leaves and fruit.”

So, what you need to do to avoid the unfortunate situation I am currently faced with is: cultivate the soil before you water. This will do two things: 

1) It will break up the surface of the soil so the water can successfully penetrate to the root system of your seedlings; and 

2) You will see the cutworms. There they are, quite obvious. Take your scissors and cut them in half. Or a thousand pieces, depending how irritated you are. Done. 

These pests are concentrated in my cole crops which are covered with floating row cover.  This makes cultivating a bit of a chore because I need to pull it back and that will expose the plants to the fly that lays the egg of the dreaded root maggot. Gads! Another pest! But, trust me, neither of these are anything like what plagues plants in Bellingham, so there is that.    

Back to cultivating. There is a tool actually called a cultivator, some models have a long handle so you don’t need to bend over. But, bending over gets you a closer look at the action, so make a choice here. I use an EZ Digger also known as a Korean hand hoe. Very basic and very effective. 

The worms are just barely below the surface of the soil.  If you are having trouble in your spinach, the worms will usually follow the row, going from one plant to the next. 

My problem wasn’t the typical cut the stem off. Nope. The plants were tipped over under the row cover and almost laying on the ground. I surround the stems with four inch skewers to ward off the worms but that does nothing for accessing the plant via the leaves. If I had been here, I would have been ‘fluffing’ the row cover so the plants would have remained erect. 

Off I went to the closest nursery and bought a few broccoli seedlings to fill in the gaps. There it is again — gratefulness for our excellent local nurseries. Also, a crop failure will send me to the Farmers Market later in the season. Keep these things in mind. 

Which brings me to pansies. I didn’t get enough pansy seeds to germinate so off I went to buy some plants. Fine. Do I want orange pansies? No. Do I want orange anything? No. Do I now have orange pansies. Yes. Why? I am convinced it is because my fellow plant shoppers are not wearing your glasses. You pull the labels out to read and then don’t put them back in the correct container. Wear your “cheaters.” Permanently. Spare me orange pansies. 

Now for weeding, there are two camps on this: those who do and those who don’t. Go ahead, take a wild guess at which of these camps I occupy. Weeds take water and nutrients away from the plants you are attempting to nurture. They shade them and create habitat for pests. I think these are good enough reasons to weed. 

BUT if you: work, have kids to get to soccer/swim/art/music/bowling/whatever, let the weeds go. Do what you can. Breathe. 

 I have two weeds that I can’t identify. I ask everyone who comes over to no avail. We are stumped. They have been hanging out here for about five years. And they are getting more entrenched, of course. Good thing I actually like to weed. I like the results. 

And then there are those plants that we all know and love that actually can become a nuisance. Sweet William is an excellent example of this. Not only did I not care for the color on these last year, they have now reseeded all over the place so I get to enjoy them ad nauseum. Lucky me. Yes, I am pulling them out by the fistful, but they really are everywhere. 

How is your basil doing? I have been broadcasting the seed into pots the last couple of years and this has been quite successful. I cut what I need and it comes again. Once it stops regenerating I start a new pot. This way I have control over how much I have harvestable at one time.

In the past I have found myself inundated with pesto because the huge amount I had planted was all ready at once. This is all happening in the greenhouse where my basil is happiest. 

Do you have everything staked that needs to be? Your peas? Delphiniums? Sometimes columbines? Take a good look around and make sure you have everything in place before we get hit with wind and rain that will bring your best intentions smashing to the ground.  

Garden on, people, mindfully.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.


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