Ways to Critter Proof Your Vegetable Beds: A Competition

Day and night superimposed: bird netting fail!

Day and night superimposed: bird netting fail!

Root Simple is proud to announce our equivalent of the X-Prize. No, we’re not asking you to figure out a low tech method to catapult rich silicon valley executives into the vacuum of space. What we’re looking for is a means to mammal proof vegetables beds that is:

  • Convenient
  • Effective
  • Attractive
  • Wildlife friendly
  • Easily disassembled in the off season

Note that we’re going to be particularly stringent in judging the aesthetics of the solution. Mrs. Homegrown has an M.F.A., and is a blistering in-house art and design critic around our little homestead.

Participants can leave a comment on this post linking to an image, or send us an email at [email protected] The winner will get a package of our newest publication–a series of booklets we wrote in collaboration with the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano.

I will also be participating in this competition which does seem unfair, but we’ll let Mrs. Homegrown be the judge.

016 The Urban Bestiary with Lyanda Lynn Haupt

LyandaLynnHauptBOOK-560x280

On the sixteenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast we interview naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of The Urban Bestiary, Crow Planet, Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent and Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds.

During the podcast Lyanda covers:

  • The effect of the drought on urban wildlife
  • Invasive species
  • How to get along with wildlife such as skunks, possums, raccoons and coytes
  • The problem with relocating animals (except rats!)
  • Moles and gophers
  • Seeing raccoons during the day
  • Root Simple’s CritterCam
  • Possums!
  • Preventative measures
  • How to encourage wild animals and increase diversity by planting native plants and trees

Lyanda also answers listener questions about hawks, coyotes, and feral cats.

Lyanda blogs at The Tangled Nest.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

015 Worm Composting and Skunks

Our worm bin.

Our worm bin.

On the fifteenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast Kelly and Erik discuss how our cleaning project is going, worm composting, the ongoing skunk menace in our garden and we review two books. Apologies for some clipping in the audio and the cat interruptions.

Worms
During the worm composting segment we cover:

Skunks

What are we reading

Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.

Bread: A Global History By William Rubel.

Kelly mentions Werner Herzog’s Happy People: A Year in the Taiga.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

What is that black and orange bug in my garden?

4 bugs

The suggestions on a recent “what’s this bug? post on this blog made me realize how hard it was to tell apart several common garden bugs: the harlequin bug, the bagrada bug, the milkweed bug and the boxelder bug. They are all flattish, orange/red and black, under an inch long, and seem to always be mating.

After doing the research, I really wanted to see all the bugs side by side, so I made this picture and this simple reference chart. It is now my gift to you. You are welcome.

Continue reading…

How to Get Skunks Out of Your Basement and Yard

skunk1

Basements and crawl spaces under houses make idea dens for urban critters. If we could charge rent for all the skunks, raccoons and feral cats that have taken up residence under the house we’d have paid off the mortgage by now. Our particular crawl space critter B&B was opened by virtue of a flimsy access door. Some animal, most likely a raccoon, pried it open. The problem with this situation is that you can’t just close up the door. Some poor creature would die a horrible death and then stink up the house for months. The answer is to create a one-way critter exit.

Continue reading…

How to Keep Skunks Out of the Yard

wireskunk Skunks love to dig up our vegetables in search of grubs. Our late Doberman used to enjoy late night backyard skunk hunting expeditions which never ended well for him. For years I’ve used bird netting to keep them out of my vegetable beds. The problem with bird netting is that it’s a pain to work with–it catches on things, tangles up, and occasionally traps a bird. I hate the stuff. It took me 16 years to realize that I could exclude skunks from the entire backyard.  All it takes is a simple strategy: know thy enemy.

Continue reading…

How to Deal With Cabbage Worms

cabbage worm damage

It happens every year. I forget the gardening lessons of the year before. Take my many failed attempts to grow cabbage, for instance. It always gets decimated by the imported cabbage worm (Pieris rapae), a creature as abundant in Los Angeles as aspiring actors.

There are several strategies I could use to deal with this pest (cabbage worms, that is–I have no problem with actors). I could spray Bacillus thuringiensis but I don’t like the idea of killing non-target species, not to mention the disputed human health effects of BT. I could use row cover, but this winter has been way too warm for even the thinnest material.

The best suggestion comes from the University of Florida. Find resistant alternatives:

Crucifer crops differ is their susceptibility to attack by imported cabbageworm. Chinese cabbage, turnip, mustard, rutabaga, and kale are less preferred than cabbage, collards, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower. Some cultivars of certain crops also have moderate levels of resistance to infestation by imported cabbageworm. One resistance character is due to, or correlated with, dark green, glossy leaves. This character imparts resistance to imported cabbageworm and other caterpillars, but increases susceptibility to flea beetle injury (Dickson and Eckenrode 1980).

cabbage2

I’ve noticed that the huge Franchi “kale” (collard?) that has gone into its second year, seems to be less popular with the cabbage worm than the adjoining Portuguese cabbage. Next year, I’ll skip the cabbage and plant something else. I like mustard better anyways. If I want cabbage I can outsource the growing and pick it up at the farmers market.

Have you had problems with cabbage worms? How have you dealt with it?

Late Blight of Tomato and Potato Webinar

What late blight looks like.

What late blight looks like.

Got late blight? Learn more about this pathogen, which caused the Irish potato famines, by joining a free webinar at eOrganic on January 14, 2014 at 2PM Eastern Time (1PM Central, 12PM Mountain, 11AM Pacific Time). The webinar is free and open to the public, and advanced registration is required. Attendees will be able to type in questions for the speakers.

Register now at:
https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/601056184

The webinar will feature five plant pathologists. I’ve always found these webinars to be informative even for the home gardener.

A Hinged Cover for a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

hinged raised vegetable bed

What’s another way of describing a raised bed vegetable garden? How about “feral cat litter pan,” “Skunk feeding troth,” or “Dog exercise pen?”

The solution to these problems? Netting or row cover. The problem is that vegetables need a lot of tending so you’re always pulling off and on the cover. And, inevitably, you forget to put it back on one evening and that’s the night a skunk goes on a grub hunting party.

This year I decided to create a hinged cover for one of my raised beds so that I can easily access vegetables without having to remove the bird netting or row cover each time I want to access the bed. I’ve found that I can remove the netting once the vegetables have matured.

To create the cover I made a frame with some 2 x 2 inch lumber and bent some electrical conduit pipe (and a piece of leftover copper pipe) for the hoops.  I put some gate hinges on the back, stood back and named my creation: Vegetable Guantanamo.

How To Stop Powdery Mildew

powdery mildew

My winter squash has what Mud Baron once described as “jock itch for plants:” powdery mildew. I’ve tried all kinds of notions and potions in the past, but this year I decided to see what the science says about powdery mildew. Our climate where I live in Los Angeles is, unfortunately, ideal for producing this vexing fungus.

IPM
Let’s begin with some condensed advice from UC Davis’ Integrated Pest Management page:

Preventative measures:

  • grow resistant varieties
  • find a sunnier spot for the vegetable garden
  • back off on nitrogen

Non-chemical approaches

  • sprinkle plants with water mid morning–add soap for more effectiveness
  • remove infected leaves promptly and dispose of them

Fungicides:

  • apply horticultural oil, neem oil or jojoba oil if the temperature is under 90° F. Do not apply any of these oils if you have used sulfur.

DIY Options
For home remedies I turned to advice from Washington State University horticulturalist Linda Chalker-Scott.

How about milk, widely touted as a powdery mildew treatment? According to Chalker-Scott the answer is yes it might work, but you may need to apply milk before powdery mildew appears. And the studies were done with whole milk, so the effectiveness of other kinds of milk have not been tested. Milk has not worked for me in the past, probably because I applied it too late.

How about baking soda? Chalker-Scott is skeptical. Baking soda has never worked for me.

Compost tea? I hate to bring it up as the topic is insanely controversial. I discovered a tempest in a compost tea pot when I tried to write a non-partisan magazine article about it. Let’s just say I ended up leaning towards the skeptical side when I looked at the evidence. Let me know if you think I’m wrong on this, especially if you can leave a link to a peer reviewed study.

Conclusions
What has definitely worked for me in the past is seeking out resistant varieties. I wasn’t smart enough to remember this fact so I’m going to try the soapy water approach and step up to something stronger if I have to. Part of my problem might also be too much nitrogen–my infected squash is in our straw bale garden and I had to apply a lot of blood meal to get it going. More sun would also help but that would involve cutting down a very large tree. I’ll update this post later in the season.

Let’s hear from you . . .
What powdery mildew treatment have you tried and how did it work? Leave a comment and join the conversation!

And I put the question out on the Root Simple twitter feed and got a few divergent opinions:

Christopher Kennedy ‏@ckpfunk Bonide’s Copper Fungicide for organic gardening. I spray every 14 days this time of year instead of every other w/ baking soda.

Alec ‏@Alec I’ve tried horsetail tea, sea-crop, baking soda, compost tea, and neem oil on mildew, but none compare to milk.

Alissa Walker ‏@gelatobaby I just sprayed with a baking soda solution seems to have done the trick so far. And removed all damaged leaves.

Alex Mitchell ‏@alexmitchelleg give the plants some air, water the ground not the leaves. Could spray diluted milk with water on leaves – never worked for me