Monthly Archives: August 2011

Tomato Horn Worms

If you missed the email with pictures of the tomato horn worm, here’s a link from Colorado State University with more pictures of horn worms in all stages of life.  If you visit this site and scroll about half way down the page, you’ll find an image of the horn worm egg on the underside of a leaf.  Obviously the best control would be to find the egg and destroy it before the caterpillar hatches.

I’m also including some images  of horn worms and their “frass”  found on my potato and tomato plants and some from the Y gardens.  Judging by the leafless stems on many of the tomato plants in the various plots, there are still a lot of horn worms on the loose.  Maybe we should offer a bounty for the most captured – should we post a “wanted – dead or alive” poster for this destructive guy?

The one shown on the dead leaf is about 2″ by .5″ diameter and is easy to see on the dead leaf.  However, on potato or tomato plants, they are really hard to spot. The images of what is known as insect “frass” (a scientific name for “poop”) are from a mature worm.    So if you see this on your plant leaves start hunting for the culprit.   When the worm first hatches, its “frass” will look like dirt on the leaves.  At that stage, the worm is less than 1/32″ in diameter.  In about 2 weeks it will grow to this big size shown and larger.  And guess what fuels that growth – your tomato plant leaves and tomatoes.  If you see stems on your plants that have been denuded, start looking for the “frass”.  It takes patience and some practice, but you can find the ravenous green monsters, lurking on a stem, under a leaf or even on a tomato.  If they have the eggs on their backs you should let them live so the beneficial parasitic wasps can hatch.  Otherwise, you can put it in a jar with some sacrificial leaves and wait for it to complete its life cycle.  It would be a great educational experience for your children.  Just make sure you release the moth a long way from the tomato and potato plants belonging to you and to your neighbors.  Or you can avenge yourself for the havoc wrought by squashing it.  I’ll warn you,  it’s messy!


Additional thoughts from Cheryl Nichols

Cheryl has continued to visit our gardens at the Y with her friends Arlene and Terry and has observed that almost all of  our gardens are very thirsty.  As she pointed out, the primary ingredient of  most vegetables is water and most plants need at least 1 – 2 inches of water per week.  It’s best to soak them thoroughly.  Sometimes that means watering the soil around a plant for a minute, moving to the next, then repeating the cycle until the bed is thoroughly soaked.

Cheryl also noticed one statement in my blog about her talk that wasn’t correct.  I should have said that she found the White Queen tomato variety  to be interesting, but not that it was a favorite.  She probably won’t grow it again next year because it’s lycopene content is low due to its light color.    She mentioned a Harvard study  on Saturday that discussed the health benefits of lycopene and that pointed out that the highest values of lycopene are in the darkest red tomatoes.

She suggested a fall talk on soil preparation.  What do you all think?  I personally think it would be great.  From talking to many of you at the gardens, it seems most of us did very little to amend our beds.  While I knew it was important, I was so eager to get started that I added very little to my soil.  Amending the soil over the winter is a typical task for fall gardening and action from which  I think most of our  beds would greatly benefit.

Breakfast Garden Talk – Thank you Cheryl Nichols!

Saturday, July 30, about 15 members of the WildWest Community Garden met under the children’s tent at the Wildwood YMCA for a bagel and pastry breakfast, provided by St. Louis Bread Company and delivered by Jerry Mooneyham.  Jodi Smedley announced that Gill is moving to Holland and Bridget Clancy will be the new “bug corner” author.  Bridget has a a lot of horticulture experience and works at Zicks.   The meal was accompanied by a great talk from Arlene and Terry Conner’s realtor friend and life long gardener, Cheryl Nichols.

Cheryl Nichols, sharing some of her favorite catalogs

Cheryl grew up in southern Minnesota on a family farm.  She remembers how her Dad used animal manures for fertilizer and the many fruits and vegetables they grew.  She told of an apple tree onto which her Dad had grafted multiple varieties of apples.  At the advice of the Department of Agriculture, her Dad sold all his animals and focused on one crop , all the while her Granddad was saying “This will come back to bite you!”.  She remembers doing a report in high school on the book, The Poisons in our Foods and says at that point she decided to avoid manufactured foods like chips, cake mixes, etc.  I checked a few websites to see if an old edition of the book was available, but couldn’t find it.  She recommended two movies about food, Food, Inc and King Corn. Helen mentioned Forks over Knives, which was recently screened at Whole Foods.  This movie “examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods.”   All three of these films are available from the county Library.

Cheryl talked about the difference in gardening in Minnesota and Missouri.  Minnesota soil is rich and black and while the garden season there starts later than here, plants grow more rapidly in Minnesota because the days are longer there.  She said it has taken awhile to learn how to grow food in our rocky soil.  She said some of the old timer Missouri gardeners she talked with said they sow spinach seeds in the fall, just before the first frost.  The seeds will germinate in the spring and be ready to grow at the earliest possible time.  Others also say they plant lettuce on February 14, regardless of the weather.

She has many long narrow beds, 3’ x 25’,  that are essentially raised without frames.  She uses a lot of mulch from lawn clippings, making sure that the clippings are from yards that do not receive herbicidal treatment. She sterilizes her seed starter soil in a stainless bowl in a 200 degree F oven for a couple of hours.  She buys copper fungicide in the powder form and mixes it with water in a small sprayer bottle and applies to her 26 beds.  Yes, you read correctly, 26!

Peppers can easily get too much nitrogen (N), especially if near another plant that produces nitrogen or if you feed too often.  She says when that happens, the plant will make blossoms and get tall, but won’t bear fruit.   She observed that most of the tomato plants in our gardens needed a boost of nitrogen – many lost a lot of their leaves during our blight issues.  Others are just pale green.  She recommended a foliar spray like Miracle Gro.  She doesn’t like to use fish emulsion as a foliar spray on tomato plants because she feels it affects the flavor. Some recommend kelp spray as an organic solution.   In any case, when you spray the leaves of plants, you want to avoid spraying the fruit. You also want to spray early morning or evening so the wet leaves aren’t burned by the sun.   She asked me to tell everyone to be careful not to over due it with fertilizer. Here are her recommendations:   If the leaves are watered twice in a two week period with Miracle Gro, it will be enough.  If too much Miracle Gro is applied, you could end up with all leaves and no fruit.  Balance is important.  Always read the directions for the fertilizer.  For the rest of the summer, use an organic fertilizer. 

She also thinks the gardens aren’t getting enough water.  Although they are watered every morning, most of our gardens didn’t have mulch to keep the moisture in and as hot and dry as it has been they probably need to be deep watered at least once a week with a hose.  Cheryl noticed that after Arlene Conner followed her suggestions for foliar feeding and additional watering, Arlene’s garden looks much better.  She also said that the high temperatures and dry weather we have been having will cause most plants to stop producing as they conserve energy to survive.  Blossoms are likely to fall off or just not set.

She admired the fencing around our garden, saying she has many critter issues, ranging from raccoons, turtles, rabbits and deer.  The best product she has found for a deer repellent is Bobbex which she sprays around her perimeter fencing.

Here’s a partial list of some of her favorite vegetable varieties:

  • Peppers – Margaret’s red
  • Tomatoes – Amish Paste, Legend, and White Queen
  • Zucchini – Black zucchini

She orders many seeds from catalogs.  A couple of her favorite sources are Jung Seed and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.   Baker Creek is a family owned company located in Missouri and has an interesting history.  For old fashioned vegetable varieties, she shops at Valley Park Elevator where she buys seeds by the ounce inexpensively.  She subscribes to Mother Earth News, and finds a lot of helpful gardening information on the MOBOT gardening help site.

She grows most of her plants from seeds, starting many under fluorescent lights before time to transplant.  She says it’s very important to keep the transplants less than 2″ from the light.  Otherwise, they get thin and “leggy”.

On the subject of strawberries, she had several comments.  The variety she has grown for several years  is Allstar.  They are very productive, disease resistant and good for eating fresh.  Cheryl says she has had sweeter ones, but Allstar is good for making jam although it does not freeze well.  They lose their color and are mushy when frozen.  She recently had an 8 point buck devour the leaves of her plants but she said they are rapidly recovering.

She said most seed catalogs selling strawberry crowns will tell you if they are better for freezing or eating fresh.  She thins her strawberry plants every third year, removing the oldest plant crowns.  It’s necessary to know whether you have June bearing or every bearing strawberries.  June bearing produce fruit for 2-3 weeks, then begin to send out runners and make new plants for the next season. This spring she ordered the variety Honeoye from Jung Seeds to replace Allstar.   Allstar and Honeoye are both Junebearers which means they produce a very heavy crop in June. This spring she also planted Tristar which is an everbearer meaning it produces all summer long but the production is not heavy.

She also recommended bird netting over the plants rather than the Reemay row cover some are using in the garden.  Bird netting is available in rolls in most garden centers and is probably available at Valley Park Elevator.  Cheryl was concerned that the leaves don’t get enough sun light when covered with Reemay row cover.

For small beds like ours, she suggested bush varieties of squash and other vining plants, unless you train them to grow vertically.  Otherwise, one plant can take over your garden and the one next to it.

Cheryl provided a fabulous handout, with 3 pages devoted to tomatoes and a calendar from Missouri Botanical Gardens with gardening tasks for the month of July.  There’s also a discussion of organic disease control along with several recipes for organic treatments.    There’s a page devoted to squash bugs and an integrated pest management plan. This link has some great images of squash bug eggs, nymphs, and fully grown beetles.

Squash beetle eggs

Jodi and I discovered some of the squash beetle eggs clustered on a leaf in one of the plots.  When we turned the adjacent leaves over, we found the nymphs crawling all over it.  Every one needs to keep an eye out for these pests.  Destroy the eggs, nymphs and beetles.

Another page from Missouri Botanical Garden is titled Making Compost.  One page discusses primary plant food elements.  On the garden tour, Cheryl pointed out beets that needed additional Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K).  Phosphorus is needed for growth of roots and Potassium often in the form of potash, promotes production of sugar and increases vigor of plants.  There were two pages devoted to peppers.  The final page is a list of resources for organic gardening, with books, internet sites, magazines, local and catalog suppliers.  Jodi has extra copies of this handout and you can find much of the content on the MOBOT gardening help web site.

While touring the garden, Cheryl shared several observations.  She observed many fruits and vegetables, ripe and overripe.

Green bean, ready for picking

She mentioned that exposing a tomato to the sun will not aid ripening.  She pointed out that if you need to pick a tomato before it is ripe,  the best way to ripen it is by placing it in a paper bag.  Ethylene gas is released during ripening and some people speed the process by adding a banana or an apple in the bag with the green tomato.  This makes sense if you think about the fact that tomatoes and peppers can suffer sun scald.  This Colorado State University site talks about ripening tomatoes, especially if you find yourself removing them in advance of frost.  Another source of information I found that all you tomato lovers might find helpful is The Tomato Dirt web site.

In conclusion, I’m sure I have missed something; Cheryl’s talk and tour was quite informative and I feel sure I have forgotten some details. If you missed the event, you will definitely benefit by obtaining a copy of the hand out from Jodi. You can also visit the various links included in this post.