It was a wonderful spring day at the first “Saturday in the Garden.” Volunteer Master Gardeners from the Cooks Garden – Ellen, Jean and Amye gave talks and shared their expertise and experience.
Everyone received a pamphlet “Beneficial Insects : Natural Pest Control” put out by the Virginia Cooperative Extension Environment and Natural Resources. Common beneficial insects found around here are lady beetles or commonly named “lady bugs”, spiders, ground beetles, green lacewings, wheel bugs, hover flies, parasitic wasps and praying mantis. It is important to know these insects and what they look like at all stages of their growth from eggs, nymphs and adults so we don’t destroy them. They will work hard for us by feeding on the harmful pests we don’t want in our gardens. The squash borer was mentioned as a big concern, especially since it ruins zucchini plants. Ellen suggested planting the crop twice in different places in your garden knowing that one may be sacrificed to the borer and doubling your chance to harvest the fruit. A good “trap crop” for zucchini is Hubbard squash. The borers may leave your zucchini alone if they can munch on Hubbard squash instead. Of course, as Ellen joked, she usually has plenty of zucchini to give away until the borer gets them since the plant is very prolific.
Three complimentary seed packets were given out: cleome, commonly called “spider flower”, marigold and cosmos. These flowers attract pollinators to our gardens. Marigolds have an added soil benefit by suppressing nematode pests. Another flower recommended to grow were sunflowers which is a “trap crop” for stink bugs. Birds come for the seed and eat the bug. Anise hyssop is a wonderful plant to attract bees and other pollinators. The Prince William Master Gardeners will be selling this plant at their plant sale during the next “Saturday in the Garden” May 9, 9 a.m. until noon, as well as many other plants.
A chart was given to attendees on Companion Planting and also on plant rotation. Recommended books to read: Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte and Bob Flowerdew’s Complete Book of Companion Gardening by Bob Flowerdew. You want to make sure not to plant the same plants in the same place year after year to ward off soil diseases and bugs that overwinter. Jean showed how the Cooks Garden is laid out and how they rotate the crops and how cover crops are used to put nutrients back into the soil. The Cooks Garden use no fertilizers. Their success is due to good compost, cover crops and bad bug pool. The “swimming pool” is the mixture of water and dish soap. Bad bugs are put in there and since they don’t know how to swim, they’re gonners. Be sure to look under leaves when you’re bad bug hunting and know the differences between good beneficial insects and the bad ones.
Amye demonstrated how to plant potatoes. You use “seed potatoes,” potatoes with eyes which you can find at Southern States, Walmart, Lowes, etc. You need a sunny, well-drained place. You can even grow them in barrels. You plant them 9 inches deep and 9 inches apart. In the beginning you cover them with 4 inches of soil until they are 12 inches high, then you add more dirt to the bottom leaves. This is called hilling. You keep repeating this step as the plant grows. Final step would be to straw the hill to suppress weeds, maintain moisture and repel the Colorado potato beetle. Potatoes generally go in around St. Patrick’s Day around here but due to the colder weather, now is okay to plant. It is now recommended that you do not cut the “seed potato” into quarters. Tom Bolles from the Cooperative Extension Office, said this was popular during the Depression to try to get more growth from the seed plant. It is no longer recommended since it can invite disease and insects. Plant your “seed potatoes” whole.
It is not possible to write about everything discussed and that is why it is recommended that you attend these free talks, next one will be on May 9. It is a great opportunity to learn, see methods demonstrated and be able to ask questions. If you want to know more about what today’s lectures offered or have any other gardening questions, please contact the PWC Horticulture Help Desk (see Links).