About Starting A Vegetable Garden
Choose vegetable varieties that grow well in your zone. Group vegetables with similar needs for sun and water. Crowded plants compete for nutrients and water, so they don’t perform as well.
Choose a location that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day. Make sure it’s easy to get to for soil prep, mulching and fence building.
Summer gardening means fresh homegrown vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes and cucumbers. Growing your own vegetables unfortunately also means dealing with the inevitable common garden pests.
Scouting your plants twice a week can find pests before much damage occurs. Always identify the problem before deciding on a solution as many common pests can be controlled by hand picking them off the plant, by rotating crops or by exclusion methods (handmade or purchased barriers that allow light and water to enter but keep pests out). Cleaning up garden debris after harvest is another important cultural control for many pests.
If any of the pests you encounter do require chemical control, always read and follow label directions.
Here is a brief look at some of the more common vegetable garden pests a home gardener is likely to encounter:
Colorado potato beetles eat potato foliage in both larval and adult stages. Adults are 3/8 of an inch long, yellowish orange, with 10 black stripes down their backs. Eggs are orange, football shaped and usually found on the food plant in clusters of 10 to 40. Larvae are reddish, with two rows of black spots down each side, and a black head.
Crop rotation is an important cultural control. Hand picking eggs, larvae or adults can help, however care must be taken because they contain a chemical that can blister sensitive skin (another reason to identify pests before deciding on control methods). Use latex gloves or try tapping foliage to dislodge them into a container. Barriers such as row covers are also helpful.
Tomato hornworms are large caterpillars with a horn-like appendage at their tail end. Hornworms eat a lot of tomato leaves; however, they also have many natural predators that can limit their damage.
Usually scouting your plants twice a week and hand picking caterpillars is the only control necessary. If you see a hornworm covered in small white rice-shaped growths, you can choose to let it alone as it has been parasitized and those growths, which are actually parasitic wasp cocoons, will hatch out into more parasitic insects that will control even more hornworms.
Cucumber beetles lay eggs in soil at the base of cucumber and other cucurbit plants. Larvae feed on the roots, pupate in the soil and emerge as adults later in summer to begin the process again, creating another generation to overwinter as pupae in the soil.
Cucumber beetles can transmit bacterial wilt, causing entire plants to wilt and die. The best method of control for a home gardener is using row covers or other exclusion methods to keep the beetles from getting to your plants.
Squash vine borers tunnel into the stem of squash and pumpkin plants, weakening the plant and causing wilting and opportunity for other infections to enter the stem.
If damage is detected early, it’s possible to save the plant by checking just above the soil level for entry holes, then splitting the vine lengthwise only enough to remove borers, and then putting an inch or two of moist soil on the vine where it’s split.
Prevention is possible by cleaning up all garden debris and destroying vines immediately after harvest, then turning soil in fall and again in spring, which should cause the pupae to suffer cold damage and trap them in the soil where adults will have difficulty emerging in spring.
Identification of pests is as important as knowing how best to control them, and Penn State Extension is a great resource for information on these and other garden pests you may encounter in your garden.
If you would like more information on this or other gardening topics, contact the Penn State Extension Master Gardeners of Berks County at email@example.com or phone the office at 610-378-1327.
Dawn Ziegenfus Knepp is a Penn State Extension Master Gardener volunteer trainee.
Spotted lanternfly update for July
It’s July, and the spotted lanternflies are changing from black with white spots to the larger red stage. This will make them easier to see and treat. SLF is a complex pest problem and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. If you find SLF in your landscape, avoid overreacting. To date, SLF has not killed valuable landscape trees.
Before treating, consider the situation. How many are you seeing? What trees and plants are they on? Are they remaining on the plants or moving on? Penn State Extension advises using an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) approach. Promote plant health, scrape eggs, swat, smash, stomp, use circle traps or even vacuum nymphs and adults.
If you decide to use a pesticide, use a softer contact pesticide such as insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, neem oil or pyrethrins. These have short or no residual activity. Never treat any plants with a spray while they are in bloom to protect pollinators.
To protect that favorite tree, use a systemic application. Read and follow all label directions. Avoid homemade remedies such as dish detergent as they may impact beneficial insects and the environment.
For additional information, contact the Berks County Penn State Extension Master Gardener Hotline at 610-378-1327, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly-management-guide.