Thursday, April 17, 2014

Garden Progress, Early April 2014 -- Germination & Dealing With Slugs

My Garden's Progress

Spring has sprung around my neck of the woods.  I've planted quite a variety of veggies, including spinach, carrots, beets, swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, peas and lettuce.  I've also got tomatoes and peppers in pots, ready to be transplanted to the garden once the weather warms up sufficiently.  Today, I am posting an update on how my frugal veggie garden is doing.

Spinach growing well
The spinach is coming along very well, with almost 100% germination in all the spots I've planted it.  It won't be long before we're harvesting it to use for breakfast dishes or salads.

Beets have almost all germinated and seem to be growing well.

Broccoli and kale have all germinated and were growing well, but have recently come under attack from slugs.  I am taking a few different approaches to dealing with them.  We shall see if my efforts pay off.  More info on that in the next section.

Cauliflower, despite being in the same family of plants as broccoli and kale, has been mostly left alone and is growing quite well.
I declare war on all slugs, after observing my kale being eaten

The first bed of carrots had fully germinated, and the successive carrot beds are just now showing early sprouts.  However, the first bed of carrots was decimated by slugs as well.  I now have a single carrot in an area that should have 16 carrots.

Many of the peas have germinated, although a large patch of them did not, for some reason.  The peas that did germinate are happily growing taller every day.  They are now about 3-4" tall.  In the book Self-Sufficiency For the 21st Century, the authors recommend using small sticks and twigs to help the peas climb, which is frugal way to make better use of vertical space.  I have since added sticks to my garden to help the peas climb up the cotton twine trellis I constructed.

Attempting to assist peas with growing up the fence using sticks

I have been very unsuccessful with lettuce thus far.  Something appears to be eating my lettuce sprouts right as they germinate, but I haven't found the culprit yet.  Again, I suspect slugs may be the problem in this situation as well.  I've re-seeded the bed once since originally sowing my seeds and I have a few sprouts here and there that I can hopefully protect with more beer traps.

The sole survivor of all my lettuce sprouts (fortunately, I have new ones growing now)

My Garden's Public Enemy No. 1: Slugs

As I mentioned several times above, slugs are perhaps the most destructive "bug" in my garden, although they are more closely related to an entree you might eat at a seafood restaurant than any insect in the garden.

The most effective control of slugs is reducing moisture in the garden whenever possible.  We already practice efficient watering strategies, which helps keep the slug population under control, but it's impossible to keep rain from drenching your garden some days... especially if you live in a wet area like my family does.  Keeping your garden area well manicured by mowing weeds and grasses will reduce the places where they can hide during the day.  Make sure to remove any dead and decaying debris from around your garden, as slugs generally eat stuff like that.  Once they get a taste of your delicious veggie plants, though, they'll be back for more.  That said, we need more measures in place to protect our plants.

The absolutely most frugal way to do this is to go out in the early morning or late at night and pick them off any of your plants.  Also pick up and look under sturdy objects that might retain moisture, like wood, large rocks and large leafy plants.  They are likely hiding out under these objects, just waiting for a cool, damp time (just before sunrise) to attack your plants.  Use a stick to pick those bastards up and throw them into a bowl of soapy water.  Make sure to use soap and not just water, or they will just crawl out and attack your plants again.  Do this several times a day if possible.  You'll reduce their numbers quite a bit.

The next plan of attack is using beer traps.  If you've any experience as a gardener, you've probably heard about these traps before.  You might even wonder if it's an old wive's tale, like I did.  I am happy to report that it isn't.  These things work pretty well.  The only downside is wasting valuable beer on slugs.  But I've been given beer that I absolutely detest, and that makes it perfect for slugs traps.  If you don't have any spare beer in your fridge, I would just buy a $1 tall bottle of Bud Light at the gas station.

Anyway, the slugs traps work like this:  You take a small container, bury it in the ground at soil level, pour it full of beer and that's it.  The slugs are attracted to the yeast in the beer, they crawl into the container and then die from not being able to breathe.  I don't like the idea of disturbing or compacting my soil, however, so I decided to just lay some containers out with beer in them.  The slugs will happily climb up and over the side of the container to get to the delicious treat inside.  Then they still fall in and die.  To make it really easy for them, you can even use a small twig as a ramp for them to climb up, but I found this unnecessary.  Place several of these bowls throughout the garden at dusk and let the traps work their magic.  The next morning you should find several unlucky slugs that have met their demise by drinking a little too much.  Refill when the beer evaporates or if it rains.

There are more methods of controlling slugs, but they are either not frugal enough or not organic.  Thus, these three modalities of slug control (moisture control, manual removal, beer traps) will hopefully be enough to keep them from doing too much damage to your garden.

With any insect or disease problems, the secret is to not get discouraged or give up.  In some situations, all you can do is allow nature to run its course.  For the problem of slugs, though, we have plenty of methods to combat them and keep them from becoming an overwhelming nuisance.

How Much Have I Harvested?

I haven't officially harvested anything yet, but I'll keep the blog up to date when I do start getting food out of the garden.  It won't be long, that's for sure!

Final Thoughts

As you can see, even a somewhat-experienced gardener can have problems growing plants, and I am no exception.  I am still anticipating to produce a large amount of food from my garden, however, and I'm not going to be derailed by some silly land/sea hybrid creature like a slug.

Pictured here are my tomato and pepper plants basking in the sun

That said, how has your garden fared since the start this year?  Are you having major problems with slugs or other insects, or has it been mostly smooth sailing on the pest front?  Have you had to deal with any other issues, like late frosts or excessive moisture?  Drought?  Let me know how your garden is doing in the comments.

Stick around for another update later this month!

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