In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
July, 2012
Regional Report

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Using intensive gardening techniques in my raised beds increases yields.

Intensive Gardening Increases Yield

This year's decision to plant my raised garden beds more intensively is paying off. Raised beds use actual growing space more efficiently than a traditional garden planted in rows because walking in the beds is not required for maintenance of the vegetable plants. I can merely reach in from either side to cultivate and mulch.

The planting density was much higher this year as I let last year's Dragon's Tongue bean seeds germinate where they fell. This has given me a very abundant bean crop. The plants have grown close enough to each other to shade out most annual weeds.

I am also growing a variety of herbs and other vegetables directly in the openings in the cinder blocks I've used to construct the raised beds . Filled with compost-enriched soil, sweet basil is doing well, as is the oregano and rosemary.

Now that the summer heat has subsided some, tomatoes are back on track blooming and setting fruit. The cucumbers are blooming and setting fruit, as are the squash and pumpkins.

Not to be forgotten are the insects of summer. Cabbage loopers and slugs are making sneak attacks on the succulent foliage. A few homemade traps should keep most of these pests at bay. My preference is to use the least-toxic methods for controlling pests.

Homemade soap sprays and insecticidal soaps will take care of most harmful pests. Soft-bodied aphids are quickly and easily controlled by soaps. Just be sure to apply these in the cooler parts of the day, either morning or early evening.

Cultural methods are also very effective but can take a little more time on your part. Take the time to monitor your plants, and when you spot a damaging bug, get out there and get the critter. Handpicking or squashing bugs is a simple way to eliminate many pests while they are on your plants. If you are squeamish about handpicking, hire the neighborhood kids to do the job for you. It provides a good lesson in distinguishing the bad bugs from the good ones.

Biological controls can also be very effective. This is particularly true with the caterpillars that turn into butterflies and moths. A bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) only targets these caterpillars and does not harm any other insect species. It's very useful against tomato hornworms and cabbage loopers. Bt can be found in liquid and powder formulations that are easy to apply to the infested plants. Always read and follow the label directions.

Prevention is one of my favorite ways to reduce pest invasions. Keep your garden and landscape plants healthy and vigorous. A healthy plant can tolerate some insect activity, but most importantly, pests prefer to feed on weakened plants. They tend to leave the healthy plants alone, until the pickings get slim. Don't forget to keep weeds from invading the garden. Weeds are a place for pests to hide and multiply.

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