New England

July, 2010
Regional Report

Unearth Some Early Potatoes

Harvest some small, tender early potatoes by carefully reaching into the hilled-up soil around your potato plants and plucking off some golf ball size tubers. Then firm the soil back around the roots. You'll have some delicious "new" potatoes for supper and your potato plants will continue to mature the rest of their crop without missing a beat.

Watch for Hornworms on Tomatoes

These huge, green caterpillars chomp on the leaves and fruits of peppers and eggplants, as well as tomatoes. Because they are so large, even a few hornworms can consume a lot of plant, so it's important to control them if they turn up in your tomato patch.

If they weren't such avid consumers of our veggies, we might better appreciate their rather impressive appearance. Up to 5 inches long, they are bright green with diagonal white stripes and black spots along their sides, with a ferocious black "horn" projecting from the rear. But don't worry- the horn is just for show. These caterpillars neither bite nor sting.

The adult moth into which these caterpillars change is also eye-catching. Grayish-brown with yellow and white markings or orange spots and a 4-5 inch wing span, sphinx moths emerge in late spring and lay their greenish-yellow eggs singly on the undersides of the leaves of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants in the garden. After feeding for about a month, the caterpillars hatched from these eggs drop to the ground to pupate and emerge as adult moths, either later that same season or the following spring. There is only one generation per year in northern areas.

Control measures start with keeping an eye out for the newly hatched caterpillars- when they're small they blend in easily with the foliage. You may see their black droppings on the leaves. When they are small (under about 2 inches), the microbial insecticide Bt will control them. Once they are larger than this, control them by handpicking. Cultivating the soil in late fall will help reduce the number of overwintering pupae by exposing them to birds and cold weather.

Rejunvenate Container Plantings

Container plantings often begin to look a little "peaked" by midsummer. If blossoming is getting sparse on trailing plants like petunias, cut them back to stimulate a new flush of growth and flowers. If your pot or hanging basket contains several plants, trim back any that have grown so vigorously they are over-running their neighbors. Some plants, lobelia for example, may take a break from blooming in the summer heat. Trim them back and you'll get a new flush of blossoms as the weather cools in late summer.

Sow Seeds for Fall Crops

There is still time in most parts of our region to sow another crop of snap beans to harvest before frost. Sow seeds of cole crops, carrots, Swiss chard, peas and Chinese cabbage for fall harvest.

Increase Oriental Poppies

Now, when Oriental poppies are dormant, is the time to increase your planting by division or root cuttings. To divide, dig up the entire clump and cut into divisions 4 to 6 inches across. If you don't want to disturb your existing clump, simply remove a section of roots from the edge of the clump with a spade. If you want lots of new poppy plants, cut the pencil-thin roots into 3-inch sections, making sure to keep track of which end of the root was closest to the crown of the plant. An easy way to do this is to cut the top of the root section straight across and the bottom at an angle. Then plant the root sections vertically in a a container filled with potting mix, with the bottom ends pointing down and the tops about 1/2-inch below the surface. Keep the mix barely moist and in about a month these cuttings will begin to put out new growth. They can then be set out in their new locations in the garden.


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