Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Which vegetables can we grow in Tucson?
  2. How much can I grow and how much time does it take?
  3. Do you have plots in the shade because I want to grow in the shade?
  4. How can I help my plants cope with the heat?
  5. How much should I water before I dig or till my plot?
  6. Can I use horse or sheep manure instead of steer manure?
  7. Can I use compost instead of manure?
  8. Is there a difference between conventional steer manure and organic/hormone-free/steroid-free steer manure?
  9. What about fencing?
  10. What do we do about gophers inside the exclusion fence?
  11. What can I do about aphids?
  12. I’ve heard that gypsum helps clay soils, is this true?
  13. Should I add lime to my soil?
  14. Should I add ashes (from a fireplace or barbeque) to my soil?
  15. Does adding sulfur to my soilcause any problems?
  16. Does CGT use reclaimed water at any of the gardens?
  17. How can I kill ants?
  18. Why are my tomato plants so bushy but there is no fruit?
  19. Are there any greens that I can grow in the summer?
  20. How can I help my cool-season plants cope with the cold?
  21. How can I protect my warm-season crops from the cold?
  22. What about rain?
  23. How do I start seeds indoors?
  24. How can I make compost?
  25. When do I harvest my ……..?
  26. Why does my squash plant look so bad?
  27. Should I plant in pots, raised beds or in the ground?
  28. What should I grow?
  29. Where did my plants go?
  30. Should I sow seeds or plant plants?
  31. What are some common plant problems?
  32. Why are my squash shriveled?
  33. What do all the letters after a plant’s name mean?
  34. It seems like my soil is too dry.
  35. I’ve got bugs what should I do?

Question: Which vegetables can we grow in Tucson?

Answer:

It is easier to answer which vegetables don’t grow well in Tucson because, at the appropriate season, you can grow just about everything. Rhubarb is an annual in Tucson not a perennial like it is most other places. Everything else grows well.

Question:  How much can I grow and how much time does it take?

Answer:

You can grow a lot of food and it doesn’t take very much time. On average, you will need to spend about an hour to an hour and a half at the garden every week. If you plant zucchini or okra, you may need to come to the garden fairly often during the peak harvesting season because these vegetables produce profusely and they mature very quickly. As far as how much can you produce – it depends entirely on how much you plant and if you change crops in a timely manner. To maximize your harvests, you need to keep your plot densely planted (this also helps keep the weeds out and shades the soil in the summer which helps makes your vegetables happy). This is critical – You need to pull out and replace your plants when their peak production ceases. Nearly all gardeners love to look at their beautiful plants and keep them long after their productive lives have ended. You must be brutal and remove them promptly when they don’t carry their weight. The biggest obstacle to incredible harvests throughout the year is not our seasons, water or soil, it is you. If you keep the plot densely planted with producing plants, you will be able to grow over $700 worth of food in your plot every year. You will harvest over 200 pounds of produce. (So, remember to plant things you like to eat because you will have a lot of eating to do.)

Question: Do you have plots in the shade because I want to grow in the shade?

Answer:

No you don’t. Many Tucsonans know that our sun is very intense and they mistakenly believe that their vegetable plants are going to want to be protected from the sun and will grow best in the shade. Nearly all of crops all throughout the year are going to do better if they get a full day of sunshine. There are just a handful of exceptions. Many herbs are going to appreciate a little protection from the most intense sun in the middle of the summer. Some tomatoes, eggplant and peppers are going to benefit from a little protection from the most intense sun and heat in the middle of the summer. The best situation is when the gardener can control the amount of sun/shade by using an old white bed sheet. Bed sheets are inexpensive and are good shade covers because they don’t need much, if any, of a framework. We do not recommend floating row cover or shade cloth that you can purchase at the home improvement stores. One of our gardeners took an instant read thermometer to the garden in the middle of the day and she measured the temperatures of the shade fabric, just inside the shade fabric and down inside the foliage. The temperatures of the floating row cover fabric and the shade cloth from the home improvement stores and just inside the fabric was actually higher that the outside air temperature and the temperature within the foliage was just about the same as the outside air. On the other hand, she measured the temperatures underneath an old white bed sheet shading some tomato plants and the temperature was as much as 25 degrees cooler than the outside air. I guess that the results mirror what we already know about ourselves – when it is hot outside, we are more comfortable in a cotton T-shirt than we are in a synthetic fabric shirt.

Question: How can I help my plants cope with the heat?

Answer:

You may have looked out at the garden in the middle of the day and noticed that your squash and melon plants looked wilted. That is perfectly normal and to be expected. Your plants should perk up soon after the sun goes down. Squash, melons, cucumbers, corn, okra, beans, … all like to get full sun. Always plant your vegetable garden densely so that all of the plants are touching and there is no bare ground. Bare ground gets hot and lets the water evaporate quickly. If you didn’t plant densely, put down a mulch. There are all sorts of mulches. Common mulches are plastic sheeting, sand, gravel, rocks, bark, wood chips, coconut fiber and hay. Less common mulches may be found in pots and these are buttons, seashells, marbles, glass beads and wine corks. The mulch you choose for landscaping purposes will be different from the mulch used in your vegetable garden. For a vegetable garden the very best mulch is alfalfa hay. You can purchase it at feed stores around town. A bale of alfalfa hay costs about $15. It is messy to get home. Cut the strings holding the bale and separate a 2 inch flake from the rest. Lay the flake on any bare soil in your garden bed. Continue tiling your bare soil with the hay flakes until you can’t see any dirt. Don’t shred the hay and spread it, the wind will blow it away. Also, don’t put it over newly seeded areas because the seedlings will have a hard time getting through the hay. This is why mulches are not only good at conserving water and helping keep the soil cooler but they also help suppress weeds. Alfalfa hay is the best because it decomposes very nicely as the summer progresses and should be ready to be tilled in to the soil just when you are ready to amend your soil for the fall and winter crops. Straw tends to not decompose as quickly which means that you will need to rake it up and put it in your compost pile in the fall. Never use Bermuda grass hay because there will be viable seeds left in the hay. See also the FAQ about shading.

Question: How much should I water before I dig or till my plot?

Answer:

Working in wet soil can permanently damage soil structure. If the soil forms a ball when you squeeze it in your hand or if it sticks to the shovel, it is too wet to be worked. Don’t do it. Slightly damp soil can help reduce dust. Workable soil should crumble in your hand.

Question: 

Answer:

You can use cow, horse, sheep or goat manure as long as it has been well composted. Uncomposted manure will have seeds and many of the seeds will pass through the animal. If the animal has been eating in a weedy area or eating Bermuda grass, those seeds may end up in your garden bed and you could have a good crop of weeds to fight. Seeds will have been killed by the heat generated in properly composted manure but almost no manure available at local ranches will be well composted.

Question: 

Answer:

Compost will release nutrients more slowly but over a longer time than steer manure but where are you getting the compost? Did you make it yourself? If you did, is it well composted? Did it get hot enough to kill all of the weed seeds? Our soils are low in nitrogen so most of the vegetation that is produced by growing in our soils is low in nitrogen which means most of the compost produced from that vegetation is low in nitrogen. Most of the commercially produced compost will be weed free but may still have big pieces of bark and branches. These woody pieces will rob nitrogen as they decompose in your bed perhaps stealing nitrogen from your vegetables. Be sure to look at the ingredients on the bag and don’t purchase any compost with sludge as an ingredient. Sludge is what is at the bottom of the waste water reclamation tanks. Yuck. In my garden I always use both manure and compost. The compost is great at building the soild structure and the manure adds the necessary nitrogen.

Question: Is there a difference between conventional steer manure and organic/hormone-free/steroid-free steer manure?

Answer:

The difference is the chemicals that will be present in the manure. Steers raised the conventional way will have been injected with or fed many medicinal drugs (hormones, steroids, and antibiotics) and will have been purposely exposed to insecticides. Some of these chemicals remain in their manure even after it is composted and you will come in contact with them when you prepare and work on your bed. Also, the chemicals may be absorbed by your vegetable plants. Conventionally raised steers may have eaten hay treated with the herbicides like Milestone, Forefront, or Grazon (active ingredient aminopyralid). Typically, the active ingredients from most herbicides are either broken down by the animals’ digestive system or during the composting process, but this is not the case with this group of chemicals. These herbicides remain active in the composted manure and will have toxic effects on your vegetable plants. Obviously, organic steer manure is better; however, it is very difficult to find and, when you can find it, it costs a lot more than conventional manure.

Question: What about fencing?

Answer:

Every CGT garden is different, some will not require any fencing, some just minor fencing and some require an elaborate fencing scheme. Usually we have evaluated the site and erected the fencing that is appropriate for the site. Here is an article about fencing:

If you sowed seeds, you may be wondering why you haven’t seen any seedlings yet. If you planted small plants, you may be wondering why all of the leaves are gone. Both disappointments are caused by the same culprits. We had a very poor monsoon this year and many of the birds and animals are hungry and your newly planted gardens are too tempting to pass up. In most cases around our city, the damage will have been caused by birds. You need to evaluate your area to determine what type of critter has eaten or is likely to eat your crops. Are you going to have trouble with javalinas, domestic cats, pack rats, deer, birds, rock squirrels, gophers, ground squirrels, rabbits or humans? Each varmint requires a different strategy.

Cats might like to use your garden as a litter box. The easiest solution to discourage them is to place chicken wire or hardware cloth on any exposed soil. If you have sown seeds, you need to prop up the mesh so that the plants can grow without becoming distorted. The cats can’t dig because of the mesh and they will find someplace else to do their business.

Birds are the biggest problem right now. One option is to make an arch or a teepee out of chicken wire or hardware cloth. Plastic bird netting can protect your seedlings but it also tends to snare lizards. The best choice is a floating row cover. This is a cheesecloth-like fabric that lets air and sunlight and moisture through but keeps out birds and insects. It has an advantage over other materials in that it generally does not kill any creatures. In addition, floating row covers provide some protection from frost. The lightest covers provide about 3F protection. The heaviest covers provide about 12F protection.

Rabbits can damage both your plants and your irrigation. A low vertical fence of chicken wire or hardware cloth will keep them out. Chain link fencing is not a rabbit-proof barrier because many rabbits can squeeze through the chain link openings. Rabbits will sometimes dig under a fence and this is more of a problem once they figure out that it is possible, so it is best to keep them from learning how. Try lining the bottom edge of the fencing with rocks or boards, burying the bottom edge slightly below the surface or folding the bottom edge out about 6 inches.

The jury is still out on the best methods to exclude ground squirrels and gophers but the proposed method is to bury fencing at least 18 inches deep. The bottom of the buried fence should be bent at a right angle with about 6 inches sitting on the bottom of the trench pointing toward the direction of the intruders. Again, chain link won’t work. It has to be fencing with smaller openings. Since it is a bit of work to bury fencing so deep, you may want to use fencing made of heavy gauge wire so that it won’t rust through too quickly. In extreme cases, it could be necessary to completely line the planting bed with hardware cloth. Leave some of the fencing above the ground so that you have a place to securely attach more fencing to cover the planting bed. Since squirrels climb, it is necessary to either completely cover the planting bed with fencing shaped in an arch or you can try a vertical fence, about 24 inches high, with a band 8-12 inches wide around the bottom made of a slick material so the squirrel can’t get a grip. Gophers don’t like narcissus, castor beans or gopher spurge. These could be planted around the perimeter to help discourage them.

Excluding varmints from your garden requires vigilance. Be observant as you approach and work in your garden and you may see which critters are getting to your plants and how they are getting in. When you know which critter is eating your plants, you can tailor a solution. Remember, once your plants get big enough, they will be able to sustain a little damage and still provide you with a great harvest.

Question: What do we do about gophers inside the exclusion fence?

Answer:

The best solution to a gopher problem is to exclude them but should one get in, after you find the hole in the fence and fix it, the next step is to trap the intruder. Either go to Ace Hardware and buy a Macabee gopher trap or borrow one from the CGT site coordinator. Locate the gopher mound (gophers have piles of dirt, not open holes) and use a long screwdriver and poke all over the mound until you find the opening. Carefully dig open the opening. Determine the slope of the hole. Make sure that the trap has a wire attached. Set the trap. Slide the trap about a foot down the hole making sure that the trap sits on the bottom of the slope. Cover the hole opening with a plug of dirt and pile dirt around the plug so that no light enters. Make sure that the trap is staked so that you can find it again.

Question: What can I do about aphids?

Answer:

There are many things you can try. We have tried just about everything. The first thing to remember is to catch the problem early. Go to the garden frequently and be observant. Success is more likely if you don’t let the problem get big. If you have one particular plant that is heavily infested, it is usually best to gently pull up the plant and throw it in the garbage. Do not shake it. The gentler you are, the fewer aphids will fall off and get on other plants. If there aren’t too many aphids, many gardeners mix a little soap (it is best to use insecticidal soap, like Safer, but you can use dish soap) with water (follow the Safer instructions or for dish soap, about a teaspoon per gallon of water) and put it in a spray bottle. Soap spray only works if it is sprayed on the aphids and that can be pretty tricky. The end result is that you don’t spray them all and they continue to cause problems. There are also oils, clove, cinnamon, garlic, etc. We have had some tremendous success with lady bugs. You can buy them at some of the local nurseries and at Arbico. On the evening the lady bugs arrive, spray all of the plants with water to provide a nice humid environment. Release the lady bugs on to the plants. Cover all of the plants with a floating row cover. Leave the cover on for a few days. This encourages the lady bugs to stay around.

Question: I’ve heard that gypsum helps clay soils, is this true?

Answer:

Clay soil is high in nutrients and holds water well. However, it also is hard to work, especially when it is too wet or dry. The problem is lack of air spaces. Clay particles are very small leaving little room for air spaces in the soil. It results in a hard-to-work garden. The key to success with clay soil is to add organic matter generously every year. This builds up air spaces in the soil and makes it more friable. Many gardeners have been advised to add gypsum to loosen up clay soils. This will help only in certain soil conditions. The calcium in gypsum helps the clay soil particles aggregate together forming bigger pore spaces between them. However, it only works on soils low in calcium or high in salt. Also, gypsum does not increase the pH or add nutrients, but it can cause nutrient imbalances in your soil. We don’t recommend using it in Tucson soils.

Question: Should I add lime to my soil?

Answer:

No. Lime is added to modify acidic soils. Tucson soils are alkaline.

Question: Should I add ashes (from a fireplace or barbeque) to my soil?

Answer:

No. Ashes are added to modify acidic soils. Tucson soils are alkaline.

Question: Does adding sulfur to my soilcause any problems?

Answer:

Sulfur can cause members of the onion family to be significantly more pungent. If you know that you will be growing onions in the near future, don’t use any sulfur until after your harvest.

Question: Does CGT use reclaimed water at any of the gardens?

Answer:

No. In Tucson our reclaimed water is Class A+ reclaimed water. Reclaimed water has various classes based on the level of treatment that the water received. Class A+ grade reclaimed water is acceptable for use of irrigating food crops. This is established by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality as an acceptable practice. Because the levels of pharmaceuticals is so low in reclaimed or recycled water there is little concern with ingesting vegetables grown using this water source. The issue is the potential for bacteria to grow in the water on site because of the high nutrient content. The treatment facilities are required to have non-detectable (zero) microorganisms in the water at the time of treatment; however, in order to prevent potential risk ADEQ has suggested to not use spray irrigation when using reclaimed water on edible crops in order to minimize the contact of the produce with the water. It is also recommended to make sure that the vegetables eaten raw are properly washed prior to consumption. Because of these suggestions/recommendations, CGT has chosen not to use reclaimed water.

Question: How can I kill ants?

Answer:

First, don’t be so mean. Ants have a place in this world and they can be beneficial in the garden. Some ants will eat or chase away other insects. If there are ants, there won’t be any termites. They help aerate the soil. Second, frequently the ants will leave the garden area on their own because they don’t like heavily irrigated areas. Wait for a while to see what they do as the garden gets established. You can also water their anthill to encourage them to move. If they don’t go away on their own and if they are causing problems, there are a couple ways to make them move. The Tucson Organic Gardeners sell a product called “Auntie Fuego” that works well. Another thing that you can try is to grind up a grapefruit in a blender and plop the pulp, juice (the whole pulverized grapefruit) on top of the ant hill. Grapefruit skin contains a natural insecticide. It must be plopped on the ant hill immediately after being ground up in order to be effective. Some people have found Neem oil to be very effective.

Question: Why are my tomato plants so bushy but there is no fruit?

Answer:

You may have fertilized it too much. Too much nitrogen causes luxurious leafy growth at the expense of flowering and fruiting. Be patient and the nitrogen will be used up

Question: Are there any greens that I can grow in the summer?

Answer:

Yes, try dandelion, beets (grown for the greens not the root which might not form or might be woody in the summer), shiso, amaranth (don’t let it go to seed or you will never be rid of it), New Zealand spinach, Malabar spinach and Swiss chard.

Question:  How can I help my cool-season plants cope with the cold?

Answer:

First, if it is only predicted to be in the mid-20’s, don’t do anything. All of the cool season crops will be OK (this doesn’t apply to non-cold adapted plants like avocados). Some people claim that the cold weather actually improves the flavor of greens. There is no need to cover your appropriately-planted vegetables to protect them from frost. Sheets and floating row covers can be counterproductive. If a gardener puts covers on their vegetables, they usually are not able to visit the garden and remove the covers promptly in the mornings. That means the plants will not receive a full day’s worth of sunshine. This will reduce productivity. Also, the weight of the coverings damages the plants. Don’t waste your time covering your vegetables (unless you are protecting them from birds). If it is predicted to be in the lower-20’s or the teens, what should you do? You have a choice. You can do nothing and expect to have just a little damage to the vegetables (and a lot of damage to some cacti, citrus, etc.) or you can build a mini-greenhouse. The typical frost cloths and bed sheets that we used did not help at all because of the combination of the cold wind and the very cold day-time temperatures we experienced.

The most successful protection schemes were the mini-greenhouses. The framework can be constructed of lumber or PVC or metal pipes or whatever you have as long as it will stand up to the wind. The covering should be heavy clear plastic sheeting. It comes in big rolls at the home improvement stores. Don’t use the lightweight painter’s drop-cloth plastic. The frame should be big enough so that the plants being protected are completely covered and none of the branches or foliage will touch the plastic sheet. The plastic sheet needs to be securely attached to the frame and sealed up as airtight as you can get it. This will keep out the cold wind and the inside should warm up during the day to have sufficient heat to make it through the night. If you want to take extra precaution, you can run an extension cord out to the mini-greenhouse and plug in a light and let it heat the interior during the night. Don’t let it touch the plastic sheet.

This scheme will work well, too well during most of our winter. The interior of the greenhouse will get too hot during most of our winter days and you will need to open the sides to get airflow or your plants are going to cook. You will want to close up the sides only in the evenings and only when the nighttime temperatures are going to be really cold. The warm humid environment encourages bad bugs and diseases, so be sure to keep the greenhouse open as much as possible.

Building, maintaining and opening and closing the greenhouse is a bit of work. You need to ask yourself if it is worth it.

Question: How can I protect my warm-season crops from the cold?

Answer:

Floating row cover is an easy way to insulate your plants from frost. The best place to get floating row cover is over the Internet at J & M Industries in Ponchatoula, LA. 1-800-989-1002 http://www.jm-ind.com/ look under frost protection and then non-woven. Another excellent way is with Wall-o-water.

Question: What about rain?

Answer:

All of our gardens are equiped with rain shut-off devices that stop the irrigation system when there has been sufficient rain. Typically our rain shut-offs are set to stop the irrigation when it has rained 1/2 inch. They are also set for maximum evaporation so that the rain in the sensor will evaporate as quickly as it evaporates from our soils thus re-enabling the irrigation system.

Question: How do I start seeds indoors?

Answer:

First, you need to purchase some potting mix. Don’t try to use dirt from your backyard. Dirt usually has some pathogens that complicate seedling survival and the drainage is not usually very good. Starting seeds is best done in soilless material like many potting mixes.

You probably have a bunch of small pots around the house. You can use them. Professional growers don’t reuse pots because of the chance of spreading diseases but I hate to buy new ones if I have old ones on hand. I don’t like to use the small 6 packs. There is too little room in each little section. When the weather gets warm or the plants grow vigorously, there is not enough water stored in the planting mix and they will dry out easily. I like to use slightly bigger pots, perhaps 2 inch diameter. These don’t require as much attention as the small ones.

Fill the pots with potting mix to within a half inch of the rim then water them well. Some potting mixes are so dry that they are water repellant. Make sure that your potting mix is thoroughly wetted all the way from the surface to the bottom of the pot.

Get out your magnifying glass and read the back of the seed packets. Somewhere it will say how deeply to bury the seeds. The general rule is to bury the seeds 3 times as deep as the seed diameter. I put more than 1 seed in each pot. This means that, if more than one germinates, I will have to snip off the weaker seedling. I sow multiple seeds because I don’t want to end up with any empty pots.

Life is easier if you have a tray to carry the pots around on because you need to move them from your potting area to a sunny window. Try to find the place where they will get as much sun as possible. If the weather warms up, you can move them outside during the day but be sure to bring them in at night. Don’t keep them soggy but never let the soil dry out. The new roots are delicate and can’t tolerate drowning or dryness.

In order to make the pots warmer and keep the moisture up, there are techniques involving putting plastic over everything. I don’t like to do that because it is leads to failure more often than it leads to dramatic improvement in germination and seedling growth and survival. Diseases love the humid environment created by the plastic coverings. There is a chance of the seeds getting too hot, too wet. Lots of problems.

They make heaters that go under pots to help speed germination. I have never tried them. I suspect that they are more useful in colder areas of the country but if someone gives you one, don’t throw it out. Give it a try and let me know if it makes a difference.

Question: How can I make compost?

Answer:

I recommend a tumbler because it is easy to mix the ingredients and turn the compost to keep it aerated. If you chop up all of the material and you get the correct proportions of green and brown material and you keep it properly moist, you will have finished compost in 14 days in the summer and a little longer in the winter.
Good compost is possible with a pile or a crib or a bin but it is much more work to turn the materials, so we end up not doing it and the result is that the composting process takes a lot longer.

Regardless of your composting equipment, remember to use both green and brown materials and to keep it as damp as a wrung out sponge. Running the bigger material through a chipper/shredder makes the composting process go even faster. Plastics, metals, rubber and other trash, as well as rocks, will not compost in our lifetimes. At-home composting should not include dairy (cheese, milk, yogurt, etc.), meat (blood, bones, etc.), dog, cat, or pig poop (or other non-vegetarian animal waste), oils (olive oil, canola oil, mayonnaise, etc.), or desserts (cakes, cookies, etc.). I never put weeds with flowers or seeds in my compost because I don’t want to take the chance on a few seeds making it through alive.

Because of the recent frosts, you probably have a very large pile of dead tomato plants, corn stalks, okra bushes, squash vines, and eggplant and pepper plants. If you had pulled them out before the frosts while they were still green and growing, it would have been fairly easy to chop them up on a chopping block with a machete but like so many of us, you were enjoying the warm fall weather and your summer plantings were flourishing and perhaps even producing. Now everything has died and you have a big pile of debris that is not very easy to chop. Make a New Year’s resolution now to pull out your summer crops in October so that they are easier to compost and, with the plot cleared, to plant your winter vegetables while the soil is still warm so that you will get tremendous harvests of broccoli and cauliflower and the other winter vegetables before the cold temperatures of December slow production.

If you have a chipper/shredder or you can borrow one, the dried plants can be quickly reduced to a manageable pile. Most vegetable plants are easier to chop by hand when they are green but they are easier to run through a machine when they have dried. Succulent green vegetation will often clog a mechanical shredder. Woody materials (trees) are often easier to chip/shred when the wood is still fresh and limber. With luck, you now have a much smaller pile of pulverized dried brown vegetable plants and you still have all of your fingers. If you didn’t wear hearing protection, your hearing is probably gone for a few hours so now is a good time to mow the lawn. You are going to need green material to mix with the brown material. Rye grass from a lawn composts very quickly. You can also use any of the lettuce plants that have bolted and all of the green waste from your harvesting – radish and carrot tops, cabbage plants, turnip and beet greens (if you aren’t eating them). The rye clippings will mat if not mixed with the brown material so don’t let it sit around. The fastest way to compost is to use one of the tumbling composters. If you get the right mix of brown and green and your materials are small and you keep the moisture right, you can have finished compost in 14 days in the summer. It takes a little longer usually in the winter. The big advantage of the tumbling composters is that it is easy to stir/mix the ingredients and turn the compost to keep it aerated. Yes, good compost is possible with a pile or a crib or a bin but it is much more work to turn the materials, so we end up not doing it and the result is that the composting process takes a lot longer.

When you get the finished compost, what should you do with it? Some people make compost tea by putting scoops of compost in a mesh bag and letting it steep in water for a few hours or days. This isn’t a very good idea because the underwater environment quickly runs out of oxygen and this encourages the growth of anaerobic bacteria which are harmful to our plants. Other people make compost tea by putting a few scoops of compost in a mesh bag, putting it in a bucket of water and then aerating the water. The oxygen-rich environment favors the growth of aerobic bacteria and fungi that will be beneficial to our plants. We can dilute the finished tea and use it to water our vegetables. This tea might improve our yields but ask yourself what is most lacking in our desert soils? Our soils need organic matter more than anything else. Organic matter improves the structure of the soil, making it lighter, able to retain moisture better, helps with aeration, provides homes and food for beneficial organisms (bacteria, fungi, earthworms, etc.), keeps the soil from compacting, and more. Our soils need the compost not just a diluted tea made from the compost.

Once the piles are reduced to manageable sizes and the compost is percolating, remember how big and overwhelming they got and always do a little at a time as the seasons progress

Question: When do I harvest my ……..?

Answer:

Here are some suggestions about the optimum time to harvest your vegetables:
The best time to harvest a tomato is right before a bird pecks it. If that goal is too difficult, try tugging gently on the fruit. A really ripe tomato will come off in your hand easily. Of course, a tomato this ripe will have to be eaten right away.

For winter squash use the fingernail test. Press your fingernail in to the skin, if it leaves a dent, it isn’t ready yet. Pumpkins can be left on the vine until the vine dies (this assumes that vine isn’t taking up valuable space) or you can use the fingernail test.

Summer squash (like zucchini) is easy – harvest when they are small. Yes, the big fruits are edible (I like them stuffed and baked) but the small fruit can be eaten without any cooking and that is a bonus during our hot season. Size doesn’t matter. You can eat them at the very beginning even before they are a fertilized fruit, they will still have the fresh edible flower attached or you can wait a couple days and it will have grown a couple of inches. If you have a lot of mouths to feed, you can wait a couple more days and it will have grown more. It is up to you.
Okra is like summer squash, you need to eat it when it is small but unlike the squash you can’t wait and let it get bigger. It is a pretty safe bet that a 2” okra is going to be good but you never know for sure unless you squeeze it. If it is still soft, it is good. If it is hard, you need to pick it so that the plant will keep producing but you probably should throw it in the compost bin.

Cantaloupes are pretty easy too. A ripe cantaloupe is very fragrant even while it is still on the vine. It won’t have any green showing between the netting. Also, it will “slip”. This means that it will fall right off the vine if you roll it very gently.

Watermelons are one of the most difficult. There is the thumping technique that says that a dull sound when you knock on it means it is ripe. Another method is to look at the underside. If it is yellow, it is ripe. (I have read about an addition to this theory. It says that, if you look very closely in the yellow area, you should see tiny black freckles. This is the start of a fungus that feeds on the watermelon sugars and this means that it is wonderfully ripe.) The tendril technique is to look at the 3 tendrils on the vine that are closest to the fruit (going toward the root of the vine not toward the growing tip). If they are dried up and brittle, the fruit is ripe.

Eggplants should be really shiny and the flesh should spring back when pressed lightly. If they have started to get dull, you waited too long. Again, size doesn’t matter. There might be a ping pong ball size fruit on the same plant that is producing a cantaloupe size fruit.

Corn should be harvested when the silk is dry and brown and when the fluid in the kernel is milky, not clear. You will need to carefully poke a kernel to see the fluid. Peel back the husk a little and poke the kernel. If it isn’t ready, try to put the husk back the way it was. This protects it somewhat from pests.

Green beans are best before there is any swelling of the individual seeds.

Lemon cucumbers are very nice because you can tell that they are ready because they turn a bright yellow. The standard green cucumbers can be picked like the zucunni. If you want to pickle them, you can pick them at 2”. If you are going to slice them, you can wait until they are 6” long. If these cucumbers turn yellow, they won’t be very good.

Peppers should be picked when they are the desired color. Don’t wait for your bell peppers to get the size of the ones in the grocery store. They rarely get that large in Tucson.

Question: Why does my squash plant look so bad?

Answer:

Many of us have planted squash, watched it turn in to a big beautiful plant and then watched as it succumbs to the dreaded squash vine borer. No insecticides (conventional or organic) are very good at combating this pest. There are two ways around this problem. Try planting some of the desert adapted squashes available from Native Seeds/SEARCH (http://www.nativeseeds.org/ or visit their new store at 3061 N. Campbell Avenue). I have read that these squash have evolved to live despite the borer by rooting along the lengths of their stems. When the borer kills part of the stem, it doesn’t matter because there are plenty of roots elsewhere along the stem to keep the plant alive and the fruits developing and ripening.

Another technique to thwart the borer is succession planting. Harvest some of your beets, turnips, kohlrabi or carrots now to make space. Sow some squash seeds in the new space (perhaps after adding some organic matter). Have the kids help since squash seeds germinate and grow quickly it is a good plant for participation. In the next few weeks the plant will grow and flower and produce. Once production starts, clear another space in your garden and sow some more squash seeds. Eventually, the squash you first planted will be killed by the borer but by that time your second planting of squash should be starting production. Rip out the first planting and sow more squash seeds. You will have squash all summer long, enough to share.

Question: Should I plant in pots, raised beds or in the ground?

Answer:

We always hear about planting in raised beds. What does this mean? A raised bed is a planting area that is above ground. It can be just a mound of dirt but more frequently it is constructed with sides. The sides can be made from wood or blocks or other materials. I never recommend constructing raised beds from treated lumber. There are several reasons. Studies have shown that vegetables can absorb the poisons used to treat the wood. Even if you are not growing vegetables, just the activity of working in your garden will bring your skin in contact with the lumber and the poisons and you want to avoid this.

What are the advantages of raised beds? Just about all of the gardening TV shows, books and magazines are written by people outside of the desert southwest. So, they write about gardening that is appropriate for their part of the country but many times it is completely wrong for Tucson. Just this past week I watched a show about planting in raised beds. The person said that the advantages were that the soil will dry out and warm up faster in a raised bed. Does this sound like something you want to do in Tucson? Raised beds are good for areas where it rains a lot, where it is cold and damp. They are a good way to combat cold soggy soil. In Tucson, you don’t want to be drying out your soil and rarely do you want to be heating it up. I think that there are only two reasons you would want to plant in a raised bed in Tucson. If you have a disability and are not able to bend over or get down or up from the ground. Raised beds are good in this case because they make it possible for a disabled person to garden when they might not otherwise be able to do so. The other reason for raised beds is contaminated soil. If your soil has lead or other problems, you probably shouldn’t eat vegetables grown in it. Note that I said “contaminated soil” not “bad soil”. If you have the typical Tucson bad soil, you should work with it and amend it and make it better but don’t put in a raised bed.

What about pots? Pots are great to add color around doorways and on patios. Also, they are good for small low-water-use plants like some succulents. When you want to grow lots of things, pots aren’t so good because it takes too much time to water them all. Even if you have them on an irrigation system, they are very water-inefficient. Pots are not very good for growing vegetables for that reason.

If not pots or raised beds, what is the best way to grow things in Tucson? Slightly sunken beds are the best way to go. This is nothing new, we didn’t invent it. The Native Americans were growing things this way a long time ago. I think that their beds were very sunken but that makes it hard on the gardeners’ backs so we recommend just 2 – 4 inches below grade.

Why are sunken beds the best? The most water efficient way to grow vegetables is hydroponics but most of us don’t want to set up a hydroponics system at our home. The next most efficient way to grow is in sunken beds. When it rains, the water falling in the aisles goes in to the planting beds and soaks in. In addition, sunken beds won’t have erosion problems like crowned beds have. Seedlings are easier to protect from birds, you can just lay a piece of chicken wire from side-to-side. Also, seedlings are protected a little from the hot dry winds.

Question: What should I grow?

Answer:

The answer to this is complex. Do you have small children? If so, at least some of your garden should be devoted to something that they will find rewarding. You and your children should plant something from seed so that they can see the miracle of germination. It needs to be something that germinates, grows and matures quickly so that they don’t lose interest. Something that grows above ground so that they can see it (carrots are usually disappointing since they are not visible). And it should be something that they like. Green beans germinate and grow fast but are the kids going to say, “Beans. Yuck!” If they like peas, plant those in the winter. They can munch on them while you work in the garden. Most kids like corn. Try it. It grows big and tall and their excitement will grow along with the corn. You can try popcorn, if corn-on-the-cob is not their thing. Be sure to pick corn varieties that are meant to be eaten as popcorn or on the cob, there is a difference.

Sunflowers are also plants that are a hit with the kids. If you chose a tall variety, you might have to provide some support when the monsoons come so that the wind and rain don’t knock them down. When you plant the seeds you should throw a small piece of chicken wire over the planted area until the plants are a couple inches tall. Birds like to eat the seeds (even when they are buried) and the baby plants.

Let’s say that you don’t have children, what should you grow? Some people say – grow something you like to eat. Sounds good but that isn’t the whole answer. That answer should be quickly followed by – grow with the season and grow a quantity that is consumable. Growing with the season is the obvious way to be successful. Growing the correct quantity is important too as all of us know from our struggles to get rid of the bushels of zucchini that we grew last year.

For more ideas about what to plant and how to plant it and more than you ever wanted to know about plants, check out the Arizona Master Gardeners Manual published by the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Service at http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/mg/

Question: Where did my plants go?

Answer:

If you sowed seeds, you may be wondering why you haven’t seen any seedlings yet. If you planted small plants, you may be wondering why all of the leaves are gone. Both disappointments are caused by the same culprits. We had a very poor monsoon this year and many of the birds and animals are hungry and your newly planted gardens are too tempting to pass up. In most cases around our city, the damage will have been caused by birds. You need to evaluate your area to determine what type of critter has eaten or is likely to eat your crops. Are you going to have trouble with javalina, domestic cats, pack rats, deer, birds, rock squirrels, gophers, ground squirrels, rabbits or humans? Each varmint requires a different strategy.

Cats might like to use your garden as a litter box. The easiest solution to discourage them is to place chicken wire or hardware cloth on any exposed soil. If you have sown seeds, you need to prop up the mesh so that the plants can grow without becoming distorted. The cats can’t dig because of the mesh and they will find someplace else to do their business.

Birds are the biggest problem right now. One option is to make an arch or a teepee out of chicken wire or hardware cloth. Plastic bird netting can protect your seedlings but it also tends to snare lizards. The best choice is a floating row cover. This is a cheesecloth-like fabric that lets air and sunlight and moisture through but keeps out birds and insects. It has an advantage over other materials in that it generally does not kill any creatures. In addition, floating row covers provide some protection from frost. The lightest covers provide about 3F protection. The heaviest covers provide about 12F protection.

Rabbits can damage both your plants and your irrigation. A low vertical fence of chicken wire or hardware cloth will keep them out. Chain link fencing is not a rabbit-proof barrier because many rabbits can squeeze through the chain link openings. Rabbits will sometimes dig under a fence and this is more of a problem once they figure out that it is possible, so it is best to keep them from learning how. Try lining the bottom edge of the fencing with rocks or boards, burying the bottom edge slightly below the surface or folding the bottom edge out about 6 inches.

The jury is still out on the best methods to exclude ground squirrels and gophers but the proposed method is to bury fencing at least 18 inches deep. Again, chain link won’t work. It has to be fencing with smaller openings. Since it is a bit of work to bury fencing so deep, you may want to use fencing made of heavy gauge wire so that it won’t rust through too quickly. In extreme cases, it could be necessary to completely line the planting bed with hardware cloth. Leave some of the fencing above the ground so that you have a place to securely attach more fencing to cover the planting bed. Since squirrels climb, it is necessary to either completely cover the planting bed with fencing shaped in an arch or you can try a vertical fence, about 24 inches high, with a band 8-12 inches wide around the bottom made of a slick material so the squirrel can’t get a grip.

Excluding varmints from your garden requires vigilance. Be observant as you approach and work in your garden and you may see which critters are getting to your plants and how they are getting in. When you know which critter is eating your plants, you can tailor a solution. Remember, once your plants get big enough, they will be able to sustain a little damage and still provide you with a great harvest.

Question: Should I sow seeds or plant plants?

Answer:

Many times it will be faster and easier to purchase already growing seedlings to plant in your garden instead of starting from seeds. If you purchase plants from a local grower, he or she will have done the work to select the plant varieties that are best suited for the conditions here in the desert southwest. They will have sown the seeds at the proper depth, thinned them appropriately and got the plants off to a good health start. Go to the farmer’s market and talk to the person selling the plants. Make sure that they are selling plants that they have grown themselves and that they are knowledgeable about the variety. Ask them about where the plants should be planted (sun or shade), about frost sensitivity, fertilization routines, pests, harvest time, etc. Avoid the temptation to purchase plants at a big box store or a grocery chain. Those plants certainly have not been selected for the local area nor grown locally. They will probably get off to a slow start because they will have to get used to our climate before they can start growing.

This time of year, there is a risk of aphid infestations. Before you set any plants out in your garden, look them over very carefully. Look both on the topside and bottom side of every leaf. Examine the growing bud. Aphids love to hide in the densely packed area where the new leaves are developing. Aphids don’t look like much of anything, sort of just a blob the size of a pinhead. Usually they don’t move very much. They can be almost any color. One way to tell if a bump is an aphid is to gently touch it. If it bursts, it was probably an aphid. If you find any aphids, you need to kill them before they spread to your entire garden. They multiply extremely rapidly. It is rumored that when an aphid is born it is already pregnant. Fortunately, they are easy to get rid of using non-toxic means. Mix about a tablespoon of mild dishwashing detergent (like Ivory) in a gallon of water. Gently loosen the plant from the pot, lift it out of the pot, grasp the soil ball to keep it from falling apart, turn the plant upside down and dip the plant in the soapy water. Don’t submerge the soil and root ball, just the plant. Shake off the excess soapy water. The soap dissolves the waxy coating that protects the bugs and they die. The plant should now be promptly planted in the garden.

If you want to try plant varieties other than those offered by the local growers, you will need to use seeds. In the old days, you could spend hours looking through the beautiful pages of the seed catalogs that came in the mail. These days, you are more likely to browse the pictures online. Regardless of where you find the information, read the plant descriptions and make your selections. Pay special attention to the time to maturity. You want to choose varieties that mature quickly. You might think that the desert southwest has a long growing season but in reality we have several short growing seasons (spring, early summer, monsoon, fall, early winter, late winter). You need to pick vegetables that can be harvested before the season changes. While you are looking at the plant descriptions ignore the recommended planting dates. Almost no seed sources are familiar with the planting dates appropriate for Tucson. Use a planting guide prepared by a local author (for example, George Brookbank) to determine the proper planting times.

The general rule for seed sowing depths is 3 times the seed diameter. Poke a hole with your finger in to the slightly moist soil. Drop in a seed. Push the soil back over the seed and gently sprinkle the area. Most seeds are best sown along the drip irrigation. These seeds will form large plants: broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, etc. Seeds that will form smaller plants may respond well to broadcast sowing: carrots, radishes, lettuce. To sow these seeds, smooth the soil flat, distribute the seeds over the entire surface, gently brush your hand over the area, sprinkle the area lightly. You will need to water this area by hand until the seeds sprout and the roots reach the subsurface area that is moist due to the watering by the drip irrigation system.

Some vegetables can be planted repeatedly as the season progresses. This is called “succession planting” and carrots, radishes, turnips, and lettuce are good candidates for this type of growing. For example, every 2 weeks you can sow radish seeds for a variety that matures in 30 days and in that way you can harvest and eat fresh homegrown radishes all winter. Or in the summer, you can plant a squash and when you start to harvest from that plant, plant another squash. Just about the time when the squash vine borer kills your first squash plant, your second squash plant will start bearing. You can pull out the first plant and plant a third plant. You will have more squash than you know what to do with.

Question: What are some common plant problems?

Answer:

Are the leaves of your sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes full of holes or perhaps the plants have been stripped bare? You can’t find any caterpillars or their droppings. Who is the culprit? The hungry creatures are the cute little birds flitting from plant to plant. Verdin and lesser goldfinches eat the leaves of plants in the sunflower family. What is the solution? The birds are too much fun to watch, let them enjoy themselves.

You sowed a row of beans exactly per the package instructions and you watered them diligently and nothing came up. You want your money back for the worthless seeds. Before you make a scene at the nursery, you probably should know that your seeds did germinate and they stuck their brave sprouts out of the soil into the bright new world only to be immediately chomped by a hungry bird. Birds can’t resist fresh new sprouts. It doesn’t have to be beans. It can be just about any plant. The minute it pops up, they eat it. The best prevention is to make a wooden frame for window screen and set that over your planting bed. Of course, you will need to re-sow your seeds because they are not going to re-sprout. When the plants get a couple inches tall, the birds will leave them alone and you can remove the frame.

One day your tomato plant is bushy and lush and the next day all of the leaves are gone? What happened? Well, you haven’t noticed but for the past couple days, there were bare spots forming. A tomato horn worm has been dining on your plant for a while but now has reached a size (probably about 3 inches long and as big around as a cigar) that he can devour enough leaves that his damage is now noticeable. If you look at the ground very carefully, you can see the story. You will notice little black or very dark green sand-size particles that trace a path on the ground and get larger and larger until they are the size of a pea. Those are what remain of your tomato leaves and the path is the route that the caterpillar took through the canopy of your plant. Look in the plant directly above the largest poops and you will find the fellow. What do you do? In his next life, he is going to be the most incredible moth you have ever seen, bigger than a hummingbird. If you have had enough tomatoes for the year, you could let him finish his lifecycle. Or, if you are not squeamish, you can grab him and squish him.

A similar thing might be going on with your citrus. If you look at your tree, you will see bird droppings stuck to the leaves, except that they are not bird droppings. They are the orange dog caterpillars and they are eating all of the new citrus growth. If you have a well established tree, you should leave the caterpillars because they are going to turn in to butterflies but if you have a baby tree, they might do too much damage and should be picked off and squished.

Do your tomatoes or peppers have a tan or brown mushy spot? This is one of 2 things. If the spot is on the top or side of the fruit, in an area where the sun hits, it is sunburn. Just provide a little shade for your plants. If the mushy spot is on the end opposite the stem, this is blossom end rot. This is caused by lack of calcium uptake by the plants. There is plenty of calcium in our soils but the plants are not able to get it. Add a little magnesium (Epsom salts) to the soil.

Of course the most dramatic problem this time of year involves your squash. You have a big beautiful plant one day and the next day it is completely droopy and sad looking. Your first instinct is to water it. Check the soil. It is probably plenty moist. Check the main stem of the plant. You will probably see something that looks like sawdust stuck to the side of the stem and if you gently squeeze the stem it will be spongy. A squash vine borer is living inside the stem and has eaten the insides and this is preventing water from reaching the leaves. You can try to save the plant by slicing the stem lengthwise with a paring knife, dig the grub out and squish it. Push the stem back together and bury it with moist soil. It doesn’t always work but if the damage isn’t too bad, it is worth a try.

It might sound like gardeners in Tucson are plagued with problems but not really. Gardening here is easy and problems are rare.

Question: Why are my squash shriveled?

Answer:

Every year we get a lot of questions from gardeners about what is wrong with their squash plants and they point to shriveled little baby squash. The answer is that there is nothing wrong with the plants. The squash flowers didn’t get pollinated and the plant is aborting the unfertilized fruit. Why didn’t the flowers get pollinated? Squash flowers have the male and female parts in separate flowers. It takes an ant or an insect to move the pollen from the male flower to the female flower. For some reason, the insects aren’t doing their job. Early in the season, it could be too cold for the insects. Perhaps someone has sprayed insecticides. What can the gardener do to improve his/her fruit set? Squash flowers are huge. It is very easy for us to do the pollination and not have to rely on the insects. This is best done in the morning. Find a male flower. You can tell a male from a female by the stem of the flower. On female flowers, there is a little baby squash right at the base of the flower. On male flowers the stem is straight. Pick a male flower. These are absolutely delicious. Eat the petals. This makes it easy to spread the pollen. Don’t pick the female flower. Take what is left of the male flower and rub it around the female flower. The male flower can pollinate several female flowers. After doing 3 – 4 female flowers, find another male flower, pick it, eat the petals and pollinate some more female flowers. Squash will grow super fast this time of year. If you were successful, in just a day or two you should see the little baby squash start to get longer and fatter. If it shrivels up, the pollination was not successful. Perhaps the flowers were too old. It works best with fresh new flowers. Other flowers can be fertilized the same way. Melons and cucumbers can be pollinated this way. The flowers are a lot smaller. Sometimes it is easier to use a soft paint brush and stick it in the male flower and then some female flowers. Other vegetables are a little different as far as pollination. Tomatoes have what is called a “perfect” flower. This means that the male and female parts are in the same flower. They can be pollinated by a little breeze. It has been pretty windy but if you want to help with the pollination, jiggle and jostle the plants a little. Certain bees (not honey bees) vibrate the tomato flowers at a special frequency (124Hz) that makes the pollen really come out. That frequency can be simulated with an electric toothbrush. Touch the back of the flower with the toothbrush in the midmorning when the petals are all the way curled back. The pollen will come flying out and pollinate the flower very well. Corn is also wind pollinated. The problem is that the male tassel is way at the top of the plant and the female silk is down along the stem where the baby corn are forming. When the wind blows, the pollen is all blown away. When you know that the pollen is ready, what you can do is chop off the male tassel and wedge it above the baby corn. Just leave it there and the pollen will fall out on to the silk.

Question: What do all the letters after a plant’s name mean?

Answer:

The letters are abbreviations for viruses and diseases that the plant is resistant to. Here is a list:

ASC = alternaria stem canker
BC = bacterial canker
BSK = bacterial speck
BST = bacterial spot
BW = bacterial wilt
C1, C2, etc. = leaf mold
CMV = cucumber mosaic virus
EB = early blight
F1, F2, etc. = fusarium wilt races
FCRR = fusarium crown and root rot
LB = late blight
N = root-knot nematode
PM = powdery mildew
PVY = potato virus Y
Si = silvering
St = gray leaf spot
TEV = tomato etch virus
ToMV = tobacco mosaic virus
ToMoV = tobacco mottle virus
TW, TSWV = spotted wilt virus
TYLC = tomato yellow leaf curl
V = verticillium wilt

Question: It seems like my soil is too dry.

Answer:

Please remember that we live in Tucson, Arizona. The relative humidity is frequently about 7%. The surface of the soil is always going to appear dry even if it was just watered. This is because the surface moisture evaporates very quickly. In the middle of the summer, you can help retain moisture and cool the soil by using a mulch (see the FAQ about coping with the heat). The only way to tell if your soil is moist is to dig in it. If your soil 6\\\” down is dry here are some possible causes:

  1. You have too little organic matter in your soil. Our soils have a very high metabolism and they consume the organic matter very quickly. You need to replenish the organic matter every 6 months.
  2. There are plots in your row that have leaks. Every leak in your row takes water away from the other plots. The flags in the shed are used to mark the leaks but if you have the time and know how to do it, you should repair leaks any time you see them, even if they are not in your plot.
  3. Your irrigation tubing (T-tape) is positioned too close to the edges of your plot. The T-tape should be spaced the same distance apart as the valves are spaced on the header line and the T-tape should run parallel the entire length of your plot. If the T-tape is positioned close to the edges of your plot, you are watering the aisles more that you are watering your garden bed.
  4. Your valves are off or partially closed. The green valves at the start of your T-tape need to have their handles parallel with the T-tape. If they are perpendicular, they are off.
  5. Your T-tape is getting old and clogged. The T-tape should last about 18 – 24 months. If it has 3 or more repairs or a lot of white salt build-up, it is time to change it.

Question: I’ve got bugs what should I do?

Answer:

You actually want to start working on bug and disease problems before you have any bug or disease problems. You should start every day by taking a casual stroll through your garden sipping your coffee. You need to use all of your senses as you wander. You can use you nose to see if you smell anything out of the ordinary. You can detect rotting fruit this way and then get it out of the garden before it attracts any pests. You can use your ears and listen for scurrying, listen for chewing (yes you can actually hear some grasshoppers and caterpillars eating your plants), listen for irrigation leaks. You can use your eyes to notice any changes in the color of your plants, look for signs of animal or insect activity, look for signs of plant stress. One thing you can do to help you be observant is to buy a yellow sticky trap. These traps attract insects and you can look at the trap and see if you have a significant number of any undesirable bugs. Remember, in a healthy ecosystem, there will always be some bad bugs. It is necessary to have bad bugs in order for there to be food for the good bugs. Let’s say that you are walking around the garden and you hear some chewing and you investigate where the sound is coming from and you notice a 6” long grasshopper eating your okra plant. What do you do? Well, if you have had enough okra for the season or if he isn’t really doing much damage all you do is admire nature’s design. Taking time to smell the roses also means taking time to wonder about all of the incredible creatures we share the planet with. On the other hand, if your okra is just a baby and the grasshopper is going to eat it to a stump, you can encourage it to fly away or you can squish it. If you can get it to fly, it is likely that a bird will spot it and eat it. Don’t get out the Raid and spray it to death. Spraying like that is way too hard on you and your plants and the environment. Be brave and squish. Let’s say that instead of hearing a grasshopper you see some discoloration and upon closer inspection you realize that your plant is covered with aphids. Well, first shame on you for not noticing the aphids before they became an infestation. What should you do? Get the hose and blast them off with a strong stream of water. They have fragile little bodies that get broken easily by the water. The spray breaks off their mouth-parts that were stuck in your plant. It may take 2 – 3 water sprayings but you will have solved the problem and not used any poisons at all. If you have slightly more hardy bugs, you can mix a little dish soap in with your water. It doesn’t take very much. Usually about a tablespoon per gallon is just fine. You can apply it with a watering can or a hose-end sprayer. You want to be careful putting anything on your plants in the summertime. Many non-toxic things become toxic to plants when the temperature is over 90 degrees. Soaps, oils, sulfur, even plane water can be harmful if it is sprayed on the leaves and the temperature is way up. Spray in the coolest part of the evening so that the spray can sit on the plants overnight. For caterpillars, the best product is BT. It is a bacteria that you spray on the leaves of your plant that when ingested by a caterpillar causes problems with their digestion and they die. It is completely harmless to every thing else. Now remember, many caterpillars produce butterflies. If you spray with BT, you could be eliminating butterflies too so once again, consider the damage being done and whether you can live with it or not. If you have other bad bugs, you might want to consider a horticultural oil or a neem oil. Both work well on almost every type of bad bug. Follow the directions carefully and don’t spray a more potent dilution thinking that it will work better. It doesn’t work better it injures or kills your plants. Here is the order of least toxic controls:

  1. Live and let live
  2. Pick it by hand
  3. Spray with water
  4. Spray with diluted dish soap
  5. BT
  6. Diatomaceous earth
  7. Oils
  8. Sulfur