Rachel H Kay Blog

Year Four, Pests, Heat & Cats

This years spring garden was not as successful as the previous years, even with the best planning there are still unexpected setbacks that while annoying, can still be learned from.

I began my spring garden planning in February, figuring out which plants I was going to grow from seed and which ones I would buy from the Houston Garden Center. This year I didn’t need as many plants because some of them successfully wintered over, and others luckily grew back. My Hyssop plants all grew back, which was really great, because every summer I look forward to making my fruit smoothies with the leaves, giving my smoothies a nice minty/licorice flavor. I didn’t get around to making any jam or syrup this year, but I really did enjoy my smoothies. I also had a few pepper plants survive the winter, mostly because they were sheltered on our back porch. My mint in my melon patch took off, so much that I had to prune a lot of it back, and my fennel really grew. It was taller than my PVC trellis that surrounds my melon patch. In the spring it was beautiful, with tons of yellow flowers. I didn’t harvest the fennel, I mostly used it for companion planting to help ward off pests, which seemed to help a lot during the spring.

I purchased mostly flowering plants this year, some to help with pests and others I just couldn’t resist because they were so pretty. I chose Zinnia this year instead of Marigolds, and found a few other really pretty flowering plants that I spread around my garden beds. I also purchased some lettuce and arugula which is still growing in the laundry basket garden bed on my back porch. As well as some strawberry plants and a blueberry bush. I also chose to purchase cantaloupe and watermelon plants this year instead of sprouting from seed. They were all so inexpensive at the Houston Garden Center so I still didn’t go over my gardening budget. If you haven’t read my previous post on turning a laundry basket into a garden bed or plant pot see this post Do It Yourself Plant Pots. It really is an inexpensive way to add extra areas to plant when you have limited gardening space.

Sprouting Disasters I Couldn’t Predict

When I sprout seeds I use a window in my room which gets a lot of sunlight during the spring. I’ve usually had a lot of success in past years, but between my daughter and a couple of my cat's, things didn’t go so well this year. My daughter has a really hard time remembering to close a door after leaving a room. Why she can’t get that part into her head I have no idea, but she constantly left my bedroom door open, which meant cats got in there and I had no idea until it was too late. I sometimes call my house a zoo because we have quite a few different animals, 5 of which are our cats. One of them, Toby, is known for chewing plants, so I do not leave him unattended in my room. But one of our other cats, Thomas, had never showed any signs of eating plants, but this year he went all out. Between Toby and Thomas my cucumber plants were devoured more than once. Just when it was getting close to transplanting them outside, here would come my daughter leaving my bedroom door open, and in would come either Toby or Thomas. I wouldn’t realize until it was too late. I tried to re-sprout, which did work, it just meant that I didn’t get cucumbers out in my garden until late April, early May. By this time it was already getting quite hot, which caused the cucumber plants to take quite a while to mature and begin to grow flowers. Because of this I didn’t get as many as I have in the past. My Spacemaster cucumbers grew nice big cucumbers, which were great in a salad. But being late bloomers this year, between the heat and aphids, they didn’t last as long this year. Once June and July hit aphids become a real problem, but before that they aren’t as bad, which is why I try to get my seedlings out in my garden early in the season to get established.

Below is a picture of a Spacemaster cucumber and one of my Golden Boy tomatoes. I did have quite a few of these this year, but it was short lived due to being planted so late in the season.

Summer Heat and Its Effects

This year was also the hottest year yet as far as gardening is concerned. My cantaloupes took a really long time to get established and my poor watermelon just didn’t take off this year. Even my tomatoes stopped growing fruit once it got into June. The hotter it gets, the harder it is to get plants to fruit, especially tomatoes. The flowers just die off instead of fruiting. I also had to spend a lot more time watering my garden because of the heat. I didn’t want my plants to get stressed, which would attract pests. When a plant gets stressed it gives off an odor that attracts pests making it more susceptible to being over run than a healthy plant. I also began to cover my garden beds once it got to mid day throughout June, July and August in order to give them shade during the hottest parts of the day. I used old sheets that we use for covering plants in the winter, and attached them to tall bamboo stakes that were in the ground at each corner of my garden beds to provide the best shade. It helped, but I still wasn’t getting as much fruit. I missed those larger tomatoes once they stopped growing, especially the Golden Boy tomatoes. They were so yummy in my salads.

Aphids were a real problem this year as well, probably since my plants didn’t take off until late in the season, which is when they seem to show up the most. So I had to go out and spray my plants almost every morning. My homemade pest spray does work, it just gets tiring going out each morning and spraying every single cucumber leaf. My lemon cucumbers shoot out so many shoots, which means tons of leaves. If you haven’t read my post on garden pests, see this post Major Pest Identified & How To Deal With Them, which identifies the main pests I deal with and has the recipe for using essential oils to kill pests.

Adjustment Plans for Next Year

I’ve already begun to make plans to overcome these situations next year in the hope of being more successful. I’ve got the window in my room covered at all times, in case a cat finds his way in there, and I’ve been working on getting my daughter to remember to close the door. It’s a work in progress. I am seeing a huge difference with my fall garden seedlings, which I’ll get into in another post, but I can say they are surviving compared to my spring seedlings, so that's improvement.

Those pesky aphids are the biggest issue I face each year, making way for new options to get rid of them. This year I tried a couple, but next year I will take these to the next level to help deter aphids, as well as use other options. One option is to plant banana peels at the base of plants. Aphids don’t like the odor from the banana peels as they break down, and while it did help with the areas of my cucumbers closer to the soil, such as shoots that were growing lower, it didn’t help with the shoots that were growing up my trellis netting. Another option is to use aluminum foil. The sunlight will hit the foil and shine on the underside of leaves, where aphids like to hide, and deter them. This also helped a bit, but since I did this later on rather than prep the areas behind my trellis before my plants sent shoots up the trellis, it still wasn’t enough for the crazy shoots I didn’t redirect in time. I will try these options next year, and better prepare. I’m also going to purchase and plant Nasturtiums, which detract a lot of pests, and are one of the best flowering plants to use to keep pests away.

I’m also going to continue to cover up my plants to give them shade during the hottest parts of the day, but I’ve been looking into ways to reduce how often I have to water my plants and still provide them with plenty of water to keep them healthy. I came across an idea called Core Gardening, which apparently works really well. Basically, you dig a trench in the center of your garden bed and fill it with things like straw and/or leaves, then cover it up with soil and mulch. You plants your plants as usual and you can also plant plants in the trench as well. As the materials in the trench begin to rot and break down they provide moisture that is spread throughout your garden bed, keeping your plants healthy and giving you a break from watering. I’m hoping with this method that I can water my garden beds once a week, maybe less, instead of multiple times a week. Which would be great since it does take quite a while to get to all of my garden beds watered. Since it gets up into the 100s sometimes during the summer months Core Gardening will be put to the test next spring.

I’ll post more about Core Gardening and deterring aphids and other pests, as I begin to prepare for my spring garden. I’m not going to try Core Gardening for my fall garden because with all the rain we get this time of year I already don’t have to water as much.

Have you had any gardening issues not mentioned in this post, or other ideas to try for healthier plants and deterring garden pests? Comment below, ask questions, let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you!

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About Me

Hi there. I'm Rachel Kay, a Web Developer, Illustrator, & Designer, whose hobby is to be creative and artistic, while freelancing as a Web Developer building creative, modern websites.