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NATURE’S TURN: Orchestrate harmony, cultivate community

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By Sunday, Jun 18 Home & Garden More In Real Estate
Striped cucumber beetle. Image courtesy

June 19 – July 2, 2017

Nasturtiums surround squash plants, background. Beans and cucumbers climb together. Aug. 9, 2016. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Nasturtiums surround squash plants, background. Beans and cucumbers climb together. Aug. 9, 2016. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Magnified flea beetle with the result of its feeding. Image courtesy Planet Natural Research Center

Magnified flea beetle with the result of its feeding. Image courtesy Planet Natural Research Center

Mount Washington — I had ignored little holes in the seed leaves of winter squash plants, attributing them to flea beetles, which usually cause only cosmetic damage. Then, last week, following the sweltering days that followed the persistent cold weather – i.e. stressful extremes – I was dismayed to see striped cucumber beetles on a few young summer squash plants at another location in the garden. Reflexively, I plucked and crushed the beetles and then spread a 3-inch-wide band of seaweed in a ring around all cucurbit (cucumber, pumpkin, squash, melon) seedlings and lightly dusted the leaves with hardwood ashes. Many days later, the plants remain free of beetles. I don’t know whether the seaweed, harvested on a remote Maine peninsula, or the fine ash are protecting the plants, but they are my first line of defense. Spraying the leaves with kaolin clay is also recommended. A companion planting of salad radishes, sown when the initial squash seedlings went in on the 6th, have their first true leaves; radishes help repel cucumber beetles. Likewise, nasturtiums I planted a week ago are popping up. Do you have solutions, unique to your experience, to strengthen your plants and repel pests?

Tansy. Image courtesy

Tansy. Image courtesy

Tansy is also recommended as a companion for all cucurbits. Since tansy (“Tanacetum vulgare”) can become invasive, I’ll cut tansy that has invaded the edges of country lanes and mulch with it. In addition, feverfew (“Tanacetum parthenium”) grows like a weed in my garden, so I’ll scatter transplants among the cucurbits. Squash, cucumber, melon and pumpkin are among our most important summer and winter storage foods. Cucumber beetles pose a significant threat to their survival.

Feverfew, July 2016. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Feverfew, July 2016. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Meanwhile, black flies and mosquitoes have been drilling holes around my ears, forcing me to stop to fetch lemon balm or pennyroyal leaves to place in my hatband and rub on my skin. The very effective ingredients in my favorite, readily available bug repellents include many easy-to-grow herbs: lemon grass, catnip, thyme, rosemary and sacred basil.

Those beetles have pushed me to step up my efforts to develop mutually beneficial relationships between the influx of vegetable garden annuals with perennial, biennial and self-sowed culinary herbs and attractive flowers that populate my garden. Each year, gardeners recreate a vibrant and resilient garden community by adapting to what shows up beyond our control. Aromatic herbs and flowers that attract pollinators stand out as beneficial companions.

Addendum: Please note that my use of the term “solarization” in my June 5 column should have been “occultation.” Clear plastic covers solarize. Black plastic covers occult. In general, the result is the same. For further discussion, see “Occultation” below.


Companion planting guides – and and

Mosquito repellent plants – and

Flea beetle –

Occultation – What the term means is: the state of being hidden from view or lost to notice. In astronomy it is a reference to one celestial body blocking from view another celestial body. In terms of farming, the meaning is simpler: it means covering the ground with an object – like a tarp – such that light cannot penetrate to the objects – the plants – beneath it for a period of time, usually several weeks. This results in the death of the plants and their residues being mostly consumed by worms, fungi and other organisms involved in decomposition such that, when the covering is removed, the amount of work necessary to prepare an area for planting is greatly reduced.

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