Monday, June 23, 2008

Eggplant Woes

Although we are still seeing temperatures in the low to mid 50's during the evening, June 20th was officially the first day of Summer. The garden doesn't seem to mind the cool nights, since they are offset by moderate days filled with warm sunshine and an occasional breeze. Thankfully the skies have been generous these past couple weeks, which has allowed me to give the garden hose a needed rest. All the crops are sown, and the garden is now in maintenance mode. Bring on the harvest!

garden view late spring

This bed holds soybeans, eight types of eggplant, the remains of the Spring lettuce and three volunteer marcellino cherry tomato plants that sowed themselves from last year's fallen crop. The marcellino volunteers are abundant throughout the garden. I have been picking them out like weeds, but these three were too far along for me to bring myself to snatch them out of the ground. We love tomatoes, and we have a little extra room in this spot, so I let them stay.

eggplant, lettuce and soybeans late spring

This fake snake helps deter squirrels from digging in the garden. You wouldn't think squirrels could cause much damage, but they will destroy a line of freshly sown seeds by digging around in the soil, and they like to rip up transplants for some reason. (Perhaps this is their way of getting revenge for not being able to reach the bird feeder.) Since I added this snake to the garden, I haven't seen a single squirrel rooting around in any of the beds. It has startled me a couple times too - LOL! You do need to move it around every couple days; otherwise, the squirrels will grow wise that it is a fake.

eggplant and fake snake

A closer look at the eggplant will reveal a series of holes chewed through the leaves. There is a type of insect called a flea beetle that FEASTS on eggplant leaves, and is the culprit here. I never heard of a flea beetle until I planted eggplant, which makes me wonder what they eat when there is no eggplant available. If they were casual munchers who just left harmless holes in the leaves, I would give them cart blanch, but flea beetles are greedy - they will gorge on the plants until nothing remains but a lifeless stick. Would they rather die than eat something other than eggplant, or is the insect communication chain so efficient that every flea beetle in town was notified the minute I set out my transplants? I am frustrated to no end by these insects, but I am also fascinated by the way they find their target crops.

eggplant damage from flea beetles

I have made it a loose rule to not use chemical insecticides on the vegetable crops, but the flea beetles have forced my hand. I love eggplant fruit. They love eggplant foliage. If I do not keep them from eating the foliage, I will not get to eat any fruit. I tried my organic spray for the first four weeks, but I think the flea beetles liked the taste of it, because their numbers only increased. I finally resorted to Sevin. You can only apply Sevin four times during the growing season; otherwise, nasty residue builds up in the soil that causes damage to future crops. I have applied the Sevin twice already, but the flea beetles keep coming. I have resorted now to picking them off several times a day. It's a good thing I work from home.

One variety of eggplant seems resistant or possibly less tasty to the flea beetles since it has far less holes in it than the others. Since I lost track of which type I planted in which space, I will have to wait until harvest to identify the plants. As long as the fruit is good, I will be sure to plant more of these resistant varieties next year and possibly omit the least resistant from the line up.

Gardening is one of the few disciplines where, even if you do the same thing every year, you will learn something new. The ecosystem around us is constantly changing, and the growing conditions are never exactly the same. It's best to just be flexible, never be surprised by anything and have a good time learning something new (even if it is a tragic lesson).

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