Lesson learned: squirrels eat tomatoes

After successfully planting the seedlings in my new garden a couple weeks ago, I was very happy with the tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, okra, and melon plants. Within the first week, however, I lost two of my twelve tomato plants. Mysteriously, they were dug out at the roots and left– half of the plant chewed off — laying in the row.

I sighed, and reminded myself that my new animal friends in my yard were always going to take some of the harvest. But, then the next day ten of my twelve tomato plants were gone! Hacked in pieces and dug up at the roots.

With only two tomato plants left, I was very worried. Luckily, I was able to head to Behnke’s for their 4th of July sale and picked up a variety of pepper plants to  use the space. I was thankful for the remaining tomato plants. I wondered, who was ruining my tomatoes?

Day three of the battle of the tomatoes, the remaining two plants were destroyed. The squirrels won. It turns out they enjoy eating tomato plants, particularly during times without much rain. Our heat wave here in the DC area must have encouraged the squirrels to take advantage of my tomato plants.

I’m left without any tomatoes in my home garden – but with an addition of many different varieties of hot and sweet peppers and a newfound determination to deter the squirrels from eating my plants. Here are some ideas I’ve come up with:

  • Hot pepper spray to apply to my vegetable plants
  • Squirrel feeder on the other side of the house to detract from the garden
  • Netting around the vulnerable (ie squirrel-attractive) plants
  • Shiny-items that move in the wind including hanging disposable pie pan (shown in photo below)

At my last house, my roommate purchased a sling-shot to try to teach squirrels to stay away from the garden.

Pepper plants that replaced the lost tomatoes

Despite the loss of the tomatoes, I’ve been eager to install drip irrigation for the vegetables, continue to improve my herb garden and start to plan for my fall planting. I picked up seeds for pumpkins, winter squash, greens, radishes, and other root vegetables. I also purchased some new garden tools including a mini-shovel. Although the battle of the tomatoes was lost, I will not be defeated.

New mini-shovel ready for work in the garden

Let us know if you’ve been experiencing any issues with squirrels. What has worked (or not worked) for you? Email me at allison@compost2themooon.com!


July: What’s Growing?

Here in Plant Hardiness Zone 7a, many of us are enjoying our first tomato harvest of the season and keeping a careful eye on the squash and zucchini in order to scoop it into the kitchen before it gets too big and loses that sweetness. Here are a few pics from the past couple of weeks of farm and garden fun that we hope will inspire our readers to head to their local farm market this week!

One of the first Public Health Garden tomatoes (7/5/2012)
First Fish Peppers
Allison’s New Vegetable Garden: Cukes, Squash, Tomatoes, Peppers, Melons
Chioggia Beets: Potomac Vegetable Farms 7/6/2012
Nasturtium – Edible Flowers – at the University of Maryland Public Health Garden
Zinnias: All over the place (lucky us!)
Eggplant: Black Beauty – At a Farmers Market near you!
Okra: Another one seemingly capable of doubling in size overnight
Berry-picking season 🙂
Hardneck Garlic
Shallots: Farmer Ellen Polishuk
Moutoux Peaches: Purcellville, VA
Sweet Onions at Five Seeds Farm: Sparks Glencoe, Maryland
Carrots at Willowsford Farm: Loudon County, VA
Potatoes, melons, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, herbs, cukes from Willowsford Farm CSA

New Garden: Time for a Soil Test!

Next week, I’m moving to a new house where I am excited to get some overgrown seedlings into the ground in my new backyard and garden. I’m thrilled because there are two areas of the yard that have already been prepared for gardening by the previous tenants of the house. Unfortunately, the previous tenants did not do a soil test. Since the house is old, and located in Prince George’s County, I think that it is likely that there is some lead contamination in the soil. I’ve got to get the plants in the ground right away if there is any hope in producing any vegetables this summer. But, I’ll have to keep my fingers crossed that the soil tests come back safe for vegetable-gardening.

In my quest to better understand issues related to lead contamination, I found a couple resources from the University of Maryland’s Home Garden Information Center and University of California’s Extension. Both articles explain that common sources of contamination are:

  • Chipping or peeling paint around older structures
  • Industrial sites
  • Leaded fuels (remember, there was lead in gasoline until 1986)
  • Old lead plumbing pipes

Lead is hazardous, with young children and pregnant women at the greatest risk. Children exposed to lead have lower IQs and may experience permanent learning disabilities and behavioral disorders when compared to children not exposed to lead. But, when asking the question of whether vegetables are safe to eat after being grown in contaminated soil, it seems that there is not a simple answer. First, it depends how much lead is actually in the soil: 

So, I can hope for a low-level of contamination (low number of ppms of lead). Additionally, I can help minimize risk by growing the right kinds of vegetables and fruits and avoiding others. For example, fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers are less likely to contain high lead levels compared to leafy vegetables (such as lettuce and spinach) and root vegetables (such as carrots and turnips).

Monitoring the pH and adding organic material to the soil helps manage the amount of lead that might leach into the plants. Therefore, I will be sure to check the results of the soil test for pH and add compost and soil amendments to help further reduce health risks.

Lastly, since contamination adheres to the surface of the plants, I will be sure to wash all vegetables and fruits produced in the garden thoroughly and peel those that need it. It is also important to wash gardening clothes and hands to help minimize ingestion of the soil from getting dirty playing in the garden.

Let’s just keep our fingers crossed for some nice results of that soil test.

Butterflies at Brookside Gardens

In case you haven’t been or heard about the Wings of Fancy Exhibit at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland, allow me to suggest a visit or two be added to your summer day-cation list.

From early May through September 16th (10a.m. to 4p.m. daily) you can surround yourself with hundreds of African, Asian, Costa Rican and North American butterflies fluttering freely inside the South Conservatory.

The $6/adult $4/kids 3-12 admission fee allows entry to the exhibit all day long and includes a quick instructional on the butterfly life cycle.

Butterfly populations are decreasing due to habitat loss, pesticide use and pollution. The folks at Brookside not only offer a protected greenhouse habitat for rare and/or endangered butterfly species but also have host and nectar plants throughout the grounds and encourage visitors to build their own native butterfly habitat at home. For details on how to do so in our region, check out How to Build a Butterfly Garden and Gardening for Butterflies.

There are also tons of great picnic spots, educational gardens, signs and takeaways throughout the grounds so if you are planning a visit, this is an easy spot to spend the entire day. Be sure and bring your reusable water bottles too, since Brookside banned the sale of disposable bottled water bottles.

Brookside Gardens
South Conservatory
1500 Glenallan Avenue
Wheaton, MD 20902

Lilly Gardens

I spent last weekend up in NJ/NYC visiting my family. I thought I would share some photos that made me smile from the Lilly family container gardens.  It seems to me that container gardening runs in my family! 

Here is my dad’s back patio garden with some new herbs we just put in together this weekend:

Here is my mom’s terrace with some beautiful and healthy plants.  They are even surviving the wild winds that blow out on her 19th floor apartment:

Mother’s Day Weekend Gardening

I’ve heard from master gardeners that Mother’s Day is the right day to start gardening in this area.  So, I took this weekend to get my garden cleaned up at home and transplant some plants from our collection at UMD that are itching for a home since our beds aren’t ready at the Public Health Garden. The garden is a good collection of containers and my little plot from last year. I’ve also expanded with two make-shift raised beds for potatoes and sweet onions (not shown because I put the onions in today). Here are some photos:

Here is a list of what you see pictured:

  • Kale and collards from last year (still going!)
  • Broccoli
  • Rhubarb
  • Tomato plants
  • Eggplant
  • Green beans
  • Peas
  • Lettuce (container)
  • Herb mix (container)
  • Container tomato
  • Container eggplant (I have a lot of eggplant, we’ll see how they do)
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet onions

In the front yard, we have containers of the following:

  • Strawberries
  • Rosemary and more herbs

I also have seeds starting for cukes, melons, peppers, and okra. 

It is going to be a delicious season.  I hope you got started with some plants this weekend too… containers and otherwise!