The pest I’m hearing about most from west Michigan gardeners this year is Japanese beetles. These pesky little copper-colored beetles especially love roses and apple trees—both of which we have on our property, so I have been especially interested in monitoring them for activity.
Their telltale sign is leaving “skeletonized” leaves while leaving the veins intact. Unfortunately Japanese beetles are not real picky eaters and will attack almost any flower, shrub, tree, or vegetable plant. My first encounter with the Japanese beetles this year occurred when they showed up on my pole beans; they’ve also enjoyed some of our cucumber plants.
So how do we get rid of them without nasty pesticides?
First spray your plants with Neem oil. The benefit of Neem oil is it is derived from an evergreen tree and is safe for use around humans, animals, earthworms, lady bugs, and other beneficial insects. Neem oil also protects your plants from a variety of other insects including caterpillars, cabbage worms, mealy bugs, mites and whiteflies, just to name a few. Neem oil can also help with powdery mildew. This is an item I wouldn’t want to start the year without because there is a good chance I will need it at some point during gardening season!
Second, Japanese beetles are slow and not all that alert. This makes them easy to catch. Fill a bucket or jar half way with water and a squirt of dish soap. Catch the beetles with your gloved hands and place them in the bucket. They cannot escape from the soapy water. The best time to catch them is early in the morning when they are the least alert although you should have no problem catching them anytime during the day. Also leave the bucket of dead beetles in the garden as a deterrent. Japanese beetles are largely moved by scents and the smell will deter additional beetles.
Finally, grubs are the larval stage of the Japanese beetle and the presence of the beetles in your garden or on your roses may mean you or your neighbor have a grub issue. Japanese beetles will travel a mile for a good meal, but if they are in your garden and you didn’t have grubs this spring you may have them next spring. Grubs can be treated organically with milky spores, but the milky spores take a year to effectively establish themselves in your soil. I know we will be applying them this fall to get a jump on any problems with grubs in the future.
Now that I’ve given you some good ways to rid your yard of Japanese beetles, here’s what I’d avoid: Japanese beetle traps. Studies have found they attract more beetles than they actually catch.
So is there a way to prevent these pests from invading your garden? Well, theoretically, natural repellants for Japanese beetles include chives, garlic, catnip and tansy, but to be honest, I have not found these to be very effective. Directly below my pole beans are my chives, so I’m not convinced planting those things actually works as a deterrent.
So while you may not get rid of the all the Japanese beetles in your yard, you can definitely control their population so they will not have an impact on your harvest.
I often hear at Farmer’s Markets that people would love to garden, but spring got away from them and now it’s too late. What if I told you it’s not too late? This is the perfect time to dig out that grass and till your soil or if you prefer raised bed, like I do, let’s get building.
Here on the Good Sweet Earth homestead we are always trying to take steps toward food self-sufficiency and this fall we plan on installing a few more raised beds too. Our raised beds will be earmarked for berries come spring, but this summer and fall we have a few ideas for some fast growing vegetables that we can still plant and harvest this year.
August is the perfect time to plant radishes, arugula, baby spinach, lettuce, and snap peas. Radishes take a mere 22 days to harvest and can be grown until the first frost. Snap Peas depending on variety take about 60 days to harvest. If you are feeling adventurous you could even plant some beets, broccoli, kale or swiss chard since all these vegetables take about 60 days to harvest too.
Remember the days to harvest is not counted from the day you put the seed in the ground until you harvest but rather once the seed is germinated and growing to harvest. Check your first frost date. Here in Zeeland, Michigan, our first frost date is October 10 which means we have a 50 percent chance of frost. Our short growing season 156 days will come to an end before we know it so let’s make the most of it! Happy (August) gardening!
Are you short on garden space, but have a long list of plants you want to grow? Try a trellis!
Growing your garden vertically saves space, making your garden more efficient and reduces the risk of disease. So what can you grow vertical? Cucumbers, peas, squash, pole beans, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and other melons!
Can all varieties of these plants grow up? No-- you need to make sure you have vining varieties of some and that the melons you trellis are the smaller varieties.
Also did you know that some plants prefer a natural trellis over a metal one? It’s true! Cucumbers, peas, and melons grab onto natural supports better than metal ones. So think wood, bamboo stakes, twine, and tree branches when constructing your trellis for those items. Or if you have a metal trellis you can add twine to it to help your plants grab on. Need ideas? Check out our Pinterest page for some great trellis ideas.
Seed catalogs start to arrive in our mailbox in January and when they do, I snuggle up and read them like the latest romance novel. I love planning my garden! This year our kids at the Good Sweet Earth homestead got to put their two cents in about what we should grow. The list is long!
We will have our staples: carrots, lettuces, radishes, green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes (slicing and cherry), jalapenos, and green peppers. I don’t think we have ever had a garden without those ten.
The kids requested pumpkins again this year so we decided to do mini pumpkins and jack o’ lantern pumpkins. They also wanted apple trees (the sourest we could find, please!), watermelons, and cantaloupe.
I wanted to add to our early crops with arugula, snap peas, pak choi, and spinach.
For summer I added eggplant and a few herbs (basil, parsley, chives, and cilantro). And as usual we will also grow onions and potatoes. Check back this summer for pictures of our garden!
What’s in your garden this year? Let us know in the comments below!
March and April are frustrating months for gardeners in west Michigan. If you’ve been dreaming of getting your garden in the ground, but you look out the window and see snow in your yard, then now is the perfect time to put your dreams on paper. Every successful gardener has a list of what they want to grow that year so that they know they'll have the space for every plant. Are you new to gardening and wonder what grows well here in Michigan? Well wonder no more; here are the basics:
Most summer gardens here in Michigan have the staples of cucumbers, tomatoes, and zucchini. Sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, and green beans also grow well here. If you are looking to plant earlier than mid-May think lettuce, snap peas, kale, and carrots. Your options for vegetables are really endless, which makes gardening in Michigan very exciting!
Do you have fruits on your list this year? Strawberries and blueberries do well in Michigan. Cherry and apple trees are also Michigan staples. Watermelons and muskmelons also do well if you have a large enough area or grow smaller varieties up a trellis.
If flowers are more your passion, then you are in luck too. Zinnia, marigolds, cosmos, salvia, sunflowers, and petunia are all beautiful annuals (they come up once, then die). If perennials (they come up year after year) are what you are after try coneflowers, Lenten roses, black-eyed susans, allium, sedum, Russian sage, or asters.
Once you know what you want to grow, map it out, put it on paper. Then when the weather starts to improve, its time to get dirty. Happy gardening.
West Michigan yard farmers: For questions on gardening, or if you'd like to go organic in your garden this year, drop Master Gardener Corey Veldheer a line at Corey@GoodSweetEarth.com. We also offer a Garden Consultation Service to help you navigate through an entire growing season; for more info click here.
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.