Linda's List: Cold weather preparations, cutworms again

Well, the La Nina weather pattern is certainly delivering as promised: wet and windy indeed, with a record-setting October for number of rainy days and, in some areas, record total rainfall for the month. Despite this, however, it has been warm enough for cabbages and other hardy plants to continue slow growth and for cutworms to be out and about (see below). There isn’t cold weather in the immediate forecast and Environment Canada’s long range forecast shows a probability of somewhat above average temperatures through January, but remember that the coldest weather we have had in the last couple of winters occurred in late November. So…just sayin’… be prepared to finish mulching by then and have some tarps or sheets of plastic handy to cover leafy greens in case of really cold weather.

The hardy greens, such as chard and leaf beet, winter lettuce, Komatsuna, Mizuna, leaf mustards and hardy Chinese cabbages are usually fine to about -5oC (23oF) without covers. At those temperatures leaves freeze solid, however, so wait until the weather has warmed up and the leaves have thawed out before you harvest. Also, when you harvest, keep picking the outer, older leaves first, which are less hardy than the younger leaves in the centre of the plants. If you are growing these in coldframes, tunnels or unheated greenhouses, they won’t need additional covers unless an Arctic outbreak brings extreme cold.

If really cold weather is forecast, I lay plastic over beds of greens and hold it down with heavy rocks (Arctic outbreaks usually bring strong outflow winds to the coast). If lows look like they may go to -9oC (16oF) or lower, then I also throw a tarp over winter cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli for the few days of the cold snap. I didn’t do it one winter, though, and they looked terrible, but came through fine anyway. It has to be colder than that to daunt kale or the super-hardy 'Unique' variety of leeks, but most leeks varieties are not that hardy so would benefit from covers in a cold snap. Parsley and corn salad are extremely hardy and shouldn’t need covers. The root crops, snug under a thick layer of leaf mulch well up over the tops of the roots by the time it gets cold, should be fine.

Citrus Protection: If you have lemon or lime trees planted outdoors, it is time to string incandescent Christmas tree lights (which are being sold again in stores) through the branches and cover the trees with floating row cover or clear plastic with some ventilation holes. Turn on the lights if there is a risk temperatures will go below freezing and they provide enough heat inside the covering to prevent damage. For more on this, see the Fruit Trees and More website for videos on growing lemons and other tender fruit. And a reminder while I am on fruit trees, this is the time to order all kinds of fruit trees for planting next spring from Fruit Trees and More. Send them an email and ask for the current stock list, which has everything from apples and figs to pears and yuzu. [Yuzu is a very hardy citrus with a fragrant lemony-lime flavour, much prized in Japan—so far mine has survived 3 winters outdoors up here on the mountain without Christmas lights to rescue it in a cold snap].

Dang those cutworm: In these relatively warm nights, climbing cutworms have been frolicking and doing quite a lot of damage to leafy greens. They are likely all larvae of the Large Yellow Underwing moth. The swiftest way to deal with them is to go out after dark with a flashlight and catch them. Their colours range from light green to very dark grey; they feed on the top edges of leaves so are not hard to see. A couple of nights of checking should pretty much get them all: the good news is that once you clear them out of a bed, there won’t be another generation until next summer. Which unfortunately is not the case for slugs, who are also rampaging in this weather, with lots of tiny ones being hatched. You can catch slugs at night while looking for cutworms and also put down iron phosphate slug baits (such as Sluggo and Scott’s EcoSense, which can be used by certified organic growers). Just sprinkle out a little bait at a time and replace it every few days as it melts away in the rain.

Storing Apples, Onions, Squash: Last year I sent out detailed information on how to keep these crops over the winter so if you want to check out that info.

A SWD surprise: I am still trapping that #!@#! fruit fly, the Spotted wing Drosophila, in vinegar traps in my garden. I caught a lot all through October, but was still astounded to find 143 flies in the trap this morning (Nov. 5), caught in just the last 7 days. About half were females so I am obviously still removing a substantial potential population from overwintering in my garden. So keep you traps going! I am keeping mine out until it freezes hard. Some of the most recent information on this pest is that fall trapping could be useful control to catch the flies before they find a sheltered place to spend the winter. If you are new to these newsletters and the fruit fly problem, there is more info in June 14, 2016 message.

Housekeeping: I have been having trouble with my email account crashing the last couple of times I have sent out this newsletter (Shaw finds this a mystery as I have not exceed their email limits). But if you know of anyone who hasn’t been getting these message for a couple of months, ask them to re-subscribe as somewhere there may be a bad address that is triggering the crash and some messages may no longer be being delivered.

For Salt Springers: I urge you to sign the petition to the North Saltspring Waterworks District to allow Fraser Thimble Farms to water their Nursery. They have done an excellent job conserving water and are a long-established island business providing a valuable resource (including native plants for ecological restoration, pollinator forage, food garden plants). They should have a stable water allocation. Here's the link.

About Linda A. Gilkeson, Ph.D.

Salt-Spring---Linda-GilkesonLinda earned a Ph.D. in Entomology from McGill University in 1986, then moved to British Columbia to work for Applied Bio-Nomics Ltd., a company that produces biological controls. From 1991 to 2002 she worked for the provincial government, promoting programs to reduce and eliminate pesticide use. She was head of the provincial State of Environment Reporting Unit for the next six years, then the Executive Director of the Salt Spring Island Conservancy until the end of 2011. Linda now devotes her time to writing, teaching and consulting.

Linda has co-authored pest management training manuals for the government and organic gardening books for Rodale Press. She has self-published two books: Year Around Harvest: Winter Gardening on the Coast and West Coast Gardening: Natural Insect, Weed and Disease Control. Her recent book, Backyard Bounty: The Complete Guide to year-Round Organic Gardening in the Pacific Northwest, has become a BC best seller.

As a private consultant, Linda is a regular instructor in the Master Gardener programs in BC and is busy year around giving workshops on pest management and organic gardening.

Linda has served as President of the Entomological Society of Canada, the Professional Pest Management Association of BC, the Entomological Society of BC and the Salt Spring Island Garden Club. She was awarded a Queen’s Jubilee medal in 2003 and an outstanding achievement award from the Professional Pest Management Association of BC in 2005.

Follow Linda's work at­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

November 7, 2016 1:03 PM

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