Berkshire Garden Journal: 'Skeeters' and beetles -- oh my!


The sudden arrival of stifling hot weather has made working in the garden during the day uncomfortable if not hazardous, especially to those of us who are chronologically enhanced.

As such, I try to do much of my gardening in the early morning or evening. I say "try" because I seem to spend more time swatting mosquitoes than gardening. This is counter-productive since the more I exert myself, the more carbon dioxide and lactic acid my body releases. It is widely known that these two compounds act like magnets to attract mosquitoes. Fortunately, there are repellents that are proven to be effective in warding off these pesky critters. They are DEET, Picaridin, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, and IR3535 (A component in Avon's Skin-so-Soft lotion).

Another potential option for fending off mosquitoes that intrigues me appeared in Mass Audubon's June online newsletter. It described the creation of a garden with "plants that are believed to have anti-mosquito properties." Many of these plants are being used by manufacturers in "natural" mosquito repellent products. Among the plants in the Mass Audubon test garden are: lemon balm, eucalyptus, marigold, garlic, lemon verbena, basil, sage, scented geranium, nasturtium, catmint and rosemary. I'm anxious to see how this experiment turns out. If nothing else, they'll have a nice scented garden that will attract human pests -- er, visitors.

Apply mosquito repellents and get on with these weekend tasks:

• Gather your pea-pickin' family members together for a pea-pickin' party in the pea patch. Peas are maturing fast and should be picked at least every other day lest they develop into bowling balls, as my wife refers to over-sized peas.

• Dig a few new potatoes to go with peas and grilled salmon, a New England July Fourth tradition. Supposedly, John Adams celebrated Independence Day with such a meal. Turtle soup was also on the menu. I think I'll go with mock turtle soup. By the way, how do you catch a mock turtle? I have so much to learn.

• Keep picking strawberries, including the over-ripe and mushy ones. Unless you're fond of mushy strawberries, those should be tossed. The point is to remove them since the size of the developing fruit diminishes when old berries are allowed to remain on the plants.

• Pull up every other carrot. Not only are you thinning the row of carrots, but you're getting some fine baby carrots great for braising or steaming. Make another sowing of carrots now to keep them babies coming.

• Make a final sowing of sweet corn. Choose a variety that matures in about 65 to 75 days. Longer maturing varieties might not make it if there's an early fall freeze. Other crops that can still be planted include bush beans and summer squash.

• Harvest outer leaves of lettuce, chard and kale, but leave the rest of the plant intact. The chard and kale will remain productive through the rest of the growing season. The full lettuce plant may have to be harvested soon since mature plants tend to bolt in hot weather. (Check last week's column for tips on delaying bolting.)

• Prepare to battle Japanese beetles on food crops and ornamental plants. They should be emerging and will feed on a wide variety of plants. There are many options for managing Japanese beetles, but trapping is one proven not to be very successful. Application of the natural insecticide Neem is a good choice for control, as is covering grapes and other food crops with floating row covers.

• Shear fall blooming perennials, including bee balm, boltonia, mums, New England aster, and Sedum "Autumn Joy." This will result in compact plants as opposed to leggy, floppy ones. Don't wait any longer to shear since these plants will need some time to develop new shoots and flower buds.


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