A Few Gardening Tips and Favorite Tools

Another favorite tool is the Lawn Buddy, or “scooty seat.” Photo Credit: Lorna Carlisle

By now, you are hopefully enjoying the fruits of your labor.  With the wet start to summer, the vegetables are thriving but so are the weeds. 

One of my favorite things to use to vanquish weeds is the Hoedag (see link below, Duluth Trading). This handheld tool is the best ever for quackgrass  (Elymus repens, or couch grass, a weed with big white roots that takes over your garden). The Hoedag is well worth the approximate $32 cost.

The Hoedag, a favorite handheld tool, is the best implement for quackgrass.

 Another tool I won’t live without is my Collinear hoe from Johnny’s Seeds (link below, www.johnnyseeds.com). It has a long handle so anyone, short or tall, can stand upright to hoe. This is not a chopping hoe. It should be used to eliminate small weeds. Use a gentle sweeping action to cut off weeds before they need any “chopping.”

The small blade on the Collinear makes it easy to get around many plants and as long as you keep your blade sharp, it’s a joy to use. The less weeding, the better. That is why I have gone no-till.  

I could do a whole separate article on no-till, as there are whole books written about the subject.  Basically, you put your rototiller away or sell it. Make permanent beds (they don’t need to be raised beds). The premise is that every time you disturb the soil you bring weed seeds to the surface.  

Instead, add fresh compost yearly to the tops of your beds and plant with as little soil disturbance as possible. Tilling the soil also damages the soil microbiome. Worms, insects, toads, as well as fine threads called Mycorrhizae help plants make connections with the soil to uptake nutrients.

A Collinear hoe has a very long handle so anyone — short or tall — can stand upright to hoe.

Untilled soil also can absorb more water (something you would need during this wet summer).  Compaction makes for standing water on soil, which can encourage disease. 

If you’re like me and have long rows to plant or harvest, my other favorite tool is the Lawn Buddy — which I call my “scooty seat” (available from multiple places by googling Ames Lawn Buddy, or link below). It’s like a cooler with wheels. I can store tools and the cover tips up so I can easily move it to other locations.  

Last, a few tips about pests that are now enjoying your vegetables too. Putting a small board (or something that won’t blow away) on the ground under your squash plants will create a great place for squash bugs to hide. Except you know their secret. In the morning, lift the board and either squish them or give them a swimming lesson in a container of soapy water.  

Japanese Beetles are the bane of everyone’s existence. Some authorities think the traps actually encourage more beetles to visit your restaurant. I look at it as an additional expense, so I invented The Bug Catcher in the Rye — a gallon jug with the bottom cut out. This makes a funnel.  

In the early morning or late evening, when the Japanese beetles (and other bugs) are less active, tap the plant with your Catcher and have a plastic jar or bag with soapy water in it, and the bugs will slide right in. The funnel is wide for catching but narrow at the entrance to soapy water so that generally bugs can’t crawl or fly out.  

Diatomaceous Earth is an organic product containing silica that desiccates bugs. It is safe around pets, birds, and people. However, it is a fine powder. You do not want to inhale it. Wear a mask. It loses its effectiveness when wet. 

I’ve also tried crushed egg shells. Can’t hurt but I don’t think it really discourages many bugs.  My neighbor gave me a tip that does work on cutworms. When planting young plants like broccoli, cabbage, peppers, etc., she recommended using two toothpicks at the base of the stem. The cutworm can’t surround the plant and cut it off. I wasn’t taking any chances so I used three toothpicks. It worked great. I didn’t lose one plant.  

One other tip that I will be trying soon is using a black light to detect tomato hornworms at night.  I bought an inexpensive black-light flashlight and soon will have my chance to verify. Just don’t kill the hornworms that have been parasitized. These are the caterpillars that look like they have grains of rice on them. They’re going to die but are hosting a parasitic wasp family.  

Finally, try to remember we can’t kill all the pests. Without a host, the beneficial bugs and wasps have nothing to eat and they’ll leave. Nature generally finds an equilibrium. Stay calm and garden on.