Word has it that healthy plants are less likely to succumb to predation, but after watching my apparently healthy looking plants fall prey to greedy little insects, that’s not what I’ve found. Let me tell you about what worked and what didn’t.
This spring I covered my seedling trays with pieces of remay to keep out white butterflies dying to unload their eggs on my brassica seedlings as soon as I turned my back.
Pouring water into the bottom half-inch of the flats allowed water to flow up to the seeds by capillary action, didn’t disturb the seeds as they would have been if watered from above and reduced damping-off. Serendipitously, slugs and wood bugs drowned in the bottom of the trays and left my seedlings alone! So for the first time in the 10 years we’ve lived here, most of my susceptible seedlings survived.
Out in the garden come transplanting time I got hoops in place and readied a length of remay before I even transplanted brassicas under the watchful eyes of laden white butterflies. I kept the trays of seedlings covered with remay right up until I transplanted them into the garden, then when they were all dug in I quickly covered the hoops with the large remay and battened down the perimeter.
That was three weeks ago and the plants are doing fine. I intend to keep the remay over the plants until they’re finished, removing it only to side-dress with fertilizer and spraying with compost tea.
To avoid bringing in bugs that’ll kill your seedlings along with your compost, you can do a few things: wait until the compost is nearly finished and the bugs will have gone elsewhere for a meal, sterilize the compost with boiling water or in a 350 F oven for about 30 minutes, or you can buy compost.
Using your own unsterilized compost has the advantage of including microbes that will help growing seedlings absorb nutrients and prevent damping-off.
I experimented with straw bales this spring and planted strawberries on them in my greenhouse, hoping that pillbugs that in previous years destroyed the crop would be reluctant to scale the bales. Oh, it started off innocuously at first with just a few tiny ones crawling around and I sprinkled used coffee grounds to hopefully throw them off the strawberry scent. But every day there were more bugs and fewer leaves on the strawberries until finally, beaten, I gave up, threw out all the plants and dismantled the straw bales. Hordes of the biggest pillbugs I’ve ever seen clung to the straw as I spread the stuff out to dry to use in the compost heap where pillbugs belong.
A foot-wide perimeter around the whole bed kept clean of grass deterred slugs fairly well last year so I’m going to put in low edging around that too and dig a small trench on the garden side. Speedy slug-eating ground beetles should run over the edging, fall into the garden and be reluctant to climb back out, I’m told.
Since slugs like moist areas, soaker hoses that leave most of the soil dry are ideal. I’ll wait until the soil is quite dry and warm before I use any mulch and hope that enough slugs will have left by then that plagues of them won’t enjoy the cool dampness under the mulch.
Here are a couple more ideas: mow the lawn in the evening when slugs come out of hiding; don’t bother using nematodes to control slugs since the infected slugs become unattractive to ground beetles.
Maybe this year more than two cabbages will survive — maybe even a cauliflower.