Like most gardeners I enter each season optimistic and idealistic about the coming growing season. “This is going to be the year when my garden is never overgrown with weeds. I will never lose a plant to insects and all my produce will be harvested and preserved in a timely fashion” Come about August each year my hopes and dreams are assuredly bashed. I must spend a whole morning (or several) weeding heavily, I find green beans in the back of the fridge that I forgot to freeze or can. My heart falls to find out that I didn’t monitor the winter squash close enough and a plant has succumbed to squash bugs. And of course at some point I find a cantaloupe fallen and eaten by a turtle or a giant squash too big to be tasty that slipped past me under a leaf for days. Each year is generally a little better though. Ideas are always meandering into my head, particularly during the long slow winter, about ways to ease the garden work and increase efficiency and target problem areas. By spring I can’t wait to try out my new ideas. Here are a few that have proven worthwhile. A dust buster! For $5.00 I picked up a dust buster at a goodwill store. It has proven invaluable for controlling potato beetles and squash bugs. Although it doesn’t prevent the daily walk and spot checks it does make getting rid of the little critters fast and easy when I do find them. Before I would carefully pick each little bugger off that I could find. But many bugs drop from the plant and get immediately lost on the ground in response to the plant shaking due to my bug picking efforts, making it all but impossible to get them all. With the dust buster and its little tube attachment I can stealthily suck up the beetles and bugs without disturbing the plant and alerting the other bugs to their coming demise. Shingles – when a home is re-roofed all those shingles tossed on the trailer headed to the dump are generally free for the asking. They make superb weed killers. I have lined the edges of my garden with a wide shingle path to help slow down the creeping Bermuda grass. Nothing will stop Bermuda but it has certainly made it easier to keep up with. With time I am going to accumulate enough shingles to cover all my garden paths around my mounded beds to create maintenance free walkways. Although I wouldn’t suggest using shingles to smother weeds directly next to plants though because they do not breathe, or contribute to the soil, and they block water. Old carpet- I use old carpet in a similar way to shingles. It is not quite as handy because it doesn’t shed water and can begin to deteriorate and smell. I generally use old area rugs as temporary weed killers, moving them to an anticipated planting spot. For instance, when I know that a particular area will be planted with the next succession of green beans in a few weeks, I move the old rug from the bed I just planted to the new one to kill off all the little weeds that have germinated since its last planting. This cuts down on disturbing the soil while preparing it for planting which makes for healthier soil. Panty hose – take those old holey pantyhose and put them to good use. As you find cantaloupe or winter squash growing on your trellis create little hammocks for them with the panty hose to give them support without restricting expansion. That way if they get just a bit ripe and slip from the vine without your knowledge they won’t fall to the ground to meet and untimely end and will have a chance to be noticed and harvested on your daily walk through.
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