Monthly Archives: May 2012

To Catch a Thief

Ciao, Ortolani, 

This is one of the many e-mails that I receive from clients, friends, former students and readers asking for my advice. Of course it’s impossible for me to diagnose a problem and suggest a treatment without first seeing the damage or knowing particular details, nonetheless, most people request this type of information: 

“Remember that I said something was eating my lettuce? Well, they are now dining on my basil. I just put out a fresh bottle of beer in two spots in case there are slugs. But, really I’ve never seen one in the garden, can you help me out?” 

I’m well aware that homegrown seedlings, especially those raised by newcomers, are quite special because it takes lots of hard work, and the gardener feels responsible to keep them healthy throughout the season. Suddenly unknown assailants damage or destroy your priced possession and revenge is your first reaction, which usually resorts to using means to destroy the insect without identifying what caused the damage.

Even though it feels like a major catastrophe when it happens, don’t search the internet to find instant gratification and spray with whatever someone (whether they are qualified or not), suggests. First determine if it’s the work of insects or otherwise, what type of damage the plant has sustained, and contact knowledgeable Imagepeople to guide you through the situation.

After this person sent me a picture of  pill bugs, better known as roly-poly’s, I knew they could be the culprits. Do not take anything from granted. These insects usually feed on decaying organic vegetation, and at times, especially when large in numbers, they’ll feed on tender foliage, young vegetable seedlings, and transplants. Pill bugs, like slugs, feed at night and spend bright daylight in damp/dark areas, and to catch the “thieves”, lay down a piece of board or several large leaves (Brassicas) and uncover in the morning, only if they are damaging your tender crops.

Ci risentiamo,

Nick Mancini, The Organic Italian








Time to Plant Warm Season Crops

Cari Ortolani;

Yesterday was the last spring class of THE ORGANIC GARDENING WORKSHOP followed by a little get-together afterwards to discuss what strategy is necessary to harvest a bumper crop. And, since tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown in the world, the question arises of me stressing that if a tomato plant doesn’t produce at least 35 pounds of tomatoes, it’s not a fruitful harvest, at least not for me. The usual reply from newcomers is “you must be dreaming”, because their anemic looking plants, which most likely were bought with several flowers or tomatoes already on the vine, produced at the most 10 pounds.  They were proud of the results and to them it was a decent enough yield to brag about to their neighbors.

The secret of growing a bountiful harvest of tomatoes, or any other crop for that matter, is to plan beforehand, and preferably the previous fall. Make a sketch of your garden to insure that crop rotation is observed. The first step to success is to grow a cover crop, spot fertilize for the particular plant, and have the soil ready before transplanting your seedlings into the garden.

As we all know, tomatoes do not need excessive amounts of nitrogen, a 5-10-10 organic fertilizer is sufficient, unless your soil test says otherwise. I use Alfalfa Meal or Soybean Meal for Nitrogen, Rock Phosphate for Phosphorus and either Greensand or Sul-Po-Mag for Potassium.

As my seedlings get re-potted into paper pots, I begin to spray them with a diluted solution of liquid copper to protect them from air and soil-borne diseases. The night before planting, I cut all leaves, except the top three to make sure the wounds heal overnight and prevent pathogens from attacking them. Also remove any flowers and most definitely fruits. Dig a trench, place a banana peel and a handful of scrunched seaweed at the bottom, plant the tomato seedling quasi-horizontally, and cover the entire stem with soil up to the top leaves. The little leaves that are laying flat will be upright by morning, and within a week, the stem will have plenty of roots, which can sustain fast growth and heavy cropping.

Sempre avanti,

Nick Mancini, The Organic Italian






The Garden Should be in Full Swing

Cari Ortolani,

Because of the mild weather this winter, spring has been challenging. Whether your growing vegetables or fruits, the results are the same. For the first time in years I’ve noticed an increased number of aphids, leaf miners, scales,  and for the first time my grapevines have been attacked by the erineum mites.  At first I thought it was phylloxera a deadly disease that kills the roots of Vitis vinefera, but soon after looking at it with a magnifying glass, I realized it was the less serious disease. If the leaves of your Vitis vinifera (European cultivars), grapevine has blisters on the leaf surface, chances are it has the same affliction.  Erineum mites is a minor disease, especially in older vines and if sulfur is sprayed to control powdery mildew. If you use sulfur, be careful, it may burn leaves, and do not use on Concord or Foch type vines. This pest overwinters under bud scales and moves to the new growth during spring.

Now into a more pleasant topic. Since I do intensive gardening in raised beds and I Imagelike to harvest 3 crops in every inch of space (other than the cold frame), my first yield of cool weather vegetables are way ahead of schedule, in fact some plantings of spinach, lettuce, radishes and others are just about ready to make room for cucumbers, tomatoes, beans and the rest. Yesterday my students in  THE ORGANIC GARDENING WORKSHOP planted tomatoes (Costituto Genoves) and peppers (Corne di Toro Giallo) in one of the sawed-in-half whisky barrels, and (Principe Borghesee), which are sun-drying tomatoes and Turkish Orange eggplants on the other. Both tomato plants grown on 4” newspaper pots were sown horizontally to maximize the root system.

Succession planting is essential when gardening n small spaces or in containers, and by planning ahead is imperative. Amend the soil after removing your spring crops so the warm weather plants will start on a positive note.

Ci  risentiamo la prossima settimana,

Nick Mancini, The Organic Italian