Monday, May 28, 2012

Three Sisters - Beans and Borers

Beans in the Three Sisters
       After a lifetime of planting corn and beans in separate rows and pumpkin and squash in isolated hills, I’m enmeshed in my own preconceptions. Lame as it is, this is my excuse for not noting before that beans that are ready to harvest in 60 days will not be accessible in a Three Sisters planting. This is so obvious that I’m embarrassed to admit I fell into the trap, but this morning the light went on in my head when I read the planting directions on green beans. For the Three Sisters, dry beans are the sane choice.
       Have you tried to find dried beans where you buy your other garden seeds? My search turned up zilch. I do have dried kidney, navy and pinto beans in the house, but will they sprout? More to the point, are they bush or climbing? I’m guessing bush. So I went ahead and planted the green beans, figuring this is an experiment anyway. I’ll get seeds from the Three Sisters beans and I already have rows of green beans that I planted in case I ran into a snag with the Three Sisters project.
Note: Try Seed Savers for a selection of vining beans!  

Controlling Squash Vine Borers
       On a related subject, I’ve done more research into controlling squash vine borers. For the past two years I’ve lost most of my squash and pumpkins to these pests. One recommendation for saving the plants from the borers is to cover the vines with dirt at two feet intervals. Again, getting into the Three Sisters to do this will be awkward, and, I’ve found in the past, not particularly effective. A better solution, it seems to me, might come from learning about the life cycle of this menace.
       Naturally, I found a great Internet page with information about this, but when I went back later to link it to my page, I could not find it. It was a Minnesota extension site. I’ll recall as much as I can to share here.
       The squash vine borer is a wasp (or wasp-like) insect that is dark-colored except for its abdomen, which is red with black spots lined up on the top. It emerges from the soil (in Minnesota and probably here in Michigan too) in late June to early July, at the time squash and pumpkins start to vine. Look for it while you are in the garden. Since it flies during the day, you may spot it. It helps that it buzzes loudly during flight. Alternately, place some water-filled yellow containers around your garden. The yellow attracts borers; the water drowns them. If this happens, then you know you have a potential problem. I believe the article said that the wasps lay a single egg at the base of their favorite plants about a week after they themselves come out of the ground. Two weeks later, the egg will hatch and the little beast will enter the plant and start feeding. More than one may enter the same plant.
       Your first indication of trouble may be wilting leaves on a hot day. Look for entry holes into the plant near its base and for a sawdust-like substance. You could simply pull up and destroy any plants that react like this, assuming that not all your plants are wilting. To try to save the plant, slit it open the along the ribs and kill the interloper/s. Cover the cut area with damp dirt and keep it well watered while it recovers.
       You may be able to avoid all this hassle if you use floating row covers starting in late June and leaving them on until mid-July. Leaving them on permanently will mean the bees won't have access to the blossoms and you won't get a crop. The covers must be securely anchored to keep the wasps out.
       Another source suggested discing in the fall and tilling in the spring to disturb the new crop of wasps. Discing apparently exposes them to birds. Mmm! Lunch!
       The borers aren’t fond of Butternut squash, or melons, watermelon or cucumbers so if you are planting only these, you may not have a problem even if the borers are in residence.
       All this assumes you want to avoid using chemicals, which are, of course, available if you are so minded.
Note: I haven't tried this, but I've heard that wrapping the stem at the base with aluminum foil can, ah, foil the worm when it comes out of the ground looking for a home.

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