The potato beetles are doing very well in my garden, thank you very much.

I just got back inside after picking more than a dozen off my lovely potato plants, which are growing so well. These black-and-beige-striped bugs are a bane to potato plants.

We had removed clusters of orange beetle eggs from under a number of potato leaves, but apparently not nearly enough.

Insects cause such destructiveness to many of our garden vegetable plants. Successful gardeners need to keep a close watch on everything.

While potato bugs are easy to spot, not every munching creature is.

I don’t use toxic pesticides on my vegetables, but instead, when I finally give up trying to remove every nibbling creature by hand, I have found several much more friendly dusts that will kill the bugs but not harm the plant.

When visiting a gardening or hardware store for something to use, pay close attention to the container’s label. It will clearly state whether such insecticide is safe, and use that.

I’ve often used Bonide Garden Dust to rid my plants of insects. It uses a chemical found in chrysanthemums called pyrethrin. I’ve found this environmentally responsible powder at Paris Farmer’s Union stores.

Bonide also makes a dust to help reduce or eliminate blight on tomatoes and potatoes, known as Bonide Copper Dust. I have found that it does reduce both early and late blight. A very natural method to use to reduce insects is to plant marigolds among your vegetables. Bugs just don’t like the scent of that flower.

A website to try for pest control is: doyourownpestcontrol.com. And another good source of information is the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association at mofga.com.

Meanwhile, my garden is growing quite well, despite the destructive insects. The first and second crops of lettuce and spinach have produced plenty for healthful salads, and it’s time to plant a third crop.

If your garden is full right now, try using the space between rows of cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts plants. These plants will not be large enough to block out the sun for several weeks, just about the amount of time needed to grow another crop of lettuce, spinach or radishes.

My first attempt at growing some vegetables atop hay bales is also quite successful. While the two tomato plants I planted in a straw bale didn’t do much, everything else has.

The bale where I planted crook-necked summer squash is doing particularly well, as are the two bales I have planted with cucumbers. Lettuce is coming up in another — so far, so good. It’s always fun to try something different.

This is the time to pay close attention to weeds and grass that, if left alone, will overwhelm almost any vegetable crop.

I reduce this possibility by not only weeding on a regular basis, but also by mulching around tomato, pepper and other plants that were set in as seedlings.

Hay is a great asset to the garden. We always buy several bales from local farmers to use in the garden.

Not only is it good for mulching tomatoes, but also for mulching between rows of nearly any vegetable to keep weeds down. And when the season is over, it’s great added to the compost pile.

In other areas of the backyard and field, wild blackberries and cultivated raspberries are displaying tiny green fruit, while daisies — my very favorite of all the flowers wild or cultivated — are popping up everywhere.

In the front flower garden, the showy red perennial poppies are in their glory, and the self-seeded and recently planted pansies are spectacular.

This is the time for many, many gardening-related activities. If you are able, try to do some of the following:

* Remove the seed stalk from the rhubarb patch.

* The daffodil and tulip leaves should be brown by now; if so, they can be cut back to the base of the plant.

* Plant flower seedlings adjacent to the now-gone-by daffodils.

* Visit a neighbor’s garden and chat with him or her about problems or successes they many be having. Offer your own.

* Keep a very close watch out for ticks. This is the season and the deer ticks that sometimes carry Lyme disease are very small. Have someone check you out when you come indoors.

* Take a close look at trees or bushes. This is the time that the Eastern tent caterpillars nest in tree or bush branches. Remove and destroy them.

* Prepare for the arrival of the very destructive Japanese beetles. We had good luck last year hanging bags with the scent of such beetles around the garden. The insects were drawn inside, which is where they stayed. These Japanese beetle traps are available at many gardening or hardware stores.

* In addition to planting more greens or radishes, there is still time to plant a first or second crop of green or yellow beans.

* Stake the tomatoes so that the branches will not touch the ground.

* Build trellises for cucumber or winter squash to climb.

* Hill the sides of the green and yellow bean rows; thin carrots and beets if necessary;

* Side dress corn, tomatoes and winter squash.

* And continue to check for insect eggs under and on the leaves of potatoes and other plants.

On the more positive side, make yourself and your family many more garden-fresh salads and begin to cut fresh parsley for use in salads, soups or anything else that seems to fit. A few small, but extremely tasty onions may also be ready to add to the salad.

The magical earth is doing its job — how wonderful!

Eileen M. Adams has been gardening for decades. She still feels a surge of excitement whenever any vegetable sprouts or is ready for the harvest. She may be reached at [email protected]


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