Category Archives: Challenges

Planting with a Plan in the Vegetable Garden (2014)

Rather than dropping seeds and seedlings in random locations, this year’s vegetable garden was planned out over the wintertime. Companion planting, crop rotation, and consideration for plant heights was incorporated to maximize plants and minimize pests. When it came time to start seeds, purchase seedlings, and plan for frosts, this turned out to be a great help to guide the timing, quantity, and locations of vegetable plants.

Here is my garden design for this year in our main Vegetable Garden:
Garden Plans 2014 - draft

Main Vegetable Garden on May 27th, 2014

Main Vegetable Garden on May 27th, 2014

As you can see from this diagram, there are four Neighborhoods in the Vegetable Garden. This makes it easy to group plant families and rotate crops each year so that pests have a harder time finding the plants they like.

Neighborhood A - Brassicas & Friends

Neighborhood A – Brassicas & Friends

Neighborhood B - Squash, Tomatoes, & Friends

Neighborhood B – Squash, Tomatoes, & Friends

Neighborhood C - Roots & Friends

Neighborhood C – Roots & Friends

Neighborhood D - Legumes & Friends

Neighborhood D – Legumes & Friends

How the Plan was Made

If you’re interested in putting together a design for your garden, I would recommend the following steps. You will likely need to do some reading and searching the Internet to gather the information you need.

1. Determine how many garden beds you have or how you can equally separate your garden into sections. This will be helpful for doing crop rotation.
2. List the vegetable plants that you want to grow and then group them into broad families. I divided plants into four “neighborhoods” (brassicas, squash and tomatoes, roots, and legumes) based on plant family, and will rotate crops within four sections of our main vegetable garden. Some vegetables might not fit into the neighborhood perfectly (lettuce in the pea bed?), but as long as families are grouped, crop rotation will make it harder for pests to find plants in subsequent years.
3. Consider companion planting to make sure that combinations of plants won’t harm each other. And add herbs and flowers that would help deter pests from your plants. The book “Great Garden Companions” by Sally Jean Cunningham was a good read.

In addition to having a design, I’ve kept better records this year. I kept notes on seed starting and planting. Without too many dry details, here are some of the plants that I’ve started and planted in this year’s garden. As noted, some plants are located in other places (patio, pot, or sector garden).

Seed Starting Indoors

The kohlrabi stems are bulging out. One kohlrabi mysteriously broke in half, but others are doing well.

The kohlrabi stems are bulging out. One kohlrabi mysteriously broke in half, but others are doing well.

* King Pepper (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Hungarian Sweet Pepper (Seeds saved from Greenway Station Farmer’s Market) – sector garden
* Sheboygan Tomato (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Cherry Tomato (Seed Saver’s Exchange)
* Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry (Seed Savers Exchange) – sector garden
* Pineapple Ground Cherry (Seeds from Madison Area Permaculture Guild Seed Exchange) – sector garden and pot
* Fiesta Mix Nasturtium (Seeds from Madison Area Permaculture Guild Seed Exchange)
* Calendula Mix (Seed Savers Exchange)
The wispy little onions are finally getting stronger.

The wispy little onions are finally getting stronger.

* White Vienna Kohlrabi (Livingston Seed Co.)
* Calabrese Broccoli (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Yellow of Parma Onion (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Royalty Mix Petunias (Burpee) – sector garden
* Marigolds (Seeds saved from our church’s Food Pantry Garden)
* Sunflowers (Seeds from Kids’ Garden Party)

Plants Seeded Outdoors

* Elephant Garlic (cloves from the Farmer’s Market planted last fall)

I'm surprise how well the elephant garlic is doing. Last year I didn't have success with garlic, but this year it looks strong.

I’m surprise how well the elephant garlic is doing. Last year I didn’t have luck with garlic, but this year it’s strong.

* Early Scarlet Globe Radish (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Early Blood Turnip Beets (Seed Savers Exchange)
* St. Valery Carrots (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Cilantro (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Bouquet Dill (Botanical Interests)
* Amish Snap Pea (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Heirloom Pineapple Alpine Strawberries (Renee’s Garden) – pot
* Heirloom Mignonette Alpine Strawberries (Renee’s Garden) – pot
* Sugar Snap Peas (NK Lawn & Garden)
* Calliope Blend Carrots (Botanical Interests)
* Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Sweet Basil (Burpee Fordhook Collection Organic)
This is my first year trying to grow beets. They look pretty scrawny so far.

This is my first year trying to grow beets. They look pretty scrawny so far.

* Thumbelina Zinnia (Botanical Interests)
* Tiny Tim (white) Sweet Alyssum (Botanical Interests)
* Oriental Nights (purple) Sweet Alyssum (Botanical Interests)
* Sweet REBA Acorn Squash (Botanical Interests)
* Black Beauty Zucchini (Botanical Interests)
* Native American Squash (Gete-okosomin, seeds from archaeological dig in Green Bay, WI)
* Rosemary (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Hidatsa Red Beans (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Early Fortune Cucumbers (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Little Gem Lettuce (Burpee Organics)

Seedlings Purchased and Planted

The purchased dill plant is getting quite tall.

The purchased dill plant is getting quite tall.

* Kale (The Bruce Co. variety pack)
* Brussels Sprouts (The Bruce Co.)
* Allstar June-Bearing Strawberries (The Bruce Co. & Papa Joe’s) – patio
* Ozark Beauty Everbearing Strawberries (The Bruce Co. & Papa Joe’s) – patio
* Dill (Olbrich Plant Sale)
* Purple Sage (Olbrich Plant Sale)
* Chocolate Mint (Olbrich Plant Sale) – patio
* Corsican Mint (Olbrich Plant Sale) – pot
* Doone Valley Thyme (Olbrich Plant Sale)
* Genovese Basil (West Star Farm Organics)
* Red Rubin Basil (West Star Farm Organics)
* Thai Basil (West Star Farm Organics)
* Lemon Balm (West Star Farm Organics, Melissa Officinalis) – patio
* Anise Hyssop Agastache (West Star Farm Organics) – patio
* Sage (Leftover from our church’s Food Pantry Garden) – patio
* Pesto Perpetual Basil (West Star Farm Organics) – patio
* Oregano (Leftover from our church’s Food Pantry Garden) – patio

Sector Garden

Before you think that I have everything planned out, remember that I do have another small garden with more random plantings. Last year, I called this garden the “Nightshade Garden,” but this year, I’ll refer to it as the “Sector Garden” on behalf of its pie shape and plant diversity. This additional spaces gives our kids easy access to ground cherries, tomatoes, sugar-snap peas, and some experimental pepper plants. My daughter also requested some petunias, which we made sure to include.

Sector Garden on May 27th, 2014

Sector Garden on May 27th, 2014

Pots

Pots on May 27th, 2014

Pots on May 27th, 2014

I find that having pots around is a good place to put extra plants or experimental plantings that might need some extra attention. My kids have a large pot where they planted colorful Calliope Carrots. I tried planting Alpine Strawberry seeds in two pots (something is starting to come up… but are they strawberry plants?). And an extra Pineapple Ground Cherry and Nasturtium plant got new homes.

Much luck with your garden this year!

Saying Goodbye to a Tree

This week, we said goodbye to a large Blue Spruce tree at the south corner of our lot. It was actually two trees, right next to each other, which appeared as one. The tree was large and beautiful, so it was a difficult decision to call someone to remove it. However, knowing that it would continue to grow larger and larger, we felt that it was the right thing to do.

We had a large truck on our lawn for an hour to remove the Blue Spruce tree.

We had a large truck on our lawn for an hour to remove the Blue Spruce tree.

The problem was that the tree was planted in a rather poor location.

It was located:
* South of our kitchen dining area. Eating lunch in the wintertime behind the shade of a tree contributes to seasonal affective disorder in a big way.
* Just south of an apple tree. With the tree showing signs of wood rot, we hoped that improved air circulation and sunlight would help the tree bounce back.
* South-west of our large vegetable garden and south of our extra “Sector” garden. With less than five hours of full sun, another two hours of sunlight would make our garden plants much happier and more productive.
* On the lot line where the neighbor’s house sat just a couple yards away. This meant that we had to trim branches off the neighbor’s house.

Basically, we needed more SUN and less crowding. Being on a corner lot where two sides of our lot are planted with eight shady city trees, where we also have a Maple and Oak tree on the other side of our house, and a large Honey Locust tree in the backyard, there weren’t many options that could give us the kind of sunlight and openness that would improve our lives.

Perhaps some people will question our decision. It wasn’t an easy one to make.

Our concerns with removing the tree were as follows:
* We believe that trees are very beneficial and wonderful to have in the city. The tree was old and had a nice appearance.
* Animal nests and habitats by the tree would be disturbed. With that corner of the lot being shady and filled with brush piles, there would be one less place for squirrels to climb, birds to perch, and bunnies to hide.
* Removing the tree would mean a loss of a large windbreak in our backyard.
* We were concerned about whether our neighbors would miss the tree. It had been a part of our neighbors’ skyline for years, so we weren’t the only ones looking at it.
* We wanted to avoid soil compaction in our backyard from the tree service’s truck. We care deeply for our soil and worry about the impact of heavy machinery on the ground.
* The cost was high, so we had to be certain we would enjoy the benefits.

Before picture

Before picture

After picture

After picture

Now that the tree is really gone, how do I feel? Well, a part of me is sad to say goodbye, but mostly, I feel relieved. The year-round benefits will be much appreciated and the additional sunshine is already bringing us more joy and hope.

As other people plant trees, may this tree teach us to consider good tree placement, particularly for those who might live in our houses long after we are gone.

Getting Started with Seed Starting

For the last few years, I’ve been growing seedlings indoors each spring. I find it very enjoyable. Nothing beats those seasonal blues like the sign of green life in the face of a grey winter. I also enjoy bringing out my nurturing side to care for little plants that, hopefully, will produce fruit for my labor. Indoor seed starting has been a journey for me, with new lessons each year.

Indoor Seedlings

Past Experiences

The first few times I tried growing seeds indoors was when I lived in a condo. Even though I didn’t have any land of my own, I was lucky to have tall ceilings, lots of windows, and a balcony. I started the seeds on a window ledge with some success and then moved them outside to pots. I assumed that a little bit of seed, soil, sun, and water would equal a healthy plant. I learned it wasn’t that simple. The type of soil, directness of light, growing space, and amount of water make a difference.

Early attempts to grow plants, with only a sunny living room and a balcony, taught me more about plant requirements.

Early attempts to grow plants, with only a sunny living room and a balcony, taught me more about plant requirements.

After moving out of the condo and living temporarily with relatives, I tried starting seedlings using peat pots, again indoors. Then I moved them outside into the ground. That year, I also purchased some seedlings from a garden store. I observed that my seedlings didn’t do as well as the purchased ones. I asked myself: why didn’t my seedlings thrive, why did they become leggy, and why didn’t some tolerate being transplanted? With lots of questions, I read gardening books with more understanding.

Two years ago, I moved into our current house, which does not get much sunlight through the windows. The house came with a shop light in the basement, so I decided to grow seedlings under the florescent lights. Last year I set up a seed tray under the lights and had only a little success. Some seedlings I overwatered and lost. Others became leggy, discolored, or didn’t thrive when moved outdoors. I realized that the light bulbs were probably too old and didn’t give off enough light, I considered that more light bulbs were needed, and I realized the seedlings needed light for a longer time period. I acknowledged that the seedlings needed larger pots as they grew and that transplanting really was an important step. I questioned how many seedlings I should start indoors.

Getting Serious

This year, I improved my system. I purchased three additional light fixtures, eight all new florescent bulbs, a seedling heat mat, and larger shelves, applying some new knowledge on what the plants needed. After getting the seeds to germinate with the heat mat, I set them on the shelves with each flat having two light fixtures over it. I set the light to be on for 16 hours and off for 8 hours. I set the heat mat to be on for 8 hours at night and off for 16 hours a day to promote stocky growth, per advice from from Mark of Voss Organics (told to the 2013 Permaculture Design Certificate class). When I also happen to be growing bean sprouts indoors, I water the seedlings with the water drained off from the sprouts to add some growth hormones. I’ve been watering the seedlings every morning with a small water bottle (a peri-bottle actually, if you know what that is), which works great to give each seedling a small amount of water. I transplanted the seedlings to larger pots when they were about two weeks old. My seedlings are doing better than previous years.

Lights placed at an angle to account for plant height.

Lights placed at an angle to account for plant height.

However, I’m still learning. One challenge is how to keep all the seedlings close to the light. Some of the seedlings are short (peppers) and some seedlings are getting huge (nasturtium). I’ve been placing the tall seedlings on the right and the shorter ones on the left and angling the light fixtures. When seedlings are different heights, I need to be careful pulling out the flats to water them and then readjusting some of the leaves within the light fixtures so they’re not caught by the lights.

Another challenge is how to best label the seedlings. I want to keep track of the plant type, seed source, how old the plant is, and when it was transplanted and hardened off. Then I can see which care factors (light, temperature, water, growing medium, hardening off schedule) lead to the best seedlings. A piece of masking tape and a laundry marker are a start, but figuring out how to succinctly write down key information to identify the plant and track the plant’s milestones is an art. I’ve been labeling the plants with their plant type and a batch number and then tracking the plants on a spreadsheet.

A third challenge is doing a cost-benefit analysis of seed starting indoors. It’s one thing if I am doing the seed starting purely for enjoyment (where that would be the primary benefit), but if I had other things I preferred to do with my money and time, then would it be better to just purchase the seedlings that I wanted? I considered whether or not I would be saving money by starting my own seeds. My new setup was an investment in equipment and a commitment to the time it would take to raise the seedlings. After adding up the costs, I concluded that with a five year outlook, I would probably save about $100 per year by growing my own seedlings. To me, keeping costs down is an important secondary benefit.

The Journey Continues

Starting your own seeds is great fun. If you feel discouraged with limited resources, have hope that each year gets better with more trial and error. Sometimes I get to thinking that all the answers are in a book and that I can become good at something right away, but I always have to remind myself that experience teaches us a great deal. I’m sure I will have more challenges and successes to share as my journey continues.

“For thou shalt eat the labor of thy hands: Happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.”
~ Psalm 128:2 (ASV)

The Season of Winter

One of the things I love best about Wisconsin weather is how it compares to the cycle of life. Many of us live in the mindset of summer. We want to be warm and happy all the time, but fall tells us that we are not gods. Nothing lasts forever. As the seasons shift, winter reminds us of death. Many Wisconsinites hide indoors or try to escape to warmer climates. But those who accept winter’s place in the year reap the reward of a miraculous spring and the hope of rebirth. If it were always summer, we could not fully appreciate the beauty of the first light-green leaves, opening flower buds, and warm raindrops.

Although March is here, it’s hard to believe that this winter might ever end. Temperatures this season were bitterly and continually cold in Madison, making it the coldest winter in 35 years and the 11th coldest winter on record. The snow has stayed on the ground since December (we’ve had snow for almost 100 days now). The Great Lakes were 91 percent covered in ice this year (according to the NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory), compared to the past four winters when they were around 40 percent or less covered. I can only imagine that spring will be extra beautiful this year after a harsh winter.

We’ve had several days now this month that got into the 40s. With warming temperatures and sunnier days, I can dream only about gardening. I’m anxious to bring our garden back to life and eat fresh vegetables again. Given the attendance at the Garden Expo in February, I’m sure I’m not alone. I have been reading garden books (after seeing illustrated vegetation, be careful for the initial shock when you look out the window at the snow…) and planning our vegetable garden beds. I’ll have a lot to do this spring: finish building our raised garden beds, order compost to fill them, and get the early spring plants going as soon as we can. I also want to start some new strawberries, do some pruning, and add some native shrubs along the lot line. It will be a busy spring.

And I do hope to blog about all our permaculture adventures… if I get the chance. As I stay home with two preschool-aged kids, one that gets up at 5 am and the other that stopped napping last September, finding time to focus on blogging has been difficult. Yet, here I am, in a stage of life where I am a parent. When I feel frustrated about wanting to get a blog posted, I remind myself to enjoy the present moment, to embrace parenting my children. Like winter, it is part of the circle of life. Even if I don’t have much time to blog this year, I know that someday I’ll miss my children’s playful days and will have more time to blog. Life continually changes… bring on spring.

Setting up a Soaker Hose

Looking back, one of the challenges of the summer was how to best keep the garden watered. Here was that story.

As the July weather heated up and the soil dried out, I realized that all the rain we had gotten in the spring wasn’t coming back. At least, not in the timeframe or quantity that my vegetable plants were calling for. To keep the soil around the plants moist, I considered a couple options: a sprinkler, mulch, and a soaker hose.

Last summer, I set up a sprinkler to water our new garden. That was sufficient for the cover crops.

Last summer, I set up a sprinkler to water our new garden. That was sufficient for the cover crops.

Last summer I had set up a sprinkler to water the vegetable garden. That was easy to do, however, it wasn’t very efficient. Drops of water soaring through the air tended to blow off course, evaporate, or wind up on the plants’ leaves instead of the soil. It also wasn’t ideal since the city water raised our water bill and contains chlorine.

Mulch was another consideration. I had heard from a few other gardeners that they didn’t need to water since their gardens had a thick layer of mulch. This option conserves water, however it means having to purchase a significant amount of mulch. This mulch would have to be purchased and delivered every year, and during droughts, I still might need to water. I added some straw as mulch, but was disappointed to see grass sprouting there later on. Unsure about the best logistics for this, I tabled this idea until I might be able to find a quality (seed free), cheap source of mulch.

I decided to try out a soaker hose. I wasn’t really sure how a soaker hose worked, which was the most appealing thing about this option. I wanted to see what it did and how well it worked. Essentially, a soaker hose is like a sprinkler, but it should be more efficient as it waters at the soil level and can be set-up wherever you want to put it. It also is cheap, except that it would still be calling on chlorinated city water. I found a Yardworks 50-foot soaker hose at Menard’s for $10.

The soaker hose package sounds impressive on the outside. Disappointing warnings are found inside.

The soaker hose package sounds impressive on the outside. Disappointing warnings are found inside.

The exterior packaging for the soaker hose sounded impressive. Here are some of the claims:
* 70% water savings (prevents water lost to evaporation and run-off)
* Steady, even soaking (perfect for gardens or shrubs and around walkways)
* Removeable coupler cap (for adding additional lengths of hose)
* 3-year limited guarantee

However, I was disappointed when I opened the package. Here are some of the interior warnings:
* Before using hose, place washer firmly into coupling at faucet end to ensure a watertight seal. This will help prevent leaking.
[I need to buy washers too? Or otherwise it will be leaking?]
* Do not leave hose under pressure while unattended or for extended periods of time.
[I need to babysit the hose while it’s on? Not much of a time savings.]
* Drain hose in the summer when not in use and keep it shaded as much as possible. Water left in hose in the sun will expand, damaging the hose.
[Wait a minute, shade the hose? My vegetable garden is in the sun! And how do you drain the hose without moving it? Having to move the hose defeats the convenience of having an irrigation system set up where you want it.]
* Drain hose completely before winter storage as water left in a hose can freeze, damaging the hose.
[Hmmmm, I sense an impending accident when I get busy in the fall and forget to bring the hose in before the first frost.]

Products these days are usually a disappointment. Why did I expect that a cheap soaker hose would be helpful time-saver, able to water my garden for years to come? It sounded more like it would leak all over and only last one summer. Yet, wanting to find out how it worked, I proceeded to pull the hose out of the packaging and set it up in the garden.

The first thing I noticed was that the hose was hesitant to straighten out. Being wound up in the package, it kept curling and didn’t want to stay in the assigned location. This was frustrating since the hose weighs enough that it can easily knock over delicate stems and take out a few plants. Looking back, I should have straightened the hose out on the grass first and perhaps used some U-shaped landscaping stakes to hold it in place as I went along.

When the soaker hose is being used, droplets of water are released all over the hose.

When the soaker hose is being used, droplets of water are released all over the hose.

The second thing that I noticed was that when I turned it on, small droplets of water came out of all sides of the hose. I hadn’t been sure how the water would come out, so watching the hose drip was interesting. As the water fell, it only watered the soil directly beneath the hose. Soil a foot away from the hose was still dry. It would have been nice if the water had traveled a little farther from the hose so that more of the plants roots would be able to access the water.

Overall, it worked fine. It was a convenient way to water the soil around the plants while still taking care of my kids. I expect I will use it again next year.

Now with the garden winding down, I put away the soaker hose for the winter. I will need to remind myself to set it up early next year so I’m prepared for dry spells and so the plants can grow around it.

Connecting to Natural Food Sources

As the saying goes, “we are what we eat.” For many, this saying helps us to cut down on fatty foods and desserts, but if we dig deeper, what does it really mean in our modern society?

To start answering this question, here is an exercise for you to consider. For a month, write down all the foods you ate: those from the grocery store, restaurants, school meal plans, office catering, candy dishes, church potlucks, and celebrations. Then, look over your list. What are you eating? Usually a common theme quickly surfaces: we really have no idea what we’re eating, how it was made, or where it came from.

It's snack time. Do you know where your muskmelon comes from? Your local farmer's market can offer you a freshly picked, organic selection.

It’s snack time. Do you know where your muskmelon comes from? Your local farmer’s market can offer you a freshly picked, organic selection.

I have serious concerns about the available foods these days. Low prices, uniform appearance, shelf life, bright colors, and marketing slogans have become the driving force behind our food production, despite the fact that our food is becoming less and less natural and healthy for us. Why is this? Does society care more about immediate gratification and the external appearance of their make-up, gadgets, cars, houses, and vacations, than they do about the food they internally consume all day long? Some might argue that natural, healthy foods are too expensive, but the world functions on supply and demand. If people demand fancy cell phones, they are manufactured and everyone totes a cell phone. If people demand natural, healthy foods, they become more available and less expensive. What we have is a simple problem with priorities: do we focus more attention on quick fixes and superficial status symbols, or the natural world and ethical values?

For those who prioritize natural, healthy foods, grocery shopping has become difficult. At your typical grocery store, it’s hard to find organic locally-sourced produce, whole grains, dairy products without rBGH, or meat without hormones and antibiotics. I don’t enjoy looking through item after item on the shelf to find something simple without corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, MSG, dyes, unnecessary sugar and salt, or BHT. Not to mention the mystery about whether the ingredients were treated with unlabeled chemicals or are genetically modified. I’ve managed to meet our food needs by shopping for different products at a variety of sources: rBGH-free local cheese and organic fruit from Metcalfe’s, hygiene products and organic canned goods from Whole Foods, summer vegetables and yogurt from the farmer’s market, nuts from Target or Copp’s, and bread from Clasen’s bakery. But sometimes grocery shopping feels like a week-long tour of the city to meet all our food and budget needs.

Despite the difficulty, it is a worthy endeavor to seek out natural foods and understand where our food comes from. Not only are we caring for our bodies, we are also connecting to nature, supporting the farmers or producers, and taking a stand in our society to say that food ingredients and sources matter. In addition to shopping around for natural foods, here are some other ideas to connect ourselves with natural food sources:

A fresh organic zucchini for your soup sits waiting in your own backyard.

A fresh organic zucchini for your soup sits waiting in your own backyard.

* Instead of purchasing products from unknown companies, why not look up the companies on the internet and see if they offer tours of their farms or factories?
* Instead of filling our Christmas wish lists with shiny gizmos, why not consider asking for a share in a CSA?
* Instead of going to the store for zucchini, why not have some in the garden to pick for our soup?
* Instead of fretting over choices in the bread aisle, why not bake our own homemade loaf and fill our homes with the smell of a bakery?
* Instead of buying mysterious jams, canned goods, ketchup, pickles, or applesauce, why not make and can them ourselves?
* Instead of believing that restaurants have healthy options, why not find out where they get their ingredients from and decide for ourselves?

To go back to our initial saying, “we are what we eat.” If we don’t know how our food was made, can we understand who we are? Are we becoming an unfamiliar, unnatural, chemical, genetically-modified, and marketing creature rather than a human being? I stand up for natural food, for connecting to the source of our food, and for prioritizing nature and ethics as I live my life. In the 21st century it’s a journey filled with difficulty, but I will do what I can, to take care of my family and the earth.

Discovering the Pests on our Apples

With two apple trees and a pear tree in our backyard, I see that pests are quite fond of these fruits. When looking at our apples and pears, spots show us that they have had visitors. Wanting to keep our property natural (without chemical sprays), these pests will likely come to visit every year. But who are they and what are they doing to our fruit?

The Coddling Moth leaves a dark chunk of fiber under the apple.

The Coddling Moth leaves a dark chunk of fiber under the apple.

Today the West Madison Agricultural Research Station had their yearly open house which enabled me to learn more about our apple pests. One of the tents had a fruit intern with some examples of apples with pest markings. He talked about three common pests: the Coddling Moth, the Plum Curculio (beetle), and the Apple Fruit Maggot.

The inside of the apple visited by a Coddling Moth.

The inside of the apple visited by a Coddling Moth.

The Coddling Moth is what you might hear of as the typical apple worm. A moth lays her eggs on the fruit and when they hatch, the larvae burrow into the fruit to eat the core of the apple. The apple tree will usually drop these fruits after sensing the internal damage. It’s a good idea to look for apples with the Coddling Moth marking while doing your early summer thinning and remove them first.

A scab forms on the apple from a Plum Curculio.

A scab forms on the apple from a Plum Curculio.

The Plum Curculio is a beetle that lays its eggs under the skin of stone fruits. Yes, an apple is not a stone fruit, but this little pest doesn’t seem to realize that. As the apple grows, often the eggs are crushed by the growing fruit preventing baby beetles. A scab-like blotch forms on the apple and sometimes the apple is also flat or indented by that spot.

Spots are left behind by the Apple Fruit Maggot.

Spots are left behind by the Apple Fruit Maggot.

The Apple Fruit Maggot also lays it’s eggs inside the fruit. These maggots leave behind sting marks on the outside of the apple and brown railroad-like tracks inside the apple. An indentation is also often observed on the side of the apple.

So, what can be done about these pests?

If you want organic apples, the fruit intern noted that there is a clay that can be applied around the fruit, but it needs to be applied to each fruit often as it washes off in the rain and cracks as the apples grow. An easier solution on the Vegetable Gardener website is to tie brown paper lunch bags over the apples when they’re young. It sounds like there are also pheremone traps that can be purchased to catch some of the pests.

The fruit intern emphasized that although these pests cause cosmetic damage, these apples are still edible. It seems that nowadays most people are used to blemish-free grocery store apples and are quite disconnected from an understanding of their food sources. The most benign markings scare people away. But the fruit intern noted that these apples were just fine to eat. In fact, he planned to eat these unmarketable apples, every bite of them, after the open house was over.

Now that I know who the pests are that are visiting, I’m less afraid of what’s in our apples. But until I come to terms with eating worms, I think I might still compost the parts of the apple with spots and brown trails.