Protecting the Little Guys… and a little about diatomaceous earth

Current tomato seedlings

Current tomato seedlings

When transplanting little plants out into the big garden it feels like sending your child off to their first day at Kindergarten.  All kinds of things can happen to them in the big world.  For children… that’s too large a topic for me (Kindergarten mother survivor here).  For plants I can give you some advice.

Besides watering too much or too little, and root disturbance while transplanting, little guys can be eaten by bugs, birds or other animals, or simply get lost and overlooked.  (Here is a container growing tip: as your seedlings sprout and grow, gently pass your hand across them every time you are with them.  It will make for stronger stems.) (And its fun!)(And you can pretend you’re ruffling their hair and say things like, “Hi, Sonny.”  Or not.)

Celery sown in a flat.  Don't let the small top size fool you.

Celery sown in a flat. Don’t let the small top size fool you.

A day before transplanting out of a container or from a nursery bed, water the sprouts well.  If they’ve been in containers for awhile those roots may be going in circles and the water can’t  penetrate from the top very well.  If that is the case, put the pots in water for half an hour until moisture is wicked into the pot thoroughly, then allow to drain.  I say to do this the day before because if you water just before planting the soil around your root ball will fall apart, breaking fine hair roots and shocking your poor little guy.  Some plants hate their roots being touched so much that this would kill them.  By the next day after watering the container will still be moist, but the soil should be solid enough to stick together when tipped out.

That same celery plant...roots five inches long!

That same celery plant…roots five inches long!

Dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as your plant, then backfill with a mixture of good compost and the soil from the hole.  This will help acclimate the roots to the soil change.  Water the hole, and if you’re really industrious water with compost tea.  Set your plant into the hole and firmly press the soil around the plant.  If you are planting tomatoes, eggplant or peppers (all in the same family) you can set the plant more deeply into the hole; they will form more roots from the stems and become sturdier.  The rule of thumb otherwise is to plant so that the soil level of the hole is the same as that of the transplant; many plants will rot if soil is up against their stem.  If it is too low, the roots will be exposed and dry out.  Potatoes can be trenches and hilled up as they grow, or maybe you will try trashcan or crate potatoes.  If you live in an arid area, plant in shallows so that rain can accumulate around the plant.  If you live in a wet area, plant on hills so water can drain off.  Or if you’re practicing permaculture, plant on the swales!

So your little guy is in the ground and gently tamped in.  To keep off the birds and bunnies and mice and rats and whatever else is looking for dinner, I use plastic berry cartons turned over and set in place with sticks or with rocks on top.  Reuse and repurpose!  They are also good for protecting figs . The cartons allow enough sun in, and also makes it very obvious where the seedling is so that you don’t step on it, or weed the little tomatoes out with the almost identical ragweed sprouts.  For larger plants, turn over a milk crate.

Chard and eggplant with cool hats on.

Chard and eggplant with cool hats on.

I have no native quail in my yard.  Due to nearby houseing developments, there aren’t many quail around me anymore.  Quail would fill the niche of beetle and sowbug eaters.  My hens want only worms, spoiled things, and their big feet do a lot of damage if not watched.

Nothing like a dirt bath on a warm day.

Madge and Chickpea: Nothing like a dirt bath on a warm day.

Sowbugs cluster under mulch and do damage to stems and fruit.

Sowbugs waiting for strawberries to nibble.

Sowbugs waiting for strawberries to nibble.

I use a little food-grade diatomaceous earth around the seedlings, new sprouts in the garden, around the strawberry plants, and also around plants such as artichoke, corn and chard where ants have begun to farm aphids.

Ants farming aphids on chard.

Ants farming aphids on chard.

I use it around the trunks of my stonefruit trees to stop the ants, and have been told that it works well around the legs of beehives in lieu of or in combination with cups of oil to keep out the ants.  Diatomaceous earth is the finely ground bodies of ancient sea creatures (diatoms).  The powder on a microscopic level is full of sharp edges.

Aphids on chard.

Aphids on chard.

When a sectioned insect such as an ant, flea or sowbug crawls on it, it rasps their tender areas  and dessicates them.  Not something I really am happy about doing to the bugs. I’m only using it on a very small scale.  Remember that any insecticide, even DE, kills many kinds of insects not just the targets.  You don’t want to eradicate your insects; most of them are helping your plants and your soil. DE will melt into the soil when watered, but only reapply if you still see the target bugs.  The problem might already be taken care of.

A sprout, a squeeze and a hat.

A sprout, a squeeze and a hat.

Use food-grade DE, not the kind that is sold in pool supply stores.  FGDE is used in graineries to keep weevils and other bugs out of grain and beans, so you’ve been eating it for years without knowing it.  It doesn’t hurt us, nor is it bad to breathe (some people wear paper masks just in case).  It is a great, natural and inexpensive way to fight fleas without paying big money for poisons to put on your pet.  I have it all over my cats’ bedding.

They sell DE sprayers, but they become clogged.  The easiest and least expensive applicator (which can be repurposed)?  A condiment dispenser.  You know, the plastic mustard and ketchup squeeze bottles in diners.  I bought a set of two for $2.  You can practice a little to dispense a finer dust.

The plant guild into which I'm planting the little guys.

The plant guild into which I’m planting the little guys.

So I plant my little guys, give them a drink, squeeze a little DE around them, give them a berry basket hat until they outgrow it, then take it off to use elsewhere.  If there is still a threat to your plants from critters (somebody was eating my eggplant leaves last year!  I mean, really…ick!), then turn a wire gopher cage over the top or make a wire cage to fit and use sticks or landscape staples to fasten into the ground..  These, too, you can reuse yearly.

In this plant guild, the combination of other plants will also help hide the scent of the new little guy, until he turns into a full melon vine and takes over!

In this plant guild, the combination of other plants will also help hide the scent of the new little guy, until he turns into a full melon vine and takes over!

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *