My belief that all of God’s creation is beautiful has been tested this week…

by the rhubarb curculio (or rhubarb weevil) we found in the garden!

It is a large snout beetle, about 1/2 inch long. It is dark colored, with a yellow powdery material dusted on its back. The yellowish covering easily rubs off when the insect is handled.  The head has a downwardly curved snout, at the end of which are the mandibles (the chewing mouth parts).

The eggs are oblong and yellow- white in color (similar to Colorado Potato Beetles). The mature larva is a legless grub about 3/4 inch in length, with a brown head.

The curculio overwinters as an adult, in piles of debris or in other protected places near the rhubarb planting. In about mid-May the adults appear, and are seen resting on the stalks and leaves of rhubarb, dock, thistle or sunflower. They soon begin laying eggs. Eggs are deposited singly in cavities about 1/8 inch deep in the stalks of host plants (might want to do an inspection if you have plants), and hatching occurs in a week to ten days, in all plants but the rhubarb.

The rhubarb curculio survives in weeds in or near the garden. Eggs deposited in rhubarb do not hatch, but are killed by the actively growing plant tissue, which crushes them. In other hosts the newly hatched larva begins burrowing its way down through the stalk, so that when it reaches maturity in eight to nine weeks, it has reached the bottom of the stalk just below the soil surface. Usually one grub reaches maturity in a host plant. Pupation occurs in a cavity at the base of the host plant, and within a few weeks the adult beetles emerge. The adults feed for a short time, and then seek out protected places to spend the winter. There is only one generation of this insect a year.

The only direct method of control is to hand pick the beetles from the plants during early summer and destroy them. When the beetles first emerge they are easily picked from the vegetation on which they are resting. Their large size aids in finding them and helps make them easy to handle. The removal of all wild plants in which the beetles breed (dock, thistle, and sunflower) growing in or near the planting during July, while the curculio larvae are still in them, will also be helpful.

It’s kind of beautiful, don’t you think?

Oh, time for garlic!

Planting garlic cloves in mid to late October will help get roots established before the ground freezes. Shoots may not emerge from the soil until the following spring. Separate the individual cloves no more than two days before planting. I like to use organic hardneck garlic from Johnny’s Seeds and cloves harvested from the summer (one wise community gardener uses the largest cloves she harvested so that she is propagating larger cloves over time).

Plant them with the base of the clove 2-3 inches deep with the pointed end up. Row spacing may vary, but spacing 4 inches apart within rows is satisfactory. Spacing will depend on the size of your planting and the space you have available. Plants can be arranged in rows 12 inches apart.

After planting, mulch with 3-4 inches of leaf or straw mulch. It will help with weed control, and will reduce fluctuating temperatures during the winter and early spring. Be sure to water in plants after you are done with the planting and mulching.

The Michigan State Extension Service is an excellent resource for home gardeners. Here is a link to one of their many articles about growing garlic

When is it time to plant?

When spring arrives, I can’t wait to work in the garden, but when is it too early?

The USDA hardiness zone map breaks the United States into zones based on average minimum winter temperature. That is, the coldest temperature we are likely to see each winter, on average, for a given location in the country. This is critical information for choosing landscape trees and shrubs since winter cold is one of the main determinants of where plants can survive.

In Michigan, our hardiness zones range from 4a in the western Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula, to 6b in the southeast and along the Lake Michigan lakeshore. Chelsea, Michigan is in zone 6a (-10 to -5 F).

Each winter, on average, the risk of frost in Chelsea is from October 5 through May 4.

Almost certainly, however, Chelsea will receive frost from October 19 through April 19.

It is almost guaranteed that Chelsea will not get frost from May 20 through September 21.

Our frost-free growing season is around 154 days.

Here is a terrific resource on when to start and/or plant seeds based on the last frost date

Vegetable Rotations

As a new community gardener, I made several mistakes in planning my haphazard garden plot last summer so I’m taking time during the winter months to work on a better plan for the upcoming season. One planning resource I’ve been using is the book “The New Organic Gardener” by Eliot Coleman. Eliot has been a market gardener for over 40 years and is quite knowledgeable about effective intensive organic gardening.

One area of garden planning I want to work on is plant rotation. Descriptions of the benefits of crop rotation can be found in the earliest agricultural writings of the Romans. Firmin Bear, a researcher at Rutgers University, has determined that a well-planned crop rotation strategy is worth 75% of everything else that might be done in an organic gardening, including pest control, tillage and fertilization. Crop rotation is the practice of changing the crop planted on a piece of ground each year. The successive plantings do not make the same demands on the soil for nutrients, nor do they share the same insect pests or diseases.

Based on years of experience and research, Colman suggests the following tried-and-true vegetable rotation:

  • Potatoes follow sweet corn.
  • Sweet corn follows the cabbage family (including broccoli, kale and cauliflower).
  • The cabbage family follows peas.
  • Peas follow tomatoes.
  • Tomatoes follow beans.
  • Beans follow root crops.
  • Root crops follow beans and/or potatoes.
  • Squash is grown after potatoes.

Happy garden planning!