The beetles invasion
And how I learned to love 'quirky' carrots
Editor’s note: Photographer, and novice gardener, Kendal J. Bush, and her partner with the green thumb, Nate Laing, are taking readers on an adventure this summer via their southern New Hampshire garden. If you missed the June installment of Adventures in Gardening, read it here.
Popillia japonica Scarabaeudae Coleoptera! If this sounds like a spell straight off the pages of a “Harry Potter” novel you are correct. But these intimidating terms of scientific profundity are used to describe what most “Muggles” (a person who does not have magical blood, in Harry Potter speak) call the Japanese beetle.
These persistent little buggers enjoy turning beautiful, luscious plants into unrecognizable bits of asymmetrical, discarded lace.
I told the tale in the June installment of how one of the beloved family Weimaraners decimated the entire garden of plants that were sprouted indoors and lovingly cared after and acclimated for three days before relocating them to the outdoor garden.
Now it’s the beetle that has created utter mayhem in the container garden.
I have been attempting to combat the evil insect affliction with a bit of dark magic which I like to call “bubbleoh sapo aspergine lagenam fantastico” (soapy water in a spray bottle).
Usually if I find a spider, or a grasshopper, or moth in the house, I collect the visitor and relocate it outside. I prefer veggie burgers to beef and leave large swatches of ferns, high grass and milkweed when mowing my modest field.
But I admit that I feel immediate gratification as I began my beetle hunt.
A complicit compadre in the container chaos and calamity appears to be a “soil complication,” where I realize my carrots are forked!
I can check a few boxes off on the “how-not-to-plant carrots” card and save you some heartache. Planting densely with too many seeds, too close together and not thinning them out can result in “deformed” carrots, although I prefer to look at them as “quirky.”
A lack of sand in the loam, and too much nitrogen, as well as the presence of Root Knot Nematodes (a worm-like plant parasite) in the soil can also cause the evolution of distinctively shaped carrots.
Although none of these conditions make the carrots inedible, the unusual shape of the vegetable may make it tough to prepare for a meal. Personally, I’m more interested in having sculptural vegetables on my plate, but to each their own.
If the kids don’t enjoy your passion for hard outdoor work in full sun on a 90-plus degree summer scorcher, perhaps they can get creative with unique specimens of sculptural carrots. Who
wouldn’t want to create a cozy home for a baby carrot, or a red-carpet runway for a glam carrot family?
I have to say it is reassuring that plants are also concerned with social distancing. As we can see, the carrot gets a bit “bent out of shape” when others crowd its personal space. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Bolting is when a vegetable prematurely runs to seed. The plant abandons leaf growth and switches to survival mode to counteract a stressful situation. The plant tries to grow the next generation in the form of seed which appears to “bolt” at the tip of each stem.
With all of the wacky weather we’ve had this summer, I can’t blame my container babies for having a tough month. One day it’s 95 and rainy, the next day it’s 75 and dry, then throw in a completely random hail downpour and a few 50-ish degree overnights and my plants are stressed out.
I wish I could just assure them that everything will be OK.
On the bright side, the container garden has produced an occasional strawberry, fantastic basil (pre-beetles) and an abundance of mint which is absolutely delicious in a glass of ice water and pairs nicely with rum for a garden-fresh mojito. For 20 years, I’ve been trying to recreate the best mojito I ever had in a small outdoor dive in Havana, Cuba (disclaimer: If government officials are reading this, my trip was completely legal. I had a journalist visa).
Since conjuring up the “perfect” garden is not in my wheelhouse, I will continue with daily watering, weekly fertilizing and relentless beetle management.
The eclectic mix of acorn, summer, eight ball and zucchini squash are taking over the in-ground garden. Luckily, they have granted the tomato plants vertical rights in the center of the soil patch.
In August, I’ll let you know how the beetle massacre turned out, whether pinching a bolting plant helps stop the rush to seed and hopefully give you a few ideas on what to do with all of the tomatoes that are on the way.
Kendal J. Bush traveled the world as an editor and videographer for the National Geographic channel and NBC before moving to New Hampshire. She combines years of experience as a photojournalist with her film school education to yield colorful and creative portraits. Her work has been featured on the cover of ParentingNH since 2009, and also in sister publication, New Hampshire Magazine. View more of her work at www.kendaljbush.com.