2015-08-26 / Gardening Tips / Columns

Gardening Tips: August 26, 2015

Dragon Flies and Hard Tomatoes
by Bob Beyfuss

It has been another hot week in the region, with several 90-degree days in a row, punctuated by some widely scattered thunderstorms that have not provided nearly enough rainfall to keep our gardens as lush as we would like. As much as I realize the need for adequate moisture, the fact is that I have never applied a single drop of water to my vegetable garden. My best guess as to why that is possible, is that the well-drained raised beds I use are sitting on top of some very moist, heavy clay soil. In fact, before I set up the raised beds, some of my most common weeds were some ferns that popped up from the clay! Most vegetables will send out roots as deep as possible to find moisture, if they need to. Once a garden is watered, roots will tend to remain relatively shallow, thus requiring repeated watering. Of course I do water my potted plants as often as twice a day lately, since they would surely croak if I did not! By now most hanging baskets and other containerized plants have grown so many roots that they are pot bound and will need water far more than they did in June or even July. If you want to, you can remove these annuals from the containers, cut back the tops hard and trim the roots. Then, add new soil to the container and repot. Within a few weeks you will be rewarded with a new flush of flowers and greens! If you are tired of looking at them, or if your annual plants planted in ground beds are looking bad, you can buy some Mums or asters to plug into the bare spots for a great fall flower show.

Still Time to Grow

Remember that there is still time to plant a fall vegetable garden of greens, beets, carrots and even spinach. I had such good luck with beets this year that I may try them again this fall. I know it is not May but last week I visited the home of Albert Van Valkenberg, in the Town of Lexington, and much to my surprise he did have a lilac bush in bloom! This was not a lilac that was grafted on a privet rootstock, but a regular lilac that bloomed both in May and now again in August. Sometimes spring flowering shrubs will bloom after a warm spell in December or even late November, but they need a period of cold weather in the fall to satisfy their chilling requirement. We certainly have not had such a chilling period this summer.

My “Iron Lady” Cornell tomato did produce the first ripe fruit of the summer, despite having a bad case of early blight. Now I know why it was named “Iron Lady”. The fruit has the thickest skin I have ever seen on a tomato and I think they could be used for golf balls in a pinch. I must admit however, that they do taste very good! In a few more days my favorite tomato variety “Big Beef” will be ripe and then it will be time to can.

Several readers have reported large swarms of dragonflies this past week and I have noticed them also, here in Conesville. Dragonflies, like bats, are among our best friends when it comes to mosquito control. Here are some interesting facts from a dragonfly website, with a few comments of my own.

Dragonfly Facts

Adult dragonflies mostly eat other flying insects, particularly midges and mosquitoes. They also will take butterflies, moths and smaller dragonflies. The larvae, which live in water, eat almost any living thing smaller than themselves. Larger dragonfly larvae sometimes eat small fish or fry. (Dragonfly larvae are called Hellgrammites and they feature a huge set of mandibles, which is why they can eat almost anything they can bite. Unwary fishermen looking for natural bait and curious creek waders, turning over rocks, have learned how painful Hellgrammite bites can be. They do make a terrific bait for smallmouth bass, but they must be handled very carefully. Fortunately, adult dragonflies rarely bite except if roughly handled and the bites barely hurt at all. They also do not sting, despite the appearance of what appears to be a giant stinger!

Dragonflies can be distinguished from closely related damselflies by several characteristics. Damselflies are usually slim, their forewings and hindwings narrow at the base and have similar shapes, and their eyes are widely separated. Most species hold their wings above the abdomen when they are resting. The wings may not even appear visible when they are at rest. Dragonflies are usually much larger and their eyes touch near the top of their head. The wings do not narrow at the base; the forewings and hindwings also differ in shape. When they are resting, the wings are usually spread about so they resemble a cross.

Both of these interesting insects are highly beneficial and should never be killed indiscriminately!

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