Gardening Tips: Berries and Pests

Editor’s Note: We’re dipping into Michelle Smith’s archive for gardening tips that remain timely. This column first appeared on 22 August 2018.


What to do this week

It is all about harvesting this time of year, and how to keep up — just don’t sleep, and you will do fine.

But seriously (or continuing to be serious), it is likely time to be pulling up your garlic. It may even be a little late. If you haven’t done it yet you should do it right away. Otherwise the little cloves will start to separate from the main stem and it will not keep as well.

You may have noticed that your onions are starting to flop over towards the ground. If some but not all, have, you can help them out by folding them all over. They need time in this position for the base of the stem to dry up. This will help protect the bulb during storage. It is best to wait for the first few onions to flop over by themselves. If none have yet, it could be that you planted late. Once they start though, you can help them out and bend them all over. Don’t pick them, unless you are stealing one or two here and there to use in the kitchen. Onions stay in the ground and cure. Leave them there until the tops start to wither. Later on you will be pulling them up to air dry before storage.

Raspberry. Photo by Vassil, Public Domain, from Wikimedia Commons

Raspberry. Photo by Vassil, Public Domain, from Wikimedia Commons

And now, on to berries.

If you are picking berries for fresh eating, of course you will want to pick them when they are fully ripe and nice and plump. That is the best time to pick them for freezing as well, but if you are going to make jams you want to include a few that are a bit under ripe. That way they have more pectin, something that will help with the jam production. It does depend on the berry, though: strawberries and raspberries have almost no pectin no matter when you pick them, so you will have to add it. Go for ripe and delicious, especially in the case of raspberries. Strawberries have a bit of pectin, although not much, so a few under-ripe might be a good idea. Currants and gooseberries have lots of pectin, but a few under-ripe would give you even more.

On the bad news side, I am noticing an infestation of tent caterpillars this year, and much later than usual. This pest tends to run in cycles, and is usually a problem in spring. This leads me to suspect that they might be a different species from what we usually get, unless it is just the late spring we had. The ones I have this year do look a little different from what I have had in the past, another reason to suspect that something different is happening.

I usually expect tent caterpillars on cherry and apple trees but this year I have been finding them on my elderberry bushes. Check all of your fruit trees. If you see anything, go and get a bucket of soapy water. You can use gloves if you are squeamish (like I am), but you do have to hand pick these little pests. Toss them into the soapy water and be done with them. The important thing is to get on them right away, before they have time to produce a second generation.

It is also potato beetle season. If you don’t stay on them they will consume the entire potato plant, and without leaves the plant cannot produce potatoes. And perhaps worse, once the beetles finish up on your potato plants they may move on to any related plant nearby, tomatoes for example.

Colorado potato beetle. Photo by By Scott Bauer, U.S. Department of Agriculture [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Colorado potato beetle. Photo by Scott Bauer, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If you have never seen potato beetles, look for bright orange larvae with black wart-like spots. The beetles are brown with tan stripes and are quite small, a little bit smaller than the size of a dime. I don’t think you could miss them unless you are checking at the wrong time. They go down to the ground at night and spend much of the day crawling back up for supper. Check late in the day. If you see clusters of their yellow eggs under the leaves, get rid of them too. Usually by the time you see the larvae you already have a problem and you are just going to have to keep on it.

You can use the bucket of soapy water and rubber glove technique on this pest too, but I have an old battery-operated shop vac that pairs well with my squeamish character. If you try this, remember to clean it out after you have finished vacuuming everything up.

So, as I was saying, if you don’t sleep you will be fine. Just comfort yourself with dreams of all the wonderful food you will be enjoying all winter.

Featured image: Eastern tent caterpillar web or “tent.” Photo by Greg Hume (Greg5030), CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.


Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.





The Cape Breton Spectator is entirely reader supported. Please consider subscribing today!