Post G21-001: Garden lessons learned.

Last year I put in a fairly serious vegetable garden.  Partly it was for the exercise, partly it was to have something to do.

And partly, it was so I’d have something cheerful to see when I looked out my back window.  Like so.


I’m going to start this year’s garden posts with lessons learned from last year.  Scroll down to the headers in red to see if any of this interests you. Continue reading Post G21-001: Garden lessons learned.

Post #G24: Paw paw neurotoxicity.

Paw paws.  Source:  My yard.  Destination:  Recycle bin.

We have a couple of paw paw trees in our yard.  The are nice-looking trees, with large gloss green leaves.  I have the vague recollection that we put them in for butterfly habitat, as they are critical for the reproduction of the zebra swallowtail.

We rarely get any edible fruit from them, as the fruit always seem to go from rock hard to “the deer got them” in a matter of days.

And, as it turns out, that may have been a lucky break. Continue reading Post #G24: Paw paw neurotoxicity.

Post #G14: Garden update

Source:  My garden.

If you have no interest in gardening, skip this.

Squash Vine Borer.  Looks like the SVB season is over.  I spend a lot of time walking around my garden, and my last sighting was 7/25/2020.  My first was 7/5/2020, making the SVB season just about exactly three weeks long.

My spraying regimen — I would term it spinosad with a side order of neem — appears to have worked so far.  In the sense that none of my many cucurbits is showing symptoms of SVB infestation.  Yet.  So that’s 0.008% spinosad solution (made up from concentrate), sprayed on the stems of my cucurbits every five days or so.  In the late evening, to avoid the bees.  Plus one random spraying with 100% neem (the variant that contains the insecticides, not the “hydrophobic extract” that’s just oil), more out of paranoia than from any thought-through plan.  I’ll have to keep up the spray for another week or so to account for the lag between egg-laying and hatch-out.

Powdery mildew.  I have that on nearly all my cucurbits now.  I should have been taking preventive measures, but I didn’t, so now I’m playing catch-up.

I tried baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) solution, once.  Recipe given in earlier posts.  I tried potassium bicarbonate solution, once.  Just substitute K for Na in the recipe.  If those had an effect, it was fairly subtle.

So I’m pulling out all the stops and following the hydrogen peroxide regimen as outlined on The Rusted Garden blog.  See the video above.  (Seriously, look this guy up on Youtube.  He’s in Maryland.  If you’re not envious of his garden, you’re a far better gardener than I am.)

This involves pruning out any leaves that are badly hit with powdery mildew, then spraying daily with a dilute solution of hydrogen peroxide.  (Around) 4 to 6 ounces of 3% hydrogen peroxide per gallon of water.)

If nothing else, this is certainly cheap.  A quart of 3% H2O2 is $1.29 at the grocery store, and is enough to treat my entire garden four times.  I’ll post in a few days and report back the results.

Ongoing, I’m also pruning my squash and pumpkin plants.  It never even occurred to me to do that.  (I’m kind of a laissez-faire gardener, which is another way of saying, I do as little as possible.)   But after listening the the logic behind it and seeing the results on The Rusted Garden, I’m all in.  As with the mildew issue, I’m running behind, so this will be an ongoing process.

I’m planting mid-season replacements for some of my cucumbers.  That’s another thing I’ve never done before.  To me, you plant in the spring, you harvest in the fall.  But apparently that’s not what smart gardeners do.  In this case, my Spacemaster 80 cucumbers were incredibly productive, until the simultaneous effects of bacterial wilt and powdery mildew got hold of them.  They are now such a mess that I’m pulling them out and replanting.  Apparently, with warm soil and a bit of fertilizer, there’s plenty of time to have them grow up and produce cucumbers before first frost.

Cucumber beetles and bacterial wilt.  Today I was 4/4 (attempts/kills) when inspecting my squash and pumpkin blossoms, long-nosed pliers in hand.  (As described in Post #G13).  I think that I have seen no new cases of bacterial wilt these past few days, but it’s hard to say, as it takes some time for the plant to die off.  In any case, I’ve gone from finding dozens in one pass through the blossoms, to consistently finding maybe four or five.  Tentatively, I think I’m winning.

Timing is fairly key to this operation.  The limiting factor is grumpy bumblebees.  If I get out there at 7 AM, there are bumblebees  just kind of sitting in the squash blossoms, zoned out.  My wife swears that bumblebees sleep in squash blossoms.  (Aww!)  I, by contrast, thought that was way too cute to be real.  A quick google search shows that she’s correct.  Not only do they sleep in flowers, but squash blossoms are preferred due to size and configuration, and squash blossoms provide considerable protection from the cold.  Snug as a bee in a blossom, no joke.  The upshot is that I have to wait for them to get up and go to work before I can patrol for cucumber beetles.

Tomato ripening is now occurring generally across my tomato plants.  Slowly.  My cherry tomatoes are ripening a few at a time, and some Rutgers tomatoes are finally turning pink.  Still going slowly, though, that’s for sure.

And the deer have not yet returned. As evidenced by the fact that I still have standing sunflowers, above.  On net, I’m crediting Bobbex deer repellent.  It really stinks!  I think the motion-activated radio comes in a close second (Post #G07).  I don’t know if it scares the deer, but it sure manages to scare the pee out of me every time I inadvertently trigger it.

Post #G13: Garden update

Not everything in my garden is a problem.  I just tend to talk about the issues that I’m trying to solve.  I’m attempting to achieve some balance here.  Topic below, in order, are:

  • Deer (success),
  • Birds (limited success),
  • Cucumber Beetles (apparent success);
  • Squash vine borer (possible success, possibly too soon to tell),
  • Powdery mildew (no success at all, yet, but I’ve learned to prune my squash).

Continue reading Post #G13: Garden update

Post #G07: With my luck, the local deer are all Garth Brooks fans.


This is one of my occasional posts on gardening.  In it, I’m going to explain how to take an off-the-shelf plug-and-play motion sensor and turn it into flexible device for deterring deer.

As anyone who gardens in this area will tell you, deer are pests.  Cute as all get-out.  But pests, nevertheless.  And, unfortunately, either they can’t read, or they just don’t obey signs.  So unless you want to feed the local deer, either you erect some serious fencing around your garden, or you do something else to convince your local deer to feed elsewhere.

What I describe in this post is one of several deer-deterrence measures I have taken.  They seem to be working so far.  But I haven’t seen any elephants in my yard recently, either, and that doesn’t mean I’ve found a good elephant repellent.



Source:  USDA

At the end of March, I decided to put in a big vegetable garden.  Just to have something to do during the pandemic (Post #580).

I recycled my “MAC” signs into raised beds.  Figuring, if there was no longer a MAC ordinance, I’d have to get signs reprinted anyway (Post #G05).  And that’s how things did shake out, this past month (Post #706).


Above, that’s the same garden, today.  Note the complete and total absence of deer!  The red arrow points to my latest deer deterrent.  That’s a trash bag covering up an indoor motion detector.  That’s what I explain next.

Making a flexible deer scarer.

There are some things that absolutely will keep deer out of your garden.  A tall and sturdy fence.  A shorter fence, if you can plant enough shrubbery around it to prevent the deer from jumping it.  A two-layer electric fence.

I didn’t want to do any of those and/or they were illegal and/or my wife didn’t want that in the back yard.  Not that I can blame her.  Nor was I willing to buy a few hundred dollars in supplies, and put in hours of labor, to produce a few tens of dollars of vegetables.

Any cheap and easy deer deterrents are likely to be, at best, partially effective.  I’m not going to run through all the commercial and home-made deer deterrents, except to say that a) there is little agreement on effectiveness of most of them, and b) the conventional wisdom is that deer will get used to just about any un-changing device designed to scare them.

I had several deer deterrents in use, and they seem to be mostly effective.  This includes Bobbex deer repellent, a Yard Enforcer motion-activated sprayer, some older ultrasonic “pest scarers” that seem to be useless and/or broken.  Liberal use of blood meal throughout the garden.  And, of course, the classic of low-end DIY deer repellents — bars of Irish Spring soap. (Manly, yes, but deer hate it too.)

I decided to add a motion-activated noise/motion device of some sort.  Just something to startle the deer as they chow down on my string beans.  But didn’t really find what I was looking for as a commercial product.  So I decided to make one.

My first attempt failed.  I tried to make one out of a cheap motion-activated floodlight.  Figured that, in place of the floodlights, I’d just put in some screw-in sockets, and then plug something into that.  But modern motion-activated floodlights are all (or nearly all) designed to turn off during the day.  Basically, a) they don’t work in daylight, b) everything that I tried to block the daylight also messed up the infrared-based motion sensor, and c) I ended up ruining the unit when I tried to drill out the wired-in cheap light sensor (literally, just an LED).

Not only did I not figure out how to defeat the nighttime-use-only problem, those require a lot of additional parts, and they require having an electrical box.  And the cheap one I got from Home Depot was clearly going to require a lot of sealant in order to be weatherproof.  And, owing to the electronics of the motion sensor, there are limits on what sort of electrical/electronic device you can control with that.  All in all, too complicated and too clever by half.  But designed for outdoor use.

Here’s what saved the day.


My second attempt worked perfectly:  I used an off-the-shelf plug-and-play indoor motion sensor.  What you see above is an indoor motion sensor with a roughly 25-foot range.  It has no problem working in daylight.

As importantly, this device has no problem “seeing” right through a thin plastic bag.  So all you need to do, to use this outside, is set up whatever you are going to set up.  Then put a white garbage bag over it, to keep the rain off the electronics.

What’s more, it’s electrically bulletproof.  Some light controls used electronics to turn the lights on and off, and so have significant limitations at to the type of device they can control.  (E.g., some on-at-dusk, off-at-dawn controllers can’t deal with compact fluorescent bulbs).  But this device uses a physical relay to turn the electricity on and off (you can hear it click).  That means there are no restrictions (other than total wattage) as to the type of electronics it can control.  And it can handle up to 1200 watts.  That means you can use a wide range of household devices as noise-makers.  For example, I could plug my Shop-Vac into this.

With this part in hand and tested, the rest of the deer-scaring device is straightforward.  Put a stake in the ground where you want to use this.  Run an outdoor extension cord out to your garden, plug this in, mount it to that stake.  Plug the device of your choice into this.  (Or use a multiple tap, and plug in several devices).

Then cover the whole assembly with a white plastic trash bag. When a deer walks by, it will now trigger whatever device you have plugged in.  For the amount of time you choose.

For my first round, I’m following a recommendation I’ve seen in several places, and have hooked this up to a radio.  Then I put the radio in a small metal garbage can.  That keeps the water off the radio.  I have it set, very loud, to WMZQ.  Now when a deer tries to walk up to my beans, it is greeted with one minute of loud country music.  Which then stops.  And if they are still there, it runs for another minute.  And so on.

It’s far enough into the yard that I don’t think I’ve created a neighbor-annoyance device.  But if you’re standing right next to it, the effect is pretty startling.

The nice thing is, if the deer get used to this, I can just change out the radio for something else.  Maybe a weed whacker next time?  And there are all kinds of sound-and-motion possibilities using a Shop-Vac exhaust.  Maybe some flashing lights.  Plug in a three-way tap and operate three devices, subject to the 1200 watt limit.

Basically, anything you can plug into a standard wall outlet, and that doesn’t draw too much current, can serve in place of the radio.  Which means you can keep it fresh, for your deer.  And keep them from getting used to this deer deterrent.