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This week in your Massachusetts garden & landscape

Week of August 29, 2016 By Ron Kujawski

Biofumigation is a fairly recent approach to pest and disease management in the vegetable garden. To put it simply, biofumigation is the release of volatile chemicals during the breakdown of plant materials.  These chemicals have pesticidal properties, that is, they can suppress many diseases, nematodes, insects, and weeds.  The plants most effective as biofumigants include common cover crops such as sudan grass, winter rye, and mustard.  I’ve already planted mustard in the area of the garden where peas and potatoes had grown.  I chose mustard because this is where my garlic crop will be planted in late October, and mustard,  specifically the varieties ‘Caliente’, ‘Pacific Gold’ and ‘Kodiak’, has been shown to be effective in controlling garlic bloat nematode, recently a serious problem in garlic production.  Once the mustard plants begin to bloom, I’ll mow them down with my string trimmer and then till them into the soil. Then, as with all cover crops, I’ll wait two weeks before planting the garlic.

While it is a little late to get much biofumigant benefit from a planting of sudan grass – best planted in early to summer – there’s plenty of time left to plant winter rye.  As the name implies, this rye survives the winter and needs to be tilled under in spring, again about two weeks before planting vegetable crops. Hence, don’t be shy.  Biofumigate!

Don’t be shy about getting on with these tasks:

  • Use the long Labor Day weekend to start hardscape projects. Build a stone wall, brick walk, or a replica of an Egyptian pyramid.  Okay, maybe the latter is a bit much (most of us don’t have the room), but hopefully cooler temperatures of late summer and early fall make these heavy duty tasks a tad easier to accomplish.
  • Dig, divide, and replant herbs such as oregano and mint.  These two herbs can easily get out of hand if not routinely reined in.
  • Groom house plants which spent the summer outdoors.  Give each a forceful spray of water and then carefully inspect the plants for pests.  If any pests survived the rinse, apply insecticidal soap to rid plants of the pests.  Keep plants out of direct sunlight during and after spraying.  Before moving plants back indoors, remove any diseased leaves and stems.  A well-groomed plant is a happy plant.
  • Plant peonies.  Incorporate some ground limestone and organic matter into the soil prior to planting.  Peonies prefer a soil that is neutral or slightly alkaline.
  • Freeze or can extra produce from the vegetable garden.  Those who have never canned vegetables or fruit should seek the assistance of someone who has.  While canning is not difficult, it must be done properly to avoid contamination of the food.  With the anticipation of further increases in food prices at the market, this is a good time to become familiar with food preservation techniques.

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