Learn a new insect. Most popular (or I should say, most common) these days are the beetles — Mexican Bean beetle, Colorado potato beetle, VW beetles, cucumber beetles. Well, not the VW, although it’s my favorite. Potato beetles are voracious feeders, and the larvae or young will start chomping down on your leaves from the time they hatch. They are most destructive and can strip your plants to ribs in a matter of days. They are happiest on potatoes and eggplants and will even eat tomatoes. The adult is the size and shape of a thumbtack, with an orange head and black-and-tan-striped wings, and would be quite pretty if they weren’t eating my eggplant leaves down to nubs. Eggs are bright-yellow-orange, mostly on the undersides of the leaves. Eggs hatch into rapidly growing orange or grey slug-looking hump-backed eating machines. These are best controlled by squishing them when there are only a few. Spraying Neem works only when they are small, and the adults are famous for their ability to quickly develop resistance to the heftier pesticides. Be vigilant!
Weed, water, and mulch. Repeat. Then do it again three days later. If it rains, skip the water part.
Eat your weeds. Purslane, portulaca oleracea, a member of the portulaca family, is a low-growing clumpy weed with succulent, paddle-shaped leaves and fat stems. This lowly plant is one of the few containing healthful omega-3-fatty acids. It also has vitamin A, vitamin C, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, calcium, and copper. Leaves and stems are good in a salad or stir-fry. But don’t eat lots of it if you suffer from kidney stones, as it also has high levels of oxalate.
Sally McCabe is associate director of community education at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (phsonline.org) and a co-owner of Cobblestone Krautery (www.cobblestonekrautery.com).