Margaret Lauterbach

Garden pests present a challenge

Margaret Lauterbach
Margaret Lauterbach

I don’t know whether it’s due to the close companions (bush beans) or just that no attractant has been planted in that raised bed before, but I’ve had at least three flushes of beautiful Swiss chard in one bed this year. Only one leaf out of a gallon of Swiss chard leaves were damaged by leaf miners, the rest were clean of pests. I know there are leaf miners in the garden, for the beet greens in two other beds have taken many hits.

Squash bugs are here, I’ve killed a number, but they’ve only killed one squash plant so far. Apparently the secret to get squash to maturity is to plant butternut and climbing zucchini. I think I dared to plant a Sweet Meat (that may have been the one plant they killed). The climbing zucchini has gone crazy, climbing up and over a trellis, threatening to take over the entire bed. And the trellis is loaded with long-necked squashes, some nearly a meter long. Since seeds are confined to the “bell” part of the squash, the long necks, nearly two inches in diameter, are solid meat.

A cook doesn’t have to use the whole squash at once, for cutting across the neck releases some drops of moisture that seals the rest from decay if spread across the cut with a finger.

Insects are not the only enemies of productive and beautiful gardens in our area. If you have mysterious damage unrelated to insects or gastropods (slugs and snails), consider vertebrate vandals. A friend in another state kept seeing ripe tomatoes with a small bite taken, that damage inflicted after dark. She got out a lawn chair and settled herself as darkness fell, armed with a flashlight, eyeing her tomato patch. After dark, she saw the culprit — to her horror, it was a rat.

An easier way to detect your vandal is to lay a sift of flour, talcum powder or even diatomaceous earth over the area, then examine footprints the next day. One Boisean saw buds on her cantaloupe vines, but they were not setting fruit because the blossoms never appeared. Close inspection revealed just a nub left where each bud had been. I suggested vertebrates might be to blame, then she thought of the cute quail family that visited her garden regularly. She laid out bird netting over the cantaloupe vines, and blossoms erupted.

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If you have garlic chives in your yard, consider them culinarily useful rather than garden thugs. They spread so far and so fast it’s easy to be annoyed at their popping up in undesirable places. One friend, wanting a mild garlic flavor to certain dishes, picks one of the garlic chives’ strap leaves, chops it and adds it to her dish. Some folks dig down to the white roots and harvest and chop them along with some of the dark green leaves. Garlic chives are also known as Chinese leeks. Their deep growing habit makes them rather difficult to remove when you desire.

Lindarose Curtis-Bruce showed me another way to use them. That is, when they set tight flower buds, grasp the flower stalk firmly at the base and, keeping a tight grip, draw up toward the bud. The stalk will break off at the juncture of tender vs. tough stalk. Only harvest those with slender tight buds; once they begin to fatten, they’re not tasty. A small bunch of them may be steamed or sauteed for a minute or two, then served as a delicious mild green. If you eat one raw, you’ll discover they’re quite strongly pungent. The brief cooking tempers that pungency.

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Adventurous chefs know that saffron is extremely expensive because it is hand-selected stigmas from fall-blooming saffron crocus. A more affordable substitute is the dried flower of safflower (Carthamus tinctorius). In Mexico and perhaps Spain, both coloring-flavoring agents are known as azafran. The more you use, the deeper the color. The usual color of saffron is yellow, but safflowers have been used in such concentration they produce a red dye, that was once used to dye cotton tapes used for legal documents, our source for the term “red tape.”

Safflowers are attractive small yellow, orange or red aster-shaped flowers surrounded by prickly bracts. This plant is fairly drought tolerant, but grows in full sun in a location that has good drainage. Seeds are large white seeds resembling sunflower seeds. Instead of using just a part of the flower like saffron, the whole flower of safflower is used. Many grocers sell safflower azafran in cellophane pouches for less than $1 per pouch. You must use a much larger quantity of the safflower azafran than recipes call for saffron to get the same effect. If a recipe calls for one-eighth teaspoon of saffron, for example, use half a teaspoon or a full teaspoon of safflower azafran.

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.