Last month in early April, my dear friend and buddy Chuck Browne unexpectantly passed away due to a lingering illness. I first met Chuck in 1999 when I worked as an agent assistant at the Lee County Extension office. He served as the horticulturist there and was one of five county agents that introduced and trained me for Extension work. Even when I began my career in Tallapoosa County in 2000, Chuck and I remained in touch and close for 23 years. 

When Chuck retired from Extension several years ago, he and his wife, Cathy, permanently moved to Lake Martin and became residents of Tallapoosa County. Despite a new chapter in his life, Chuck could not stop helping folks, even in his spare time. He assisted with many of our Extension, Master Gardner and 4-H programs; helped map the Tallapoosa River and the Harold Banks Canoe Trail; and became a positive influence and asset in the community. He just loved people, the great outdoors, Lake Martin, the Tallapoosa River and life itself. 

Chuck was my mentor, a super smart horticulturist, a funny and witty guy and quite mischievous. He always had a smile or made me smile. He was a wealth of knowledge and wisdom. He taught me about plants, pruning and propagation, kayaking creeks and rivers, smoking and grilling meats, writing newspaper articles, loving the outdoors and appreciating time well spent with friends and family.

Chuck hand wrote a weekly Extension newspaper column for the Opelika-Auburn News – for well over 20 years, I would guess. I still have only a few copies of them. I found this one from May 20, 2009, that is timely advice for spring gardeners. I dedicate this space to the late Chuck Browne, Lee County Extension Agent and fellow horticulturist.  

 

“This year, it seems that more people than ever are growing some sort of backyard vegetable garden. I am amazed at the number of people who are also first time vegetable gardeners.  Everywhere I go, people are eager to tell me how big their squash plants are or how well their container deck gardens are doing. It is great to see the excitement on their faces as they relay their success to me.

However, it is equally distressing when someone who has worked so hard and seemingly done all the right things has an unfortunate encounter with garden spoiler. There is usually more than one way to achieve success when growing vegetables. Likewise, there are numerous things out there that can cause failures, as well. No season is ever the same. With all the things that can potentially go wrong, it’s amazing that we can ever get a single fruit or vegetable out of a backyard garden. Here are but just a few of the most common garden spoilers that we see most every year.

Critters: If you grow vegetables long enough, I assure you that at least one and probably several kinds of critters will find your garden and help relieve you of your bounty.  

Rabbits usually are more destructive to young gardens. I’ve had them start at the beginning of a row of beans and work their way down, completely eating all the young seedlings. Rabbits are mostly nocturnal and can strip several hundred feet of row literally overnight. A short fence, about 18 to 24 inches high, all around the garden will keep them out. Blood meal, bone meal and fish emulsion fertilizer are not 100 percent effective but will repel them in some situations.

If you live in a neighborhood or subdivision, don’t think you are immune to deer damage. As we have developed more housing into the wooded edges around our communities, the wildlife has adapted, if not thrived, as we plant tasty trees, shrubs and flowers for them to graze on. And to top it all off, we fertilize, and water these plants to make them even more attractive.

The only sure way to keep deer out of a garden is to fence it. A stationary fence needs to be at least 6 feet high. Portable electric fences are easier to install and are more versatile. They can also be removed and stored when not in use. 

You can try things like motion-sensor-controlled lights, radios, soap bars, blood meal, fish emulsion fertilizer, barber shop hair … the list goes on and on. These may go from being very effective to not effective at all, it depends on a multitude of factors.

Squirrels and birds may be even more difficult to control. Most gardeners I know say they just plant enough for the birds and squirrels, too; however, if all you have is one or two patio containers, one or two of these critters can wipe you out.

Rubber snakes moved around in the plants every day has worked for me repelling birds. They must be moved frequently to appear real and be effective. Bird netting also works but must be used properly. Remember, these creatures want to eat and are very clever at adapting.

Insects: Contrary to popular belief, all bugs are not bad bugs. The insect world is a complex one. Some entomologists devote their entire careers to studying this fascinating group of organisms. And besides that, insects are capable of changing things, such as their resistance to certain pesticides and even their physical appearance, if needed.

Some “bad” insects are things like aphids, Mexican bean beetles, squash vine borer, corn earworm (also known as the tomato fruit worm), stink bugs, whiteflies and thrips. I’m sure I’ve missed a few others.

Some of the “good” insects are things like lady beetles, parasitic wasps, lacewings (not to be confused with lacebugs) and honeybees, as well as other pollinating bees.

Proper identification of an insect is rule number one. Beneficial lady beetles look very much like a Mexican bean beetle. The same insecticide will kill both, so be careful. Indiscriminately spraying insecticides when you see bugs is not recommended. In fact, it may cause you more harm by killing some beneficials. We can help you identify garden bugs, by a very good description over the phone, by bringing a sample to the Extension office or email us a photo.

Diseases: Most of the diseases that attack plants are fungal diseases. Viruses have been on the rise in tomatoes and peppers in the last few years. Bacteria is not as much of a problem in plants, but it is present. 

Fungal diseases favor a humid climate where plants stay wet for long periods of time. Some fungi prefer it cooler while other types thrive in warmer weather. Either way, we have both at some time of the year. Good air circulation, avoiding overhead irrigation and planting disease resistant varieties are the best ways to prevent disease. Fungicides can be used to help combat disease, also. Again, proper diagnosis is essential before spraying a fungicide.

A wise farmer once told me that the best tools he had when battling garden pests were his shoes and eyes. Getting out into the garden every day and watching for irregularities and catching them before they progress too far is the best defense anyone can have. Plus, it’s fun to watch the daily progression of our spring gardens.”

We are going to miss you, Chuck Browne. Thank you for your friendship, the adventures, the laughs and years of sound advice. You have helped and inspired so many adults and kids in Lee and Tallapoosa Counties. May your influence, impact and legacy live on in all of us.       

~ Shane Harris is the County Extension Coordinator for Tallapoosa County.