Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Hornworms Foiled by Borage

To the Editor:

I read Eric Sideman's article, "Minimizing Summertime Blues," in particular about tomato hornworms. (See the June-August 2009 MOF&G.) They were a scourge for me, as they are for most people, until I learned to plant borage with the tomatoes. If a few borage plants are growing among the tomato plants, there will be no hornworms. At least that was my experience for many years in New York state. When I first moved to an old farm there, I joined an herb club and began a lifelong interest in herbs and their culture and uses. The lovely blue-flowered borage plant seeds itself year after year and makes it unnecessary to either pick the worms off, if you can even find them, or to use Bt insecticide. Yea for organic!

I might add that I found wrapping each potato section in a comfrey leaf at planting time prevented potato beetles.

Joanne McCartan, Brunswick, Maine

We are not aware of scientific studies on the methods above, but we enjoy hearing about gardeners' successes with various organic techniques. – Ed.

Pipe Bender Available for Hoophouse Construction


The following is my personal comment in regard to an article published on your Web site. The first two paragraphs read:

Eliot Coleman has another great idea – one that will extend the growing season at far lower cost than the $1500 or so required for a hoop house. His plan, which he started experimenting with last year, involves planting pairs of 30-inch-wide beds of hardy crops on the first of October, covering them immediately with polyester row covers such as Reemay or Agribon (Coleman uses the 15-weight cover) supported by half-inch metal or PVC hoops; and then, in mid-November, setting greenhouse plastic over the row cover for added insulation. The double covering will take hardy, young crops through winter and provide fresh produce in early spring.

Coleman quickly set up one of these very low tunnels at MOFGA's 2007 Common Ground Country Fair. First, using a spud bar, he made 12-inch-deep holes in the sandy soil. Then he set bent, half-inch-diameter, 10-foot-long PVC electrical conduit, from which he'd cut off the flanged end, into the holes along each edge of the side-by-side, 30-inch-wide beds. One foot of conduit was stuck into the ground on each side, leaving an 8-foot length curving over the beds. The hoops were spaced 5 feet apart along the length of the two 50-foot-long beds, requiring 11 hoops, costing about $22. (Ten-foot lengths of half-inch conduit cost under $2 each.) Coleman said he preferred to avoid PVC and use half-inch metal conduit, which costs about the same, but that he had not yet completed the simple pipe bender to give each metal hoop the desired curved shape. He added that Johnny's Selected Seeds should have "a nice little pipe bender/former/bower by next fall at the latest."

I find it more humorous than anything else that, while Mr. Coleman indeed has worked hard in his field of endeavor, few of his ideas are original, but rather reworked and well promoted existing methods. The exact row cover methods described above have in fact been in widespread use, using PVC, rebar and other materials for much longer than Mr. Coleman's emergence into this field. Until recent years no affordable hoop bending tool was available to the general growing public for bending steel tubing into greenhouse hoops and row covers. That changed when such a tool was invented by an unknown Texas redneck wanna-be gardener (that would be me), who in turn set out to get his tool into the hands of gardeners. The result is the $59.99 DY series benders in use by thousands of growers and gardeners around the world.

Loy Robinson

Eliot Coleman Responds:

The new idea I was presenting at the Common Ground Country Fair – where I do not believe it has been presented before – was that people attending a late September agricultural fair in wintry Maine could go home and plant vegetable seeds between then and late November and winter them over under very inexpensive low hoops for eating early next spring. As far as I am aware (and as I have written in two of my books), low hoops covered with plastic were first conceived by Dr. Emery Emmert at the University of Kentucky in the 1950s and 1960s.

Lost Creek's greenhouse pipe benders appear to be well designed and easy to use. Lost Creek previously did not offer a tool to bend 10-foot lengths of 1/2-inch rebar into a half circle with a 3-foot radius (which is what fits over two 30-inch beds with a 12-inch path between them as I demonstrated). What I demonstrated was that even without such a tool gardeners can make 6-foot wide low tunnels from 1/2-inch plastic conduit.

When I contacted Loy Robinson, I found that he is an inspired fabricator and I convinced him to make a bender to create 6-foot diameter half circles out of 10-foot-long, 1/2-inch metal electrical conduit. I have tried it out here and it works perfectly. Johnny's Selected Seeds will demonstrate Robinson's pipe bender at the Common Ground Country Fair. Johnny's says the benders will probably be available for purchase at the Fair and will definitely appear in Johnny's next catalog and online.
MOF&G Cover Fall 2009
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