Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Green Thumb - Tales of a West Coast Gardener - Summer 2010 Article

This article is now published in the Barkley Sound Community Journal - The West Island Quarterly.
‘Do what we can; summer will have its flies.’
Ralph Waldo Emerson
     I have been asked to write about bugs—which, at this time of writing in mid-May—prime garden planting time, I’m battling a bug of my own; a spring cold. So, instead of playing outside in the dirt & getting eaten alive by the bugs, I’ll write about them!
     This is an incredibly broad topic to discuss & it changes with the seasons. I’ll start off with the ‘Bad’ bugs—the ones that cause us to run screaming from the garden or reach for the chemicals. We are talking about blackflies, mosquitoes, aphids, slugs & any assortment of beetle or worm that frustrates our endeavors to grow a crop of food.
     In the spring, those ‘no-see-ums’ are hiding in the dirt, so it’s a good idea to wait til mid morning before digging around too much. Once the soil & the air warms up, they generally disappear til the evening hours. Later on in the summer, they return when we become too busy to keep the grass trimmed & evenings by the fire pit can become unbearable unless the fire is roaring & the chemicals are applied.
    To avoid nasty surprises in the greenhouse or storage shed, it’s best to store your empty pots upright instead of upside down, as spiders & wasps might find those dark spaces to their liking & nothing is worse in the spring than having spiders jump out at you while you are reaching for pots to grow your herbs in!!
     Now aphids & slugs are altogether different critters. They can devastate a veggie patch or your basil plants almost over night! For slugs, you’ll have to find something that works for you: midnight garden tours with a flashlight & a sharp stick, copper mesh, egg shells, slug bait, beer traps… All I know is that they love being under cover & wet spring soil in the greenhouse is a great place for hatching new babies.
     Aphids seem to like humidity—so let your greenhouse breathe & try to confuse those critters by growing sacrificial plants that they can munch on instead. One great plant you can grow is nasturtiums; they actually attract aphids to themselves & still manage to keep on going!
     Companion planting is a great way to confuse bugs you don’t want. These plants add a bit of diversity to the gardens & will distract the bugs from their intended targets. For instance: borage will repel tomato worms, so why not plant a few of these in the greenhouse with the ‘maters. Basil repels mosquitoes, marigolds repel bean beetles, garlic & horseradish repel beetles, and rosemary & thyme work well too. Every garden & gardener will find certain plants work really well together.
     But what about the ‘Good’ bugs? Are there such a thing? Definitely the bees & butterflies & ladybugs. I was just reading an article about bees & how the honey bee is actually an introduced species from Europe! Our wild bees are much better pollinators, but they don’t produce honey in the quantities that the European bees do. We can invite the bees into our gardens by providing a wide range of flowers for them to visit throughout the seasons. Ever wonder why dandelions are the first and last flowering plants? The bees rely on them for survival!! Check out the Ministry of Environment’s brochure on Beneficial Bugs found thru the Integrated Pest Management site to learn more & find out how to attract them to do the dirty work of getting rid of the ‘bad’ bugs in the gardens. Far easier I think to let the spiders be than to run around squishing bugs!!
     (note: I couldn't actually find the brochure on-line but was able to pick a copy up at the local builder's supply. Try local nurseries, greenhouses & garden centres for information)
     As an alternative to applying chemicals to yourself when all you have are those few precious morning hours to garden, I’ve made a homemade, natural bug repellent that contains citronella, lemon grass, lavender, peppermint & tea tree to keep those bugs away. If they do manage to bite, I’ve also found that a mix of lavender & peppermint will ease the itch & swelling.

‘Shoo fly, don’t bother me…’

Bad Breath Pepper Garlic Spray
Use: All Purpose. Try it on a host of insect pests.
4 cups of boiled water
1 entire bulb of garlic
1 smallish onion
1 tbsp hot pepper (flakes, powder or fresh)
Thin strainer
Spray bottle
1. Steep the all your ingredients overnight in the boiling water.
2. Pour the whole mess into a blender or food processor and liquefy.
3. Strain through cheesecloth or a thin-meshed strainer. Be sure to capture all the particles to avoid clogging your sprayer.
4. Funnel the liquid into a spray bottle.
Non-Edible Variation: Try adding 1 tsp dish soap to the mix. Not only will it aid in the mix sticking to the insect, but will also do its own damage.
How to Use:
Thoroughly coat the leaves of the infected plant with the spray. Be sure to get the undersides and other nooks and crannies where bugs will hide. Store your mixture in the fridge to avoid the rotting smell that will eventually arise. (although this could then be used as a deer deterrent…)
Why It Works:
Garlic contains a chemical that bugs don't like. As an added bonus it also has fungicidal properties that may aid or prevent some diseases. The active ingredient in hot pepper is capsicum. This is the stuff that burns your eyes.
This recipe comes from Gayla Trail’s website: You Grow Girl. She is an urban gardener in Toronto & a source of serious inspiration.

Water Conservation Tips for Your Gardens:
     We all want to know how to use less water but still have lush & productive gardens. Some might find it a strange concept here on the coast where we are surrounded by water & it seems to rain more than we want (especially in the spring when we want to be outside!), but there are times when we do experience dry & hot weather that can just zap our plants. Here are some tips that might help.

     Mulch on top of the ground slows water evaporation from the surface. A bonus to good mulching practices is weed control, a necessity in a healthy garden because weeds rob water and nutrients from desired plants. Control weeds by piling mulch on open spaces 3–4 inches deep. Put your garden on a good organic mulch diet with organic compost and the reward will be healthy garden soil that helps hold moisture. Things to use as mulch: straw (not hay as it contains seeds that might sprout), grass clippings (dry it first as fresh clippings will start to rot & mould & are a good environment for those wood bugs that while being great decomposers, might attack the plants being mulched), leaves & conifer needles (conifers will change the pH levels, so keep that to a minimum), shredded newspaper, manure & pulled up weeds (as long as they haven’t gone to seed already).  Don't mulch with peat moss; it dries out and forms a mat or crust on the top of the soil that easily sheds water. Instead, work peat moss well into the soil.

Collect Water:
     Get a rain barrel to collect water. Water collection from house gutters and collection barrels in the garden captures “free” water. In a period of rain, the collection points will have plenty of water stored for dry spells to water container gardens. A rain barrel with a proper connection for a soaker hose becomes an efficient way to seep water into planting beds. I’ve seen some very ingenius designs for this & want to try it on my own gardens this summer. If you’ve got a blue barrel somewhere on your property that isn’t being used for anything, this makes a perfect water collector. Chop the top off & install piping in the bottom with a valve. Place a fine screen or mesh overtop to keep out debris & bugs. You can make your own drip lines from rubber hoses with small pin pricks or you can invest in some soaker hose from suppliers such as Lee Valley. I have extra 5 gallon buckets that would make very effective slow-drip watering devices. Just fill the bucket, turn on the drip hose valve & let it water your flower bed or veggie bed slowly & more effectively than standing there for 10 minutes with a hose & spray nozzle.

Plant natives
     Plants that are native to your area have adapted to whatever rainfall nature gives. Native plants also tend to thrive and have better ornamental value with little or no maintenance. No excess fertilizers, pruning and care makes them ideal choices for water and environmentally friendly gardens.

Reduce Evaporation:
     To encourage roots to develop, soak the garden thoroughly rather than watering it lightly several times. The best time to quench your plants' thirst is early in the morning, when plants are turgid and best able to take in more water; in fact, the morning dew that moistens the top few millimetres of soil makes it easier for water to penetrate deeply. Irrigating at midday is wasteful, as much of the moisture is lost to evaporation, while watering in the evening isn't ideal because leaves stay wet all night long, which can lead to disease.
     Stop watering your lawn! This has the added benefit of allowing the lawn to go dormant during the summer which will also reduce the number of times you need to get out there to mow it.
     Repair leaky hoses, irrigation lines & spray nozzles. I have a hose that waters me more than it does my gardens & it will be replaced soon as it not only wastes water, but frustrates the gardener.

I’m sure there are many more ways that we can come up with to conserve water in our gardens & if you have ideas, share them with your neighbours. I look forward to hearing new ways to make life in the garden easier & simpler!

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