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Archive for the ‘beneficial insects’ Category

taking a soil testOver the years, whenever anyone asked me for advice on organic gardening, my response has always been Feed the Soil and Build the Ecosystem. Often they were expecting recommendations on what amendment or pest control product to use. However, you need to look at the whole system, rather than addressing symptoms of imbalance as they pop up. Now that permaculture is becoming more widely publicized, whole system management is more well known

Feed the Soil—Now is a good time to take a soil sample. I send my soil samples to Waypoint Analytical, formerly A & L Eastern Labs. If you are not good at interpreting the results that they send you, you could contact John Beeby at www.growyoursoil.org for organic fertilizer recommendations. Check with his website for which test to request and where to have it done. You will need to sample the soil from many places in your garden, then mix everything together for your sample to send in. The soil you see in the photo looks really good, but remember that I have been working on my soil for many years.

Correcting imbalances in your soil is the first thing to do if you are not receiving the results you want in your garden. Sometimes, well meaning actions can lead to imbalances, including adding a lot of manure to your garden every year without testing first. Sometimes people lime every year because they assume it is a good thing. It is only good if your garden needs more lime. Even if you do not do a soil test each year, you should have one to use as a baseline, then do one a couple years later to see how things are going. Make cover crops a part of your soil building efforts. The organic matter they add with their roots, and with the plant matter you harvest and use as mulch or compost material, is a tremendous benefit.

Build the Ecosystem—Well-nourished soil cannot go it alone in producing good crops. Malnourished plants will attract insects that will take them out, for sure. However, even well- nourished plants need pollinators. Also, if there are any insects munching your plants, you want to have beneficial insects taking up residence in your garden to eat them. In order for the beneficials to stay, there needs to be some other insects around as food. Buying insects to add to your garden is not as effective as attracting and naturally growing your own,

Chemicals, even those approved for organic production, can harm beneficial insects, as well as the not-so-desired ones. Furthermore, you have to acquire and apply the chemicals. If you include plants that attract the good insects into your crop mix, all you have to do is to stand back and watch the show. That’s what happened when I planted mountain mint, as well as other plants in the margins of my garden. I had visitors to my garden this summer who stopped in their tracks and asked the name of the plant when they saw all the buzzing around the mountain mint. It was an insect frenzy! Tansy is also well-documented as attracting beneficial insects.

goldenrod with honeybees and butterflies

Goldenrod with honeybees and butterflies.

The best time to witness beneficial insects on your plants is between 10am and 2pm in your garden. Goldenrod grows up in the wild areas of my garden if I don’t cut it down through the season. Since I am getting interested in natural dyes, I cut some for a dyepot recently. When I went out with my clippers, there were so many insects buzzing around it that I backed off. I did take some where there was little action going on, but left the rest to the beneficials.

leatherwing on spearmint

Leatherwing on spearmint.

You can also experience all this by letting some of your regular garden plants, such as basil, flower and go to seed. Spearmint, which can take over if you are not careful, attracts many beneficials if you let it flower. I like to have celery come back each year and go to seed. On the way to making seed that I save for culinary use and replanting, the flowers attract an array of good bugs–and all I have to do is watch it happen. Besides the insects you see in these photos, you will see bumblebees, wasps, beetles, spiders, and more in your garden if you allow it to happen.

Assasssin bug babies

Assassin bug babies.

Learn to identify insects you find in your garden so you don’t freak out and destroy the good ones you see that might surprise you, such as the assassin bugs in this photo. I found this young family on my cowpea plants. Although I’ve found ladybugs on other plants, my favorite ladybug photo is one I took on a cowpea plant of a ladybug eating an aphid.

ladybug eating an aphid

Ladybug eating an aphid.

To attract many of these good insects, you need to have permanent plantings. Weedy fencerows can provide  habitat. Not tilling all your garden at once will help, as well as having permanent paths. A border with permanent plantings will provide overwintering habitat. These things will enhance the year-round beauty of your garden and will be less work for you in the long run. The book Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham is a good reference to consult if you want help deciding what to plant to attract specific insects to help with certain pests.

Now is a great time to make your 2018 garden plan to ensure that you plant the desired cover crop, considering what your following crop will be, in each bed for next year. I locate my compost piles on my garden beds and rotate them, along with my other crops to contribute to soil fertility. The advantage of that is evident in the crops that follow. Managing your plantings to attract and maintain beneficial insects in your ecosystem will create a garden that is a joy to be in.homeplace earth logo

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garden plan dvd coverHere it is– a new year and time to plan your new garden. Before you do that, however, I urge you to think about last year’s garden. Most likely, if you are reading this you probably did some sort of planning last year. That’s what my DVD Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan is all about. In the DVD I show you how to put together a notebook with your complete garden plan. It even comes with a CD with all the worksheets I talk about, such as a Seed Inventory, How Many Seeds and Plants Needed, Plant / Harvest Times, and a Plant / Harvest Schedule. My book Grow a Sustainable Diet has an additional worksheet—How Much to Grow. It is great to work up a plan, but you might be like someone I met recently who put her plan together in a notebook, just like I advise, but neglected to keep track of things afterward. That is a great start and all is not lost. Even though you didn’t write it down, surely you remember something that happened through the year. Take the time now to note the highlights of 2015 and make a report of your gardening year. Then, file it away with the garden plan you made for 2015 for reference.

overlapping maps-BLOGFor many years my garden plan consisted mainly of my garden maps, the one I made showing what I intended to plant where and when, the Actual version that showed what actually happened, and the Amendments version that showed what amendments were added to each bed and when. It is the Actual version that will help you plan this year’s garden. If you completed it you will know what was in each bed throughout the year and when it was planted, particularly, what is in there now; but the subject of garden maps is a whole other post. Once I became a certified Ecology Action GROW BIOINTENSIVE Mini-farming Teacher I had to keep many other records and send them to John Jeavons each year, accompanied by a letter that explained what went on that year. It always gave the highs and lows of the year, what I was particularly working on, etc. It is that letter that I want you to write for yourself about your 2015 garden.

If you didn’t get past the initial plan, just making that plan should be considered a high. Not following through would probably be considered a low, but I’m sure there were extenuating circumstances. You should note those. It might be that you took a vacation and never quite got back to garden recordkeeping when you returned. Births, deaths, marriages, and divorces pretty much serve to get even the best planners off track, as do the activities of your children and parents. Building projects around your homestead might keep you occupied, and then there is the weather, which is always a good excuse for messing up your plans. If any of those things happened to you this year, they should be in your annual garden report. Although many of the things I mentioned cannot be foreseen or avoided, things like vacations can. If your vacation seems to coincide with crucial harvest times each year, change your vacation time for this year or time your plantings so their harvests will not conflict.

Thinking through the year will help you put things in perspective. If there is something you wished you could do better, such as fill in your Actual Garden Map as the season progresses, you might decide that will be a priority in 2016. What crops were you especially proud of? Even if you didn’t keep yield records you should have an idea if you were pleased or not with the harvest of most of the things you planted. Your pleasure or displeasure could be with the yield, taste, color, or whatever other traits you remember. Put that in your garden report. If you wished you had planted more or less of something, besides mentioning it in your report, make a note to change the amount planted in 2016.

What did you do differently last year? Did you try any new varieties or new ways of managing your tried-and-true varieties? What amendments did you bring in to your garden, if any? What did you use as mulch and where did it come from? Write about those kinds of things.

leatherwing on mint--BLOG

Leatherwing on mint

I hope you took photos of your garden through the year. It is amazing how things will look to you at another time. Having that visual record helps you to remember what was going on. Besides the plants and overall garden throughout the season, take photos of things you built or tools you used. Also, take photos of the insects and other wildlife in your garden. As you can see, I found leatherwings in my mint last summer. If you look closely, you might be surprised to see just how many varieties of insect helpers you have in your garden. This can all go in your annual garden report.

If you depend on the computer to store your photos, make sure to file them somewhere, hopefully in a file titled for that year, such as “2015 Garden”, with copies filed in appropriate files, such as “insects”, “crops”, or “tools”. Some people like to put photo books together online and then receive copies of the actual book. You could document all sorts of things in a book like that. Maybe that could be a project for your children to do, compiling information throughout the gardening season with that in mind.

Through the years I have often referred back to the letters that accompanied my records to John Jeavons and Ecology Action. Your annual garden report will reflect more than what is on record sheets. It can tell of the excitement, disappointment, discoveries, and enlightenment you experienced throughout the year. So, before you plan for 2016, take time to reflect on 2015. By writing an annual report, you can better direct your actions for planning this year’s garden.homeplace earth

 

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