Saturday, July 23, 2016
As humans, we like to think of ourselves as the alpha everything. If we are honest, though, when it comes to fighting insects of almost any type, if you take away our chemicals and we are a sorry lot. That is why one of the main focuses of this blog is chemical-free pest control for our healthy organic gardens.
In past articles, we have discussed using predatory insects, smoke and Diatomaceous Earth as a means of controlling those creepy crawlies that love to munch on our plants. Today, I would like to introduce you to the true alpha hunters of the garden world frogs, toads, lizards and birds.
Toads are fairly easy to attract to your garden while frogs can be problematic to an extent. Being semi-aquatic frogs rarely will stray too far from water. However, if you are lucky enough to have a small pond in your garden or have one nearby, you are in luck. They are magnificent insect hunters and depending on the types your garden attracts, their chirping, croaking and clicking create very soothing nighttime music.
Toads, on the other hand, are very easy to attract. As long as you have some moist, loose soil and provide them with a little shelter they will come and stay. The soil they prefer is what most of us want in our gardens anyway.
Loose soil, high in organic content, like compost, is their favorite. Toads like to dig down in the moist soil to avoid overheating and absorb moisture through their skin. They actually drink and breathe this way.
To provide shelter I use either football sized rocks propped up on smaller stones, or broken flower pots to create little caves they can shelter in and stay out of the sun. As most regular readers will have realized by now, I try to never waste anything and this is an excellent way to put those broken pots to good use.
Much like frogs and toads, lizards are uncanny hunters able to stalk insects and devour them in amazing numbers. They will eat virtually anything that will fit into their mouths, which makes them effective not just common insect pest but caterpillars as well. They come in a huge array of types and again as with the frogs, many are very vocal.
One key point with lizards is that they like cracks and crevices to use as cover. Adding a few small rock piles to your garden and leaving a few cracks in garden walls will help you attract and hold them.
I know birds can be problematic in a garden. Yes, they eat insect but they also eat seeds and fruits. Still, they can be a great help in the garden provided you properly provide for them and attract the right types.
Members of the wren and sparrow families are the best insect hunters, in my experience and I openly admit I have a soft spot for bluebirds in particular. Bird houses and baths are a great way to start attracting them to your garden and to help prevent them from causing damage of their own; a bird feeder should be kept well stocked to feed their need for seeds.
For me, one of the joys of organic gardening to observe and learn from nature. I guess I may have crossed the line between being a gardener and becoming a naturalist of sorts. I find nothing shameful or cruel about watching one animal survive by feeding on another. It is the way nature intended things to be.
As a bonus to all of this, I have found that by working with nature I have to exert a lot less effort and actually achieve greater results. By attracting predators to my garden I not only minimize the damage that insect pest cause to my veggies, I have the slightly sadistic joy of knowing that they eventually end up as fertilizer to help my plants grow. And the circle of life continues.
Thursday, July 7, 2016
Many people shy away from composting because they think it is some mysterious black art or takes specialized knowledge to do properly. In truth, composting is such a natural process that converting your waste into fertile soil is almost impossible to get wrong and takes absolutely no special skills or equipment. A compost tumbler can make the process more efficient, but it is by no means a necessity. I have one friend whose composting method is nothing more than using the old hay from his barn as mulch, on his garden paths and then sweeping it into his beds as it breaks down. He then puts down a fresh layer of hay and starts over.
At a most basic level composting is no more than doing what nature does with waste, but doing it in a more efficient manner. In nature, microorganisms break down waste and return the nutrients to the soil where they started out. It is kind of an “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” kind of process. Every leaf on every plant, every blade of grass and every piece of fruit started out as soil and was transformed by nature into something wonderful. When composting you are simply finishing the life cycle as nature intended and like most things that are natural it is dirt simple. Pun intended.
What I term as direct composting is the method I use and recommend when trying recovering very poor soil and as a way to make use of things like meat trimmings and food scraps that I don’t want in my compost pile to draw vermin.
I keep a small can with a cover under the sink and collect the food scraps in it. When it is full or I just decide to I take it out to the garden, dig a small hole and bury the goods under six inches or more of soil. From there nature will take care of the rest. The scraps will break down faster than most people realize and leave behind a rich soil deposit and hopefully a small worm bed.
Again, there is no great mystery here, people have different opinions but I have found that the best size for a compost pile is 3’x3’x3’. At this size, they are easy to manage and still large enough to produce good results.
You can use wire mesh around a frame leave it as a loose pile or my favorite method is to build a three sided box from scrap pallets. I do recommend leaving one side open or removable so that it is easy to turn and mix your pile.
As you gather yard and garden waste simply add it your compost pile. Keep it dampened but not soaking wet, so that the microbes will stay healthy and happy and let them door their job. If you want faster results, add food waste and worms to the mix.
Composting really is just that easy. It takes very little work and while you can get as technical and fancy about it as you would like as a natural process, you have to mess up pretty bad for it not to work. Nature is nothing if not resilient.
Compost tumblers are the Cadillac’s of the composting world they allow you to easily mix, moisten and sift your compost with less effort than you would believe and as an added bonus, by being a closed environment they work even faster than a compost pile with worms.
Composting is a natural a process as there ever existed. If you have taken a walk through the fall leaves or spring forest you have witnessed how it works. It takes minimum effort, rewards you with better soil than you could ever buy, saves you fertilizer cost, and allows you to grow more beautiful flowers and nutritious vegetables than you can buy in any store.