Garden, Plant, Cook!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Beneficial Insects in The Garden - you can't ring the dinner bell if there is no food on the table!

Learn who are the good guys and the bad guys — and sometimes they are both! AND, if you are gardening with edibles — no chemicals! The final point of growing your own produce and herbs for the table (besides their beauty, general safety and non-toxicity for family and pets) is to control contaminants, so no chemicals.

First, if you can, leave some of the pests alone, so they will attract the beneficial insects. In a typical natural (no chemical) garden there may be a little damage to plants before the beneficial bugs arrive (you can't ring the dinner bell if there is no food on the table!).

When discussing beneficial insects, it is important to note that predatory beneficial insects can bite you. The larvae especially have jaws designed for catching prey and can look downright scary. Leave them alone to do their job. While photographing our gardens we have been delighted with opportunities to get portraits of many of these critters, plus other of the non- human "neighbors" who either inhabit our gardens or are merely passing through. We encourage some to stay and others to continue passing on through!

Caterpillars / Grubs — the larvae stage of many beloved garden visitors, can also chomp their way through some of your garden. Before you reach for the shovel to knock them on the head, consider that all the butterfly caterpillars need something to eat when they first hatch out of their egg and before they cocoon to butterfly adulthood.

The caterpillar of the remarkable sphinx moth is the tomato hornworm, so dreaded by many gardeners. In the desert the sphinx moth is a pollinator of the night blooming cactus. Learn the difference between truly destructive larvae (grape leaf skeletonizers) and the caterpillars of the swallowtail and other much-loved butterflies. Consider setting aside a small part of the garden for these critters, moving caterpillars to that location, and save your pest control energy for the really problematic ones.

A great site for identifying insects in the garden is one started by a couple of professors — this site is a labor of love for them, so be especially courteous in emailing them with questions, and be appreciative.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's a 110 degrees outside, the ground is 180 degrees in the afternoon sun, and I want you to Garden?!?

Pictured: Sweet Alyssum

Dear Folks,

August in the desert - by alternates it is either 110, raining torrents or humid enough to steam the veggies right in the ground - and I want you to start gardening!

No I have not lost my mind - many of our family's children are starting or have started back to school, folks are turning their minds to thoughts of fall and winter's cooler temperatures and gardeners need to think cool too -- cool-weather plants.

PLANNING TIP: Think snowsuits in July and swimsuits in December. The wholesalers have to do this for everything from clothes to outdoor equipment.

Consider that in order to have pumpkins for Halloween and Thanksgiving you need to have the seeds in the ground 90-120 days before harvest (depending on the variety). So it is with many of the cool weather herbs and the "cole" (broccoli) family, and winter squash (pumpkin is just one). So, we start 'sowing' in August, specifically August 1st or earlier (again depending on variety of winter squash for instance).

With much loved herbs like dill, cilantro, anise, fennel, parsley, caroway, etc., seed these in every 2-4 weeks through November and you will have a continuous crop until March or April next spring.

Anise; Beans, Snap; Bok Choy; Broccoli; Brussels Sprouts; Cabbage; Caraway; Carrots; Cauliflower; Chervil; Cilantro; Corn; Cucumbers; Dill; Fennel; Onions, Green; Greens, all; Kale; Kohlrabi; Lettuce; Marigold; Mustard; Nasturtium; Parsley; Pumpkin; Purslane; Squash, Winter; Sweet Alyssum; TOMATOES? (Plant seed under the edges of existing basil, if you did not get plants in the ground in late winter.)

Use "nurse" plants: Seeding just under the tips of growing plants allows the leaves to act as ‘nurses' to shield the seeded area from intense, moisture robbing sun. Example: If you have zucchini already growing, sow the winter squash under the edges of the growing plants.

Use the concept of "Three Sisters" planting: Three Sisters is the name given to a type of companion planting used by Native Peoples to maximize both space and moisture. The original Three Sisters was corn, with beans planted beside the corn, and squash planted around the corn. The corn grows tall, the beans grow up the corn, and the squash covers the ground around both, providing a soil canopy and moisture retention. The beans put nitrogen back into the soil at the end of harvest.

Seeds germinate at different temperatures and moisture levels. Warm weather seeds like tomato and basil germinate in the warming soil; cool weather seeds like cabbage or dill germinate in cooling soil.

Watering: In an existing garden where you already water on a schedule (not xeriscape), such watering in conjunction with the soil temperatures will cause the seeds to germinate at their genetic time. If you are starting with a new garden bed, sprinkle the ground lightly (if you water too heavy the seeds will wash out) every other evening until you see some seeds germinating, then, apply a light mulch of no more than half inch to keep the soil cool and moist. As the plants grow, additional shallow layers of mulch can be applied to a depth of 1 inch or so. Start backing off watering to eventually match your regular watering schedule for gardens.

Summer Sowing - dreams of fall in the garden start with summer sowing!

(See side bar for link to Richters - a great source for herb seeds.)

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady