Archive for ‘Insects and Diseases’

May 13, 2015

Before you spray…

A Scott’s sales rep came to the door yesterday telling me he could spray to kill all of the dandelions and other weeds in our yard, fertilize the lawn and spray to get rid of all of the mosquitoes. I politely told him, “No thank you. I don’t mind them and am actually growing plants to attract insects and pollinators instead of kill them.” He then offered to use their organic line and estimated that it would be $56 to “take care of” our yard. Again, I smiled and said, “No, thank you. We’re not interested.” at which point he offered me his business card, told me he was also a realtor and offered to do a property value estimate if I’m ever interested.

We have no plans of moving.  Part of why we bought this house is because it’s just behind the nature center which has a lake. Mosquitoes, whether we like it or not, come with the territory.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate mosquitoes just as much as the next person, but the SPRAYS they use ARE NOT SELECTIVE. That means they don’t just kill mosquitoes, they also kill everything else including bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

I realize a lot of people don’t like insects, but we NEED these insects. Our food system relies on them. I don’t think most people know or understand the impact that spraying their yard for mosquitoes has on our food system.

Yes, I’m a gardener and every year I hope for an abundant harvest from my garden, but this isn’t about my garden. This is effecting food on a much larger scale. This is about the food on everyone’s table.

Our pollinators are disappearing at alarming rates and our food is going to follow. This isn’t something we can ignore or pretend isn’t happening. It’s not going to be okay or correct itself on its own.

This time of the year, when everything is in bloom, my yard is typically abuzz with bees and other insects feeding on the nectar and pollen from dandelions, creeping charlie, flowering crabs and dogwoods. This year I have seen a couple of wasps pass through and a handful of flies. That’s it.

It would be so easy to blow it off and try to reason our way out of why I don’t see them in my yard, but the truth of the matter is that I work to create a bee, butterfly and insect friendly yard and they are not here. My yard is a minute sample of the greater picture. Looking at my yard is like looking through a sample under a microscope. If the insects aren’t in my yard, that means they aren’t around.

Am I worried that the fruits and vegetables in my yard won’t get pollinated and will produce less fruit? Of course. But what really bothers me is that the fruits and vegetables on a greater scale aren’t getting pollinated,  which is a much larger problem.

All of this makes me so sad. They are making it so fast, cheap and easy to kill-off the insects that we think are a nuisance but fail to tell people that they are also killing off insects  that pollinate the plants that give us our food.

We have smoking policies in place to protect people who don’t smoke from breathing in second hand smoke.

Spraying our yards doesn’t work the same way. If we spray, we are not just impacting our yard and our neighbors, we are impacting life on the larger scale.

We need to stop pretending that what we do in our yard is our choice and that it doesn’t impact anyone else, because it does. It impacts EVERYONE else.

The next time you go to buy groceries, look at the produce section and imagine it empty or sparce with extremely expensive produce. Imagine coffee so expensive that it becomes a luxury. Do you hate spending so much money on groceries? It’s going to continue to get more and more expensive and we will have less and less available if we don’t change what we are doing.

We need to fix our system, fast. Some states are banning neonicotinoide pesticides. A couple of cities in the Twin Cities metro area have also banned them. But until they are fully non-existent we need to be our own advocates.

That’s not to mention the detrimental effects directly on people. Pesticides are also hormone – altering (endocrine disruptors) which alter the natural function of our bodies in many, many dangerous ways.

If our world were balanced, it should be ungodly expensive to spray both herbicides and pesticides because the effects are damaging on a global level. Damaging to our health, damaging to our food system, not to mention damaging to the soil, water and air we breathe.

It shouldn’t cost $59 to kill everything that lives in a 1/3 of an acre lot, it should cost at lot more than that because in reality, it does.

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June 18, 2013

Urban Farm Update

Back in April I introduced you to my bare front yard and the beginning of my urban farm.

Quite a bit of time has passed since then and there’s been a lot going on, so let’s see how far we’ve come, shall we?

As I was waiting for spring to come and mulling over the possibilities of the design and method of starting my farm, I attended Joel Karsten’s seminar on Straw Bale Gardens and bought his book.  That led to a few phone calls, which lead to this.

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Eighty five straw bales getting delivered to my home.  No, I didn’t plant all 85.  I ordered extra for some of my friends and family that are “doing the bales” as well.  I’m only using 40.

But before ordering the straw bales, I had to make a final decision on which design I was going to go with.  After toying with a few ideas I decided that I really liked one of the keyhole garden designs from the book Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway, which looks like this.

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I modified it a little to work with straw bales, add a couple of openings for access both for logistical and community purposes and ended up with this.

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It’s a little geometric with the bales, but part of my long-term plan is to turn at least some of the straw bales into traditional keyhole beds. At that point the overall design will begin to look more like the design from Gaia’s Garden, which is a modified mandala garden.  Another thing I’m trying to achieve with this garden is to make it partially a perennial, edible food forest garden and partially an annual food garden.  In addition to planting the straw bales, I am adding fruiting shrubs as well as annual and perennial food and flowers for both pollination and for attracting beneficial insects in the areas between four of the horseshoe-shaped beds.

You would think that would be enough to keep me busy this summer, but having a little bug for trying new things, I also decided to add a four-foot raised bed from Organic Bob.  You see, part of my plan for this space is to make it a learning space and I wanted to include a learning space specifically for children.  Turns out this raised bed was the perfect solution for that.  And not to go on about the bed itself, but one of the things that makes this bed unique is that you can plant in the sides as well as the top, and orientated the right way, you can take advantage of the sun and shade, planting heat-loving plants on the South side and those preferring it a little cooler on the North side.  Nothing like playing with your food before it even hits your plate!

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In the above picture, you will find two clay circles sticking out of the soil. Those are Ollas. Ollas are unglazed clay vessels that you “plant” into the soil when you are planting the rest of your garden.  The vessel gets filled with water which gradually seeps out into the surrounding soil both benefiting the plants by encouraging deep roots, making them less susceptible to drought and minimizing surface watering, thus cutting down on nutrient loss as well.  From what I understand, the only drawback in our climate is that they need to be dug up in the fall because if they are left in the ground over the winter they will crack.  I’m pretty excited about them because they can be used in every climate, probably even more effective or beneficial in hotter climates, which is where, if I’m not mistaken, they were originally developed.

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This is what my Ollas look like, but they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  I got mine here, but they can be found in other areas and there are DIY methods of making them from clay pots as well.

Well, I think that covers the highlights of what’s going on with my little farm in the city.

Until next time, enjoy the sunshine and envision an abundant season!

Kate

July 11, 2012

And… we’re back!

Wow!  It’s been a long time since I’ve written.  Ages!

How have you been?  This summer sure has been busy, hasn’t it?  But don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about you.  In fact, I’ve thought about you a lot.  I have lots of pictures to show you as to what I’ve been up to when I haven’t been working, but just haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and write.  Hopefully your summer is equally busy, so you totally understand. 😉

 

Chickens at Linden Hills Farmers Market

 

So where did I leave off?  Ah, yes.  Chickens!  The chicken class was awesome.  Loved it!  If you live in the Twin Cities and are thinking about getting chickens, I definitely recommend taking the Backyard Chicken Basics class at EGG|PLANT Urban Farm Supply before you jump in and get those cute and cuddly chicks.  The class is filled with good information to prepare you for raising chickens.  I thought I’d take the class, order my chicks while I was there and be raising them this week.  I still want to get chickens but, thanks to the class, realized that I have a little more preparation to do before bringing these feathered friends into our backyard.

And speaking of the backyard, this spring was so busy that I didn’t get my garden planted until just a couple of weeks ago.  Holy lateness!  Thankfully, most of it is coming along nicely so far, although something or someone did manage to sneak in and dine on my sunflower and pea shoots, but it could be worse!  Now that things are growing its obvious that my garden could definitely use a little more sun.  I finally contacted an arborist to “take care of” my overgrown volunteer trees so my plants can grow a little stronger.  He’s scheduled to be out in the next couple of days to check everything out so hopefully the balance of the summer my garden will have full sun exposure instead of just part sun!

Peas to please

Greens in the garden

Radish ready for picking

As some of you may know, I spend a good deal of time volunteering at my son’s school.  I help some of the teachers with the Botany unit and coordinate the school garden with a couple of friends.  Even though my home garden got a late start, the garden at school is doing great!  Last year about this time we were just getting the raised beds built and the arbor/pergola constructed.  This year the kids were able to plant before school was out and the children taking summer school classes are now reaping the benefits in their school lunches!  It’s truly awesome to see how much the kids enjoy the garden and trying the food that comes out of it.

 

And since we’re on the subject of food, I’ve also visited a few more Farmers Markets.  Some small, some simple, some large, some with excellent presentation and even visited some in the rain.  I’ll do write-ups on those in the very near future so you can get a taste and see if you want to check them out.

What else?  Insects and diseases.  You can’t have plants without running across those.  Let’s start with Dutch Elm Disease.  While Emerald Ash Borer is getting lots of press these days (as well it should) Dutch Elm disease is still going strong and continuing to make its way around the Twin Cities (along with the rest of the country).  A couple of years ago we lost two large Elm trees in the front yard.  They were big old Elms, they had survived the initial wave of Dutch Elm Disease back in the 70s so I figured they would be okay.  I was wrong.  They left a huge hole in the yard and burnt out lawn, not to mention the habitat that disappeared for the birds and critters.  Well, not wanting to lose the last large Elm in our yard, I decided it’s time to bite the bullet and spend the money to protect it.  Treatment for this tree isn’t cheap, but it is guaranteed for three years and is still cheaper than the cost to remove the tree if it died.  So in addition to protecting a tree that would take 70 years to replace, it was kind of like getting a three-year insurance policy on the tree.  It’s worth it to me.

Japanese Beetles

And while we’re talking insects, guess who’s back?!  The Japanese Beetles.  They have been rearing their iridescent heads again.  While the population hasn’t been anywhere near what it was last year (at least not yet), it seems to be growing by the day.  At first I saw one, then a couple more, and so on.  Many mornings and evenings you’ll find me in the garden with my peanut butter jar of warm soapy water trying to flick off as many as I can find and leave them to, well, drown.

Red-femured Milkweed Borer

Ooo… and speaking of insects, I had a new (to me) insect sighting this year too.  The Red-femured Milkweed Borer.  Have you seen them?  Their coloring is quite stunning.  I found them, ironically enough, on my milkweed. 🙂  Unfortunately I don’t know a lot about these guys.  They seem to be migrating our way due to the climate change and warmer temperatures.  The closest information I could find on them came out of Missouri and as far as I can tell they are neither a “good bug” or a “bad bug”.  They are just there.  If you know anything different, please share!

Snapping Turtle

There have been a couple of other neat non-insect related sightings in our yard this year too.  The first one took place on Memorial weekend.  The dogs were barking out the front door and when I went to see what they were barking at I saw a fairly decent sized snapping turtle on the front sidewalk.  “OH!” I thought to myself, “That’s what you’re barking at.”  After a couple of days of hanging out around the house she burrowed into one of my flower beds and then after a day or two, she disappeared.  Neighbors are pretty certain she probably laid eggs but we won’t know for sure for a few more weeks.  I’ll let you know if there are suddenly little snapper babies everywhere.

Robin

We also had a pair of robins nest under the grape vines on the pergola in the back yard and give birth to three babies.  It was fun watching the nest, waiting for them to hatch and watching the parents feed them.  I was even lucky enough to witness the first attempted flight of one of the babies!  So amazing and so funny!

Garter Snake #2

What else?  Snakes.  Have we had snakes! One of our dogs is very good at catching snakes. (I really wish this wasn’t one of her talents!)  Thankfully we only have garter snakes, so she’s not chasing anything really nasty, but man, these are some of the longest and fattest garter snakes I’ve seen in a long time!  Got a snake problem?  Call me.  I’ll send her over.

I’ve picked up some cool new books too.  A chicken book, gardening book, sustainable living book and of course some cook books.  I tried out a number of new recipes out of the cook books and from a couple of blogs too.  I’ll share some of them later this week.

 

Loaded Raspberry Canes

Oh my, I nearly forgot!  Even though my veggie garden got a slow start there has been no shortage of stuff to eat.  As my Mom would say, we’ve had “a bumper crop” of raspberries this year.  Each year I think I’ll “make stuff” with them, but this year, like most other years, I find myself eating them before I can really make anything.  (Unless you consider a yogurt parfait “making something”.)

Beginning of the blueberries

I’ve also gotten a handful of blueberries, quite a few golden raspberries and the grape vines are loaded, although not ready to eat yet.

The pear trees have a handful of pears on them again too so hopefully I’ll be able to snag one before the squirrels get to them!  Sadly, no fruit on the apple trees again this year.  It appeared as though they were invaded by leaf rollers.  Once things slow down a little I plan on planting a few companion plants in the vicinity of the apple trees to see if I can improve things for them.

The Yurt

Oh, and one more thing to share with you.  I helped build a Yurt!  If you already know what a Yurt is, excellent!  If you’re like me, you’d say, “A what?”  A Yurt.  Basically, it’s like a semi-permanent, round tent.  I’ll go into more detail on that later.

So there’s a glimpse as to what I’ve been up to.  I’m planning on writing more and filling in the gaps as the week progresses.

In the meantime I hope you’re able to get outside and enjoy the summer weather even if temps have been in the 90s and 100s like it has been here.

Until next time…. happy summer and happy gardening!

Kate

April 22, 2012

R is for Rodent

Rabbits eat my lettuce

Squirrels steal my pears

Raccoons peak in my windows and freak me out when they stare

Opossum at my back door

Woodchuck under the shed

Garter snakes slither and stop my heart nearly dead

Toads in all directions hopping here and there

Neighbor’s cats adding scents for which I don’t particularly care

Japanese Beetles and June Bugs and May Flies

Might make you wonder why I garden, why I even try?

You might say I like it, or love it at the least

For why else would I put up with these less than sightly beasts?

As I venture outside to plant and weed and water

I realize there’s nothing that rhymes with rodent

I only wish my garden wasn’t their fodder

Kate