Meet Layla, a royal cat who is well loved by her people and staff (two dogs). They don’t mind her seemingly mindless (mindless to others, but not to a Royal cat) wild races through her castle, or her sudden and ferocious attacks out of nowhere pinpointing their ankles. No, they don’t mind as this Queen protects them, and her kingdom on a nightly basis…She is not just their Queen, she is the LadyBug Hunter.
Her life may seem easy and full of luxuries, but even when a mere kitten she was no lazy and spoiled royal! Oh no, this is a Queen that pulls her own weight, doing something no one else could even think about doing! No one can surpass her lightening speed and eagle eye. Her blood heritage combined with her ceaseless training makes her the Ultimate LadyBug Hunter.
The insidious LadyBug demons crawl up high on the walls of her castle and think they are safe from the LadyBug Hunter. HA! Her faithful Minister of War – Sir Steve, (who is a giant) carries her aloft and provides a safe and secure platform (his shoulder) that allows her to effectively reach the evil LadyBugs and bat them off the walls. SUCCESS!! The mighty LadyBug Hunter wins yet another victory for the Kingdom. And her people can sleep easy, knowing they are safe yet another night.
She must rest now, for it is her fate to continue this fight daily, until winter comes in full force and the LadyBugs retreat. It’s a nasty job, but someone has to do it. Long Live the Queen.
Layla lives in Missouri with her two owners, and two dogs… the ladybug’s do invade the end of summer there, and even the best housekeeper can’t keep them out of the house. Layla loves ladybug season… but her owners love the arrival of winter better.
I woke up a few mornings ago with the mists of dreamland clouding my vision. Even awake I could still see vines dancing in the wind, packed with pea pods close to bursting; fat orange carrot tops peaking through the rich soil happily waving their vivid green fronds in time with the music only plants seem to hear; tall tomato plants with huge red tomatoes seeming to dare fate as they bobbed and bounced in the warm breeze; and as I stood amidst this grandeur, the aromatic scents of thyme, rosemary and sage made breathing something akin to a religious experience. And lets not forget the glorious tinkling of melodious wind chimes.
It was hard to shake off this early morning vision of gardening delight. I didn’t want to but mornings at my house usually include at least one dog making short moaning noises close to my bedside, and another banging the glass of the patio doors with her head as they want me UP to let them out to do their morning doggie thing in our yard. My cats prowl throughout the house emitting horrible deep guttural meows that split the air with a mind shattering roar as they try their best to get me out of bed NOW so I can fulfill my holy duty of feeding them their breakfast. And from the deck a few feet from my bed there are all the various birds chirping and singing and making all sorts of happy noises as they chow down on the bird seed I have available for them.
All in all, no one could sleep through the normal noises of mornings at my house. So that beautiful, peaceful dream was destined to be yet another fond memory. But it did manage to open the gate to my garden brain-path. Please realize that in my reality I can not have an outside garden. Everything has to grow in either completely enclosed greenhouses, or protected raised beds. So walking through a garden with a breeze making my tomatoes bounce around will only happen in my dreams.
So, after tending to all my rather pushy animals I was able to sit down to enjoy a cup of coffee. My mind was darting around thinking about all the seeds I needed to start. I want tomatoes and carrots and beets and celery and melons and onions and garlic and romaine and squashes, and cucumbers and bell peppers and peas and – and – well EVERYTHING.
Gee, now if I only had about 3,000 square feet of greenhouse I would be set! But I don’t. My main greenhouse is about 200 square feet. I do have another space that is like a big walk-in cold frame, and it is a very good growing area for my potatoes and raspberries and asparagus. It extends my growing season by about 2 and a half months. Which is vitally important up where I live. But still, I truly don’t have the space to grow everything I want. So I need to sit myself down and seriously think about what I can grow. Sigh, so many yummy veggies will not see the light of day. So sad and yet so necessary.
After girding my loins, and sitting at my table with all my approximately 30 seed packets laid out in front of me, I took a deep breath and – knowing I could only effectively grow approximately 17 different veggies I realized just how hard this task was going to be. I was at a loss. How was I supposed to choose?
Eureka! The solution was obvious! All I had to do was go through my favorite recipes and write down what I used most! And this was easier than I thought it would be. I never realized how much I depended on certain veggies. Here is what I decided on: (in no particular order)… Beets, carrots, onions, garlic, celery, peas, beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, romaine, potatoes, radishes, cucumbers, zucchini, spinach, hot chili peppers and squashes. I had decided and now I was ready to start my seedlings. Life is good.
Oh oh, I need to get out to my greenhouse and deep clean. My solar guy and my honey Dave have been working out there over the winter and it’s a tad (UNDERSTATEMENT) icky for trying to grow healthy baby plants. That should take me a whole day, so I need to do this asap. Wish me luck! I will be taking photo’s of the baby seedlings as they pop up so keep watching!
(herbal flowers… – natural pest control, compost)
This flower first came to my attention a number of years ago when I read that it was a good companion plant for potatoes as it deterred the Colorado potato beetle.
This was of particular interest to me as one of my earliest garden chores (at the age of five or so) had to do with that nasty potato beetle. At the time we lived on a small farm; we had a cow and a calf, some chickens, an assortment of fruit trees we referred to as “the orchard” and a rather sizable vegetable garden.
One day my dad called me and told me that he had a little job for me to do. He then proceeded to hand me a large tin can that had a couple of inches of kerosene in the bottom and he led me out to the garden. When we got to the rows of potato vines there were bugs on them, bugs that were happily munching down on the plants. Daddy pointed at the bugs and told me to pick ‘em off the vines and drop ‘em into the can so that the kerosene could kill them. So I did.
Oddly enough, when I was a little kid I wasn’t particularly squeamish about bugs. Nowadays I’d just as soon not have to handle beetles. And since I don’t like the idea of putting toxic stuff on plants that produce things that I plan to eat, the idea of planting a flower that the beetles don’t like is a really attractive idea!
Since then I’ve learned that nasturtiums also deter other nasty garden pests such as squash beetles and vine borers as well as whiteflies, aphids, carrot flies, Japanese beetles, Mexican bean beetles, cabbage loopers and cabbage worms. Unfortunately for the poor nasturtium, one of the ways it “deters” some of these pests, such as aphids and a few other nasties is by attracting them to themselves.
Nasturtiums are reputed to improve the flavor of cucumbers when planted with them, and plants in the cabbage family are said to grow better with nasturtiums planted nearby.
So besides planting nasturtiums amongst potato vines, it sounds like it would be a good idea to plant them interspersed with squash, melons, pumpkins, tomatoes, celery, carrots, radishes, beans, broccoli, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts. Or in other words, pretty much all through the garden!
Now I’ve planted nasturtiums before, but I never seemed to have much luck with them. And considering all the considerable benefits, I’d really like to be able to have a LOT of them growing in my garden. So I did some research.
Here’s what I found out: Nasturtiums don’t really like it hot, they do best in areas with cool, dry summers. Okay, strike one for me! My summers are hot and humid! Nasturtiums like full sun and a dry, sandy, well-drained soil. Strike two! The soil composition of my garden is more of the clay variety. Nasturtiums prefer a soil of moderate to low fertility, too much nitrogen will promote leaf growth but inhibit flowering. Strike three! At least for planting them with my vegetables! How would one do that? I guess one could dig holes and fill them in with sandy, low fertility soil here and there, and then plant nasturtiums in only those spaces… Maybe.
Or perhaps one could plant nasturtiums in containers and set them here and there throughout the garden.
Aside from the benefits that nasturtiums off the garden, there’s another reason why I’d like to grow them; the leaves and flowers are edible! They’re reputed to have a somewhat peppery flavor, sort of like watercress, and are said to dress up a salad, especially when the flowers are used. (Nasturtium flowers range in color from bright yellow and orange to rose and crimson. Some nasturtium plants are low-growing, compact and bushy; others are vine-like, certain varieties reaching considerable length.)
And last but not least, I found a recipe in an old cookbook (published in 1943) for homemade capers. And I’d really like to try it! It calls for two cups of “fresh, green nasturtium seeds.” These are rinsed well and then soaked for two days in a cup of water mixed with a fourth cup of salt. The seeds are then drained and placed in a sterile, pint canning jar. One cup of vinegar mixed with one cup of sugar is brought to a boil and then poured over the nasturtium seeds in the pint jar, which is then sealed.
The recipe doesn’t say how long to let them “pickle” in the vinegar and sugar mixture, but I’d imagine you’d need to wait a few days anyway, maybe up to a week or two. I don’t know. I’d like to experiment with the recipe, but if I can’t grow nasturtiums that have a lot of blooms, I’m not likely to be able to harvest green nasturtium seeds!
However, if you live in a climate similar to their native habitat, which are the cool highlands of mountains extending from Mexico to central Argentina and Chile, you might want to try growing nasturtiums and harvesting the “fresh, green seeds” to make your own “homemade capers!”
Happy gardening! And y’all come on back and see me, ya hear!
Your kitchen spices were probably one of the first groups to multitask. Not only do they improve food, but they have medicinal and other purposes that our ancestors knew of, but we have forgotten.
In my previous articles titled TAKE A FRESH LOOK AT YOUR HOME SPICES, I gave you a list of 15 of the most common spices that had this ability. There are more, of course, but I was trying to concentrate on the spices that most people keep on hand.
Now it’s time to follow up – giving you more detailed information on each and every spice in that list. This article is on the spice BASIL.
Basil, scientific name Ocimum Basilicum is a plant that goes hand to hand with tomatoes. Not only do they do well when planted to each other, the pungent odor and wonderful taste of fresh basil compliments tomato sauces.
This spice belongs to the mint family, as you can probably tell from the fresh, minty, anise notes that accompany its sweetness.
The plant itself can be grown indoors or out, has beautiful rich green leaves ( it does come in colors, such as the Dark Opal, but most of us are familiar with the green variety), and can reach heights of up to 24 inches. They do best in full sun (will get ‘leggy’ in poor light), will immediately die in a frost, and are what is known as a ‘tender’ annual (even a cold wind can end their life).
Unless you buy new plants each spring, it’s best to collect the seeds and sow them indoors in early spring. Please make sure you acclimatize them slowly to the outdoors.
We only use the leaves on a basil plant. They can be dried, or used fresh. If a recipe calls for basil, remember to use more fresh leaves than you would dried, as dried leaves are a lot more potent. But the fresh are more appealing in a dish, and add a flavor the dried just cannot impart as well.
Properties, or constituents of the basil is its essential oil which is comprised mainly of estragol. But there is also eugenol, lineol, linalol and sometimes thymol, tannins, (E)-beta-caryophyllene and what is known as basil camphor. The plant also contain cinnamanic acid, which is a powerful compound proven to enhance circulation, stabilize blood sugar and improve respiration.
It’s some of the above properties that make basil such a good insect repellent. So good in fact, that homes in Southern Europe still plant basil in their window boxes to keep flying insects OUT. Basil is a great companion plant for tomatoes, and when planted throughout a garden, help repel insects. It also attracts butterflies and bees!
One of the primary medicinal uses of basil comes from BCP, or (E)-beta-caryophyllene , a natural anti-inflammatory compound also found in oregano and medicinal cannabis. BCP
found in basil may offer an alternative to medical marijuana, because it offers the same anti-inflammatory effects without the mental and neurological side-effects. BCP in basil is believed to combat bowel inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis.
Basil is also known to have extremely powerful antioxidant properties, especially when it is used in the form of an extract or oil. The natural antioxidants found in basil can protect the body against damage from free radicals, thereby preventing cellular aging, common skin ailments, and even most forms of cancer.
As you probably know, antioxidants are an important part of maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle; and basil may be a safe and effective source of these potent, life-giving compounds. To obtain these benefits, you should eat the fresh leaves as the dried product is very weak in the necessary essential oils.
Additionally, new studies are showing that the volatile oils in basil, combined with their antioxidant effects, make it a healthy booster for the immune system. Fresh basil leaves and basil oil both have antibacterial properties, and can actually be used to clean surfaces of infectious disease.
Basil leaves applied topically to wounds may also eliminate bacterial infections. Adding basil to your foods, or simply chewing on a fresh basil leaf can also give the body an ability to combat viral infections, including colds, flu, and herpes-family viruses– much like its distant cousin, echinacea.
Another well known use of basil is to help ease flatulence and nausea. But women are advised NOT to use the basil extensively during pregnancy, and to totally avoid the pure essential oil. Why? Good question – and one I can’t answer for sure. But for some reason, this advise has been passed down for ages. And until I know otherwise, I will continue the passage of this advice.
On another note, basil has a symbolic meaning too. It confers Best Wishes, Warm Friendship, and Happiness. Gee, isn’t Mother Nature wonderful? One simple plant can do all of this. So now you know that keeping some fresh basil around your house can do a lot more then just season your Italian dishes!
I’ll be going in depth on the spice Cayenne for the next article! Have a great week!
It’s amazing how many herbs (and nine common spices!) actually qualify as either as an effective pesticide or an insect repellent.
Mother Nature doesn’t need any man-made chemical insect repellents or pesticides to maintain control. She created plants to do the work for her.
Plants that are common and grow all around us. But so many of us have forgotten what our forefathers knew; and now we totally depend on store bought poisons.
You know the ones I mean, they have all those ‘warnings’ on them.
Ever hear of Pyrethrum or Derris? They are potent pesticides derived from plants. Plants we are familiar with – Pyrethrum comes from several Old World plants of the genus CHRYSANTHEMUM. Yes, I said Chrysanthemum. This natural pesticide is made from the dried flower heads of C. cinerariifolium and C. coccineum.
The dried, powdered flowers of that pretty white daisy-like flower (chrysanthemum) will quickly paralyze many insects. Remember to use pyrethrum with care as prolonged contact may cause skin problems.
Have problems with aphids in your garden? Dusting with Pyrethrum is effective. You can also make an infusion of elder leaves and spray it on the infected plants.
What about those slightly repulsive slimy slugs? Planting Thyme bushes are very attractive to slugs, so it’s recommended to plant them throughout your garden so they will go there instead of the other plants.
What about Derris? Known as Common Derris, scientific name derris trifoliata, it is a ‘climber’ that during it’s blooming period, is beautiful and looks delicate. And believe me, this is NOT a delicate plant. The leaves contain the chemical compound rotenone, which is an extremely potent poison that kills a huge range of creatures from insects to earthworms and fish.
Natives crush the leaves and drop them in the water to stun and/or kill the fish and shrimp; making it easy to collect them. Not a practice that is encouraged as it is so destructive! Ever see those Tarzan movies where the natives would use their blow pipes to send a poisonous dart into some unsuspecting European’s neck? Well Derris is one of the components of poison-arrow.
One safe use of this deadly plant is getting rid of leaf scale. Wipe regularly or spray with derris when the bugs emerge.
Mother Nature doesn’t fool around, but she does make plants that are a bit ‘nicer’. Take Elecampane, a plant with bright yellow daisy-like flowers that is used by Spanish country people to catch flies. They take the the sticky roots of this herb and hang them by their windows to attract and then trap flying insects.
Pennyroyal, rosemary, rue, thyme, garlic, nasturtium, stinging nettle, chives, hyssop, sage, wormwood, lavender, southernwood, and tansy all make a great insect repellant. Just make an infusion of several of the herbs mentioned and spray it on your plants regularly. I’ve tried using this same infusion on myself – leave out the tansy, it can be an irritant on some people, and it worked fine for keeping those pesky mosquitoes and gnats off.
Basil is grown in the window boxes of many homes in Southern Europe to stop flies from even entering the home. You can also plant it throughout your garden to help repel flying insects.
Want to repel ants or mites? Use a strong decoction of walnut leaves (6 handfuls of leaves boiled in 1 pint of water for about 30 minutes) to ‘paint’ around on floors or counter tops. Notice I said REPEL… not kill.
Do you keep a lot of flour around? Toss a few whole nutmegs or a few peeled elder shoots in the bag/bin to prevent mites from moving in.
What about the bane of all humans who love to sit out on their decks in the summer? MOSQUITOS! If you rub a handful of fresh elder leaves on your arms, legs and neck this will keep them off of you for about 20 minutes. Alas, it does have to be reapplied.
Sage is good for repelling cabbage moth. Chamomile and mint both repel flies and rosemary repels the carrot fly. And those yummy chives can actually prevent scab and black spot.
It may be easier and faster to go out and buy a poison, but it’s very useful to know the plants that can do the same thing. It’s called being prepared.
Oh and FYI? The common kitchen spices that are so effective on bugs – do not hurt humans!
The largest, most obnoxious and persistent, hardest to deal with garden pest (in my neck of the woods, anyway) are white-tail deer. And if you have something bigger and badder raiding your garden (like Sasquatch, perhaps), I really don’t think I want to know about it!
Up until about two years ago I didn’t really have a problem with deer. Oh, there was the occasional incursion, a nibble here and there, but nothing major. I attributed this to the fact that I have a lot of Sweet Annie, a variety of wormwood (Artemisia annua), growing liberally in and around my garden; it is reputed to be a deer repellant.
But deer are persistent. Something that works well for a while won’t necessarily work forever.
The summer before last, when they started nibbling on my tomato plants, I had to take action. Since my tomatoes were all in one long row and all staked, and since it always seemed to be after dark that the deer wandered into my garden to snack, I came up with a somewhat unusual solution; I covered my row of tomatoes with bed sheets at night. I literally tucked them in for the night. Early in the morning I’d go out and pull the sheets off and transfer them to the clothesline for the day (no, these weren’t my good bed sheets, they were Goodwill purchases!).
So the deer ate my bean and pepper plants instead.
Then a neighbor of mine who is a barber started saving hair clippings for me. He gave me a big bag of them about once a week. I spread them in the garden, around the perimeter of the garden and on the plants themselves. This seemed to work very well, but the downside was that every time it rained fresh hair had to be spread.
That fall my barber neighbor moved.
Last year I had what was probably the best garden I’ve ever grown. And I didn’t have a deer problem. Not at first. Oh, I had the occasional nibble around the perimeter, but no serious incursions. And I could spare a few pepper and pumpkin leaves. Then it started getting ugly.
I tried all kinds of things; I put up fence posts at each corner and tied twine around the garden with aluminum pie plates hanging from the twine. It worked – for about three days! Then it was: “Honey, would you go out and pee around the edges of my garden? Pretty please?” Honey said he wasn’t going to go out there and pee in full view of the road when a car might come by any time. I pointed out that he could do it at night. He pointed out that cars have headlights. We compromised; he peed in a jug and I took it out and spread it around. This worked to a certain degree. But no matter how much iced tea I poured down him, he just couldn’t produce enough pee to circle the whole garden in one day.
One thing that I didn’t try was putting out bars of Irish Spring soap, which I have heard is a deer repellant. Why? Because a friend of mine told me not to bother, she’d tried it, and the deer just ate the soap. She told me that the day after she discovered this she was drinking her morning coffee and watching out the window as several deer were munching on windfalls under her apple tree when one of them lifted its tail and passed gas. She said a big green soap bubble came out of its, um — (you know, rhymes with ‘gas’).
I moved a doghouse to the end of the garden the deer were entering and chained a particularly mouthy dog out there. About a week later I noticed that the deer were making a path just beyond the perimeter of his chain! Taunting him!
And the deer started taunting me too, literally! I would go out to the garden about daybreak while it was still cool. Sometimes I would catch one or two deer actually IN the garden, in which case I would start screaming and running towards them, and they would run up the hill, jump the fence and disappear into the woods. One morning a young buck tripped over his own feet trying to get out of the garden. He hit the ground, rolled, jumped up and stumbled again. I had to sit down and laugh.
After the deer would disappear into the woods, they would stay close and spy on me. I could hear them up there moving through the underbrush. And they’d snort. The first time I heard one snort, it startled me because I didn’t know what it was. Then I figured it out, and it became a daily occurrence. One particularly bold deer would come right out in the open in the horse pasture to the side of the garden and stare at me. I’d pick up a rake, hoe, or spade, whatever was handy and wave it over my head and charge towards him screaming like a banshee and he’d retreat – but only until I went back to what I’d been doing, then he’d move a little closer and stare some more.
A friend of ours told me that deer won’t cross caution tape. It seems that caution tape, pulled taut, emits a buzzing sound with the slightest breeze. Deer don’t like this sound. I just happened to have a roll of caution tape! It worked really well for about three weeks. It was August by this time, and I went to my son’s place in town to house/pet-sit while he and his wife went on vacation. I watered the garden really well before I left on a Friday; Monday morning early I came home to check on it.
I almost cried.
The caution tape was down on three sides of the garden and the deer had wreaked havoc. Now deer don’t actually eat tomatoes, but they will sample them. They will pull them off the vine, green or ripe, chew on them a little bit and then spit them out. Then they go back and eat the plant. There were chewed up tomatoes all over the ground. They had sampled the butternut and acorn squash (each individual one) and then gone to work on the foliage. It was the same with the pumpkins. My pepper plants were only about half as tall as they had been and the bean plants were virtually non-existent.
I decided to go high tech on them. I mounted a motion detector floodlight with a boom box plugged into an auxiliary plug screwed into one floodlight socket. I tuned the boom box to a heavy metal station, cranked the volume and put it into a plastic trash bag to protect it from moisture.
This worked for about two weeks. My garden was recuperating nicely. Then the deer threw a dance party. They invited their friends. They served snacks. What didn’t get eaten they trampled.
I gave up.
There are reputed to be twenty to twenty-five million white tail deer in North America. A population density map I looked at estimated there to be 30-45 deer per square mile in the county that I live in.
A white tail deer can jump a height of six to eight and a half feet.
The only thing that I know of that can keep a deer out of your garden is a really tall fence. Some experts suggest a double fence, an eight to ten foot tall one around the garden, and a four to five foot tall one about four to five feet out from it. Supposedly this prevents the deer from being able to run and gain enough momentum to leap the tall fence. But this is a little pricey.
I’m going to have to figure out something, it may very well have to be a fence. I set out thirteen tomato plants this year, two days later I only had four left. I still have more tomato and pepper plants out on my nursery table waiting to go into the garden once I come up with a workable solution. Unfortunately, the night before last those pesky deer got bold enough to start nibbling on them, too!
If anybody out there knows of a reasonable, cost-effective solution, please let me know!
And y’all come on back and see me, ya hear!
Is something besides you dining on your garden? More than likely the answer is “Yes!”
You’ve planted all these wonderful vegetables, the plants are big, vegetables are forming and ripening, and then you go out to your garden one day and see that something has been chomp-chomp-chomping on your plants!
And there are a lot of things out there that just love to chomp away on your garden, from tiny little almost microscopic critters to great big four-legged ones that do almost as much damage with their hooves as they do with their mouths. And some garden pests are underground where you can’t even see them!
If you’re like me, you really have an aversion to spraying toxic substances on things that you plan to eat, but what else can you do?
Well, I’m glad you asked, because I have a few suggestions.
One of my first lines of defense is planting Marigolds amongst my vegetables. I love Marigolds, especially the ones that have the flame orange flowers. The yellow ones are pretty, too, but I’m partial to the bright orange flowers that look as if they might burn your fingers if you touched them. Marigolds come in shades from pale yellow to a deep, dark red-orange.
But the color really doesn’t matter; it’s the plant itself that fends off many insect pests, both above ground and beneath the soil. I surround my tomatoes with them and intersperse them among the rest of my vegetables as well, as far as I’m concerned, you can never have too many Marigolds. As a sort of bonus, Marigold flowers are actually edible; you can toss a few in a summer garden salad for a bright splash of color.
If, in your morning walk through your garden, you should happen to observe an insect nibbling on one of your plants, squish it! Squish it quick! And look around to see if it has any brothers, sisters or cousins hanging out. Squish them, too! This is not the time or place to be squeamish. While you’re at it, check out the undersides of your squash leaves. If you see little clusters of red eggs under there – you know what I’m going to say – squish them, too!
I used to be squeamish about squishing the eggs; it just seemed kind of icky. I’d take a knife and carefully scrape them off onto a piece of newspaper and then fold it up and drop it in the burn barrel. I got over it, it was too time consuming. And you know what? Fingers and hands are washable.
Now, repeat after me: “Not all bugs are bad.” As a matter of fact, there are a lot of bugs out there that will actually eliminate a lot of your garden pests. How? By eating them! “So let’s get some of those,” you say. Well, all you have to do is attract them to your garden and provide them with the type of habitat that they like to hang out in. Here’s an excellent article on how to do just that: http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/attracting-beneficial-insects.aspx
And what else eats bugs besides bugs? Why, birds, of course! Purple Martins are some of the most voracious bug-eating birds around, and they nest in colonies. They like an apartment house high in the air with a lot of open ground around. And they don’t mind being close (but not TOO close) to human houses. They’ll also nest in individual dwellings as long as there are a good number of them close together. A few years ago I was vacationing with a friend in South Carolina, and as we were driving around some of the back roads en route to the lake I saw clusters of birdhouse gourds hanging from frames like giant mobiles all over the place. Closer inspection revealed that these were martin colonies. The gourds had been dried and an entrance hole cut into them; painted white (a martin’s preferred color for housing) and hung up to attract Purple Martins. All of them were located near or in gardens or fields with crops.
If you don’t have Purple Martins around, there are a lot of other bug-eating birds that, with a minimum of effort, you can coax into being allies with you in the fight against bugs.
Put a bird bath in or near your garden, a bird feeder, as well. Stock your bird feeder with suet as well as seeds, to attract the bug-eating varieties of birds. Change the water in your bird bath frequently to provide your bird friends with fresh water and to avoid breeding mosquitoes.
Another useful ally in the war on bugs, slugs and caterpillars is the lowly toad. And they’re fairly easy to attract to your garden. Provide them with a toad house and a nice place to soak their little toad body near-by and they will happily move in and eat, eat, eat. The National Wildlife Federation has a good article on toads, find it here: http://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/2006/Backyard-Houses-for-Toads.aspx
Let’s move on to the four-legged variety of garden pest. Although as a child I rooted for Peter Rabbit as he made his daring raid on Farmer McGregor’s garden; as an adult (and a gardener), I have more of a tendency to side with Mr. McGregor.
Personally, I don’t have a real problem with rabbits. One reason is that there is a lot of clover as well as other wild plants that bunnies love to eat growing in profusion around the property, and, although I cringe at the thought (baby bunnies are so cute), I have cats. Hunter cats. I don’t see very many rabbits in the immediate vicinity of my house and garden.
However, if you have a problem with rabbits invading your garden and taking more than their fair share, the only sure-fire method that I know of for keeping them out is a fence. Chicken wire is ideal for keeping bunnies out, but bear in mind that bunnies can dig, so your fence needs to be buried at least six to eight inches below ground level, a foot is better. Bunnies hop, too, so your fence must extend above ground at least two feet to discourage cottontails; if you have jack rabbits another foot or so is in order.
And that brings us to the largest and most obnoxious and persistent, hardest to deal with garden pest: DEER! But deer deserve an article all their own, so tune in next time for: OH DEAR, DEER!
Happy Gardening! And y’all come on back and see me, ya hear?
Derrick Coetzee, flickr
In my old apartment, I lived below a frat guy who never had time to clean his place. I didn’t really discover this until I had to ask him for a flashlight one day. When he opened his door, an empty bag of potato chips rolled across the floor like a tumbleweed. He was living in a wild west of his own bachelorhood.
The big problem came when he moved out. The ants that had been feeding in his apartment, now without a food source, started to crawl in through the odd crack in the ceiling, the tops of the windows…really anywhere they could. So, I had an ant problem. Chemical sprays seemed to work for a little while, but were a temporary fix. It would kill the immediate invasion of ants, but not the second and third fronts. I also didn’t like the idea of my house carrying the scent of eu de Raid (or the idea of my pets or guests breathing in the fumes).
I kept a list of the different natural methods I used to get rid of ants, all culled from internet message boards and advice-giving friends. Here’s what worked…and what didn’t:
- Mint leaves. Did you know that an ant can carry up to 50 times its own weight? Oh yeah, they can totally carry crushed mint leaves too. The thinking here is that the ants object to the mint’s scent compounds…but maybe mine wanted to make mojitos in their little ant colony? I don’t know.
- Cayenne pepper. The capsaicin in cayenne pepper is an irritant to ants, making them stay away. So, I sprinkled cayenne pepper around a particularly active spot near the floorboards. This worked for a day, but then Roscoe (my cat) tried to “clean up” the pepper. I had to stop this little experiment.
- Baby powder. The cornstarch in baby powder (I generally don’t buy the kind that contain talc) is another irritant to ants. Like the cayenne pepper, I sprinkled it around a particularly active area and waited. The ants did appear to go away, but at least two guests had thought I had spilled flour and tried to helpfully sweep it up.
- Cornmeal. This is going to sound a bit gruesome: Cornmeal makes ants explode. They take the grains home, eat them and then presumably drink some water. The grains expand inside the ant, and then boom, tiny fireworks. Did I see this happen? No. There was remarkably less cornmeal by the end of the first day, but the ants kept returning to bring home more cornmeal. I had effectively made an ant feeding trough. Forget this idea.
- Cinnamon. The ants walked around any area that had been dusted with cinnamon, but didn’t avoid the area entirely. (My house did smell lovely, though.) Many people swear by this one, so I’m wondering if they’re using a really strong, fresh batch of ground cinnamon. But for me, no dice.
- Bay leaves. Like the issue I ran into with cinnamon, the ants walked around any area that had a crushed bay leaf near it, but ultimately did not avoid the area entirely. Again, I’m wondering if fresh bay leaves would be more effective (since they do smell stronger, and ants allegedly hate their scent) than dried.
- Vodka. A 3-to-1 ratio of vodka to water, poured into a spray bottle, was recommended to me by a friend. I sprayed this all over the kitchen. While it did kill the ants, the kitchen also smelled of vodka, giving guests the wrong impression.
- Dish liquid and water mix. This is, hands-down, the most effective way to get rid of ants. I used about two tablespoons’ worth diluted in a pint of water. Transfer the solution into a spray bottle. Spritz near windows, doors and cracks, but don’t wipe it away. This apparently destroys the scent trail that alerts more ants to come on down. Then, spray any roaming ants with this solution to, well, kill them (and okay, then wipe the ants away). It works surprisingly fast.
Have an outdoor ant problem? Watch this video on how to use citrus oil to take back your garden…