Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

I’ve had a few folks ask about a calendar of “what to do when” in the garden.  I have to be a little picky here, as I’m really writing this blog for those who live at Horizon House (a Retirement facility) with raised garden beds…no big expanses, trees or large shrubs.  This means that some chores are adjusted in such a way as to fit our needs.  However, ALL of these are useful for ANY gardener in the Pacific Northwest.  I will try to post one of these for every month as we go forward.  If it appears that they are either too “simplistic” or too “all encompassing”, please bear with me, and fit them to YOUR own needs!   I hope you find them useful, no matter how large or small your piece of Eden!


  • Some folks cut off the spent christmas tree boughs and lay them on top of flower beds to add extra protection, from errant snow or even low temperatures.
  • Do you have anything that’s stored away…like tubers of any sort?  Bulbs, veggies (potatoes, etc.)  Check them and toss any mushy ones into the compost.
  • Don’t forget the birds.  images.duckduckgoEspecially here in the PNW where little hummingbirds spend the winter.  There aren’t many blossoms for them to tap…offer them some sugar water.  (4 part’s water to 1 part sugar.  Bring to a boil, and cool.  It will keep nicely in the refrigerator.)
  • This might be a good time to start a Gardening Journal.  You can use a notebook, a calendar, or even a published gardening journal you buy at the bookstore.
  • Had any early storms?  Pick up and dispose of debris.
  • Turn your indoor plants every week or so in order to keep their growth even, as they will grow toward the sun.
  • While you’re at it be sure to constantly check those indoor plants for insects and give them a soapy, bubble bath if you find any!
  • Check your fruit trees (and actually ANY trees) and cut out the “water sprouts”.  They are new growth that points STRAIGHT up.  They will only block air and sunshine, and are totally non-productive.  Remember when you prune to get as close to the trunk as you can without cutting into it.  The wound will heal by itself.  No need to paint it with anything, as that may actually impede the healing process.
  • It’s a good time to clean up your tools.  A good method is to have a small pail filled with sand to which you’ve added some old oil.  Then you can plunge your shovels, spades and trowels in to clean off the old dirt, and coat them with oil at the same time!
  • It’s a good time to take your shears, pruners (and lawn mowers if you have such a thing) in to be sharpened!  Then they’ll be ready in the spring.
  • For goodness sakes, enjoy your gardening catalogs and use them to plan next years garden!  Order stuff now, they will be sent at the proper planting time, and at least you know you’ll GET what you want!
  • Stay active!

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How do birds help in the garden?  We love to look at them, and listen to them.  We love to feed them and count them.  But, what in the course of nature requires them to be part of our environment?  When you look up “birds” on-line, it’s mostly about how to protect your fruit and veggies from the birds.  How do they HELP us?

Well, WOW!  I looked up “how do birds help gardeners” and came up with an Audubon page that goes into great detail!  It’s not brief…but if you’re up for a little reading, go to that Audubon link!  You will be educated!

First, they help us with “insect control”.  Think of the great saving of the Mormon crops in 1846!  That katydid got the name “Mormon Cricket, because of this incident.  220px-SeaGull69The California Seagull, which was the savior bird, was then named the State Bird of Utah!  There are many other examples of a similar symbiosis.  Remember, birds are busy eating grubs and insects in our gardens all the time!

Next we should consider all the “road kill” on our highways.  Crows and Ravens are meat eaters.  This is why you often see those black birds sitting on the railings along our highways.  They are waiting for dinner to be delivered!



These birds are scavengers who help us by keeping our environment clear of rotting carrion.  Imagine what would happen in India where cows are considered sacred.  People cannot pick them up and dispose of them…but vultures do the job very admirably!

Birds also disperse seeds and nuts.  It isn’t always that we as gardeners appreciate that particular skill, but it’s how nature works.kortsnavelelenia-tewksbury

Remember the quote “Canary in the Coal Mine”?  Birds can be used as markers as to how our environment is functioning, not only in the coal mines, but because they are so small, bad things tend to happen to them first.  Rachel Carson used birds as an example in her book, “Silent Spring“.

Birds even draw people out of their homes to “bird watch“.  There is a whole “Eco-tourism” faction in our travel world.  Some people will travel continents away to see another bird they’ve never seen before!

images.duckduckgoThere are birds that pollinate flowers.  Remember our own beloved hummingbirds.

images.duckduckgoMigrating water fowl help farmers by foraging for bugs, grains and straw left from spent fields.  By foraging those fields they also leave their own “manure” hence fertilizing the fields naturally.  It means that farmers do not have to “till”, either at all, or in some cases,  less.

418_Spruce_Nyjer_SmAnyway, the next time you see a bird in the garden, remember they fill MANY roles.  Be glad they are there, and enjoy them!

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Autumn is surely here! IMG_7026 The trees have turned color, started dropping their leaves and begun looking a bit “bare”.  It is the way of the garden…even our little gardens here at Horizon House.  Here’s a link that has photos and a few comments about our gardens.

But, to get back to autumn, and how it affects us, AND our gardens.  I decided to write this post because I’ve just begun to read a book about soil, called “Growing a Revolution-Bringing Our Soil Back to Life”, by David Montgomery.  Jean D. had asked if the IMG_7018Garden Committee would co-sponsor a program, with the Conservation Committee featuring David Montgomery, to speak about this new book.   I thought that would be a great idea.  He will be coming to HH sometime in the not too distant future.  Anyway, I’m LOVING this book and how he explains about the soil and how we can replenish it with far less chemical intervention.  Anyway, it got me thinking about how we can get into this “mode” here, even in our little gardens!

It is a totally natural approach.  It’s wonderful, not only for the soil, but for insects, and the wildlife, of which many of us are not really aware.  It is also easier on the gardeners, as the chores we usually accomplish in autumn are diminished.IMG_7028

Our garden beds are looking a bit scruffy right now.  It’s a time when we fussy gardeners think it’s time to clean up all the debris.  STOP!!!  DON’T DO IT!!!!

When we remove all that debris, we stop the soil from replenishing itself.  The leaves, if left alone, will become places for microbes and little critters to hide for the winter.  All those little guys will use the leaves for food, passing it into the soil in a form that can be utilized as the roots gobble it up to feed the plants!  So, don’t be too quick to remove those leaves!IMG_7019


IMG_7020Also, the plants themselves, if left standing are happily feeding birds and little creatures.  There are green buds, berries and seeds, all of which keep our wildlife fed and passing it back to the soil as they hop from place to place.IMG_7024

Sure, it doesn’t look wonderful to OUR eyes, but the soil and wildlife will be so appreciative!IMG_7025  Pledge to become a MESSY GARDENER along with the Nature Conservancy.  This link will tell you more about how these techniques will really be good all around!

I think I will write a note in the ALERT telling people that our gardens may be looking a bit “scruffy” during the winter months…and WHY!  So, go ahead and experiment.  Leave those leaves alone, and let’s see what happens.  In the spring, you can clean up your garden if you want.  Letting the leaves break down further will be good for the soil, but if it looks too nasty for you, go ahead and clean it up in the spring, but leave the leaves for now!

Here’s to the Horizon House Garden Committee’s contribution to replenishment of the earth’s soil!  Have fun being MESSY!



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Today, I’d like to talk about swarming bees!stock-photo-a-swarm-of-european-honey-bees-clinging-to-a-tree-102044851

It is a bit scary to see something like this hanging from a tree in your yard, but NOT TO FEAR!  Bees that are swarming are busy looking for a new home.  Bees sting in order to protect their honey (food source) or eggs.  They don’t have either in the swarm, so they tend to be rather placid.  The bees that leave the swarm are scouts looking for a new home.  Perhaps in a hollow tree or wood pile, or somewhere.

In the springtime, the hive may become overcrowded, which is unhealthy for the bees.  There are new queen bee eggs about to hatch out.  The old queen is the one who leads the swarm to new “quarters”, so it’s important that there are queen bee eggs left in the old hive.  But the bees figure that out.  Bee keepers also know how to deal with that (we hope).

The only time you should be concerned is if they are INSIDE the walls of your house.  Then if they decide to settle there…they WILL have a hive, with honey and eggs…so watch out!  Then you WILL need an exterminator.

Here at Horizon House, we probably won’t encounter this early spring happening, but I’ll bet that many of you gardeners have dealt with a swarm or two in your lifetime.  Maybe it would be interesting to re-visit this phenomenon and really find out what is going on here!

Here is a little video about bee keeping that you might find interesting.


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Here at Horizon House, we have a Green Roof.  It has somehow “sprung a leak”!  At any rate, there is lots of activity on that roof.  The link above will give you a wonderful explanation from UCDavis.IMG_2856

There are many good reasons for having a Green Roof.  These roofs have been around for centuries, and can still be found in their original form in some European countries in the form of Thatched Roofs.  But, why do we reach back in time to think about constructing Green Roofs again?

  • First and foremost…it absorbs rainwater.  This means the water, instead of dumping right into sewers with all the oil and debris it picks up along the way,   stops first at the green roof.
  • The soil to be found on the roof absorbs the water; filtering the pollutants, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and phosphorus, etc.
  • The plants then gobble up the nitrogen and phosphorus helping them grow.  Since those are ingredients in plant fertilizer…we don’t have to pay for them.  They are FREE!
  • The water taken up by the plants is put back into the atmosphere through transpiration and evaporation, instead of having to go into our sewer systems, etc.
  • INSULATION is a really important part of this equation.  The Green Roof provides as much as 25% cooling in the summer, and 25% warming in winter!
  • A Green Roof also helps insulate the building from sound pollution!
  • That Green Roof will provide a wonderful place for beneficial insects, birds, bees and butterflies to call home.  Our roof, being in the middle of an urban area, provides a welcome place for migrating birds and butterflies to rest!
  • This one surprised me!  It will increase the life span of a roof by as much as 200%!!!!!
  • Lastly, it helps by mitigating urban heat.  Here is a good article I read in the NY TImes about this very issue.  Check out the link!

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My Master Gardening skills are coming into play more and more often, which I love!  Even though my certifications are from New England, and lots of stuff is quite different out here in the great north-west, there are SOME things that are easy to transfer!

Today, I got a question from Sue P. here at Horizon House about some kind of insect damage IMG_2762she is seeing on her plant leaves…so I went to work.  Even though the climate is different and SOME insects vary, most of the time you pretty much know what is causing the damage…whether here or in New Hampshire!

As you can see there is something nibbling on the leaves she brought for me.  They are not sucking sap; or burrowing between top and bottom of the leaves (miners); and the damage is rather small…signifying to me that it is not snails or slugs, who tend to gobble up the entire leaf!  I also don’t think it’s leaf cutter bees because their damage is VERY rounded, not irregular like these.  There are also no bugs, trails, webs or spittle to be seen.

My educated guess is that it is some kind of nocturnal insect that comes out at night and eats to it’s heart’s content only to disappear into the soil, debris or other protected places as soon as the sun rises.

Some possibilities include beetles (and their larvae),earwigs, weevils, caterpillars, or cutworms.  Here is an extension page from The University of Arizona and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) that does a pretty good job of explaining about these critters.

Now, what do you do about them?  As a Master Gardener, I frown on chemicals in the garden, so here’s my solution.

You won’t see nocturnal insects in the daytime, because they are only out at night.  I don’t imagine you’d want to spend an hour or so out in the garden at night!  What you actually can do is trap them!  As explained, they hide out in the daytime in dark, humid places…so…

Get a newspaper and roll it up, putting it in the garden under the affected plant.  Then in the morning, take that paper and unroll it, and more than likely you’ll have a trove of night-time eaters napping their day away in that handy bed you provided!  Dump them (or the whole newspaper) into a bucket of soapy water and do it again, and again, until you don’t have so many any more.  Your plants will be happier…as will you!  You might be surprised at what you’ll capture!  Or, you can use a small board, just laying it in the garden overnight.  In the morning scrape off whatever you catch into a bucket of soapy water.  An up-ended flowerpot would also offer some temporary comfort for them.

This technique is a little labor intensive Sue, but I think the satisfaction of controlling a nasty insect without chemicals,will be it’s own reward!  Good luck and Happy Gardening!


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I guess I’m on a tear with this topic.  It just seems to me that it is such a REAL possibility to mix the two without making our gardens ugly!  However, if we put veggies in the garden they should be ornamental.  Looks really DO matter!

Last week we went to Swanson’s Nursery to listen to a talk about Gardening For Seniors.  When I visited their website this morning, I found a section on “Edibles” in the garden.  Here is a picture that says it all!  It is beautiful.  I will paste the picture here for you to look at, but you really should go to their websiteEdible-herbs-veggies-Swanson's home page.container and read what it has to say!  Remember this photograph is a possession of Swanson’s-it is NOT one of my photographs!  How can anyone  think veggies can’t be attractive?

Here is a short list of some really good choices (mine AND Swanson’s) to spread among those flowers:

  • exotic kale
  • dill
  • fennel
  • asparagus
  • dark purple leaved beets (Bull’s Blood is one variety mentioned by Swanson’s)
  • curly leafed parsley
  • different varieties of thyme
  • chives
  • tri-colored sage
  • prostrate rosemary
  • green globe artichoke

What you need to plan for is the height these plants will reach, as well as how much room they need to  spread.  They shouldn’t be taking over the garden…just adding to it!



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