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Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

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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IMG_2314Last week we went to Swanson’s for a talk on Gardening for Seniors.  Not only did we have a good talk on Gardening for Seniors, we had a chance to have a delightful lunch and then wander into the Nursery to purchase all kinds of plants!

I thought it would be good to review the things we heard about.  I will do that here.  I have also taken the liberty of adding a few of my own observations that I think could be most helpful.  Here they are:

THE SOIL & POTTING TECHNIQUES
⁃    You can use HUGE packing pearls to take up room in large pots so you don’t need so much soil.  It will also make the pot lighter to move around.  Remember to use a permeable material to separate the soil from the pearls.
⁃    You should transplant pots every 3-5 years.
⁃    If you need help re-potting, Swanson’s does do that.
⁃    You should always have a hole in the pot for drainage.
⁃    A dolly under a pot is VERY helpful for moving it!
⁃    Use ergonomic tools!  They are much better for arthritic and “tired” hands.

FERTILIZING
⁃    Osmacote is wonderful for perennials
⁃    We talked about the numbers on the fertilizer.  They can be confusing, so here’s an easy way to remember what you are looking for.
⁃    N-P-K  (nitrogen-phophorus-potassium) is what they translate to…the numbers mean the percentage of each of those ingredients found in the fertilizer.
⁃    N-or nitrogen is critical for foliage growth.  i.e. fertilizer for grass has a HIGH first number or nitrogen content.  Don’t use too much of this on your flowering plants, as it will stimulate foliage at the expense of flowers!
⁃    P-Phophorus-is necessary for the roots and flowers. (Think bulbs and rhizomes, as well as annuals) A high middle number (P) is GOOD for flowering plants. (Rolf, our speaker, suggested Bloom Booster (10-52-10) for your annuals.)
⁃    K-Potassium builds the entire plant helping it become sturdy and healthy overall.
⁃    All of these should be scratched into the soil to be sure it can be absorbed readily by the roots.IMG_2327

INSECTS
⁃    Slugs-You can run a copper band around the garden.
⁃    A recipe I have used in New England is combining 9 parts water to 1 part common household ammonia and spray it on your vulnerable plants just before dark. When the slugs hit this, they will dissolve!
⁃    I also recommend spreading diatomaceous earth around those plants.
⁃    For Roses you can spray with Neem Oil in the spring and fall.
⁃    Aphids will drown easily so spraying them with water every 8 days for a few weeks should do the trick.
⁃    Mealy Bugs and Spider Mites should be treated with Insecticidal soap.

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