Thursday, June 11, 2015

Garden Secrets

Homemade Pesticide
It's been a long time since I've written a garden post, I know. This is not because I haven't been working in the garden; on the contrary, I've been so busy it's hard to find time to write. I was also really frustrated this spring with the garden and haven't felt like talking about it. Today the kids and I are all sick, so I have time to write while I lie around coughing. Despite my oils and attempts to get more sleep it seems like we catch everything there is to catch. My husband however manages to stay well always, even though he rarely sleeps and hardly eats and never takes vitamins. I wish I had his immune system!

Things in the garden were looking a little better at last, but we have a new problem as usual. Last week I noticed woolly apple aphids on my Stargazer lilies. These are my favorites; I wait all year for them and now this summer I won't have any. I'm so disappointed! One lily was completely engulfed by the aphids and another was well on its way. I used my homemade solution and the aphids are still gone a week later, but I can see the one flower bud that grew has been killed and isn't going to develop. You might notice one of the jars of my pesticide is marked "Furniture Polish." That's because this useful recipe can work for both!

One Woolly Apple Aphid

Woolly Apple Aphids are so darn cute. There's one walking on my potato plants in the photo above. They remind me of Tribbles from that old Star Trek episode, or tiny fluffy Pomeranian puppies. Don't let their warm and fuzzy appearance fool you, however; these little guys quickly envelop a plant and suck the life out of it. I tried potatoes in large pots this year rather than in the ground, and they're doing fantastically well. The stalks are over three feet tall! So, I certainly don't want to lose them to aphids.

An aphid colony
The first step for this treatment, which works on any soft-body insects and even will help control Japanese Beetles, is to mix one part liquid dish soap with water in a jar. Basically you are making your own oil soap with this two-part solution. Dip the infested leaves and stems in the mixture and rub it all over the plant. For beetles, try to catch the beetle and throw it into the jar to drown it, or tip the leaves into the jar so it falls in. Cover any affected areas of the plant, and don't forget the undersides of the leaves.

Spray the plant all over with the oil mixture.

Now, to keep the insects from re-appearing, spray the plant all over with my furniture polish, making sure to get the undersides of the leaves. This is equal parts olive oil, lemon juice or water with lemon essential oil, and either white vinegar or witch hazel. I made mine with witch hazel this time because the last time I made it I used the vinegar and everyone fussed about the smell. I like the smell of vinegar. It reminds me of my childhood Easters because we always used it to make egg dye. We would make a snow bunny and have our egg hunt indoors until one memorable year when an egg was forgotten behind the piano and the resulting stench a few months later drove the egg hunts forever after outside to the snow. It's very easy to find colored eggs in the snow, another plus! Anyway, I used 1 cup each of the liquids and added 10 drops of Young Living lemon essential oil, which you can order here.

My lime tree one week after treatment.
My lime tree had the aphids last week as well and I used this method of treatment. You can see the yellow leaves, which were affected at the time, are still yellow, but there are no bugs of any kind on the tree now and the damage has not spread. It's rained a couple times, pretty hard, too. I have been so impressed over the years with this treatment it's pretty much all I use in the way of pesticides any more. Entomologists now believe even natural pesticides previously thought safe for bees are contributing to Colony Collapse Disorder and the disappearance of the honey bees and I don't want to add to that problem! The yard was full of bees when I was working this morning, and I was glad to see it. I am working hard to add more blooming flowers to this yard so we can draw more bees to pollinate the vegetables and fruits, but we have so much shade it's really difficult.

The previous garden

The old vegetable garden was doing so badly last year I spent quite a lot of time over the winter covering it with compost and sheeting it with plastic to try to cook the soil and sterilize it to help control fungus. This spring, however, even some of my rhubarb, which was traditionally our best performer, didn't return. My husband suggested we give up on that area and turn it into the fire pit he's been wanting. So, we built a fire pit with a patio around it and rebuilt the flagstone path to the area, which was dug up by moles. We have one block left to cut and place, which is driving me kind of crazy, and plan to add a border of either logs or metal banding to keep the stones in place. I'm all for the free log border but my husband is leaning toward the metal.

My "Lasagna" garden
We have a ton of logs because we limbed out several trees in the yard and cut down some saplings to create two sunny areas. In the smaller one I built a bed according to Patricia Lanza's instruction in her Lasagna Gardening book. That's a great book and I highly recommend it. It shows how to create rich garden beds through layering compost materials rather than digging. I have tomatoes I grew from seed for a late summer harvest in that bed, along with the relocated rhubarb, marigolds I grew from seed, and pots of carrots, red potatoes, and sweet potatoes. I have a few pumpkin seedlings along the back edge. Everything seems to be doing well.

The raised beds
In the larger sunny area my husband and teen built me raised beds and I have tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash, eggplant, and herbs over there. These are doing quite well. Since I put transplants over there the plants are further along and we will be harvesting at least one pepper and tomato, probably within a week.

Giant Marconi pepper

I was fortunate to find Giant Marconi peppers this year, at last. Year before last I bought some peppers labeled as Giant Marconi but ended up with purple bell peppers. Our local nursery has nice plants but does a rather poor job with labeling. If you ever see any Giant Marconi plants or seeds, snap them up! These are small plants that produce enormous sweet banana peppers. Each pepper is as big or bigger than the plant itself and they have a prodigious yield. The last year we had these I made Chiles Rellenos about once a week and still froze a year's worth of peppers! The size and shape are perfect for Chiles Rellenos, by the way.

A tomato is almost ripe.
I have what appears to be a large orange plum tomato nearly ripe as well in the raised beds. This was supposed to be "Better Boy" and clearly is not, so I don't know the name. It's not red enough to be Roma, I don't think. I try to patronize our local businesses, but it's an adventure with the nursery here!

It's always funny to me how the garden changes from year to year. Last year we had huge amounts of rhubarb, strawberries, and blueberries and not much else. This year the hydrangeas and roses look amazing, after doing nothing last year, but the rhubarb is mediocre and the berries are a bust. We haven't gotten a single one because the squirrels beat us to the few that came out. The roses and hydrangeas are thanks in part to the insect control system shown above. I hope it works well for your garden too!

French Mophead Hydrangea
A perfect red rose, labeled Mr. Lincoln, but I don't think that's correct.

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