* What to do (or feel) when the local wildlife chomp on your tulips or lettuce, the home & garden bible Better Basics For The Home by Annie Berthold-Bond, zen in the garden, “you must be the garden you wish to see”, and how Mother Nature works in mysterious ways. *
THE HOT POTATO
Serving Up a Weekly Helping of
Sustainable & Organic Gardening, Food, Health, and Community
by Adam Brockman & Aireen Joven, April 2007, #14
THIS WEEK’S DISH:
Bug Off? Nonviolent Conflict Resolution In The Garden
“When gardeners garden, it is not just plants that grow, but the gardeners themselves.” – Ken Druse, quoted from the
Ronniger Potato Farm 2007 Catalog
ADAM HOLDING A LADYBUG. We gathered sleeping ladybugs from inside the loft and relocated them into the farm’s greenhouse, where they happily took care of the aphids eating the beds of tasty arugula.
HOPPING MAMA ROBBINS have been spotted puffing out orange chests in the backyard. Spiders are making more frequent appearances as well. Now that the last surprise snow of April has melted into the ground, the soil is warming up too. And the daffodils that lead to our front door happily greet visitors who walk past their bobbing yellow heads that look like trumpets bordering the path of a fairy entourage. But my mother’s tulips, well, they got eaten by the local animal life when we weren’t paying attention. Maybe the deer and rabbits who pay visits to our gardens, which to them are the local gourmet restaurant, have a lesson or two to teach us. Anger management might be one. Generosity is another. How much fruit, vegetables, and other goodies do we buy at the store only to rot in our fridge? How many pounds of food do we let the restaurant dump that we never ate?
A HOME FIT FOR A LADYBUG: THE “PESTICIDE-FREE ZONE” SIGN
Another lesson abounds from our hungry, furry friends. For one, they were here first. After generations of families evolving in pristine nature, they (not to mention us humans) had to adapt to a relatively recent change in the landscape – suburban developments, eight lane highways, green corridors parceled into untraversable property lots, vehicles faster than all other predators, and pesticides sprayed into the air and onto lawns that harm local animals and local water before traveling miles to other areas south of here where more damage is done. Last year, a shameless chemical lawn company illegally trespassed into my parents’ backyard and the backyard of our neighbor. A representative of the company recklessly sprayed toxic chemical onto the lawns, and then attempted to collect money for what they did. The next day, my parents found a dying baby deer in the backyard that they eventually buried, and the neighbor’s rambunctious dog mysteriously died as well. Was it the unsolicited chemical lawn treatment?
It makes me want to order a Pesticide-Free Zone lawn sign and display it prominently in the frontyard. The round, 8″ diameter, non-rust aluminum enameled sign features a big, red ladybug. Your order also comes with a Pesticide-Free Zone Owners Manual that “gives you tips on what it means to be pesticide-free and how to talk to your neighbors and others about pesticides.” To order a ladybug for your own yard, balcony, school, church, or neighborhood, which costs $9.95, you can go to www.beyondpesticides.org/pesticidefreelawns/index.htm or call Beyond Pesticides at 202-543-5450. Since 1999, the Marin Beyond Pesticides Coalition has sold close to 10,000 metal ladybug signs. The same organization carries white and green bumperstickers that ask “Is Your Lawn Toxic Green?” A local place to order a Pesticide-Free Zone sign is through www.underwoodgardens.com based in Woodstock. IL.
(See also the cute PESTICIDE FREE LAWN AND GARDEN SIGN available from Syracuse Cultural Workers Catalog . You can see a picture of one in our garden posted in Spring In A Garden – An Ode In Pictures.)
MAKING PEACE WITH PESTS
A peace offering of lettuce, tulips, or rainbow swiss chard to the local wildlife doesn’t sound so unreasonable for the abundant gardener. After all, a significant reason deer, rabbits, squirrels, and other creatures are constantly devouring backyard gardeners’ bounties is because suburban development has all but destroyed their natural ecosystems and, thus, their food supply. Who can blame them for uprooting a few flowers, devouring a patch of lettuce, and even tearing through our garbage? The least we can do is appreciate that they need to eat too, and that since we are actually sharing this land with them, they are entitled to some of the fruits that it bears, regardless of who grew it.
Sometimes, the animals munching away are on the clock, freelance workers employed to fulfill Mother Nature’s bigger plans. Disease or other problems tend to strike the most unhealthy plants, which is nature’s way of keeping the healthiest plants to bloom & grow, for eating, and for making seed. This natural health screening is a strong incentive for the gardener or farmer to give extra care and attention to the plants. We learned this on the farm last year, whose several acres in vegetables and fruit did not always pass the test. Deer ate lettuce and chard for dinner every day at sunset. Flea beetles got the best of the brassica family – broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, and kohlrabi, which resulted in few non-chewed leaves and poor yields. Mice even got to a couple baby plants in the greenhouse.
My take on the crop loss: well, for starters, the bigger the operation, the more difficult it is to give the level of individual and overall care needed, especially when the number of people responsible is limited. The smaller the garden, the higher the yields is a proven axiom. As for the deer getting in the chard and lettuce, maybe we had planted too much of those crops anyway. The especially damaging flea beetle attack seemed to match other tough experiences the brassicas had to endure, like over-weeding close to the base of the plants, which put stress on their still developing root systems. Brassicas also do better as fall plantings, when the increasingly cooler weather chills out the beetle population.
Some people spray natural concoctions onto their bug-ridden plants, like neem oil, cayenne, rosemary, garlic, cedar oil, or castile soap & vegetable oil diluted in water. These sprays need to reapplied after every rain. Be careful though! Just the other day, I read on an online gardening forum that squirrels have been seen scratching their eyes out after touching a cayenne-coated plant. Other options include concoctions to repel, not kill, bugs like an anti-slug strip of copper surrounding the base of a plant, and crafty but deadly traps like beer, bananas, or molasses & yeast. The copper creates an electrical charge that doesn’t jive with slug vibes. Your best bet is keeping the plants healthy and, for your own wellbeing, keeping a healthy outlook about balance in the garden. Planting a biodiversity of flowers and herbs alongside your veggies helps tremendously as well, by attracting beneficial insects with color and scent that contribute to keeping unwanted insects further in the balance.
THE A-TEAM, ZEN, & EVEN BETTER HOMES & GARDENS
The season is just beginning. In future Hot Potato columns, we will let you know how things go in our garden should we encounter any animal and insect surprises. As for the mice issue, mice are so cute. I would prefer to pass the buck on that one to the garden cat. Cats can be lazy, I guess, kind of like people sometimes. Teamwork seems to be essential in the garden. Humans and cats can take turns protecting the bounty. Unlike cats, people don’t naturally scare away most critters by our sheer presence, and although we can put the squash or drop the bomb on pests, we also have much more friendly, healthy, and enlightened alternatives. One of the best books for any home and garden, hands down, is Better Basics For The Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living by Annie Berthold-Bond. This compendium of cheap, effective, and natural grandmotherly recipes for all-purpose cleaners, stain remover, beauty products, garden tricks, and even homemade art materials like paint and glue has the answer you need. Chapter 5 in Better Basics For The Home is devoted to organic garden and lawncare, pets, and pests. We’ve already used the book for mopping the floor (peppermint or tea tree Dr. Bronners liquid castille soap, vinegar, and hotwater), cleaning the bathroom (same as the floor but with added baking soda), deterring kitchen mice (with a few drops of peppermint essential oil in water applied), and keeping the ants out of the bathroom (with a natural cinnamon & clove air freshener spray we bought at a natural foods store).
We are not worried so much about possible pest visitations. For one, we’ve got a small but formidable team of gardeners (Adam, Aireen, and Aireen’s mom with help from Aireen’s stepdad) who can give the right amount of care and attention to our equally small but formidable garden. Can you imagine just three people (and lots of huge, incredibly expensive machinery) being responsible for 1,000 acres of farmland as opposed to being responsible for a 1 acre garden? Do not underestimate the huge amount of food that can be grown on less than 1 acre. Ecology Action’s data shows that a Biointensive gardener or mini-farmer can grow 2-6 times more vegetables on the same amount of land as a gardener or farmer using mechanized and chemical food-raising techniques. Our suburban homestead team has also got Zen. We strive to go with the flow (armed with books and tips on gardening as well as our own not-to-be-underestimated gardening intuition and experience), and know that any challenges that arise from Mother Nature have a lesson or three to teach.
YOU MUST BE THE GARDEN YOU WISH TO SEE
I envision a healthy, bountiful, and beautiful garden! Repeat this mantra as you plant seeds, transplant seedlings, and take time to appreciate the garden. Your plants will like it, and your mind will feel more calm. Whether you are cultivating several acres, a plot in a community garden, space around your home, or tending a mini-garden on a balcony or window ledge, the effects of touching our hands upon the earth as we work & play, and appreciating the beauty, smells, and flavors that the garden gives has an incredible effect on the health of the gardener and the health of the planet. Our homes and gardens, as they say, can be better, filled with good thoughts towards resolving conflicts nonviolently. If Gandhi had been primarily a gardener, he might have said, “You must be the garden you wish to see.” This comes from his famous saying, “You must be the change you wish to see.” We already know that decades of destruction in the form of toxic chemical pesticides and fertilizers, unsustainable machinery, topsoil depletion, and a general attitude of controlling and killing nature has not stopped pests and problems from coming back every growing season. In fact, things are worse! Nonviolent gardening is the future, and we are the ones who plant the seeds of peace. I envision a healthy, bountiful, and beautiful garden!
Until next week, the Hot Potato is in your hands. Pass it on.