Category Archives: Working With Nature

Natural pest management

Article and photograph by Jacqui Shannon.

One of the biggest questions new organic gardeners ask is about pest management.  We all seem to understand the concepts of  open pollination and making fertilizers from plants but when it comes to keeping the pests away, many of us draw a blank. We work so hard to raise our plants that contemplating their decimation is frankly, terrifying. So what can we do?

I am a firm believer that healthy plants and healthy soil do much for our garden when it comes to pests. A strong, healthy plant can tolerate some pests without too much loss. Nonetheless, I also believe in giving the garden a helping hand.  One of the principles I learned at Organic Lea was to try and balance the predator / prey ratio. At first, to me at least, this was a bit of a shock. How many aphids should be in the garden? My natural response was “NONE!” But that, it turns out, is also unnatural.

The beans grown in glasshouse,  were awash with Black Aphid larvae the first week of April. It seemed a dire situation but no one else seemed concerned. When I asked the head gardener about this, he explained that the crop was nearing it’s last winter harvest and was going to be allowed to flower and go to seed. For now we’d simply run our index finger and thumbs up the most infested stocks to squish the aphid larvae, overrun bean tips were to be removed and put into the compost. Although affective for the larvae stage, this is laborious.  Later the same day, our class went out into the nettles to hunt and capture Ladybugs.

Because nettles are one of the first greens of spring, overwintered Ladybugs seek them out as a first source of food. Over two hours we caught twenty. Ladybugs, it turns out are the organic gardeners natural ally against the Aphid. We then released them into the Aphid infested bean plot. Two weeks later, I noticed many tiny cocoons along the wooden skirt boards to the bean plot, Ladybug larvae.

Pupa larvae, 7-spot ladybug
Since an adequate food supply was available in the glasshouse, the Ladybugs stay their whole life cycle. This provides the gardener with a natural defense against Aphid.

By introducing the Ladybugs to the Glasshouse, we are able to aid in the balance of predator / prey relationship. If we had killed all of the Aphid larvae the food source for the Ladybug wouldn’t have been available and they would not have stayed. By providing a suitable environment for the Ladybug, including food, suitable pupation and hibernation areas,  she will then in turn and aid us in the long term pest management. There are many such relationships the organic gardener can cultivate with predator insects, all of which will improve your crops survival.

An important part of organic gardening is being able to identify which insects are the “good guys” and which are the ones you want to try and limit. Most children and adults can identify a 7-Spot Ladybug, I find the link below quite useful for identifying the larvae of others.

http://www.ladybird-survey.org/downloads/ladybird_larvae.pdf

An adult 7-Spot ladybug, and a ladybug larvae helping to control the Black Aphid on a bean plant.
An adult 7-Spot ladybug, and a ladybug larvae helping to control the Black Aphid on a bean plant.

Fashion in gardening

Article and photograph by Jacqui Shannon.

Fashion trends are inescapable. Ever present in our clothing choices and in our culinary exploits,  perhaps it was naive of me, but I for one did not anticipate that the humble garden  was also subject.

Last fall I was part of a team that pruned a long standing allotment. Over the years, various stewards of the space had planted and grown many bushes, fruits and flowers  and we were there to trim the growth back into a manageable and healthy state. It was that afternoon that I was introduced to the Worcesterberry tree. Being February, the squat little bushy tree was remarkably undistinguished. Whist pruning I found its thorns, but aside from making my task slightly more tricky, I didn’t give it much notice. Afterwards, curious about a tree I’d never encountered before, I asked around. Eventually, a vague description of “like a gooseberry crossed with a blackberry” became the consensus. I decided to plant one of the clippings to see for myself.

A year on and after much research, it seems Worcesterberry is considered it’s own species. Once prized as a valuable “guardian of the plot” owning to it’s dense thorny growth, it has fallen out of favour with the advent of easier to harvest thorn-less varieties.  While I do understand the logic, I also feel it’s a shame. To date I have only found one woman who still grew Worcesterberry in her garden and she admitted they had been her mothers doing over 40 years previous.

This year my little Worcesterberry  pruning has flowered for the first time. It’s quite remarkable and beautiful. I do not want it to be lost and forgotten because people found it “difficult”.

Losing any species be it plant or animal isn’t a good thing. Our world’s species, even the thorny ones, need guardians. I challenge you, go out find a forgotten out of favour species and become it’s champion. There are lots out there.

Perhaps, when my lovely Worcesterberry is too big for my roof I will cruise out of London and plant it in the wild.

Worcesterberry in flower
The Worcesterberry was once a valuable member of the allotment. It’s naturally dense growth and spiky thorn acted as a deterrent shielding crops from predators, but it’s nearly forgotten now as gardeners seek out and favour new thorn-less breeds which are easier to harvest.

Potting on Tomatoes

Article and photograph by Jacqui Shannon, expat Canadian in the UK.

A month ago myself and several volunteers helped plant hundreds of Tumbling Tom and Golden Queen tomato seeds at Organic Lea. They will be both for the summer production on site and for the annual plant sales. For anyone who has ever eaten a perfectly ripe home grown tomato, it will come as no surprise that tomatoes are by far the most popular plants for home gardens in the UK.

These seedlings have a slightly blueish tinge, indicating that they've begun to lack nutrient.
These seedlings have a slightly blueish tinge, indicating that they’ve begun to lack nutrient.

The month old seedlings have really thrived in the three week warm spell we’ve been having and it was evident by the blueish tinge on their leaves that the nutrient in the seed compost was exhausted. It’s too early to put them in the ground, so potting on, into more nutrient rich potting compost was the only option. In order to avoid “leggy plants” each seedling is planted into the soil up to the first pair of leaves.

There’s really no excuse not to grow at least one tomato plant. Perhaps more than any other, tomatoes have a wealth of varieties to suit your available space, even a height restricted roof garden like mine has more than one option.

For three years now, I’ve planted heritage dwarf variety Tiny Tim (which grows to 30cm) and had exceptional results. They’ve got some lovely attributes aside from their stature. Firstly, for a tomato they’re remarkably un- fussy. These hardy plants do well in both sun and shade which works well since I am on the move. Secondly, despite their small size they really pack a huge sweet tomato flavour punch, meaning four or five picked and thrown into any dish makes an impact.

This year, just to try something different I’m planting Tumbling Toms from the plant sales.

Regardless of which variety you choose, your plant’s fruit will have flavours that far surpass their store bought brethren. With tomatoes we’re spoilt for choice and justly rewarded.

 

Homesteaders Emporium (Vancouver) – a review by GaddAboutEating

Homesteaders Emporium

649 E Hastings St
Vancouver , BC, British Columbia
Canada, V6A 1R2
(604) 568-7675

http://www.homesteadersemporium.ca/

Blessed are the Cheese Makers, the Bee Keepers, and the Folks at Homesteaders Emporium where you can find what you want or need for all types of homesteading activities. Old fashioned and new fangled; practical and beautiful things.

Candles, canning and cheese; in this store you’ll find the supplies for these.

Sausage making
Soap
Mushroom Cultivation
Baking

Farm & Garden supplies from seed to tool and don’t forget bee keeping, composting, and backyard chicken coops.

Home and Garden supplies from cookware to storage and also:  knitting and fibrecrafts,

The store and website are full of some great things and connections to some amazing knowledge.  Check out their EVENTS page for some great happenings!!!!  You should definitely visit them soon.

What’s not to love about nettles?

Photos and article by Jacqui Shannon.

Urtica Dioica, or Stinging Nettle in the first flush of spring. This foul looking stuff on the right hand side of the photo is nettle tea, a nutrient rich organic fertilizer for the garden.
Urtica Dioica, or Stinging Nettle in the first flush of spring. This foul looking stuff on the right hand side of the photo is nettle tea, a nutrient rich organic fertilizer for the garden.

Stinging Nettles are terrible, brush up against them and you instantly know. Itchy red bumps that stay irritating for what seems like forever. We’ve all been there. Stings aside however, you might be surprised to hear that this hardy nuisance is a bit of a celebrity in the world of organic gardening.

Nettles offer the organic gardener a triple benefit.

One of the first greens to shoot up in the early spring, young tops are a much welcomed first green for our beneficial insect predators such as the Ladybug. .

Blanched quickly they’re fantastic in risotto, and steeped, they make a rejuvenating tea.

The third reason organic gardeners allow the nettle to remain is to make organic fertilizer. Nettles have a root structure that allows them to pull mineral nutrients up from much deeper depths of soil than many plants. The nutrients are then in the plants stem and leaves. Left to their own when the plant dies back in winter the nutrients are then available in the compost. Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on the natural cycle of things!

The benefits of Nettle tea is available the whole of the growing season and it’s really simple to make. There are two methods you can use a quick one that gives a bit of benefit, or a longer process that really packs a nutrient punch (and a pretty pungent smell!) Use which ever suits you, be sure to wear protective clothing to avoid the “sting.”

Quick Method: Pick the nettles and boil the leaves and stems for 30min. Let cool, strain, and you’re ready to use. The liquid should be the colour of weak black tea.

The Long Method: Pick the nettles, bruise the leaves and stems and pack in your container. Weigh the greens down with a brick or some rock and cover with water. Let it sit submerged for up to 3 weeks, it will really start to smell. The longer the better. Then use in a 1:10 ratio on your plant soil.

Raccoons and meal prep

Raccoons are returning to the city after a long winter hibernation, bringing with them eager hands looking opportunities to render assistance in meal preparations.

As is well known, raccoons are able washers of food and with only a bit of coaxing can be trained to wash your dinner for you in exchange for a share of the bounty.

Occasionally, exceptionally adept animals can also be trained to wash the luncheon linens, but that is a task for experts.

Racoon handmaidens
Racoon handmaidens