Friday, June 27, 2008

Some Gardening Successes

Years ago, I scoffed at most of the so-called organic gardening techniques that I'd hear about. Companion planting, beneficial bugs, manure tea, blah, blah, blah.

"Sure", I'd think, "maybe in some granola-eater's pristine garden, but not here. No, my yard is a Mad-Max-Beyond-The-Thunderdome apocalyptic jungle with freako mutant bugs and nuclear-hardened weeds" ...or so I thought. I'd use the occasional heavy weaponry such as malathion and RoundUp for my bug and weed battles.

I was an idiot.

But now I'm enlightened.

Let me share with you a few successes so far this year.

You know those dainty white butterflies that flutter around your yard? Well, don't be fooled by their peaceful pretenses, because in reality they're searching for drop zones behind enemy lines where they'll insert time bombs which will hatch into little green eating machines, more commonly known as caterpillars. Left unchecked, each of those slinking little beasts will eat a whole salad's worth of my lettuce.

But look closely at the picture (taken from my kitchen window a week or so ago). Most mornings I'd see that little bird hopping around in our lettuce box, and more often than not he'd find his breakfast in there. Catching and eating a caterpillar hero! Way better than using chemicals.

Sadly, this particular bird hasn't been coming around the last few days and I think it's probably because he himself became breakfast for our cat. Oh well, circle of life and all that. Maybe I should train the cat to catch the butterflies instead.

...which reminds me of Mr. Cohen, my favorite teacher in high school, who vehemently objected to the word "butterfly" and said that instead it should be "flutter-by" because, ...well, I suppose it's obvious. Strange that I can't remember anything he taught me--chain rule, law of sines, continuous functions and such--but yet he inspired me to pursue Math in college, for which I'm extremely grateful.

Not all natural garden remedies are as obvious as a bird catching a caterpillar. For instance, I've tried to grow broccoli and brussel sprouts for a few years now, but never had a crop free from aphids. I tried soap sprays, oil sprays, and regular water blasts from the hose. Still, sooner or later I'd get an infestation. Washing the spears and sprouts before cooking helped a bit, but I think we'd still be eating an aphid or two. Not very appetizing really, especially to children already a tad distrustful of vegetables. So this year I tried something new. Marigolds are fragrant and attractive to lots of predator bugs so I planted a long row of them next to the broccoli and brussel sprouts...

...and guess what, No aphids! It really worked. I don't know whether the aphids were repelled by the scent or they were controlled by some unseen predator attracted by the flowers. I don't really care. From now on I'll incorporate flowers into all the vegetable planting I do. Plus, Gina likes more colors in the yard than green.

The third garden success I'll describe in this little blog episode was the most interesting to me. I have a young Nectarine tree and it's been pleasantly productive so far in its brief life. Nothing tastes like summer from the garden so much as a juicy sweet peach or nectarine.

But after its initial burst of growth in the springtime, this particular tree came under siege from some unknown enemy. All the new young growth would whither and die within a few days. The mature leaves were unscathed so I wasn't worried about the tree's survival, but I was concerned about its ability to produce enough energy to ripen the fruit. The picture shows the most obvious symptom of the problem, a clear sticky substance oozing from the damaged areas.

So finally I pulled out a magnifying glass for a recce mission, and sure enough, I discovered tiny little critters scurrying about. I didn't know what they were up to but I knew they didn't belong. I also was concerned about the steady parade of ants crawling up the tree and feasting on the sticky ooze. So, following the expert advice from the good folks at Island Seed & Feed, I applied some TangleFoot to the tree trunk as an ant blockade, figuring perhaps the ants were serving as mercenaries for the tiny nectarine-leaf-eating bugs.

The TangleFoot worked perfectly, turning back the ants like Russian boats in a naval blockade of Cuba. (Probably a lame analogy, but it's not like any Cold War History PhDs might stumble on my blog anyway...)

And best of all, the cavalry arrived a few days later!

...and soon the new growth appeared again.

I can't wait 'til the fruit ripens!


Chester said...

Congrats on the Gardening success el capitan... Exciting stuff!

Gianni said...


The saviours of this garden as well.

I enjoy riding through a swarm now and then and hope they follow me home on my sleeve.

jen said...


Marco Fanelli said...

jen- I'm just glad you didn't object to my analogy!

jen said...

nope. you got it pretty much right. they drove their little boats up to the blockade, then turned them right around. just like the bugs ;-)