Monday, June 16, 2008

Fighting the good fight.

Monday 16th June

The unusually wet weather we have been having seems to be keeping major pests at bay for the moment. I'm sure that will soon change once things really heat up so I'd better be prepared.

This years Yolo Sweet Bell Peppers are plentiful

Firstly, I really don't want to kill every bug on the plots, not even all the bad bugs. Good bugs need bad bugs to eat. Kill all the bad bugs, no food for the good bugs. No food for the good bugs, good bugs either die or go off somewhere else to live.

Here's what I do to give myself a good chance of winning the battle.

To start with, get the soil tested in the fall, that way you have chance to remedy any deficiencies before spring. Home kits are OK but your local Extension Office is better in my opinion. I went to an Earth Day meeting in Grove earlier this year and they gave me 3 free tests! Even so it's only around $10 per test.

I try to keep the soil in good condition by applying plenty of compost. I make my own and we save all our peelings, leaves, coffee grinds, tea bags, egg shells (crushed) if fact not much from the kitchen goes into the trash. Brown paper, hair from the hair brush (mainly from my wife as I'm too thin on top to contribute much), cardboard centres from the kitchen paper rolls. In fact anything and everything that will decompose is chopped up and thrown into my home made compost box. There's plenty of information about how to make it on the Internet.

This years compost in the making.

Last years compost ready for use

In late fall I mulch heavily with straw to keep the soil temperature up as best as I can. This helps the worms stay nearer the surface and work the soil.

Well composted and mulched ready for winter

Remember, healthy soil promotes healthy plants which are more resistant to attack by pests.

I spread things around a bit, mixing different veggies together in the same bed and try to rotate from year to year so the same things don't follow on the next season. Some bugs and plant diseases live in the soil over winter and I learnt this the hard way. I'm lucky that I have the space to keep adding new plots each year, giving me more room to maneuver.

Fertilizing every couple of weeks certainly promotes good growth and I like to use a liquid fish emulsion such as Alaskan. It's 5-1-1 (5% Nitrogen 1% Phosphate 1% Potash).
OK, I know it stinks like something you've scraped off the bottom of your aquarium but it promotes good growth. For evidence see the pics of my tomato plants on the blog. I also side dress with extra compost throughout the season.

Companion Planting
Companion planting attracts beneficial insects and discourages the ones that want to steal the fruits of your labours so put plenty in. They also fill up any gaps and help keep down the weeds.
I put Chard in with the Pole Beans, Carrots and Onions in with the Lettuce, Radish in with the Squash, all good friends who like to grow together.

I've put in Marigolds and Basil as bug repellants wherever I can around the veggie plots
But you can also use Radish (left to go to seed, not eaten), mint, rosemary and sage. I'm definitely going to put a whole lot more herbs in with the veggies next year and I'll try to grow from seed to make it cheaper. This year I grew Spicy Globe Basil, mainly for use in the kitchen but also as a repellent. I also put in some African Blue Basil which, although it's not as good for use with food it attracted so many Honey and Bumblebees into the garden I just had to grow some more.

And, when the bugs do come I use a variety of home made sprays using Garlic, Cayenne Pepper. Lime and Flour mixture and again ther's a whole lot more you can find with a simple search on the Internet. None of the aforementioned will harm beneficial bugs and will keep many predators at bay.

The Bottom Line
I don't mind sharing some of my harvest with bugs and I certainly don't want to use chemicals to kill everything in sight. Chemicals get into the soil, the water and eventually into us!
What I aim for is a happy balance for me, them and my veggies and I hope these few words encourage you to do the same.

I'm always searching for new ways and asking questions on forums and blogs. I read anything that I can. Patience is a virtue and I'm finding that you need quite a lot of it in gardening.

Freshly made Tortellini Salad.

Mother Nature will not be hurried, but for those willing to plan, work and wait the results are a joy to behold.

Visit for the Tortellini salad recipe and many more quick and easy to make dishes.


plantgirl said...

Great ideas - your bell peppers look gorgeous.

DP Nguyen said...

Hey Mick,

Your bell peppers look good, and thanks for all the great tips. I'm definitely going to start composting. We have a compost pile, but no bin to put it in. I like your homemade one, looks pretty nifty!

I planted tons of basil and other mints near my veggies, but they don't seem to do a good job warding off the bugs. (sighs). I may start fertilizing every few weeks and try it like you. maybe my vegetable would be healthier.