Loaded “Guns” in Your Childish Hands

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Homeowners throughout the United States are wanting the grounds surrounding their homes to be aesthetically pleasing. So they invest in bushes, trees, flowering plants, hardscape, and maybe even a vegetable garden. Then, to keep them looking nice, they water, fertilize, prune, trim, and whatever else they can to maintain the beauty of their territory.

And then one day, while strolling through their grounds, they spy a six-legged something on a bush, tree, or tomato plants, and they immediately fall to pieces like a Jenga game with the wrong piece pulled out. “What is that thing,” they cry in horror. “It’s eating my bushes on which I spent so much money!” Or maybe they spy some weeds that had the audacity to spring up in their otherwise pristine lawn. “This must not stand,” they exclaim to themselves. “I will not tolerate anything marring the perfectly coifed beauty of my yard! I must go to my local big box store and purchase something to spray on the offending intruder that will punish it with death for its brazen invasion of my property!”

May I inject a little sanity into this situation? First of all, calm down. It’s probably safe to say that you’re not dealing with a locust swarm that threatens to devastate all your food crops and cause you to starve over the winter. Second, before you start indiscriminately spraying chemicals all over your yard, I suggest that you first take the time to identify exactly what it is that is setting on your landscape or growing in your lawn. Take a picture or capture it live, look it up on the Internet, or bring it in to your local Cooperative Extension office and ask someone there to identify it for you. You may discover that the creature is harmless or maybe even beneficial. Or even if it is a pest that could potentially defoliate bush, tree, flower, or vegetable, there are more than likely many environmentally friendly ways of dealing with it.

“Don’t talk to me about that ‘preserve the environment’ crap,” you might be saying. I want a beautiful lawn, trees, and bushes, and I’ve got to do whatever it takes to make that happen! Besides, if my yard isn’t perfectly pristine, what will the neighbors think!?”

I have no idea what your neighbors will or won’t think. But I do know that if you start randomly spraying chemicals on the first insect or weed you see, then you are like a child with a loaded gun. And just as a child firing that loaded gun has no concept of the carnage and damage he could cause, he who indiscriminately sprays chemicals has no idea of the environmental harm he could cause. Used improperly, these chemicals can kill bees and other beneficial insects, leach into our groundwater and poison fish and other marine life, and potentially promote cancer or other life-threatening diseases in your pets, your children, and you. Using environmentally friendly means of pest and weed control is more than just nice words. It can ensure that the flora and fauna on this planet (including you and your loved ones) can continue to survive and thrive and that you can leave a world for your children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren that’s better than when you entered it. And that’s far more important than what a random collection of neighbors might think — that is, if they actually think of you at all in the first place.

Take A Stand For Gardening And Spread The Word

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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Why do we garden? Well there’s lots of reasons why – fresh food, exercise, cost, etc. But perhaps the biggest driver of our desire to garden can be summed up in one word – refusal. We refuse to put up with rock-hard, bland-tasting, vitamin- and mineral-depleted fruits and vegetables that are the standard fare at most grocery stores. We refuse to fill our mouths and bellies (and for that matter, those of our children) with pesticide-soaked, herbicide-infused, laboratory-altered produce. And lastly, we refuse to shell out our hard earned money for all of the aforementioned. We want our fruits and vegetables to taste fresh and provide a full complement of natural nutritive factors that our bodies need to survive and thrive. And we don’t want to live in fear that the produce we are putting into our mouths has been doused with cancer-causing chemicals or disease-laden poop fresh from the animal’s butt. When we grow fruits and vegetables ourselves, we know we have absolute control over what goes on it – or more importantly, what doesn’t go on it.

“What’s your point, Mark,” you may be saying to yourself. “I know all this already. I’m a gardener for the very reasons you just mentioned. And so are my family, my friends – heck, I belong to a whole club full of gardeners. You’re preaching to the choir.” And you’re right, I am. But there’s a reason for that. I want to first remind everyone why we do what we do. And then I want you to carry it one step further.

There’s a whole world out there that’s still dining on bland, pesticide-soaked, industrial produce. But we, as dedicated gardeners, can change this. How? By spreading the hobby of gardening among your family, friends, neighbors, and communities. And then by convincing your communities to spread it among other communities.

How can you accomplish this? Well, you can start by the simple act of sharing. Share your excess produce with your extended family, neighbors, co-workers, and anyone else you can think of. You’ll be showing them what real food tastes like. After they bite into a fresh, home-grown tomato, it will be hard for them to go back to the bland, store-bought stuff.

Second, convince them to start their own garden. Encourage them to create their own production center for fresh, wholesome, pesticide-free food for their family. And then, just like the 1980’s commercial for Fabregé Organics, have them encourage two friends – then have them encourage two friends, and so on, and so on…

Just think what would happen if we became a nation of gardeners and stopped purchasing all that tasteless, pesticide-laced produce. We could bring all of those industrial producers to their knees by hitting them where it hurts – in the profit zone. Then maybe they’d start growing better fruits and vegetables.

A pipe dream? Probably. But certainly a goal worth aiming for.

One more thing. If you do convince your friends, neighbors, community, etc. to start gardening, and they find that they need some help, well, just tell them to contact your friendly neighborhood Garden Troubadour. Have trowel, will travel!

The Worth of a Gardener

Me with Sue and Judy's Garden

 

Your garden is something to be proud of, no matter how it turned out. A bumper crop of sweet, crunchy, mouthwatering fruits and vegetables is something to celebrate; a less than perfect garden can generate many lessons and a feeling that your garden will be a bigger success next year.

It’s great to be proud of your garden. But there is something of which you should be more proud of, or maybe I should say someone. That someone is you! Yes, you! You decided that you weren’t going to accept the flavorless, artificially colored, pesticide-laden supermarket produce. You decided to do something about it by making the effort to put a seed (or a plant or a tuber) in the ground and grow something better looking, better tasting, and better for you. You raised a bumper crop of those delicious fruits and vegetables and you shared them with family and friends. The efforts and dedication of you and others like you have made a small contribution to the overall health and well-being of the world around you.

So dare to hold your head up high and proclaim to the world, I’m a gardener! And from one gardener to another, I salute you! Keep up the good work! Our world needs your talents – as well as your fruits and vegetables!

Friends in High and Low Places

One of the tasks in cultivating a garden is the never ending battle to keep marauding critters from helping themselves to the fruits of your labor. We erect fences, put up scarecrows, sprinkle predator urine, put up row covers, and all the other different methods of keeping the four and six-legged thieves out of your garden. And despite all our efforts, the aphids, beetles, squirrels, rabbits, and other creatures still manage to make off with part (or sometimes all) of our harvest.

 

What’s a gardener to do? Well, why not meet thief with predator? Why not encourage the animals that prey on these garden thieves to take up residence in your backyard? Why not let the same Mother Nature that would despoil your bounty protect it as well?

 

Who are these predators of which I speak? Allow me to elaborate.

 

Bats – Bats are voracious eaters of insects. Bothered by mosquitoes? The bats will take care of the problem for you! Note – bats are not going to get caught in your hair and they are not going to suck your blood. They are not horrible vicious creatures to be feared and reviled. They are an important member of the ecosystem and should be welcomed with open arms!

 

Bat

 

Birds – Bluebirds, cardinals, chickadees, grosbeaks, and nuthatches will happily devour such pests as larvae, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, etc. And if you’re having problems with rabbits, mice, voles, and other rodents, then birds of prey such as hawks and owls will dispose of them.

 

 

Frogs and toads – Invite these wonderful amphibians into your garden and they will repay you by hungrily devouring any six-legged creature that dares invade your garden.

 

 

Lizards – Anoles, or the North American version of the chameleon, will climb to the tops of plants to eat the insects there. Skinks are fast-moving lizards that will work the ground level and eat slugs, snails and other ground-dwelling garden marauders.

 

 

Snakes – Yes, snakes! What I said previously about bats also applies to snakes. Snakes are not slimy horrible creatures to be feared and destroyed. They are a vital part of our planet’s web of life, and can be another ally in your battle against garden pests. Garter snakes feed on slugs. So do sharp-tailed snakes – and they’re especially fond of Japanese beetle grubs. Rubber boas eat mice and voles, while gopher snakes prey on mice and rats.

 

 

Spiders – All right, everybody repeat after me. Spiders are our friends! And for a vegetable gardener, there’s no better friend than the members of order Araneae. There is no end to the insects they will eat — aphids, armyworms, leafhoppers, flea-hoppers, leafminers, spider mites, caterpillars, thrips, plant bugs, cucumber beetles, grasshoppers, scarabs and flies to mention only a few. And very few are venomous to humans. So don’t destroy them. Welcome them!

 

Wolf Spider

 

So how to you attract these natural allies to your garden? We’ll discuss that in the next blog post.

How To Grow A Lousy Garden

Yes, you read that right. The lousy garden. A patch of dry ground that is either completely bare or choked with weeds. Truly, the anti-nirvana of gardening. Its creation has always been a closely guarded secret. But for you, my loyal reader, I’m now going to reveal the secret tactics for growing and harvesting this bumper crop of nothing.

Use the soil as is – Heck, it’s good enough for the lawn, so it should be good enough for the vegetables. Why waste money and time with compost and fertilizer?

Give little thought to where you situate the garden – No sun? No problem!

Never water – My water bills are high enough. Why do I need to provide water for my garden? Don’t we get rain? Isn’t that enough? Now excuse me, I have to go water my lawn, because a green lawn is a happy lawn.

Never weed – Weeding is hard work! I don’t want to break a sweat. Besides, it’s the weekend. My tee time is at 9:00, and after that, I plan to spend the rest of the afternoon lying in my hammock and drinking a tall cool glass of lemonade.

Use lots of pesticide – Uh oh, there’s a bug on my tomato plant. I don’t know what it is, but it’s probably up to no good. I want it dead, so I’ll spray gallons of this stuff made of complex chemicals I can barely pronounce. Besides, the manufacturer says it’s safe, so I believe them. They wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true. And who cares if I kill a few birds, bees, or fish? All that matters is that my plants are bug-free.

Just follow these simple instructions, and I absolutely promise you that you will have the garden of your nightmares.

But what if you want a garden that actually produces? Well, there are simple tactics for achieving that too. All you have to do is the opposite of all the above.

You’re welcome.

Time for Some Garden Boldness

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You’ve probably heard me say (or write) on many occasions that if you’re a first-time gardener, then your beginning efforts should be baby steps. Don’t try to do too much too soon. Keep it small and simple — lettuce and some other greens, a tomato plant or two, or even just a few vegetable plants in containers. When you had success with this small garden, then you can gradually expand in size and scope. And you’ve done all of that! From your humble beginnings, you’ve reaped a bountiful harvest that increases with each year. You’ve gone from being a rank beginner to an experienced gardener and you’ve grown in skill, knowledge, and confidence.

 
And now, you’re ready. Ready to take a giant leap of faith. Ready for new flavors and new additions to your garden that will make it stand out in new ways and provide you with flavors and textures that will surprise and delight you, your family, and your friends. Because now is the time to… drum roll please… plant some new and as of yet untried vegetables and fruits.

 
“Hmmmm, I don’t know,” you say. “I’m doing all right with all the stuff I’ve planted in years past. Maybe I shouldn’t mess with success.” Rubbish, say I! Mess with it, tempt it, torment it, break it! Because that’s the only way you are ever going to grow as a gardener! Timidity and trepidation were fine and even desirable when you were a rank beginner. But you are a rank beginner no longer. You are an experienced gardener with many years of successful harvests to your name. You delight your family and amaze your friends with all of the delicious tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, etc, that you present to them year after year. You are successful and confident in your abilities. You know how to grow — and it shows! You have passed all previous tests and you are ready to take your garden to the next level!

 

Look through your catalogs. Look at all the new offerings, both types and varieties. Isn’t there something new in there that you think would be cool to try to grow? Aren’t there some fruits and vegetables that currently seem to exist only in pathetic (and expensive) specimens at your local grocery store that make you think that you could save money and produce better quality merchandise if you grew it yourself? Well guess what? Yes you can!

 

Ever thought about growing your own wheat that you could harvest, mill into flour, and turn into homemade bread? Ever considered growing corn — not sweet corn — but flint corn that you could grind into cornmeal and convert to corn bread or cornmeal muffins? Or how about growing your own grapes for fresh eating, jelly, or wine? Or how about really going out on a limb and attempting to grow your own cocoa bean tree, harvest and ferment the pods, and produce your own chocolate?

 
This year, I’m asking you to set a goal to exhibit some garden boldness. Choose one vegetable, fruit, grain, or even fungus (e.g. mushrooms) that you’ve never grown before. Then step out on a limb (pun intended) and grow it. Will you succeed? I can’t guarantee that. Anytime you try something new, you run the risk of failure. But what I can promise is that the very act of trying something new will give you a feeling of boldness, daring, and new perspective you’ll never find by sticking with the same old thing. I’d call that worth the risk.

The Bittersweet Essence of Autumn

“At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters on Cézanne

Country Road Autumn
Autumn is a time of year that for many of us, generates mixed feelings. Some of us view autumn as merely a precursor to the following months of cold and snowy misery. The arrival of autumn brings a gradual shortening of daylight hours, slowly falling temperatures, and a realization that this year’s lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are over. If, like me, you made all kinds of plans back in March for all the wonderful things you were going to do in the spring and summer, then often, the arrival of fall brings on a feeling of regret for the plans you didn’t execute, the tasks you didn’t do, and the goals that you failed to achieve. For the younger set, back to school time replaces the carefree summer days and nights of time to be spent at leisure.

Yet there are joys and pleasures to be found in the autumn months. The changing colors of the leaves paint pictures of breathtaking beauty not found in spring and summer. The cooler days and nights mean less reliance on air conditioning and a savings on our electric bills. The holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving occur in the fall. On Halloween, kids get to dress up in scary costumes and go door to door asking for treats that will up the sugar content of their bodies (hmmm, maybe that’s not such a good thing after all.). Then on Thanksgiving, we all can stuff our bellies with roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and a myriad of other goodies.

And for us gardeners, fall gives us one last chance to plant a garden. It’s still not too late to plant cabbage, leek, salsify, parsnip, garlic, spinach, kale, mustard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, lettuce, and other greens. If your garden didn’t grow so well this summer, then fall is your second chance to do it right.

Colorful Fall Vegetables

So while we can’t completely ignore the bitter part of autumn, perhaps we can soften it somewhat by focusing on the sweetness that also exists.