The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist in Residence

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Friday, June 12, 2015

A Day for Letting the Garden Do God's Work



The rain was coming but never did, so I had no plans to water. After some appointments and errands were done, Sassy gave me her "Bad Daddy Speech," a series of loud barks, often while sitting against me. I tried to offer my side, but she would not let me get a word in. We got the right equipment on - her leash, my Tilley hat, and shoes - off we went.

Our landscaper friend discussed how to apply Jackson Mulch to his roses. He was the first to set up some raised beds but adhered to what he was taught when working full time in the business.

The chiropractor thanked me for the roses we left last week and said his wife could not get over them. His receptionist asked me about growing stuff, and I talked a little about soil microbes. She is on the right track, but the interplay between fungi, bacteria, protozoa, and nematodes is new to gardening. I found the key book by accident, so I wonder how long it will take to get around.

Our helper and his wife talked to Sassy and me on the walk. He said, "What's up for next week?" He was still talking about the nature preserve in the back yard. He and their son were so impressed at all the birds enjoying their food, shelter, and water.

Everything happening now is the result of relatively easy work done last year and early in the spring. The oldest rose garden is bursting with roses, last year's roses firmly established in rich soil.  One KnockOut rose bush alone had over 25 buds on it tdoay, and the hybrid teas are catching up in racing to bloom.

New roses are doing well, including the newest ones. I gave the last 10 the full treatment - immersing them in rainwater and pruning the canes, mulching the bed around the maple tree and watering the canes every day.

"I borage, give thee courage."


Instead of one borage plant, we have one waist-high borage, two smaller ones, and more growing in the backyard. They seed themselves, like dill, so we should have borage forever now. This bee bread is definitely good for gardening and always a conversational plant. "Are the pink flowers girls and the blue flowers boys?" No, but it is fun to let them consider that. Gourds have male and female flowers, but that is another wrinkle in God's Creation.

The two essential parts of Creation gardening are reading, experience, and observation. Wait, that's three. Someone is observing with care. Reading explains why things happen in the garden. I am memorizing the the Walliser book on beneficial insects, because I see so many insects, day and night, and need to know how all of them work together. More on that will follow later.

Experience matters because about 65% of printed gardening wisdom is baloney. One example is adding sand to clay to lighten the soil. Haha. I tried that once and noticed how often the falsehood was repeated in other places. Instead, compost lightened the clay - I tested that myself.

Clay soil is "difficult" - betraying a lack of reading and no experience. Roses are "difficult to grow" - no reading, no experience, no observation.

Perhaps gardening experts are like some faux-theologians, who spin yarns and plagiarize stupidity. They do through the motions but do not believe in what they do. If I see a book showing someone using a roto-tiller, I slam it down, hard.

Observation connects reading and experience. I go outside at night with my flashlight, to see what is eating the roses and the new plants. Observation reinforces what I am trying to learn from books and articles.

I can spot ichneumon wasps and hover (flower) flies easily now. My next ID challenge is the big-eyed bug, another great killer of pests.

The big-eyed bug is 1/6 inch long.


Yes, they are small—measuring a mere 0.375 inch (10 mm) at maturity—but big-eyed bugs are also mighty. Each one is capable of consuming several dozen pests per day, making them among the most valuable natural enemies around. They are also among the most abundant. As generalist predators, they eat a protein-based diet including insect eggs, spider mites, aphids, cabbage worms, caterpillars, flea beetles, leafhoppers, thrips, lygus bug nymphs, corn earworms, whiteflies, and many, many others. One study revealed that big-eyed bugs consume sixty-seven different varieties of insects! These beneficials forage for pests on plants as well as on the soil, making these microhelpers incredibly important to gardeners. Both the nymphs and adults of this amazing little insect are protein eaters. Slightly oblong with a broad head and distinctive wide-set bulging eyes (which help them spot their prey as well as their predators), the adults have clear wings that overlap and rest on their backs. They are brown, black, or gray in color. 

Females lay eggs on or near prey clusters to enable the hatching nymphs to find food quickly. Each female can lay up to three hundred eggs in her lifetime. Nymphs look much the same as adults except they’re a bit smaller and lack wings. Big-eyed bugs mature from egg to adult in about thirty days. Though their primary food source is other insects, big-eyed bugs also feed on nectar, sap, and small seeds to sustain themselves when prey are scarce. They spend the winter in garden debris and grassy areas, and emerge in the spring to begin feeding on prey by piercing them with a specialized mouthpart and sucking out the internal organs (not a bad thought when you consider exactly whose guts they’re consuming!). 

I often find big-eyed bugs in my strawberry patch as well as under the skirts of many low-lying garden plants. Several studies have pointed to the value of cover crops such as crimson clover and alfalfa in increasing big-eyed bug populations. It’s also important to remember that since these beneficial bugs are capable of surviving on nectar, seeds, and sap, having a diversity of flowering plants around means these predators will already be present if and when a pest outbreak occurs.

Among the most abundant predators, big-eyed bugs consume dozens of different insects. Though they are small, they are very valuable allies. This adult Geocoris uliginosus is one of a dozen-plus species occurring in the United States.

Walliser, Jessica (2014-02-26). Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control (Kindle Locations 647-663). Timber Press. Kindle Edition.


Cosmos - Greek for orderly - like God's Creation.


Cosmos bipinnatus garden cosmos, Mexican aster, common cosmos FAMILY Asteraceae (aster) • annual • North American native • blooms spring to fall • 2–6 feet (0.6–1.8 m) high, 1–2 feet (0.3–0.6 m) wide This native of Mexico has become a common garden plant. It is easy to grow from seed and often found as nursery-grown transplants. Cosmos has leaves with threadlike segments and a feathery appearance. Multiple varieties are available, including those with a smaller stature, bicolored petals, quilled petals, and semi-double or fully double flowers. Rays can be pink, white, red, purple, or lavender, and the central disk flowers are yellow. All prefer full to partial sun and may require staking in windy areas. Garden cosmos readily self-sows and may become weedy if not deadheaded. The flowers and foliage are an attractive source of food and habitat for tachinid flies, parasitic wasps, lacewings, syrphid flies, minute pirate bugs, spiders, ladybugs, big-eyed bugs, damsel bugs, and other beneficial insects.

Walliser, Jessica (2014-02-26). Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control (Kindle Locations 2135-2148). Timber Press. Kindle Edition.