The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist in Residence

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Bill Still Moving Through - Studying Ahead for Beneficial Insect Results

The Jackson Rose Farm has many places and levels to feed, many types of foods and seeds.
The squirrels do not monopolize the food or tear up the bird feeder.

Mrs. Ichabod had a routine test yesterday, so I brought the beneficial insects book in to the waiting room. I used to bring in Teaming with Microbes, but I gave the printed version to a our nursery owner neighbor, at Almost Eden.

Beneficial insects are endlessly fascinating because of their relationships to other creatures and various flowers.

Rain has prevented anything except feeding the birds, which made me very popular just before the storm broke. We had Bill on radar and saw the storm slowly circling and moving toward NW Arkansas. Sassy and I took a walk and she hurried inside to beat the rain. The drizzle - more of a misty - was already falling. I went to the backyard to scatter the combination bird seed I mixed in the pail. Bird sounds increased immediately while I was putting seed in various places to let everyone have some food before the storm.

I went inside and opened the window by the bird feeder. We watched the birds feeding and listened to their sounds as they fussed, chortled, and broadcast the meal being served. The little ones favor the finch feeder while the larger ones use the platform and the window ledge. Behind them the rain was starting to fall. The backyard looked like a very large shower room with the hot water left on.

Walliser and her book - essential for gardening and fun to read.


So I looked through the Jessica Walliser book to see what could be done to make our yard even friendlier to beneficial insects.

Part of my job as co-host of a radio program called The Organic Gardeners is to answer questions from callers about how to get rid of bugs. This never used to be a problem for me; I would tell the caller what organic product to spray to get rid of the perceived pest, and that would be that. But now that I am a confessed bug lover it’s a different story, and I struggle to find a balance. I want to go into a long, involved elucidation of how callers are gardening wrong and how they need to appreciate their bugs and how everything is connected, but if I did they would probably hang up on me. I hear the “just tell me what to spray” tone in their voice. So instead of giving a lecture, I tell them not to panic. Seldom does an insect actually kill a plant in a garden setting. Yes, the plant might not look so good for a while, but the chances of its survival are excellent.

Walliser, Jessica (2014-02-26). Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control (Kindle Locations 1712-1718). Timber Press. Kindle Edition. 

I never went through that phase of giving up chemical solutions, rototillers, and finding joy in organic gardening. Instead, I trusted in the beneficial bugs from the start. I grew up with my mother capturing bugs and showing us interesting features. I read every organic gardening book I could find and went through the children's library to read those gardening and nature books too.

When my future wife and I were dating in college, we often found moths in the fridge at home, or perhaps on the curtains if the newly hatched escaped. My mother photographed them for magazines and wrote about them. She knew moths and butterflies, too.

The trouble with an urban living (compared to the farm) is having all the experiences with insects indoors, where bugs are annoying vermin. Outside, insects and the other creatures keep each other controlled, so there is a constant dynamic that is fun to watch. The insects will do some harm, but they are limited by the creatures that prey upon them.

The landscape complexity Paula Shrewsbury champions is essential to encouraging your good bugs. You don’t have to rip up every inch of lawn (but if you really want to, go right ahead), nor do you have to change everything about your existing garden. “A lot of home landscapes already have some diversity as far as trees and shrubs are concerned, but when you add more, look to diversify those plant species,” she advises. She suggests these three steps to creating a beneficials-friendly landscape: first, choose plants that thrive in your climate; second, select plants known to support natural enemies....

Walliser, Jessica (2014-02-26). Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control (Kindle Locations 1760-1764). Timber Press. Kindle Edition. 


Queen Anne's Lace has a milder cousin, called Lace Flower, which Walliser likes more.
I looked for Lace Flower photos and got Queen Ann's Lace each time.
Erase the bug (or spot of blood) on this and you have - Lace Flower.
Beneficial insects are crazy for the tiny flowers of the carrot family.


Flowers and Weeds for Beneficial Insects 
Many common flowers and weeds are overlooked as favorite hang-outs for insects. The early blooming weeds provide initial pollen and nectar for bees and insects that prey upon pests. The pest eaters - or parasitizing egg-layers - often need nectar and pollen for themselves, if not as their main food, then at other times when fresh prey is not abundant.

I look at the low-lying, spreading weeds in the grass as early bee feeders. They are all quite attractive on their own. Other plants are simply not ready to bloom and provide harbors for the insects at the first sign of spring.

Roses were blooming and feeding bees very early, but Queen Ann's Lace and borage flowered much later.

My friends tell me the Chaste Tree, a new plant to me, is wildly popular with bees and insects.

Coreopsis - everyone has heard the name, but how many grow it?
Beneficial insects love coreopsis.


Easy to grow Coreopsis (tick-seed) is a great plant for beneficial insects.

Sunflowers are good for many insects and fun to watch grow.

Bee Balm or Horse Mint is also Oswego Tea and Beramot.
Nevertheless, insects, butterflies, and hummingbirds like it.


Bee Balm (horse mint) is a robust plant that many insects love and rumored to be a hummingbird favorite as well.

Queen Ann's Lace is one of many carrot family plants with tiny flowers for tiny insects. Not every insect can feed from every flower, and many of the best beneficial insects love this family of plants, including dill and parsley. I just bought Lace Flower, which is the genteel version of Queen Ann's Lace. Walliser impugned Queen Ann's Lace, associating it with highways and semis roaring by, so I told her I got my supply at the Lowe's empty lot, where the semis are parked. She responded favorably on Facebook.

This is the best overall gardening book, giving a great wholistic view of
the creatures and flowers working together in God's Creation.

Behind these fingers - Sharon Lovejoy.
Gardening is a dirty job but fun and relaxing.

This is the best bird identification book I have found.

Readers can FB friend and chat with my two favorite gardening writers on Facebook. They are:

Sharon Lovejoy

Jessical Walliser.

I often drop in a comment if their posts are related to what I am doing - and they usually are.

A kiddie pool with short sides is perfect for these clowns.
They splash, fuss, and have a great time.
They earn their food by eating insects and grubs.
Those beaks are perfect for grubbing.
Grackles are a larger version - not much for singing, but very smart.


Beneficial Birds
All birds are beneficial, especially those who never win popularity contests - crows, starlings, and grackles.

When I step into the backyard, a dozen or more birds launch into the air - every time. But often they feed a few feet from me, because I am no threat but a reliable food source.

The main benefit birds seek is a plenty of bathing space. When I opened the Community Pool for the birds, with a spare in the Wild Garden, birds were wary. Now the kiddie pool is filthy on the bottom, testimony to the crud washed off their feathers each day.

A rainstorm should bathe all the birds, right? They can perch on a limb, get a shower, shake it off and preen. But after every storm here I find birds in the street puddles, having joyous baths, even as cars drive by.

This morning the birds are interested in feeding, after using up so many calories staying warm. The platform feeder is seldom level, because the squirrels climb into it or land on it for food. The birds then feed at an absurd angle, but without complaint. Some seed gets dumped on the ground, so the ground feeders have a party in the garden.

All the birds feed from the mulch and lawn and garden. A large group of birds think of the Jackson Rose Farm as their favorite place to feed and bathe.

Grackles rock the metallic colors in sunlight, with those yellow eyes for contrast.
I swear the grackles have a special gleam in their eyes when they
snag a nut from the bird feeder and depart.


Lowenfels always poses with a clown nose on.

Converts
We were typical suburban gardeners. Each year, at the beginning of the growing season, we carpet bombed our lawns with a mega-dose of water-soluble, high-nitrogen fertilizer and watered like crazy; then we strafed their weeds with a popular broadleaf herbicide. Next, we attacked our vegetable gardens and flower beds with a bag or two of commercial fertilizer and leveled them with a rototiller until the soil, the color and texture of finely ground coffee, lay as smooth and level as the Bonneville Salt Flats. These things we did religiously, as did most of our neighbors. Once was never enough either. We continued to use chemical fertilizers throughout the season as if we were competing in the large-vegetable contest at the Alaska State Fair— and at the end of the season we rototilled again, for some inexplicable reason. 

When necessary (and it often was), we would suit up into protective clothing— complete with rubber gloves and a face mask— and paint our birches to protect them from invading aphids by using some god-awful smelling stuff that listed ingredients no normal person could pronounce, assuming he or she took the time to read the incredibly small print on the chemical’s label. Then we sprayed our spruce trees with something that smelled even worse— something so strong, one application lasted not one but two years. It was a good thing we did protect ourselves, as both spray products are now off the market, withdrawn as health hazards.

Lewis, Wayne;  Lowenfels, Jeff; (2010-09-10). Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition (Kindle Locations 73-84). Timber Press. Kindle Edition. 


Wayne Lewis is a lifelong Alaskan gardener. He has worked with Jeff on many projects over the past 25 years, including the now national Plant a Row for the Hungry program (started in Anchorage by Jeff), which encourages gardeners to donate a portion of their harvest to charitable organizations in their community.