I began the year with red wiggler earthworm populations all over the yard, and Jackson Mulch in place in future gardening areas.
I. The Microbes Were Working for Team Jackson All Along
My foundational lesson came from a serendipity discovery of Teaming with Microbes. Most gardening books are tiresome picture books that repeat the errors of the past - or they eagerly describe the cultivation of marijuana.
Teaming with Microbes opened my eyes to the recent research about the interface of plant roots, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, and bacteria. I always worked with organic/Creation principles, but here was a book that described the reasons why we should trust in God's design.
By necessity, this book is divided into two sections. The first is an explanation of soil and the soil food web. There is no getting around it. You have to know the science before you can apply it. At least in this instance, the science is fascinating, even astonishing, and we try not to make a textbook out of it. The second section is the explanation of how to work the soil food web to your soils’ advantage and to yours as a gardener. What makes this book different from other texts on soil is our strong emphasis on the biology and microbiology of soils— relationships between soil and organisms in the soil and their impact on plants. We are not abandoning soil chemistry, pH, cation exchange, porosity, texture, and other ways to describe soil. Classic soil science is covered, but from the premise that it is the stage where the biology acts out its many dramas.
Lewis, Wayne; Lowenfels, Jeff (2010-09-10). Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition (Kindle Locations 129-135). Timber Press. Kindle Edition.
This book showed me the process of complicated microbes trapping useful nutrition in the top layer of soil, with complicated swaps taking place between fungi and plant roots.
II. Sharon Lovejoy and Her Mini-Lessons with a Macro View
Sharon Lovejoy on Facebook
The princes of Serendip made accidental discoveries while looking for something else, and they applied their luck to their endeavors. We were at the Cracker Barrel looking at all the temptations for hungry diners in their gift shop. I spotted A Blessing of Toads by Sharon Lovejoy.
The genius of this author is her combination of little lessons (toads, chickadees, the absences of chemical poisons) in her larger view of gardening and bird-watching.
Sharon is on Facebook often and a lot of fun, enjoying the fruits of gardening and writing. Because of her books, I read one section at a time and plan new projects or enhance what I am doing for for the creatures in our yard.
Her books motivated me to make our yard as toad-friendly and bird-friendly as possible. Wherever water might fall, including under the soaker hoses, little ceramic pans hold water for toad hydration.
III. Jessica Walliser's Beneficial Bugs
Jessica Walliser on Facebook
Another serendipity find was Jessica Walliser's Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden.
It might surprise you to know that a mere 1 percent of the insects we come across in our lives are actually harmful. These are the creatures that consume our plants, introduce disease, bite our flesh, feed on our pets, and cause economic, aesthetic, or medical damage. These are the bugs that tend to attract our attention, and as a result they get all the press—most of it negative.
The remaining 99 percent of insects are either benign or beneficial. Benign insects are very good at going about their business without harming our crops or us. And beneficial insects are, in fact, doing some type of good in the landscape. Insects can be beneficial for several reasons. First, they can be pollinators. We all know how important quality pollination is to a farm or garden. The world, after all, cannot function without it. Most of us can readily recognize common pollinators like honeybees and butterflies, but there are hundreds of thousands of other pollinator species in this world: beetles, moths, wasps, ants, flies, bats, and birds. Not to mention the more than thirty-five hundred species of native bees in the United States whose pollination work sadly and undeservedly plays second string to that of the imported European honeybee. Fifteen billion dollars worth of food needs to be pollinated by some little creature each and every year in the United States alone. The worth of pollinators is undeniable.
Walliser, Jessica (2014-02-26). Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control (Kindle Locations 184-193). Timber Press. Kindle Edition.
Jessica Walliser's book was at the bookstore. I kept looking for a book on vines, and never found that, but I did discover Teaming and Attracting Beneficial Bugs in the process.
I always knew about the ratio between bad bugs (1%) and the good ones (99%). My mother had no fear of bugs and always liked to grab one and demonstrate its intricacies. She collected and grew butterflies and moths for photos that she published.
Jessica's work shows a vast knowledge of plants, far beyond anything I read about before, so I study her book for the relationship between plants and beneficial creatures. Suddenly the modest plants, weeds, and herbs took on new meaning.
I followed her advice and left the roses alone for the first invasion of aphids this year. My best hopes - Peace and John Paul II - were destroyed by aphids on the first round. The blooms were ugly, distorted, wilted, and loaded with aphids and other bugs. I even visited them at night, but did nothing. On the next boom cycle, the same roses were almost flawless and have remained so all summer.
If the pests are killed or picked off by hand (scratch that idea), then the pest eaters will have no food and go away. When the pests attack, the flowers send up a chemical signal that draws the beneficial bugs. The good bugs devour the pests or they lay eggs near/on the bad bugs. That explains the delay in solving the problem. The eggs need to be laid, hatched, and letting loose the hungry babies.