The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist in Residence

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Buckwheat and Other Easy, Useful Garden Plants

I am partial all plants that require little care
and provide many benefits. Buckwheat tops the list.

Buckwheat
Buckwheat thrives in full to part sun and is very tolerant of lousy soils. Its heart-shaped leaves, averaging 3 inches (7.6 cm) long, are topped with clusters of small white to pale pink flowers that have what I consider a very pleasant scent, though subtle. The nectar and cover buckwheat provides are known to benefit assassin bugs, damsel bugs, spiders, syrphid flies, ladybugs, predaceous beetles, tachinid flies, parasitic wasps, minute pirate bugs, big-eyed bugs, spined soldier bugs, and others.

Walliser, Jessica. Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control (Kindle Locations 2281-2284). Timber Press. Kindle Edition. 

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GJ - Jessica Walliser and Almost Eden like Buckwheat, and so do I. How easy this little flower? Last year, I scattered the seeds in semi-shade and deep shade, but still had the plants blooming and dropping seed. The plant flowers in a few weeks and grows dense enough to use it as weed-control, pushing out aggressive seed. Nevertheless, Buckwheat is not a pest. I saw blooms for a long time and assumed they were doing all the good things suggested by the experts.

We think of Buckwheat as a grain, but it is a semi-succulent with nutritious seeds. Some seeds are sold for dollars a packet and arrive in a small enveloped with an even smaller envelope inside. Buckwheat sells for dollars a pound.

Rosarians should start with Buckwheat to attract beneficial insects. This flower feeds and attracts bees and Flower Flies. The Flower Flies (aka Hover Flies aka Syrphid Flies) look like tiny striped bees. Their babies go after aphids, as shown by my flawless rose blooms after the first strike in the spring. The aphids go for the white and the Peace blooms, and the Flower Flies lay eggs for their children to hatch and devour the aphids.

I decided on a pound of Buckwheat seeds for the Butterfly Garden, which is now a thick blanket of mulch on top of very rich soil basking in the sun. I would rather not deal with ordinary plants when the roses demand a little attention each day. Sow Buckwheat and enjoy the benefits. Buckwheat will flower near the roses, attracting the best and the brightest insects.

I used to read about flicking aphids off roses and spraying them off with a garden hose. Those are great ideas that never work. Instead, the insects created, engineered, and managed by God do the work for me - as long as I keep toxins away and promote their habitat.

The first rule is - do not kill their babyfood with insecticide. If the beneficial babies grow up on pests, we want the first generation of pests to feed the young and help them reach maturity to lay a new set of eggs - on, in, or near the pests.

Most beneficial insects do their work for us in babyhood. The adults need nectar and pollen - not that their mature feeding is useless to us - and stick around to lay eggs. The over-rated Ladybug is known for eating pests at both stages, but I wager the other beneficials do most of the work.

Notice that Buckwheat attracts many kinds of beneficial insects. I do not have to sort out their name, rank, and serial numbers in the garden - that is already managed for me. Sometimes I see Flower Flies. At other times I see tiny Ichneumon Wasps and Tachnid Flies. When I cut roses, tough spider webs protect the stem from insects crawling up from the ground. The mulch also has spider webs cast across it, soon after dumping a new bag of shredded cyprus.

The Creation gardener only needs background knowledge to set these things in motion. I moved a log in the Wild Garden and found a big toad sitting there, unmoved by my disruption of his living room. Soon after I found out how many insect pests are eaten in a summer by the common toad. He came uninvited, but I set up many more logs and shallow pans of water to encourage more. Using logs to frame various plants, I ended up with toad motels.

Man Against Pest - Bet on the Pest
I have learned the painful lesson of battling pests. The store will always say, "Buy this gadget. And if that does not work, buy this poison." The pests will always win, because poisons kill them for a short time and also harm beneficial creatures. Slugs and moles have a divinely engineered purpose - they are not going away. They do their work well. A bloom in their numbers will attract predators. I put out beer once, in a shallow dish. The beer killed about 30 slugs and some creature enjoyed the chili con slugi - rich, satisfying, and sleep inducing.




Another Plant - As Easy as Buckwheat - Borage or Bee Bread
Readers will assume - correctly - that any bee plant is a great addition for beneficial insects in general.

Borage blooms and drops seed promiscuously, attracting bees, decorating the garden, and building up the beneficial insect population. I began growing it in Phoenix, where it needed no care at all (ditto weeds and cacti there). The flowers are good to eat and often appear garnishing fancy salads.

Borage is a cousin to Comfrey and grows
in the same loosey-goosey manner, but much smaller.


Borage is an herb that is reputed to make people feel better. ("I borage, give thee courage.") The plants we call herbs are easy to grow and tolerate shade, bad soil, and neglect. Was that done on purpose?

Walliser does not mention borage in her fabulous book, but the plant is known for building up the local beneficial insect population. They are the McDonalds of beneficial insect plants, always providing nectar and pollen.

This is another seed that I sow in various areas of the gardens, first in front of the porch, then along the growing areas, always near roses. Borage is similar to Buckwheat in thriving via seed rather than deep, spreading, engulfing root systems.



Seed Dust - Feverfew - Another Tough Herb

Thriving in lousy soils and full to partial sun, feverfew grows like a weed, and thus the caution I give in the next paragraph. Each small daisylike inflorescence comprises hundreds of tiny yellow disk flowers surrounded by a row of white rays. The ferny foliage is heavily fragranced (I don’t like the scent, but others do) and medium green. On any given day in my garden, the flowers of feverfew are crawling with tachinid flies, lacewing larvae, ladybug larvae, minute pirate bugs, syrphid flies, damsel bugs, assassin bugs, spiders, and lots of other natural enemies.

Walliser, Jessica. Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control (Kindle Locations 2764-2766). Timber Press. Kindle Edition. 

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GJ - I bought thousands of Feverfew seeds, which fit in a tiny glassine packet inside the paper envelope. I sneezed, sowing 500 seeds at once.

Feverfew can take over all the bare places in the lawn. Not everyone wants that.