Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Victory Garden- Part I- Introduction and Pest Control

Every year I put in a garden- usually herbs and tomatoes, maybe a few other things, and every year some disaster befalls it. Usually I get too excited and plant the tomatoes too soon, and they get flooded out in the "April showers". Last year they just didn't take off, then were baked by a number of mercilessly hot days, and finally choked out by weeds. The basil did fabu, too fabu, and I found myself using it in floral arrangements and foisting it off in bunches on friends when they stopped by.

THIS year, I have vowed to make it work! THIS year, I shall put in a large garden, and fill it with all of the summer garden candy that I can think of that will grow well in the conditions in my back yard. I was inspired to do this in part because it is a step towards independence from commercially produced, well, produce. Also because I was inspired by attending a recent seminar on CSAs and co-ops and food sharing and community gardens- and I want a more personal relationship with my food. I want the joy that comes from working in the earth. and I want to save money. So a huge garden is going in. Huge = approx 12'x12' - although some of it will be flowers- possibly edible, but more aesthetic.

Towards this ambitious end, I've been doing some thinking and planning and- pardon the pun- plotting. First I gathered a list of what I wanted to plant that would grow well in my zone- salad greens such as butter lettuce and spinach, beets, zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and chives, summer melons, okra, herbs, squash and perhaps peppers. I discarded green beans since DH won't eat them, cukes because I don't want to fully double our water bill, and carrots because, while they work well to dissuade certain garden pests, the bunnies are junkies, and would keep them nibbled to nubs all season. I'll be doing research into turnips (for greens) and mustard.

Of course, I don't want to dump a ton of pesticides on my little plot, as that is counterproductive in terms of both health and finances. So I've been giving some thought to alternative means of keeping the bad bugs at bay.

The primary means of keeping pests away I plan to use will be ringing my beds with marigold flowers. I also understand that planting onions/chives/garlic will keep pests away, but also that you have to plant a LOT of them to have that effect. I plan to plant onions and chives, but I don't need too many, and honestly I'd probably need to put in enough to make my whole house (not far from said garden) stink of onion before the bugs would even notice.

Regarding slugs and snails- the best cure of all is beer! They can't resist it. So, if you want a quickie way to dispatch all slugs in the area, get yourself a 6 pack, pop one open, dump half into a bowl of some sort (I use old margarine tubs) and set the tub and half can in your garden (you can, of course, put out more if your garden is huge). The slugs go in, get drunk and drown. What a way to go!

I hear that ants (and cats) hate hot pepper (cayenne) powder, and I know they love grits. I throw a few handfulls out and the ants eat it up, and it swells in their bellies and they burst. Presto! No more ants (in this instance, I'd rather be a slug!)

Other pest control remedies I know of- getting netting and stringing it over a sort of frame to enclose tomatoes. This keeps birds out (from aerial assaults) and if you weight it down at the bottom with rocks, it will keep the ground squirrels out. Rubber snakes in the garden will also deter bunnies and so forth. I've heard that moth balls poked in the ground will keep moles away, but I've never wanted to put that nasty stuff in my earth. I've also heard that talcum powder really agitates any bugs that have exoskeletons, or that breath thru their skin (or have spicuoles- if you're the science-y type)

A friend suggested making my own seed tape out of toilet paper (basically lay out a long strip, sprinkle in seeds, mist with water, and top with more tp- then lay out to plant)

Otherwise, I've not gotten too deep into planning. Since our yard is terrible, I plan to just get several loads of soil from the city (they compost yard waste and give residents access to free dirt) and use it to level out the craters the prior resident's dog left, and then re-seed, and also just dump a heap of soil where I want my garden. I figure I will close it in with some landscaping timbers, but that at least will save me the trouble of tilling this year.

Also, since I've gotten so heavily into recycling that our trash is less than 1 bag weekly of about 98% perishable/biodegradable waste, I'm going to put a small pail on the counter to throw the biodegradable waste into, and I'll start my own compost bin out back to dump the kitchen waste onto daily. I'd love a fancy barrel on a sort of spit with a handle, to make turning the compost super easy, but can't justify spending the money on a premade one- so stay tuned for instructions on what I decide to rig up!

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