Monthly Archives: February 2016

Gardening Without PesticidesI have made it my determination never to use pesticides. This was not a decision that I made based on philosophy or even environmental consciousness. On the contrary, I bore witness to the extraordinary ease and effectiveness by which natural predators dispose of the most pernicious and damaging of garden pests.

In the mid-2000s, I began my first serious attempt at a large garden. I did the research about how to do as little work as possible. In the early fall, I put materials over the lawn to kill it. I dumped leaves into my beds instead of tilling. Allowing the biological process of decay do the work would invite a sturdy network of fungi to help bring nutrients to the plants. Finally, I used a technique called wintersowing to sow my seeds outside during the winter. I only planted native varieties, the idea being that they would be a boon to natural pollinators. Native plants would be able to care for themselves once established.

The real work came in the spring. Planting, watering new plants, only to plant and water more new plants, was a daily routine. I was sore in places I didn't know had muscles, but the garden was doing very well. It was green, perfect, and all native.

The bees and butterflies came, but so did everything I had failed to anticipate. My new 'serious' garden began to be eaten before my eyes. There were all sorts of native leaf chewers: Aphids, slugs, and caterpillars to name a few. Leaves were mined and skeletonized and fell off. Flowers and buds were being sucked into oblivion.

However, the damage that really hurt my feelings was to the roses. When the Japanese beetles arrived, my roses were denuded of both foliage and flower. That was when I first felt the desperate fury that comes when a gardener is faced with crop failure. Up until now, I wanted nature to do the work. This time I felt like I had to do something.

However, the idea of spraying the roses still repelled me. I simply did not want to have roses that you had to keep out of the reach of children for fear they would ingest them. Therefore, I turned away from that idea and began looking for organic ways to help. There was not much I could do. Picking the beetles off the bushes with my hands and putting them in a bucket of soapy water was the best most had to offer. I got to work.

It did not help. I did not get a single rose that year. At the end of the season, I read that Fall and Winter would be a good time to solicit natural help in the form of birds. I put up a wren house, I put out the bird seed, and I put out water all winter long.

The fate of the Japanese beetles - and every other garden pest - was sealed the day I decided not to spray the roses. Predators had already moved in in numbers! But they weren't at the right life stage to help. Syrphid flies, many wasps, and other insects are only predators as larva. However, because I didn't spray, they laid eggs all over the garden.

I got an avian resident. A male house wren stuffed sticks in the wren house and sang until he attracted a female. The females are the ones who choose the nest site, and she chose my garden. In a few weeks, when the days were warming and I was fearing another attack by the pests, she laid seven eggs.

I am no expert on bird fertility, but it wouldn't make much survival sense for her to be so fertile in the presence of little to no food. It was likely that both these wrens were already present in the garden and their bodies knew how many babies they could afford. Because I didn't spray, I got to see them diving from the house, straight down into the leaves and running around like little feathery wolves and returning with all manner of caterpillars. They did this every day, all day long, the entire season. The wrens had to have devoured thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of insects.

The syrphid fly larva got to work on the aphids that were attacking my new growth. Centipedes got to work on the snails and slugs, as did the firefly larva who are surprisingly voracious and active hunters for worms. The snails and slugs would later attract garter snakes and a mole and a toad. Robins nested and had three chicks on the curve of my downspout. The wasps returned for the flowers and stayed for the hunting. They made off with plenty of insects, bringing them back to larva to eat. Spiders moved in. There were so many green crab spiders that I called the zinnia flowerbed the "Spider Condominiums". Every zinnia flower and a spider in it.

There were so many predators that my pest problems vanished. I concluded that my 'Garden Salad' had turned into the 'Garden of Death'. Pests who managed to survive long enough to chew and lay eggs would only have their eggs and larva eaten by something else. The lucky few who did manage to breed were inconsequential.

Gardening without pesticides takes time and, in my case, a crop failure, but I put away the mask and the gloves and the sprayer. Using them would have made things harder for myself, and easier on the pests. I learned that gardens need time to get established to thrive. Pesticides delay or prevent the garden from ever moving on from the "Garden Salad" stage to a healthy population of predator and prey. They are an expensive hindrance and can kill or discourage natural resources that help the garden be self-sustaining.

A pesticide-free garden continued to grow in variety of species of insect and served as a wonderful classroom for young children and adults who wanted to learn from what the plants attracted. Once a gardener experiences the joy of a garden free of pesticides, he will never be able to return to using them.

AquaponicsFor those who are interested in gardening and want to explore the different ways of growing plants, aquaponics is a method that deserves some strong consideration. Aquaponics, as the name suggests, involves the use of the aquatic ecosystem to grow plants and also breed aquatic animals. In a way, it aims to recreate the aquatic ecosystem in order for the plants and animals to grow as nature intended..

If you are interested in starting an aquaponics system, then there are some things that you should take into consideration. Just as there are selected plants that grow on specific mediums, the aquaponics medium, too, has some specifications. In this article, we take a look at what plants can be grown on a hydrated medium, so that you can be well informed before you start your own aquaponics practice.

Plants That Can Be Grown with Aquaponics

There are a number of plants that can be grown with aquaponics. These are of different classes and types, which makes the entire system more versatile and better suited for an increase in yield. The plants that thrive best in an aquatic medium are:

Cruciferous Plants: The aquaponics system is best suited for cruciferous plants. These include:

Broccoli
Lettuce
Cauliflower
Beans
Nightshades: The second category of plants that have a great success rate in an aquaponics medium are the nightshades. These are:

Tomatoes
Capsicum and other bell pepper varieties
Egg plant
Herbs: Other than the vegetables that we have covered in the above two points, the aquaponics system is also great for the cultivation of some herbs. These include:

Basil
Watercress
Coriander
Lemongrass
Parsley
Sage
Salad Variants: If you are someone who is living the healthy life and eating a lot of salads to keep you refreshed throughout the day, then aquaponics is your friend. This is because there are a lot of varieties of vegetables such as red salad onions, shallots, snow peas and tomatoes that can be grown in this way. Along with the cruciferous vegetables, all of this produce can be perfect for those looking to lead a healthier life.

Flowers for Increased Gardening Success: Those who have been cultivating plants in the aquaponics medium are well aware that sometimes you need to add a little something to the environment to allow it to yield better produce.

For this purpose, you can plant a variety of roses in your hydrated ecosystem. Roses are one of the those plants that can help increase your overall vegetable yield without depleting any of the essential nutrients in the aquatic ecosystem.

Moreover, aquaponic roses can ensure that your house stays fresh and fragrant at all times.

In this day and age where the market prices for vegetables keep going up, growing your own vegetables is a good alternative. The aquaponics system is one of the best ways for cultivating certain types of plants as it involves plants and aquatic animals in a mutually beneficial environment.

Being a self sustaining unit, this ecosystem is perfect for those looking for a way to reduce the cost of their grocery bills without sacrificing food quality. All in all, aquaponics is one of the most efficient and beneficial processes for growing your own vegetables.

Decorate Your GardenDecorating your garden with all kinds of festive decor for the holidays will add cheer to your home. You can decorate the outside of your home as festive as you do on the inside. You can make a big difference by decorating your garden with Christmas decorations and by restoring your tiles to compliment your efforts.

Tile your garden walls with riven cladding before the holidays begin so that your garden is neat and provides a good canvas for the decorations. You can hang the decorations from the cladding without damaging it. You can place hooks in the cladding's crevices, then hang jingle bells or Christmas stockings. Place three to five of these along the wall in a uniform manner.

Place a Christmas tree next to the paved braai area to be enjoyed during any outdoor gatherings with family and friends. If you have many trees in your garden you can decorate them with different coloured wreaths or hanging ornaments on the branches. Add colourful lights to complete the Christmas tree. Some wreaths can be left outside throughout the year.

Place decorations on your lawn such as a Santa Clause with reindeer. If you don't want to go that big, you can place a few elves all over your garden with them holding a string of Christmas lights. This will look festive and light up your garden at the same time.

If you have outdoor furniture, you can cover them with red and green fabric as well as place cotton balls along the top edge of the chairs. The cotton balls will look like snow and add some festive cheer. You can also use popcorn to create the same effect. For added effect, you could scatter popcorn on strategic areas such as in corners so that it looks like snow that has gathered in the corners of the garden.

Place lanterns on the ground along the pathways. Ensure that you've tiled the pathway before the holidays. If you don't have lanterns, you could make your own by placing candles in mason jars. Cobblestones make lovely earthy pathways, especially the Roma Random Cobbles which remind you of the days when people drove horse drawn carriages. The lanterns will light up the pathways which will give a soft glow that fits in with the Christmas ambience.

Remember not to overdo your garden with all sorts of decorations and lights. The fun part of the holidays is the opening of gifts on Christmas day, eating good food and being with friends and family. Having a beautifully decorated garden will add to the festive cheer.

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Cemetery RoseOne of the spring activities which I notably enjoy doing is to seek out the older cemeteries in our area and seeing what manner of antique roses are growing wild there. These beautiful but forgotten rose beauties are not restricted to cemeteries alone but can occasionally be discovered in the yards of old abandoned houses as well as in unused vacant lots. The sad part of this is that these wonderful plants have been forsaken by their planter and the rest of society.

Preserving heritage roses found in the local graveyards can readily reveal hundreds of antique and old garden rose varieties and in some cases rare specimens that are difficult or near impossible to obtain. Emphasis is usually placed upon those roses which are retrieved from abandoned sites, homesteads, cemeteries or along roadsides throughout the nation.

The one training topic which I have found to be lacking is the availability of hands-on workshops which deal with the topics of pruning climbing roses and re-rooting them. Remember some of the tales you heard years ago on how so and so would place a small rose stem into the ground and over it place a Mason jar to encourage growth? Or perhaps you recall the story of the early pioneers as they made their way out west in their covered wagons and bringing with them their cuttings from their favorite rose bushes? To me growing roses from cuttings has always provided an appreciation of the plant. I see nothing complicated about taking a small rose cutting and rooting it in order to start a new plant. Naturally there are various means at our disposal to accomplish this task. It has been said that some people might get their kicks by "rose rustling" at one of the deserted cemeteries in the area. I am one of those people. Although most roses have a scientific name and to be proper and correct you should label your rose with its scientific name, I like to christen the roses which I stumble upon with that name of the deceased person where it was discovered. If I find a rose bush on the gravesite of Joe Smith than I fittingly name it out of respect to the deceased the Joe Smith Rose.

Nothing in life is free and even though you may think that those rose cutting obtained from a cemetery are without cost they are not. In the interest of good will and playing our part in beautifying the older cemeteries and grave, I like to prune and clean up the rose bushes which I find. I do not just take a single cutting from the rose bush but rather give it a manicured look when I am finished. The managers who oversee the cemetery where the roses are will greatly appreciate the time expended to clean up a few gravesites. This is a good policy to follow and ensures that future rose hunters will be welcomed with open arms. Personally, I would not be opposed for the management of these graves to create their own rose plants and sell them in order to generate enough funds to help with garden maintenance, irrigation and repairing of damaged headstones.

Incidentally, years ago I had a lawn service and we specialized in lawn care for cemeteries. In order to win the contracts we would need to provide a million dollar insurance policy in the event we caused any damage to the headstones. We are lucky at this time that we as rose collectors do not have to comply with this sort of directive. Please do not ruin it for others and take care in all you do in collecting your rose cuttings.

Various historic rose collections often include several species of roses which are native to your particular part of the country. Rose lovers who discover these surviving roses which have been neglected and abandoned frequently will trim the plant and take cutting from their castoff branches. These cuttings will eventually grow and can be planted elsewhere. It is totally possible that you may find some unidentified cultures of roses which are unknown of in our modern times.

Who knows what you may find hidden in these graveyards. Perhaps you will uncover a unique seedling which will grow for many years and continuously bears huge clusters of flowers as it develops with its strong fragrance and odor. One rose bush I saw had grown into an unattractively shaped shrub which stood approximately five feet tall and as much as six feet wide. It was totally out of control. If you wish to keep your bush small you can prune and shape it as you please.

Once you have obtained your rose cuttings from the cemetery you can consider propagating them. Here are a few important tips to ensure that your cuttings take root.

When making your rose cuttings make sure to use very sharp cutters or you will risk crushing your rose stem. Make sure that all of the cuttings you obtain are from young but firm stems. These could be those stems where the flowers are beginning to fade or even from the fallen rose petals found around the plant. On some rose plants you may wish to use the stems from where the flowers have begun to fade in the springtime. Always keep your cuttings moist and provide good air circulation and plenty of sunlight. When you take your cuttings allow about 6 inches of stem with at least 3 bud eyes.

Roses tend to root better if you obtain cuttings which still have leaves attached. This will provide valuable sugars resulting from photosynthesis for root development. I like being safe and allow three leaves to stay upon the cut stem. When collecting keep a small spray bottle filled with water handy in order to mist your cuttings as you work on them. This will keep them in a fresh state since wilted rose cuttings usually will not root properly.

Roses represent an incredible plant species which is capable of forming roots from any bud eye along its stems. What this means to a collector is that where you make a cut is really immaterial. Often people will "wound" the plant at the base of the cutting by making a 1-inch vertical slice through the stem. Another method that is popular is to slice a strip of the stem from several sides of the base of the plant with a common nail clipper. Difficult to grow varieties often will benefit from such wounding as it sends out new roots along the cut of the wound.

Most roses will root without the benefit of plant growth compounds or rooting powders. The cuttings from roses contain a root promoting compound known as auxin. This product is created by the leaves or the growing buds and shoots tips. This compound collects at the base of the cutting at a point along the stem where the plants roots start to form. Those roses which fail to produce a sufficient quantity of this auxin chemical will usually find it is too difficult to root. This is the reason that many rose growers employ a commercial root growing compound.

One of the major factors which contribute to successful rooting of your cuttings is providing adequate amounts of moisture within the plants soil as well as in the surrounding air. Planting soil is very important to your roses. The medium which I found to be successful in rooting rose cuttings consists of a 50-50 blend of perlite and potting soil. This soil composition encourages root development and produces healthy plants. Some people prefer the simpler routine and merely place their cuttings in some moistened sand or a fine potting soil than they cover the pots with a zip-loc bag. I like to use and inverted soft drink bottle which has had the top portion cut off. This creates a miniature greenhouse and maintains a high humidity for the cuttings.

Let's now talk about the light requirements for the plants. Roses often tend to root better when they are placed under a bright light. A word of caution is necessary at this point. If you are using the miniature greenhouse method you must ensure that you avoid overheating the plants and provide adequate shade from the hotter afternoon sun. This is easily accomplished by placing your cuttings in a shaded area perhaps against a northern facing wall of your home or even beneath a tree.

You can not just go out and start cutting up the rose bushes as you please. Most rose cuttings are best accomplished in the spring or early summer season. The weather should be warm but not extremely hot. Naturally you can successfully root during just about any time of the year however be aware that it can take longer and your successful rooting may diminish in numbers. If rooted during the months of May or beginning of June you should have a good root system within a matter of two weeks. Any variety of rose is able to be rooted within a time frame of four weeks. The process may take longer if accomplished at different times of the year and might even take as much as eight weeks. Additionally, 100 degree intense summer heat is not conducive for rose cuttings or are the colder 32 degree and below winter temperatures.

Let's discuss several methods of rooting your rose plants. The first way to grow your rose cuttings is to simply stick the rose cutting in the ground without covering it. This method works exceptionally well in mild climate areas of the country. As a beginner perhaps the easiest way to grow you rose cuttings are with a mason jar. As the method says you do not need much equipment other than a quart size glass jar. A 2-liter plastic soda bottle with the bottom removed will also work well. Cut your rose stem to about 6 inches and remove the leaves from the very bottom. Stick several inches of the stem into the ground and cover the stem with the jar or the soda bottle. Periodically provide water to the soil surrounding the jar or your stem will dry out and die. In a few months your rose will take root and start showing new leaf development.

Another popular method of propagating rose plants is known as the baggie method. I have used this method to generate both lemon and orange seeds in the past. The process is actually very simple. Fill a 2-inch plastic pot with a good quality potting soil and insert the stem partway down into the pot. Place the pots into a one-gallon zip-lock bag and you sit back and wait. If you are planting more than one stem you can safely put four 2-inch pots into one gallon bag. It may also be of help if you place a few small sticks inside the bag to keep it upright and away from your stems.

In order to tell if your cutting is successful and has rooted properly you can lightly tug on the plant and if you feel any resistance it has developed a strong root system. If you happen to see roots growing from the drainage hole at the pot's bottom you can rest assured that it has rooted. If you see new leaves on your cutting than it has rooted sufficiently.

Once the rose cuttings have properly rooted they can be removed from the rooting space and hardened off for several days. This is done by placing the rose pots in a shady location where they will be undisturbed and protected from strong sun. Do not move them immediately into an area of hot sunshine as this will likely kill your new plants. As soon as they have developed a good root system and are displaying signs of developing new growth you can safety move them to an area of the sun light.

Now you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor knowing that you have done a great service to the deceased by cleaning their gravesite rose bush and preserving the heritage rose you found.