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Beneficial insects in the garden

safe_image.phpBeneficial insects help our gardens in three main ways they are predators, pollinators and parasitiods. Insectary is the term used for a garden bed planted for bugs and it may seem strange to encourage bugs in the garden but by creating a healthy ecosystem for an array of  bugs your garden is less likely to be overrun by the rotten ones that destroy our flowers and crops.

Predators eat the bugs that are eating our plants. The main predators that we like in our Portland gardens are Big-eyed bugs (yes that is what they are really called) Green and brown lacewings, Praying mantis, Ground beetles, Damsel bugs, Spiders, Centipedes, Syrphid flies (hover flies) Ladybugs and Minute pirate bugs. Many of these bugs feed in both their adult and larval stages so it’s great to have them around for their entire life cycle.

Pollinators are critical, they move pollen from male to female bits to produce our veggies and fruits. Great pollinators here are: Honey bees, Bumblebees and Mason bees but there are many more bugs such as Syrphid flies that also act as pollinators.

Parasitoids live part of their life cycle on or in a host and usually destroy the host in the process. Most parasitoids are small stingless wasps and flies.

You can encourage beneficial bugs in your garden by creating an inviting environment for them.

– Make happy bugs by providing protection in the form or groundcovers, mulches, small piles of sticks and yard debris or bug houses. These bug retreats should be located in a warm dry place and put out early in the season to encourage new arrivals.

– Bugs will also need a source for water, They can survive off of regular morning waterings or indulge them with a bird bath or water feature.

– Many of the beneficial insects also feed on nectar in addition to pest bugs so plantings that attract them can help create a healthy ecosystem for diverse bug life.
Attractive plants for beneficial insects:
Bishops Weed

You can also purchase beneficial bugs to seed your garden with healthy bug life:
Praying mantis eggs
Lacewing eggs
Parasitoid wasp pupae

Starting seeds indoors

When starting seeds indoors timing is everything.Before you even begin making a good plan of what you want to plant and backing it up by creating a calendar will make the whole process way easier to implement and enjoy.

After you have chosen the coolest seeds to start indoors be sure to check the dates to maturity, you don’t want your seeds to germinate and grow quickly and then have it be to cold outside to transplant them in the garden. So count back from the time to plant outdoors and mark your calendar accordingly. It can be a simple sketch with dates off to the side or you can geek out on an elaborate program. Here a link to a seed starting chart to help you get started  http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/seed-starting-chart. And here is the farmers almanac 2014 Best Spring dates for seeds http://www.almanac.com/gardening/planting-dates/OR/Portland.

Now you are ready to plant.

Light is one of the most important elements in starting seeds indoors.  Seedlings that don’t get enough light will be leggy and weak and likely only survive to about 3 inches tall and then shrivel. If you have a good southern facing window you may not need additional lighting but everyone else should consider using a grow light. Also, lights will fade over time so bulbs should be replaced annually for best results.

Temperature is also a factor, if seeds are too chilly they might not ever emerge let alone thrive. Seed starting heat mats are available commercially and while they can really help the process they are not completely necessary as long as you monitor the temp. Seeds placed right in a window may get to cold from the drafts. Check seed packages for specific temp and light requirements.

Soil is also a big consideration. A seed starting mix is best as it will be a very light composition of peat-lite and will be easy for tender young plants to push through. Seed starting mixes also usually contain a very mellow amount of fertilizer just right for young plants. Regular garden soil isn’t the best option as it will contain lots of organisms and bacteria that could harm new plants.

Containers should always be clean and sterilized before use. You can use last seasons plastic pots, pop out trays, flats or even used plastic food containers like yogurt or hummus tubs just be sure that there are holes in the bottom for good drainage. Peat pots are an easy way to go as they have a specially formulated seed composite and you can plop the whole thing in the garden when ready to transplant. You can also make paper pots yourself.

Fill container about three quarters full with your soil medium. Leave enough room at the top so water can fill and drain into the soil without running over the sides (this will help you be sure to water each pot evenly) Check the seed package for desired depth.

Water is essential when starting seeds. Make sure the soil in your containers is quite moist all the way to the bottom. Invisible dry pockets can form under the surface of new soil so its easier to pre – mix the soil with water in a bowl before filling containers. You don’t want the soil to be soggy but you also don’t want it to be at all dry. Take a clump up in your hands and lightly squeeze to remove any dripping excess before filling. Check moisture frequently and don’t let them dry out at all, a plastic or glass cover helps keep the moisture in.

Seedlings cannot be allowed to dry out but they are also very sensitive to damping off, a fungal disease which can become a problem if the soil is too wet. Keep your pots moist but never soggy and remove coverings once the seedlings begin to develop. Another thing that can help is to put a very small oscillating fan on the seedlings. This will keep air flow moving around the seeds and also forces the little plants to develop strong stalks but it can also dry them out so watch the water! Misters can supply just the right amount of water to the soil but you don’t want to leave leaves to wet and susceptible to fungal disease.

Hardening off is so important! Tender seedlings need time to adjust from perfect indoor to harsh outdoor conditions. Place seedlings in a protected outdoor location. You want to shelter them from winds hard rains and especially direct sunlight which can burn them. Start out with an hour or so a day and gradually work up to more time each day. A week generally gives them the right amount of time to adjust before being planted directly outdoors.

Fertilizers should be used cautiously in the beginning. You new plants need food to grow but too much can do more harm than good. There are some great seedling fertilizer mixes available just follow the directions and enjoy all those new baby plants for the garden.

Moon Planting

My great great grandmother Ina was a native American farmer in Colorado. My grandmother Lucille remembers her garden as one of the biggest and most beautiful in the whole county. Lot’s of people teased her about planting by the moon but nobody argued about the size of her harvests!

For centuries farmers have planned not only the planting and harvesting of crops according to the phases of the moon but all sorts of seemingly unrelated farm activities like when to wean animals, when to set fence boards and even when to cut the lawn have traditionally been planned according to the cycles of the moon!
This ancient practice has fallen out of style but speaking from experience – it can work!

The basic explanation of the benefits of planting by the lunar cycle is that the moon governs moisture. Pliny the Elder, the Roman naturalist, wrote that the Moon “replenishes the earth; when she approaches it, she fills all bodies, when she recedes, she empties them.”

Water on the earths surface is influenced by the gravitational pull of the moon. Imagine the moon pulling the tides in the oceans across the globe. The theory is that the moon has a pull on all bodies of water, or bodies that contain water such as plants and animals and even human beings. This is a subtle pull but it has a very real effect. This lunar pull also brings moisture in the soil closer to the surface, which encourages things like growth and germination.

The moon has four phases or quarters each one lasting about seven days. The first two quarters, between the new and the full moon are called the waxing moon, this is the period that the moon appears to be growing. The third and fourth quarters occur after the full moon when the light is waning and it looks as if the moon is shrinking again.

Vegetable planting tips guided by the phases of the moon

The first quarter:
After the new moon, when the moon is completely dark, it begins to gradually “grow” pulling energy towards the earths surface which encourages seeds to swell and germinate. This phase of gentle pull makes for a balanced time for both root and leaf development. Plant seeds for vegetables with above ground fruit but that set their seeds outside the fruit – Broccoli, cabbage, celery cauliflower, lettuces, spinach and greens. Cucumbers and zucchini are an exception as they can also be planted in this phase.

The second quarter:
During this phase the moon is growing and the pull is increasing which makes for strong leaf growth. Plants that produce above ground with their seeds inside the fruit do very well planted in this phase. Beans, and peas, peppers, squash, eggplant and tomatoes. Two days before the full moon is an especially good time for planting in general and is the best time to transplant starts or any new potted additions to your garden because as the moon transitions into and past the full moon root growth will be coming into it’s prime this includes perennials and ornamentals as well as fruit trees, potted herbs and vegetables that have been started indoors.

The third quarter:
This is the time directly after the full moon. The moon is at its peak pull creating the most moisture in the soil, but that pull is beginning to diminish. Root crops do best planted in this phase as energy is dropping back down into the deep soil and root systems. Veggies to plant now – beets, radishes, garlic, onions, potatoes and carrots. You can also gather seeds and harvest fruits, herbs and vegetables for their peak time near a full moon.

The fourth quarter:
This phase of the moons cycle has the pull dropping to it’s minimum as it moves toward the new moon. It is called a fallow moon and is generally a time of rest for the plants in the garden but there is plenty to do for the gardener. Now is a great time to transplant or divide plants, compost and remove brush as well as pruning for retarding growth. You can also apply side dressings and composts at this time. You will actually find that pulling weeds is much easier after a full moon and lawns mowed will grow back at a slower pace.

If you want to learn more about the subtleties of gardening by the moon or simply want a calendar of planting dates without any research or physics required – pick up a copy of the Farmers almanac. And for a strangely modern twist on this ancient practice download the application for use on a mobile devise.

© thicket 2017