Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Good Bugs vs. Bad Bugs

Garden Check List

  1. Compost- Check
  2. Early Spring plants in ground-Check
  3. Chicken fence up and maintained-Check
  4. April and May plants planned and plotted- Check

Aphids, White Flies Earwigs and Cutworms…….Not on the check list……

One of the beautiful benefits of having free ranged chickens is their appetite for bugs. However, chickens do not discriminate against good bugs and bad bugs. They tend to eat everything including Lady Bug larvae and Lacewings and Soldier Beetles.

I do not like using insecticides in my garden or around my yard for various reasons, including the “organic” kind. The top three reasons:

  1. My Children- they love to eat right out of the garden
  2. My Bees- Bees very sensitive to insecticides, even the organic versions
  3. I love Lady Bugs and Butterflies!!!!

Last year we planted with great success plants that are bee friendly. Our honey was outstanding from our efforts. So, this year my plan is to plant beneficial plants to attract beneficial insects. But, what is a good bug vs. a bad bug? I recently discovered the top ten beneficial insects a gardener wants in the garden. Now, as I understand it these insects are subject to region. What would be found in San Diego, California may not be in Charleston, South Carolina or Janesville, Wisconsin. Check out your local Ag Extension to see which beneficial insects are in your region.

Here are the Top Ten Beneficial Insects

  1. Braconid Wasps (Hymenoptera) – The larvae is the beneficial portion. The adult eats nectar and pollen.
    1. Diet: Caterpillars (including tomato hornworms), flies, beetle larvae, leaf miners, true bugs and aphids.
  2. Ground Beetles (Coleoptera)
    1. Diet: Asparagus beetles, caterpillars, Colorado potato beetles, corn earworms, cutworms, slugs, squash vine borers and tobacco budworms.
  3. Hover or Syrphid Flies (Diptera)- The larvae is the beneficial portion. The adults eats nectar and pollen
    1. Diet: Larvaw eat mealybugs, small caterpillars, and early season aphids.
  4. Lacewings (Neuroptera)
    1. Diet: larvae prey on aphids, small caterpillars and caterpillar eggs, other larvae, mealybugs, white flies.
  5. Lady Bugs aka Lady Beetles (Coleoptera)
    1. Diet: Larvae and adutlts both dine on aphids, small caterpillars, small beetles, and insect eggs.
  6. Predatory Bugs (Hemiptera)
    1. Diet: Numphs or larvae and adults feed on aphids, catepillars, scale insects, spider mites and insect eggs.
  7. Soldier Beetles (Coleoptera)
    1. Diet: Larvae feed on the eggs and larvae of beetles, grasshoppers, moths and other insects. Adults feed on aphids, and other soft bodies insects.
  8. Spiders (Araneae)
    1. Diet: Depeneds on species, but can include aphids, beetles, cutworms, fire ants, lacebugs, spider mites, squash bugs, and tobacco budworms
  9. Tacinid Flies (Diptera)
    1. Diet: Larvae feed internally on caterpillars, beetles, bugs, earwigs, and grasshoppers.
  10. Trichogramma Mini Wasps (Hymenoptera)
    1. Diet: Pest eggs, especially those of cabbage worms, codling moths, corm earworms, diamondback moths, and other moths and butterflies.
Now, why Praying Mantises aren't included in this list, I don't know why. But, I would also include them as a beneficial insect in the garden. Plus, they are cool.

Top 19 Plants Beneficial Love

These annual and perennial plants draw an abundance of diverse beneficial insects in many regions. Choose early, mid and late season bloomers to insure beneficial insects stay in the garden. California Agriculture researchers have also found that a good hedge can also attract and maintain a healthy environment for beneficial insects.

Check the following list for your area:

  1. Sweet Alyssum- Spring through frost
  2. Hairy vetch- Spring to Summer
  3. Angelica- late spring
  4. Common Garden Sage- late Spring to early Summer
  5. Orange stone crop- late Spring to early Summer
  6. Thyme – late Spring to early Summer
  7. Catmint- late Spring to Midsummer
  8. Buckwheat- three weeks after planting; continues up to 10 weeks
  9. Dill –Summer
  10. Fennel-Summer
  11. Shasta Daisy- Summer
  12. Mints- Midsummer
  13. Coreopsis- Summer to Fall
  14. Cilantro- Summer to Fall
  15. Cosmos- Summer to Fall
  16. Oregano- Summer to Fall
  17. Yarrows- Summer to Fall
  18. Goldenrod- Late Summer to Fall
  19. Asters aka Bachelor's Buttons- Late Summer to Fall

The ones highlighted are the ones we currently have in our garden. What I have found interesting is how many of these plants are also associated with companion gardening. The rest I am planning to add to the garden in addition to the "Bee Garden."

Viking Son is six years old. Having bugs and creepy crawlys in the garden for him to explore and study has added an extra bonus. Both Viking Kiddos love Lady Bugs and bugs. Viking Son built a Lady Bug Cathedral last week. It was amazing. Then the other day he brought me a handful of pill bugs.

For extra information check out these resources

Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw

Natural Enemies Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Biological Pest Control by Mary Louise Flint and Steve H. Driestadt

Mother Earth News at

Happy Gardening!!!

Royalty the Rooster and his Family.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Random Act of Kindness Tuesday-Saying Thank You

Why do we say “Thank you?” I started to reflect on this simple phrase this morning after my Beloved Viking Husband brought me a fresh cup of coffee. I know he brings me a cup of coffee in the morning because he loves me but I think it is also self preservations. There is often too much blood in the caffeine system in the morning. I do so appreciate the coffee in the morning. “Thank you, Honey.”

What does “Thank you” mean? One definition I found says, “Thank you is defined as a conversational form of expressing gratitude.” Is that what it really boils down to?

Here is what says,

Origin: 1785–95 for def. 2; noun and adj. use of verb phrase thank

Thank [thangk] verb (used with object) express gratitude, appreciation, or acknowledgment to:She thanked them for their hospitality.

2.thank God, (used interjectionally to express relief, thankfulness, etc.) Also, thank goodness, thank heaven.


3.Usually, thanks. a grateful feeling or acknowledgment of abenefit, favor, or the like, expressed by words or otherwise: to return a borrowed book with thanks.


4.thanks, (used as an informal expression of gratitude, appreciation, or acknowledgment).

5. have oneself to thank, to be personally to blame; havethe responsibility: The citizens have only themselves to thankfor corruption in government.

6.thanks to, because of; owing to: Thanks to good organization and hard work, the benefit concert was a great success.

7.thank you, (used interjectionally to express gratitude, appreciation, or acknowledgment, as for a gift, favor, service, or courtesy).

before 900; (noun) Middle English: favorable thought, goodwill,gratitude, (in singular and plural) expression of thanks; OldEnglish
thanc (in singular) expression of thanks, ori. thought,thoughtfulness; (v.) Middle English thanken, Old English thancian (cognate with Dutch, German danken ); akin to think1

How often do we hear this phrase from our friends, spouses, out in public, or even from our children? Some say it is water down phrase and that the phrase holds no meaning so they don’t bother to say it to anyone. I don’t believe that is true. I believe we don’t say it enough in public or amongst ourselves.

I am a strong believer that if we want our children to be polite citizens in our chaotic society that we need to model the same behavior.

So, here is my Tuesday Random Act of Kindness Challenge:

“Say Thank You” to someone.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Manic Monday- Mud!! OMG!

Normally, this stretch of road is solid enough to drive on and head to the main road. The rains and the snow made the normally compact and dusty road slick, slippery and deep.

It even defeated the normally robust "Mudbuster." It got stuck which forced me to back up and take another route.
Luckily, the potentially yucky day ended up being a nice day.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

An important lesson I learned from my Dad

There are many lessons I have learned from my Dad. I learned a great deal about the farming industry, hybrid plants, gently cultivating and coaxing broccoli seedlings to maturity and how to maintain over 300 strawberry plants on a tight water budget.

From all the lessons I learned from my Dad the most important lesson I learned was to take off your rings when planting.
As a kid I witnessed this personally. My Dad happened to be planting broccoli seedlings for one of his seed experiments. Dad couldn't have a nice simple number of 5 plants to run his experiments. He had to have 100 plants! During the sequence of planting the broccoli seedlings he also planted his wedding ring. He didn't notice that his ring was missing until all 100 seedlings were neatly planted. My Mom happen to notice the ring was missing. My Dad never takes off his ring resulting in a very white band of skin on his finger. I remember the look of shear panic and dread on his face. He turned around and went right back to the table with all 100 broccoli seedlings and begin to un-plant the seedlings. I don't remember how many seedlings he had to undo before he found his ring. I do remember the look of relief on his face and the reassuring kiss my Mom gave him.

Moral to this story. Take off your rings before planting!

Now, my claim to fame is planting my bracelets. I do take off my rings but forgot to take off my bracelets. This story was inspired from yesterdays planting project were I planted two of my bracelets. Luckily they were easy to find.

My moral to this story. Take off your bracelets too.

Happy Gardening.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Joys!

"Lady Bug Cathedral. Where all who fly are welcome."

When pure joy, imagination, spiritualism, rocks, sticks, dirt, a puppy and one six year old merges.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Positive Phrases- A Student's Assignment

It amazes me on a daily basis how little my students understand what positive and affirming phrases and how they relate to them in daily life.
At the begining of the week I asked my student to look for a list of positive phrases that related to her and her family.

This is what she came up with in her list.

1. " Be yourself, who else is better qualified."- Frank J. Giblin

2. " Never give up."

3. " Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don't say it mean." - Unknown

4." If you take yourself out of the game you will never succeed."

5. " Never let anyone tell you that you can't do something, not even yourself."

I really liked the last one. My student has a defective heart and failing liver. She was told a while back that she would never graduate from high school because she wouldn't live that long. She will be walking with the Class of 2012 this June.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What is Compost?

What is compost?

This is a loaded question. . The resources and sources for compost varies like compost itself. Let me share what we have discovered and learned since going sustainable and biodynamic.

To quote a Garden Guru, “Mother Nature has been successfully composting for billions of years without human help.”

In the microcosm of our garden backyards jump starting a compost source is another matter. It is very common to find backyards sterile so it is important to create and heal the soil so that planting can be successful. True organic compost takes time. But, it is so worth the wait.

Basic Organic Compost.

  1. Turn kitchen scraps and garden trimming into rich organic compost. We compost just about everything except for plastics and metals. All our metal items we either reuse or recycle and plastics are recycled. Plastics that can not be recycled are trashed. We have been composting all our paper goods too. We invested in a good shredder and shred all our paper items. This includes magazines, junk mail, light weight boxes, newspaper, envelopes etc.
  2. Manure. We have chickens so their poo and bedding is added to the compost piles. If you have a pickup, many dairy farmers or equestrian centers would be glad to give you manure (don't forget sheep and goat farms - smaller organic farms are best if they are willing to give away their manure)
    1. Manure is an excellent amendment to any soil. Manure is a source of many nutrients including: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and many others. However, nitrogen is often the main nutrient of concern for most crops.

Type of Garden

Best Type of Manure

Best Time to Apply


cow, horse

early spring


chicken, cow, horse

fall, spring

Root Crops

chicken, cow, horse

fall, spring

There is a great deal of discussion about the use of compost from compost toilets. I am strongly advising against using human waste compost, especially around food crops. IMPORTANT: Do not use cat, dog, pig or human feces (manure) in composts or gardens it can spread disease and parasites into the garden, and eventually you or your family members.

Things not to put in the compost.

    1. Any Type Of Plastic
    2. Foam
    3. Metal
    4. Weeds (personal recommendation)
    5. Pet Droppings
    6. Dead Vertebrate Animals
    7. Uncooked Meats
    8. Cooked Meats
    9. Diary Products (Except Egg Shells)

i. Important Note: Many communities have restrictions on composting and/or storage of manure. Check local regulations before your start. Where large compost piles may not be allowed, you may find compost bins are accepted.

Compost Bins: There are several ways to create compost bins. You can use any material available but the key is to have holes or slots that allow oxygen to enter and speed up compost. We have four versions.

Slotted palate cube

Ours contains all our garden compost and chicken bedding and poo. We have found healthy grubs and earthworms in our compost bin. All signs of a healthy compost. Viking Dad sifted from the bottom of our pile and was richly rewarded with the most amazing soil. It was used to fill the raised beds and potato boxes.

Heap compost aka Mother Natures Methods

Some gardeners will put a wire fence around a heap compost to contain the amebic sprawl of the heap. We have one that contains our grass and tree cuttings. I love heap compost because they are easy to make and it allows Mother Nature to do her magic. Mother Nature also invites critters to move in and make homes. We have rabbits, field mice and raccoon living in one heap.

Black plastic open ended bins

This one contains a majority of our household compost and kitchen scraps that don’t go to the chickens. We also throw in all our shredded papers. We actually have three of these lined up so that they can be sifted. We learned from experience that we had to bury our kitchen scraps deeper in an open bin like this to keep the fly population down. However, once the chickens found good grubs inside the bins the fly populations went down.

Black plastic “worm” bin.

This type of bin is to help create compost from worms. Red worms and earth worms are a healthy and natural addition to any garden compost. You don’t want blow fly larvae however. This means the composting is not healthy and too hot. Many good garden supply centers have red worms to purchase. In time a good healthy garden will attract earthworms and this is always a good sign. Worm teas or compost teas are often made from the liquids that accumulate in these bins. I haven't used compost teas but certain gardeners will swear by them for flowers.

What to look for in healthy compost pile

Key Elements to Compost

i. Water - Keep the compost just damp. Too much water will ruin your compost.

ii. Balance - Add a mix of green and brown materials to make a well balanced compost.

iii. Air - Turn the pile over every few weeks or every 5 to 6 days if using a bin.

iv. Size - A compost pile will mature quickest if it is at least one cubic yard.

v. Microorganisms - These help break down the compost material. They come from the soil or old compost you add and from the earth on which the compost pile is built.

The Best Mix in a Compost

i. All compostable materials are either carbon or nitrogen-based. Building a healthy compost pile is simple: maintain a working balance between these two.

ii. Carbon - Referred to as browns, carbon-rich matter (peels, thin branches, stems, dried leaves, bits of wood, bark dust or sawdust, shredded brown paper bags, coffee filters, conifer needles, egg shells, hay, peat moss, wood ash) gives compost its light, fluffy body

iii. Nitrogen - Referred to as greens, nitrogen or protein-rich matter (food scraps, manures, leafy materials like lawn clippings and green leaves) provides raw materials for making enzymes.

Turn, turn, turn: The more air it gets, the quicker it cooks.

It is recommended to use a pitch fork and physically turn the piles every 3 to 5 days. Now, this is why many people use tumbler compost bins to help turn the piles. Except for the worm bin all our bins need to be turned

Warning Signs that Something is Wrong

Getting the right mix of moisture and the right mix of ingredients in your compost may take a little practice, but most problems can usually be overcome.

Too Wet - Add sawdust or shredded newspaper to help absorb moisture, and turn regularly.

No Heat - Add a source of nitrogen, such as animal manure or blood and bone meal or vegetable scraps.

Dryness - Water lightly. We have this problem in San Diego. We just lightly water the piles. The worm bin we lightly spray the soil to keep it moist otherwise the worms will die.

Fly Development - Fully enclose the compost. Make sure the compost is hot in the centre and turn regularly to ‘cook’ fly and cockroach eggs.

We discovered this problem and quickly started the habit of burying our food and kitchen scraps deeply into the bin. It also prevents rodents.

Too Hot - If the mixture goes grey and smokes, turn and spread it out to cool the compost down.

Strong Smell - All compost releases some smell when it is turned. Reduce smell by keeping the compost damp but not wet.

1.Composts should not smell rotten or foul smelling. It should have a healthy earthy smell. We found that if there was too much of a rotten smell we reduced the food scraps and added more green organic into the pile.

2. By not adding meats, fats, or dairy products in the compost pile will also eliminate any rotten smell.

Biodynamic composting aka “premium organic” takes Organic composting one step further and adds various preps based on the needs of the soil and plants. The Preps and Composting methods are based on Rudolf Steiner’s lectures to farmers in 1929. In his lectures contained within the book Agriculture Courses, Steiner explains the importance of good and healthy compost.

Biodynamic farmers strive to create a diversified, balanced farm ecosystem that generates health and fertility as much as possible from within the farm itself. Homeopathic preparations made from manure, minerals and herbs are used to help restore and harmonize the vital life forces of the farm and to enhance the nutrition, quality and flavor of the food being raised. Biodynamic practitioners also recognize and strive to work in cooperation with the subtle influences of the wider cosmos on soil, plant and animal health.

A goal of biodynamic gardeners is to have a feel and connection to what goes into the land thus what goes into our bodies.


Everything on the farm/garden goes into the compost. Except for GMO, artificial, and non organic materials.

Six herbs are added to biodynamic compost.

1. Yarrow: Stimulates the potassium process in organisms

2. Dandelion: Adds oxygen to the soils

3. Stinging Nettle: Positive effect on iron, potassium and magnesium balance.

4.Valerian: The compost heaps are watered down with valerian water.

5. Chamomile: Helps with sulphur and carbon dioxide in the soil.

6.. Oak Bark:The oak tree has deep roots that connect all of us with the land. Adding oak bark to the preps connects all together. The tannic acid also helps any acid loving plants.

I just received my compost preps to plant in the garden. I am looking forward to see how they improve our compost.

Happy Gardening and Composting.......