A Surprise Visit from the Gray Treefrog: Musical Chameleon of the Native Forest

August 19th, 2012 § 4

Wait… Is That Lichen on My Chair? Luckily, I Spotted This Tiny Member of the Arboreal Choir (Hyla versicolor), in the Nick of Time!

If you live in North America, chances are you’re more familiar with the springtime song of gray treefrogs (Hyla versicolor), than you are with the colors and patterns of this amphibian’s chameleon-like skin. The gray treefrog is a tiny creature —measuring less than 2″ long— and with its highly-effective camouflage, it often escapes detection. In fact, these little fellas blend in so well with their surrounding environment, I nearly mistook one for lichen on my old lounge chair. Luckily — just before sitting down— I paused to get a closer look at the “lichen” growing on my chair. Well… Hello friend!

In Addition to Its Chameleon-Like Coloration, the Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor) Has Beautiful, Distinctive Markings on Its Back, Sides, Head and Legs

The North American Gray Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor) is most famous for the bird-like, musical trills made by male frogs during the mating season (click here to listen), but its ability to change color  —much like a chameleon— is another unique characteristic. Depending upon its surroundings, the tree frog’s skin will change color within seconds; from nearly white to nearly black, as well as various shades of green, gray and brown in between. The treefrog is a great garden-friend, consuming a wide range of insects; including flies, beetles and caterpillars.

Learn more about the gray treefrog by visiting AmphibiaWeb, linked here.

Listen to the Gray Treefrog at Mister-Toad’s Website linked here.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Out With The Old & In With The New: Creating A Lush & Lively Indoor Oasis …

January 3rd, 2012 § 6

Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: A Scene from My Wintertime Oasis. Clockwise from back: Cycas revoluta, Agave geminifolia & Kalanchoe ‘Manginii’

I kicked my Christmas tree out yesterday (p.s. Sorry Mr. Balsam, I will miss your sweet fragrance, but you were growing stale and it was time for a fresh start). Of course no sooner did I shove that big boy out the door than I began to long for something fresh and new to fill the void. Luckily, I have a growing collection of houseplants —many transitory summer residents of the balcony and terrace, seeking seasonal shelter from the cold— and they’ve been begging to move beyond their cramped corner in my studio.

This gorgeous orchid has just begun to bloom (Paphiopedilum Magic Leopard #1 x Paphiopedilum fairrieanum). Some orchids prefer dry, desert-like conditions, and others prefer tropical heat and humidity. Click back to my previous post on orchid obsession for resources and easy-care, species suggestions.

And while it’s certainly true that there’s a plant for almost every indoor situation, finding the right place for each species can be a challenge. Cacti and succulents thrive in hot, dry conditions; making them perfect winter residents for homes with wood stoves and furnaces. But other houseplants prefer cooler temperatures and high humidity. Just as you would investigate the cultural requirements of a perennial or shrub before choosing a spot for it in your garden, it’s wise to get familiar with the needs of your houseplants in order to provide them with the best microclimate within your home.

Most herbs, like this rosemary plant, prefer full sun and infrequent watering throughout the winter months. Situated beside a south-facing glass door in the kitchen, this plant provides fresh flavor to many dishes and refreshing scent beside the compost bin and dog dish (is that your bad breath, Oli?)

If you have pets or small children in your home, it’s very important to familiarize yourself with toxic plants and either avoid them entirely, or situate them within enclosed terrariums, high upon shelves, or in out-of-the-way, closed-off rooms. Revisit my post ‘Dangerous Beauty’ for helpful links, online lists and other toxic plant resources. And no matter how careful I am, inevitably some insect pest or other finds its way into my home and onto my houseplants during the winter months (even fresh cut flowers sometimes provide a ‘free ride’ to bugs!). Click back to my previous post on the subject of insect infestation for some non-toxic solutions and trouble-shooting resources.

Peperomia are wonderful, easy-care  houseplants. This particular cultivar, P.caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’, has become one of my all-time favorites. Read more about this beauty in my previous post, ‘Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name’ by clicking here.

In addition to providing a pet-proof glass barrier for poisonous plants, terrariums also increase humidity and create endless possibilities for beautiful display of small, tender plants and objects. Learn how to make a terrarium and find more resources on my Indoor Eden page by clicking here.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Un-Flower Pots: Designing & Caring for Spectacular Succulent Container Gardens

May 9th, 2011 § 12

Beautiful Container Gardens are all about Color, Form and Texture. Great Designers Work with both Contrasts and Harmonies to Create Stunning Results. Hanging basket available at Walker Farm.

Saturday morning I spent the better part of an hour and a half listening to enthusiastic oohs and ahhs at Walker Farm’s Succulent Container Gardening & Hanging Basket Design seminar. I had so much fun watching Karen Manix demonstrate how to create a container garden of succulents and listening to Daisy Unsicker talk about how to care for these gorgeous plants, that I just had to share a bit of my experience with all of you here today…

Pretty, dark-violet hued Aeonium arboreum and orange-tipped, chartreuse leaved Sedum nussbaumerianum (opposites in the spectrum of colors) make a stunning color combination

Last week I mentioned how much I’ve come to love succulent container gardening. My new-found obsession started innocently enough a few years ago, while expanding my indoor gardening pursuits during the cold winter months. Because I am so busy with gardening during the growing season, I’ve traditionally kept houseplants to a minimum; with only windowsill herbs, and a few tough ferns to satisfy my horticultural-urges from December through March. Then, after creating a Secret Garden Room, and experiencing much joy and success with my expanded indoor garden pursuits —and a passion for epiphytes and terrariums— I began to develop an interest in succulents…

Click on the photo above to read a previous post on indoor gardening with succulents

I’ve been teaching myself about cold-climate container gardening with succulents as I go along. And much to my delight, this expanding indoor-outdoor collection of tropic, sub-tropic and desert region plants has thrived and grown, thanks to a lot of research and a little help from my friends. I’ve discovered that succulents are remarkably easy, undemanding plants to grow —even for cold-climate gardeners— both indoors and out. But like all living things, succulents and cacti do have specific requirements and preferences all their own. Getting the container, potting mix and combinations right are the first step toward success with succulents. By learning about each plant, and continuing to provide these beauties with what they need —and never more— a gardener can achieve long term success and satisfaction from their investment.

And here are two of the plants pictured from the previous photo, now transferred to a larger pot which I’ve moved outdoors

Lucky gardeners in attendance at Walker Farm’s free seminar last Saturday got a real head-start on the subject by learning how to care for succulent containers from real pros! I’ve mentioned before that local Walker Farm is a world-class horticultural destination for rare plant connoisseurs throughout New England, New York and even further afield. Beyond the fact that their plants are unusual, healthy and beautiful, we hortimaniacs love Walker Farm because their staff is incredibly friendly, unpretentious and truly knowledgable about what they sell. The owners and staff at Walker Farm have a real passion and enthusiasm for what they do and generously share their experience without a trace of the dread ‘high brow’ attitude that so often tuns new gardeners away from horticulture. The excitement and creativity at Walker Farm is downright contagious, and it’s one of the many reasons why their loyal fans keep coming back for more.

Karen Manix began the talk by covering the basic principles of container garden design, with succulents in mind. Quickly covering the five most important aspects of composition —scale and proportion (finding correct sizes and structure for the container), balance (creating a sense of unity and point of view), contrast (using different colors, textures and forms to create interest), rhythm and flow (repeating color, form and texture plays) and fullness (giving a sense of lushness to satisfy the senses)— Karen immediately jumped into a wonderful demonstration from a dynamic display of containers and plants…

Karen Manix, owner of Walker Farm, demonstrates the basics of container garden design, using a variety of succulents in different sizes, shapes, textures and colors. Isn’t that clam-shell container gorgeous? Perfect for topping an outdoor living room table…

Succulent Container Design in Action. Isn’t this a beautiful pot?

While filling a gorgeous, clam-shell inspired planter with growing medium, Karen discussed the importance of proper planting mix for succulents. Because these fleshy, shallow-rooted plants need to dry out between waterings, it’s important to choose a light-weight, fast-draining container medium; such as cactus mix or a home-made equivalent. Regular potting soil is too dense and holds too much moisture to keep succulents and cacti happy. As a general rule, planting medium for succulents must contain 1/3 to 1/2 pumice or coarse sand —such as builders sand or poultry grit— for proper drainage. Some succulents prefer slightly more porous planting medium than others. Always read up on the plants you are growing and know their soil preferences prior to placing them in pots. Before you begin designing your succulent container, Karen recommends filling the pot 3/4 full of growing medium, and adding a small amount of time-release fertilizer (which you can mail order or pick up at most garden centers).

Just a few of the beautifully tempting terra cotta pots available at Walker Farm

And speaking of pots, getting settled in the right home, with a location you love,  is just as important for your plants as it is for you! Although terra cotta is the best choice for succulents and cacti, due to its porous nature, it’s equally important to choose a pot that suits your plant’s style, and satisfies your eye. Try playing the colors and textures of your chosen pot against the colors and textures of foliage, as well as your overall design and composition. Check to be sure that your chosen pot has a good drainage hole (although pots without holes can be modified with a base of pumice, but this is more advanced). Karen mentioned covering the drainage hole in pots with screening, rocks or broken pottery. Although this isn’t always necessary to prevent soil-loss, it can definitely come in handy when you are moving pots in and out of your home, or when you are dealing with large sized drainage holes.

This spiky, ice-blue Senecio serpens would be nice in combination with a terra cotta pot or another plant with peachy toned foliage or flowers. Red-orange and green-blue are opposite on the color wheel, and they make beautiful music together…

Once you have your container and growing medium ready, feel free to play around with individual plants while they are still in their nursery containers, until you find a combination you like. Perhaps you might combine a dramatic upright specimen with a mound shaped plant and a couple of trailers in colors chosen to contrast with your pot. Like a dusky-purple echeveria? Look for a chartreuse colored species to settle in next to it, and make that violet color sing. New to container design? Don’t be afraid to look at photos for ideas or imitate other gardeners until you get the hang of it. The process should be fun and relaxing. And remember, you can always move the plants around and try again if you aren’t quite happy.

Choose pots to bring out the best in your plants. Walker Farm has incredible selection in their potting shed, but if you live far from here, you can find some real beauties online in Etsy shops; such as those made by Vermont artist Virginia Wyoming (click here to visit her lovely shop). And there are plenty of gorgeous containers melting my heart at Terrain as well.

Satisfied with your arrangement? Karen advised us to tuck in all the plants; gently adding potting mix to fill in gaps, and bring soil level approximately 1″ below the container rim. Top dress the container with a decorative mulch to help keep soil stable during watering and conserve moisture. Some designers like to use glass pebbles or marbles, others prefer to use colored gravel or natural stone. Whatever you choose, when you are finished, brush growing medium away from leaves and gently water, rinsing dust and soil from the foliage as you go.

At this point in the seminar, focus shifted to long-term care of succulent containers. Both Karen and Daisy (pictured below) emphasized that over and under watering —particularly in tandem— are a recipe for plant woes. Keeping soil moist —but no wetter than a wrung-out sponge— and allowing the planting medium to dry out a bit between waterings is key to success. Keep in mind that these conditions mimic the natural environment of these semi-tropical and desert region plants. The foliage of plants like succulents and cacti has evolved to hold moisture, in much the same way as a camel stores its water in humps to provide hydration between stops at the oasis!

Daisy, head propagator at Walker Farm, discusses the maintenance and care of succulents and container gardens…

Daisy covered all of the keys to success with container garden maintenance. In addition to balanced watering and regular fertilizing —probably the two most important chores in gardening— one of the major points Daisy covered in her thorough over-view was container size as relative to plant size. It’s always important to educate yourself about the plants you are working with. How big is that cute little button going to get in a year? How long will that enchanting vine trail… Will it visit you in your bed at night? With scissors in hand and orders to clip away at plants for fullness and to promote flowering, Daisy declared: “You control your plant, your plant doesn’t control you”. Now there’s some advice worth taking! Potted plants looking scraggly or leggy? Then it’s time for a haircut. Prune and pinch plants frequently, she advised, to keep them looking great and in proportion with the container. There’s no reason to struggle with an unmanageable plant.

Keep hanging plants attractive and manageable with regular pruning. Manage growth in confined containers, such as wreaths or baskets, by limiting fertilizer.

Of course, Daisy emphasized the importance of knowing both yourself, your location, and the plants you choose. Are you away from home a great deal? Lower maintenance, drought-tolerant succulent species are the best choice for your containers! Sunny spot with six or more hours of direct sunlight? Choose plants that can tolerate such hot, dry conditions. Cacti and many succulents from the American desert regions are a good choice for full sun. Partially sunny location? Most container plants thrive in this situation; including many succulents from the tropics and subtropics. Shade? The vast majority of succulents do not like full shade, and with a few exceptions —such as sansevierias— plants other than succulents will be a better choice for containers in shady situations.

Aphids are sometimes a problem for succulents, particularly when they are brought inside to overwinter. A lack of natural predators allows outside pests to grow un-checked when carried indoors. Here, they cluster and feed on a Kalanchoe in my studio. Click on photo for details on how to deal with succulent garden pests….

Pests aren’t usually a big problem for succulent container plants outdoors, but aphids, scale and mealy bugs can occasionally trouble some plants; particularly during and just after over wintering. Daisy, Karen and I all strongly advise using organic methods to deal with pest problems, and always try the least aggressive method first. During summer, try removing aphids by spraying plants with a strong blast of water from a hose. Often this will knock back pests long enough for natural predators —like ladybug larvae— to take on the battle. For particularly troublesome container pests —like mealy bugs or spider mites— or serious infestations, try insecticidal soap with neem oil or hot pepper in the mix. See my previous post (click here) for more ideas.

The Jewel Box Garden – Thomas Hobbs

Looking for more design ideas and care tips for succulent containers? We’re all big fans of Thomas Hobbs’ gorgeous books. I especially love his colorful Jewel Box Garden (pictured above). And of course, as I recently mentioned, Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Container Gardens is a wonderful resource for the creative container gardener. Walker Farm’s seminars and the regular support of their friendly staff are a great resource for local gardeners here in southern Vermont. I’ll be reporting more from their wonderful gardening seminars in the coming weeks. And if you live in the area, I encourage you to take advantage of these fun and free events for gardeners of all ages and stages…

Succulent Container Gardens – Debra Lee Baldwin

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Gardening Seminars at Walker Farm are Free and Open to the Public. The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation, of any kind, for editorial mention of businesses or products in this post.

Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com book links and Terrain Garden & Home). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Birds, Bees & Butterflies in the Garden: A Seminar on Attracting Winged Beauty! Brattleboro Garden Club in Vermont

March 11th, 2011 Comments Off

I’ll be presenting a free gardening seminar with slide show & discussion: “Gardening to Attract Birds, Bees & Butterflies”

Please note that the Brattleboro Garden Club has changed the time of this event to 6 pm. Thank you!

This event is sponsored by the Brattleboro Garden Club and will take place Monday, March 14th at 6pm, Green Mountain Chapel, 480 Western Avenue, Brattleboro, Vermont. The show & talk are open to the public.

For information on my gardening seminars, or to schedule a workshop, please see the “Garden Workshops” page at left. Workshop & Seminar information will be updated regularly as the spring schedule becomes available.

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On Magic Wings: A Visit to the Beautiful Butterfly Conservatory & Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden…

March 4th, 2011 § 6

Postman (Heliconius melpomene) – Native to Central and South America

Spring may be fast approaching, but yesterday’s cold and wintry temperatures left me craving a bit of warmth, moisture and color. I love visiting conservatories at this time of year, and fortunately, I live near several, wonderful gardens-beneath-glass. One of my favorite wintertime ‘vacation’ spots is the nearby Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield, Massachusetts. The 8,000 foot greenhouse contains hundreds of blooming, tropical plants, a koi pond, birds, reptiles and of course, beautiful and exotic butterflies from all over the world.

Gardeners often ask me what they can do to attract beneficial insects —especially butterflies— to their gardens. Providing a constant source of nectar from cluster-blooming flowers —particularly Buddleia (butterfly bush), Asclepias (both native and tropical milkweed and butterfly weed), Verbena bonariensis, Monarda (bee balm), Phlox, Heliotrope, Aster, Scabiosa, Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s Lace), Clethra alnifolia (sweet pepperbush), Viburnum, Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed), Liatris (gayflower) and Sedum (stonecrop)is one of the keys to drawing butterflies into your garden. And although the plants mentioned here are favorites, remember that most flowering plants will attract butterflies. Try to fill your garden with blossoms from spring through fall (when migrating butterflies need to gather strength for their journey south), supplementing flowering perennials and shrubs with free-blooming annuals. And remember, many plants attractive to butterflies are also fantastic sources of food for other pollinators; including bees and hummingbirds. Native plants and grasses supply not only food for local caterpillar and butterfly populations, but also create and provide habitat for butterflies throughout their lifecycle and metamorphosis. Butterflies prefer protected spots —enclosed by nearby fences, shrubs/hedges, trees or other tall plants— where they may light on flowers without being blown away by wind. Creating a still oasis will help you to spot these beautiful creatures on calm-wind days.

Beyond design and planting, there is another critical thing to consider when gardening with butterflies in mind. Most gardeners reading this blog have adopted organic practices, but it’s important to note that even the use of organic pesticides can be harmful to butterflies and other beneficial insects. Butterflies of course begin their lives in tiny, vulnerable egg-clusters. As their life cycle progresses —and they become voracious caterpillars— many butterflies are inadvertently killed when they consume pesticide-laden foliage on host-plants; including leaves treated with organic substances like insecticidal soap and Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki). Use organic pesticides sparingly —only when absolutely necessary— and in a targeted manner. To avoid unintentionally killing butterfly caterpillars and other beneficial larvae, become familiar with garden insects, and their various stages of development. Learning about butterflies —and watching their metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to mature butterfly— is a great activity to share with children. If you live in New England, I highly recommend a visit to Magic Wings Conservatory & Garden at any time of the year.

Cattleheart (Parides iphidamus) – Native to Central and South America

Glasswing (Greta oto) – Native to Central and South America

Yet-to-be Identified.

Female Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) – Native to Asia (see male below)

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonia) – Native to Central and South America

Rice Paper (Idea leuconoe) – Native to Asia

Male Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) – Native to Asia

Owl Butterfly (Caligo eurilochus) – Native to Central and South America

Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) – Native to Central and South America

All of the butterflies pictured here —from Central/South America and Asia— were taken at Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory. I will be writing more about North American butterflies in spring and summer. My favorite butterflies from my visit to the conservatory were the Glasswing and Blue Morpho, and in my own yard, I am partial to Monarch butterflies. What are your favorites? Do you try to draw butterflies to your garden oasis?

Special Thanks to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield Massachusetts for Information, Resources and a Lovely Afternoon!

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Article and Butterfly/Botanical Photos are ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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Dreaming of Springtime’s Sweet Veggies: Planning a Lush, Welcoming Potager…

February 16th, 2011 § 1

A tumbling jumble of nasturtiums creates a warm welcome for people and pollinators alike

Sweet seats! In June, the potager becomes my outdoor living/dining room

Wide pathways and mounded-earth beds give me plenty of room to work and maneuver about with carts and wheelbarrows

Winter is a wonderful season —I’m still having fun snowshoeing and enjoying quiet time indoors— but I have to admit that there’s one thing I’m really starting to miss about summer: leisure time in the vegetable garden. I love hanging out in my pretty little potager, and every morning —spring through fall— I head outside with a big cup of coffee to do a bit of weeding, watering and harvesting before work. My pets usually join me —rolling around in the warm, golden straw pathways— while I garden. Later on in the day, I often return to the potager and settle into my comfy wicker chair with a glass of wine to enjoy the sunset hour. On warm evenings, I sometimes eat my dinner in the garden; surrounded by the fragrance of sun-warmed herbs and the sound of summertime birds. Vegetable plots always grow best when they are frequently visited by the gardener’s shadow, and to me, this is no trouble at all —it’s pure bliss…

I like to try different varieties of vegetables and fruits every year. But some old-favorites make it into the potager every year. My favorite tomatoes include Early Girl, Orange Blossom, Lemon Boy, Brandywine, San Marzanos. I also love cherry tomatoes; particularly Sungold and Sweet 100s

Home grown hot peppers are both beautiful and tasty. I like to experiment with this crop too, but I always grow plenty of jalapeño, ancho and serrano chile peppers.

My diet is mainly vegetarian, and one of my favorite things about summer, is that I can completely avoid the grocery store for months (I buy my eggs and dairy products from a nearby farm stand). Growing basics, like potatoes, makes it easy to create impromptu, garden-fresh meals every day.

Now that I’ve begun sowing some early crops —herbs and onions indoors & arugula, spinach and lettuce in the unheated hoophouses— I’m really starting to get excited about the growing season ahead. I’ve ordered most of my vegetable seed —packages have already begun to arrive— and I just sent in my seed potato orders to Ronnigers and The Maine Potato Lady yesterday afternoon. Mid-late winter is a good time to begin planning and plotting out your vegetable garden on paper (1/4″ square grid paper works great for this purpose, with each standard box equalling one square foot of garden space), and to finish purchasing seed if you haven’t done so yet. Back in December, I mentioned that I enjoy the process of keeping an annual gardening journal and calendar. Not only is it fun to look back on my successes —and important to analyze failures— but my garden calendar & notes also remind me of things I want to plant (more potatoes and berries!), improvements I want to make (more vertical supports for peas, beans, melons and cucumbers, a new set of compost bins, and a garden shed!), and things I need to re-stock (like fish emulsion, twine and other supplies). Keeping a copy of what I planted —and where I planted it last year— is key to crop rotation (and avoiding pests and diseases). Drawing up a plan and listing everything out also prevents over-ordering or forgotten crops!

Building a pretty potager need not be expensive! My garden fence —pictured above— was built from saplings harvested on-site. And the wicker furniture in my garden was found —wearing a “free” sign— on the side of the road.

When laying out your garden, remember to include space for companion flowers and herbs. Although companion planting has become one of the more hotly debated horticultural topics —with some gardeners believing in its value, and others questioning the scientific proof of success— there is no doubt that flowering plants attract and support pollinating insects —like bees and butterflies— to your vegetable garden. And no matter where you stand on the companion planting issue, it’s pretty hard to argue with the horticultural value of pollinating insects and the beauty of flowers in the vegetable garden. Zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, shasta daisies, calendula (particularly the French marigold) and nasturtiums are easy-to-grow, and all make gorgeous vegetable garden additions. In addition to planting flowers in and around my vegetables, I grow extra blooms in my potager —just for cutting. Climbers are also pretty in the vegetable garden, especially if you have a rustic fence or trellis (vertical supports are particularly useful if you have limited space). Old-time, deliciously fragrant sweet peas are best sown directly outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked, but many flowers —including climbers like morning glories— can be started indoors for earlier bloom. And if you like to decorate with dried flowers in late summer and fall —or want to make wreaths— consider growing globe amaranth (Gomphrena), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis), statice (Limonium sinuatum), and other everlasting blooms in your cutting garden.

I love flowers in the vegetable garden, and fresh-cut bouquets in my house. So I grow plenty of beautiful bloomers in my potager.

I can’t imagine life without a vegetable garden. I grew up with horticulture —my family raised and sold organically grown strawberries and other produce— and teaching me how to grow my own food —and more importantly, the joy and value of gardening— is one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me. If you have children of your own, I encourage you to involve them in as much of the gardening process as possible. When planning your spring garden, order a few extra seed packets —both flowers and vegetables if you can make the room— just for your kids. Children will always remember early gardening experiences like sowing seed, and harvesting their first crop of peas. Even the smallest task —like carrying the harvest basket or looking for bugs— teaches children that their contributions matter to the family. With kids, it’s important to focus on the process of gardening —not so much the product— so that the entire experience is rewarding.

Sunflowers are a fun, easy-to-grow crop for children

Here, my friends Myriah and her daughter, Dharma, moisten seed their starting mix together

Make Gardening Come to Life: Sow Seeds, and Watch them Germinate

I plant my vegetable garden in 3′ x 8′, raised, earth-mounded beds. I try to keep enough space between the beds to comfortably maneuver around with a weeding basket and to pass through with a wheelbarrow or garden cart. This system works well for me, but I have seen many other successful vegetable growing methods. Urban gardeners may grow in pots or planters, and some suburban gardeners like to build wooden boxes to contain vegetables in the square-foot garden style, and many country gardeners simply till soil and hoe rows. There is no right or wrong way to set up your vegetable garden: experiment, do what works best for you, and enjoy the process. If you are new to gardening, it is a good idea to start small and grow your space as your confidence increases. Over the years, as I’ve become more interested in cooking and baking, my vegetable garden has doubled in size. It’s such a pleasure to create meals with beautiful, ripe, organic vegetables, grown and harvested fresh in my own backyard. This year, I plan on adding more hard-to-get, gourmet produce in my potager. I’ll be planting crops that store well in winter (like gourmet potatoes and onions, garlic, squash, carrots and beets), as well as seasonal, enjoy-at-the-moment produce like heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, and other unusual fruits and vegetables from around the world. I love eating fresh food all summer long, and by adding row-covers and unheated hoophouses to the garden, I’ve been able to extend my growing season; harvesting some produce —like root vegetables and leafy greens— year-round. I can’t wait to dig back in! This week, I’ll be posting more details about my spring garden plans, and I look forward to hearing about yours both here, and on Facebook and Twitter!

Remember fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes?

Helianthus annus ‘Autumn Beauty’ – Sunflower in my Potager

Remember the smell of the earth? It’s coming… Soon!

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Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his fantastic seed starting photos. Visit Tim’s site here.

Article and potager photos ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Indoor Eden: Trouble in Paradise… Aphids & Scale Attack the Studio Oasis!

January 5th, 2011 § 10

Pots in the Studio – Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’ (About to Bloom) Shares Space with Other Succulents (Mustard pot: Crassula ovata ‘Minimus’, Senecio macroglossus ‘Variegata’. Green pot: Kalanchoe mangini and Crassula ovata)

By now, it should be fairly obvious that I take as much pleasure in my garden during the winter months as I do during the warmer seasons. However on the grey and stormy days, when the temperature drops and the wind kicks up, there is much to be said for houseplants in January! I spend a great many hours in my painting studio at this time of year, and with its cathedral ceiling and bright, indirect light, it makes a perfect winter home for larger pots and taller plants. However this one room is hardly the limit of my indoor gardening. In fact, my entire house becomes something of a winter oasis after the hard frost in mid-October, with plants distributed throughout the studio, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, entry hall and secret garden room. In short, there are green, and multicolored things growing almost everywhere you look! And I love to admire the lush leaves and colorful blossoms against a snowy backdrop…

I Love the Contrast of Rich Green Houseplants Against a Wintery Back-Drop (That Red in the Snowy Background is Cornus alba ‘Siberica’ Beyond the Studio Door) Here, Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’ is About to Bloom, and Looks Particularly Luscious… Especially to Aphids!

Right now, my collection of Kalanchoe is about to blossom, and the various cultivars all look delightful -particularly to the aphids attacking them! It seems that sometime over the holidays —while I was too busy to notice the early signs— these nasty little freeloaders hatched and multiplied on one of my beautiful plants! Well, I caught them -and not a moment too soon. I pulled out my neem/soap mix (an OMRI approved insecticidal soap), and set to work spraying all of the foliage on this particular plant —and those sharing the space nearby— until it was thoroughly wet.  Take that you sap suckers! Experienced gardeners usually know what to look for when it comes to aphids, but just in case you are unfamiliar with them, here’s a photo to help you identify the problem…

Aphids on Kalanchoe (After Spraying with Neem) You Can Click the Photo to Enlarge & Get a Better View of Them !

Of course, this unpleasant invasion lead me to investigate my other houseplants. And lo-and-behold, there on the fine foliage of my agave: scale! Ugh! Spritz, spritz, spritz; on again with the neem insecticide. I really dislike scale, and find it difficult to eradicate. If the neem/soap mix doesn’t do it, I will upgrade to horticultural oil. Although one of scale’s natural predators, the ladybug, is active in the warmer parts of my house, this overwintering insect seems to avoid the cool studio. I always carefully check for ladybug larvae (click here for photo) before spraying, because even organic insecticides can kill beneficials like ladybird beetles as well as —outdoors during the growing season— bees, other pollinators and helpful bugs. I will have to keep close watch on this scale situation and repeat application of neem or horticultural oil weekly. Scale can become a real problem indoors unless the gardener is vigilant.

Scale on Agave geminifolia (after spraying with neem) This image may also be clicked to enlarge.

Many of my houseplants move outdoors during the summer months, but some —like the giant Ficus pictured below— are permanent indoor residents. These larger plants require regular maintenance to look their best; including pruning, which is done from a ladder in some cases. It looks like I accidentally damaged a branch while turning this tree last month, so I’ll need to get up there and make a clean cut; removing the unsightly dead foliage…

This Giant, Door-Framing Ficus Gives My Studio a True Conservatory Feel. But it Looks Like I Need to Tend to a Few Branches with My Pruners… Time to Pull out the Ladder!

After my rounds today —feeling the soil for moisture and checking all leaves and stems for pests and disease— I felt that most things were looking pretty healthy. I try to keep my houseplants on the dry-side during the winter months, but it’s important to strike a good balance between sahara and monsoon. The plants living in my studio —mostly succulents and many trees which are not particularly fond of humidity during the winter months— don’t seem to mind the dry, cool air. I keep most of the humid-air-loving tropicals —such as orchids, citrus and the mini-greenhouses: terrariums— upstairs in my bedroom, where I run a humidifier both for myself and my houseplants. I also segregate plants known and listed by the Humane Society as potential threats to my cat and dog (click here for article and links). The studio is closed up unless I am in there (where I can monitor munching), as is the Secret Garden Room.

My Feathery Sago Palm (Cycus revoluta)  —Making a Winter Home in the Painting Studio— Is Looking Healthy and Happy

Although It is the Most Commonly Grown Houseplant, Few Ficus benjamina Manage to Reach This Monstrous Height Before Getting the Old Heave-Ho. I Inherited This Specimen a Year Ago, After It Had Outgrown Its Former Home. The Weeping Fig Arrived by Trailer, and Is Now About 15′ High. The Studio is a Bit Cool for This Plant, But it Seems to Like the Bright, Indirect Light.

This Indoor-Outdoor Pot Contains Plants Recycled from a Smaller Container They Outgrew (Clockwise from top: Kalanhoe pumila, Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’, and Echeveria cvs)

I May Not Have My Conservatory Yet, But I Can Still Fake It By Creating an Eden Indoors (Cycus revoluta in foreground)

Someday, I hope to have a tiny conservatory all my own. But until then, I can enjoy most tender plants inside my home by finding the right micro-climate to suit their optimal growing conditions and by carefully catering to their needs and desires. For help with houseplants of all kinds, I highly recommend Barbara Pleasant’s The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual. I am a fan of this author in general —I adore her book Garden Stone, which I’ve mentioned here several times— and I think this book is particularly useful for indoor gardening. Pleasant thoroughly covers the essentials of growing over 150 common houseplants and —unlike some of the other books on my shelves— it is both well photographed and well written; with carefully organized, richly detailed horticultural information. Dorte Nissen’s The Indoor Plant Bible is another great resource, and with its compact size, tough cover and ringed-binder format, I find that it stays out near the houseplants where it is frequently used for quick reference. Both books are set up encyclopedia/dictionary style; with all plants arranged alphabetically by latin name. Barbara Pleasant’s book is also broken down by plant group (succulents/cacti, flowering/foliage plants). If you are new to houseplants, these two titles would be my top-shelf recommendations for indoor garden reference.

The Indoor Plant Bible and/or The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual are always on hand

It’s quite windy here today —and cold— so I won’t be spending much time outdoors. In meantime, I have my little Indoor Eden to content me and keep my color-loving eyes satisfied. My exotic houseplants bring a little bit of tropical warmth to my wintery world, and help me to more fully appreciate the stark and crystalline beauty of the landscape just outside the glass doors…

A Dusting of Sparkle-Dust on the Stone Terrace Greeting Me This Morning

And Flurries Swirled About In the Outdoor Dining Room

Reminding Me That, Of Course, Winter is Still a Beautiful Season

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Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Marking Time’s Passage in the Garden: Beautiful & Practical Journals…

December 2nd, 2010 § 3

Keeping a permanent record of your garden is one of the keys to horticultural success! I keep records for both my vegetable plot and my ornamental gardens

December 2010. It’s hard to believe that another year is drawing to a close, isn’t it? While flipping through my garden journal last week, I couldn’t help but marvel at how different the weather and crops were in 2010, compared to 2009. I just started a new section in my blank book to record observations on my winter vegetable garden (crops grown beneath hoop houses as well as horticultural pursuits indoors), and to make plans for spring 2011 planting.

Keeping a permanent record of your garden is one of the keys to horticultural success -and it’s also fun! I have a practical garden calendar/record (day-runner type with 3-ring binder and handy pockets for seeds and tags) where I keep dated notes on seed sowing and vegetable/fruit harvests, crop rotation maps, location records/photos, pest notes, fertilizing reminders and so on. But I also have a more traditional free-form journal (pictured above and just below) for thoughts, observations and sketches. This is the time of year when I usually order new inserts for my three-ring binder garden calendar/record and replace my free-form journal if necessary. Sure, I keep notes on my laptop and iPhone too, but I enjoy the process of sketching and writing with pen on paper.  And over time, I have learned the hard way that electronics, mud and water aren’t really the best of companions.

Planning 2011 Seed Order (Botanical Interests 2011 Seed Catalog)

In addition to laying out next year’s vegetable garden —rotating crops helps prevent repeat insect infestations and diseases— I’m also planning what varieties to plant based on past seasons. I have limited space in my potager, and I want to get a head start on orders before companies sell out of the choicest seeds. The Botanical Interests 2011 seed catalog arrived in my mailbox last week, and I have been circling items to order both for holiday gifts and for my own spring garden. My journal is helpful with this planning and ordering process, because I have written down which varieties of vegetables and herbs performed well in my garden, which did not, and which varieties I would like to try based on friends’ success. Every year, some companies discontinue seeds and others offer new varieties. So, as seed catalogs arrive, I scan lists to see where I can find and order my favorites (or, make a note to save my own seed when possible).

Garden Journal, Leather Cover Exterior (refill annually with a separate 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ calendar/journal)

A durable and beautiful garden journal makes a great gift for a new gardener —or any gardener not currently keeping one— particularly if it’s personalized with a few favorite seed packets, photos, notes, web-links, or even a gift certificate to a local garden center or online retailer, like Gardener’s Supply Company. If you —or the gardener you are shopping for— have a large garden, then consider a 3-ring binder type of journal cover and fill it with a calendar/notebook. A beautiful leather journal cover can be re-used from year to year, and makes a great gift. There are literally hundreds of notebooks, calendars and covers to choose from, but when you are shopping for a horticultural journal, keep in mind that for most serious gardeners, an easy-to-clean cover in leather or vinyl is really essential. Replaceable annual-calendar inserts make sense, as do extra plastic pockets. I like the day-timer style garden journals because they are flexible and can be used/filled anyway you like. Mine is the ring-binder type with plastic pockets and zip-lock pouches for seeds, tags, business cards, etc.

Garden Journal, Leather Cover Interior (free form style will fit any kind of notebook within the size constraints. This one has useful pockets for plant tags and seed packets)

This Garden Journal Leather Cover is nearly identical to the one directly above it, but it has a handy metal binder for loose leaf paper, calendar inserts and additional plastic pockets. I prefer this kind of journal for my day-to-day record keeping in the garden, because it keeps everything together. If I need to add more plastic pockets, I just swing by a local office supply store and match the stock to my binder.

Pretty, Simple and Inexpensive: Blossom Journal (Magnetic Closure). I’d choose this type of journal for a more meditative garden-writer or someonealready in possession of a task-oriented horticultural binder.

If the gardener you are shopping for tends more toward free-form record keeping or simple journaling, then a blank book would be a good choice. This type of journal is usually less expensive than zippered, three-ring-binder calendar/journals. A good, heavy cover is still important, although choosing a blank book with a pretty botanical theme seems right. I just ordered two journals (the one just above and below) as gifts. Will I keep one for myself? Hmmmmmmm….

Tree of Life Leather Journal (lined)

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Please note: The Gardener’s Eden is not an affiliate of Botanical Interest Seeds, but Michaela is a long-time, happy customer!

Article and Photos (Excepting Linked Product Photos) are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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I Spy a Beautiful, Scarlet-Red Dragonfly! Meet the Autumn Meadowhawk…

October 15th, 2010 § 3

An Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly (Odonate sympetrum vicinum) Rests in the October Sun

Look, it’s a red dragonfly! Actually, to be specific, this dragonfly is commonly known as an Autumn Meadowhawk (Odonate sympetrum vicinum). I got so excited when I saw this beautiful creature lighting beside me on a lichen-covered stone the other day, that I almost dropped my camera. I can’t believe I got the shot without scaring it away! I love dragonflies —as well as their close relatives the damselflies— and I find them completely fascinating. However, in spite of my attraction to these amazing insects, until recently I knew next-to nothing about them. And then, I took the picture above.

I’ve discovered that one of the more interesting things about owning a camera —and there are many— is that when I photograph something, I want to know as much as possible about it. No longer is it enough to know that it is “a frog” or “a snake” or “a butterfly”, now I’ve developed an obsession with identifying each thing that I photograph. Fortunately, the photograph makes re-examining a fleeting subject —close up in macro— and identifying it, much easier. So, after taking the photograph above, curiosity got the better of me and I began researching the Odoante order of insects (which includes damselflies as well as dragonflies) in my guidebooks as well as on a couple of great websites listed below…

This photograph was taken by my friend Tim Geiss. For identification purposes, all I have to go on here is this dragonfly’s intense, iridescent green eyes. Based on the eye color and spacing, I think it may be an Emerald Dragonfly, but in order to properly identify it, I would need to look at the wings and body, and know something about the environment in which it was found…

The Autumn Meadowhawk (red dragonfly at top), was fairly easy to identify with a macro photo in hand. First of all, I knew it had to be a dragonfly (suborder Anisoptera) as opposed to a damselfly (Zygoptera) because while it  rested, its wings were spread out and extended horizontally, perpendicular to its body (damselflies hold their wings together and parallel to their bodies when at rest). You can see photos of damselflies and dragonflies, and learn more about their differences on this great website, called Odes for Beginners (click here). Once I determined that it was a true dragonfly, I broke down the identifying details about the insect by various physical characteristics, listed here and discovered that this is a meadowhawk (a member of the skimmer family). To find the exact species, I jumped over to Bugguide (a great site for bug identification) to compare my photo with others submitted by readers. Based on habitat, and the distinctive yellowish/tan legs, and red stigmata (dots on its wingtips), I determined that this bright red dragonfly must be an Autumn Meadowhawk. Here in New England, the Autumn Meadowhawk is a late-season dragonfly, often found in grassy meadows and wetlands from early October through November. This species is widespread in the United States and southern Canada, from the east coast (as far south as Georgia), throughout the midwest and westward to the pacific northwest and northern California.

Dragonflies and damselflies serve an important environmental role as beneficial insects, providing significant and natural mosquito control. Dragonflies spend most of their life-cycle as waterborne nymphs. During this immature stage (which can last anywhere from two months to five years, depending upon species) dragonflies inhabit swamps, ponds and slow-moving streams, feeding mainly on mosquito and other fly larvae. After metamorphosis, dragonflies continue to serve as adult mosquito predators for the remainder of their lives (some species can live up to six months). Dragonflies are so effective at mosquito control, that many municipalities, parks and private estates purchase and release dragonfly nymphs into wetlands.

I’ve always loved watching these tiny biplane-like creatures as they dart about fields and ponds, hunting for an airborne meal. And now that I have been properly introduced to the Autumn Meadowhawk, I am eager to know more about the other dragonflies and damselflies in my area. If you are curious as well, and would like to learn more about dragonflies and damselflies, I suggest checking out this Odonate page provided by UC Berkley, as well as the other, helpful entomological sites I have linked above. One of the things I love most about nature and gardening is the endless sense of new discovery I feel. What a wonderful world.

Please Pass Along the Bug ID Sites to Friends with Children. Identifying and Learning About Insects is Great Fun for Kids!

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Second Dragonfly Photo Courtesy of Tim Geiss at Poltergeiss

Article and Autumn Meadowhawk photograph ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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August Abundance: Notes from the Kitchen Garden…

August 12th, 2010 § 3

My Summertime Kitchen

Mid August is always a busy month in the kitchen garden. Abundant cucumbers, summer squash, beans, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and onions must be harvested and put up —frozen, dried, pickled and/or canned— at the peak of freshness. Late summer chores in the potager include watering —especially during this extended dry spell we are experiencing in New England— weeding, monitoring and managing pests, succession sowing for short-season fall crops, and of course, daily harvests. Some of my stand-out crops this year include cippolini and sweet onions, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, romanesco broccoli, arugula, cucumbers, and finally —after last season’s meager crop and fears about late blight— gorgeous, fruitful tomatoes. Read more about the highlighted crops by clicking on each to return to a previous blog-post.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s a good idea to make notes for next year; jotting down harvest dates, this season’s plant successes and failures, troublesome pests and current plant family locations to assist you with next year’s crop rotation. Carrots look stunted or forked? Maybe it’s a good time to raise your beds, giving them more root-room. Lush growth in your garden but little or no produce? It could be time to test your soil pH and fertility. Plants petering out? Sow some quick turn-around crops like lettuce, arugula, beets, peas and beans for a fall harvest. If you live in a cold climate, now may be a good time to begin constructing hoop-houses to protect your crops from frost and extend the growing season (see post on hoop house construction here). If you are making your own compost, be sure to turn it regularly, keeping content balanced with layers of fresh ‘green’ kitchen scraps and pulled garden plants, dry (such as straw and paper) and brown (mature compost).

And busy as we gardeners tend to be in August, I like to slow myself down by pulling out the camera and taking a close look at the beautiful colors, textures and shapes in my late summer potager. Here are some highlights from my morning garden walk and daily harvest…

Romanesco Broccoli in the Potager

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes Ripening in the Garden

The Beautiful Edibles – Nasturtium and Pansies in the Potager

Ripening Butternut Squash Along the Kitchen Garden Fence

Cippolini Onions at Harvest

Yellow Summer Squash and Haricots Verts

Red Hot Chili Peppers in August

Morning Glories Along the Potager Fence

Orange Blossom and Early Girl Tomatoes in August

Basically Beautiful – Orange Blossom and Basil Salad

Garlic Harvest – Hard Neck Music, Continental & Doc’s German Garlic Drying on the Terrace

Haricots Verts, Calendula, Tomatoes, Arugula, Nasturtiums and Alpine Strawberries Bask in the Late Summer Sun

Blanching and Freezing Haricots Verts from the Kitchen Garden

Shiitake Mushrooms Harvested from the Mushroom Garden in my Forest (See Tutorial Post Here)

Ruby Red Chard in the Potager

Summertime Herb Harvest – Rosemary, Thyme, Sage and Mint

An Armful of Fresh-Cut Flowers Makes for a Different Kind of Treat in the Jar

Late Summer Abundance in the Potager

Late Summer Chaos in My Kitchen (read about building this homemade kitchen island here)

Gourmet Potatoes, Chard, Cucumbers, and Nasturtiums in the Potager

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly! Insect Enemy Number One: Tomato Hornworm Wanted Dead or Alive!

August 4th, 2010 § 8

The Hornworm (Manduca sexta) – Image ⓒ Tim Geiss at Poltergeiss

Wanted Dead or Alive: Manduca quinquemaculata (and also Manduca sexta) aka The Hornworm. Although he looks almost clownish in Tim Geiss’ photo (above), this garden pest is no laughing matter. The hornworm feeds on tomato plants and their relatives (other nightshades of the Solanaceae family; including peppers, tomatillos, eggplants, tobacco and the like) and a gang of these caterpillars can easily defoliate entire plants in a matter of days. Give these garden-thugs a week unchecked, and you can kiss your tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and tomatillos goodbye all together.

As you can see from the photo, Mr. Hornworm is a master of disguise. It’s nearly impossible to spot him as he crawls down the backside of leaves and stems, munching as he goes. In fact, most of the time, it’s easier to detect the tomato hornworm’s presence by the dark green droppings rapidly accumulating at the base of host plants. With this in mind, carefully inspect the soil/mulch in your garden as you weed and water. The best method of control is to handpick these caterpillars from garden plants manually (don’t worry about that menacing-looking horn – this bug looks tough but it’s all coward in the end). Step on ‘em and squash ‘em, or drop ‘em in a bucket of soapy water and it’s bye-bye Joker!

The Hornworm (Manduca sexta) Tail Detail – Image ⓒ Tim Geiss at Poltergeiss

Gardener’s Supply Company Organic Thurcide: Btk Solution

Organic controls for tomato hornworm include Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki) and spinosad (saccharopolyspora spinosa). Btk is a naturally occurring bacterium found in soil. When correctly handled and applied only to targeted foliage where caterpillars are feeding, Btk is both a safe and effective  organic solution for controlling tomato hornworm and other destructive caterpillars. However, it is important to note that Btk kills all worms and caterpillars —including butterfly larvae— when ingested. With this in mind, gardeners should never blanket-spray with Btk. Remember that the bacterium only works if the tomato worm actually eats it (and then it will take a few days). Target-spray the undersides of leaves and plant stems where the worms have been observed feeding. Spinosad is another biological insecticide product manufactured from a naturally occurring organism. When ingested (by caterpillars and other pests) spinosad will kill the host within a day or two. This is a low-toxicity product, but as with all organic pesticides, it should be used in a targeted manner and only when absolutely necessary. Try hand-picking first.

Gardener’s Supply Company Organic : Spinosad Pest Control Spray

Of course, as is often the case with villains, the hornworm has natural enemies. Birds will eat hornworms, so keeping bird houses and bird baths in your garden is definitely to your advantage if you’d like to encourage an aerial assault on the enemy. And, the appropriately named Assassin Bug (there are hundreds of individual species on the North American continent) should be welcomed to the garden as a member of your posse. In addition to the tomato hornworm, the assassin bug hunts down and kills many other ‘bad bugs'; including Colorado potato beetles, cut worms, aphids, Japanese beetles and many others. But in spite of his name, the Assassin bug isn’t the number one killer of hornworm. If you really want to see a hornworm taken down, you need to see the Braconid wasp in action…

No one stands between me and my golden tomatoes. Bring in the mercenaries: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!

**   Click Here To Cue The Theme Song! **

The parasitic wasp (including the hornworm destroying Braconid) is a natural, female mercenary extraordinaire. Non-stinging and pollen-eating, parasitic wasps are attracted to flowering plants in your garden, where they will happily co-exist with other beneficial insects and animals. Draw braconid wasps to your garden with creative companion planting. Adult braconids are attracted to the pollen and nectar of flowers such as Queen Anne’s Lace and tansy, and herb blossoms; including dill, fennel, mint and parsley. So plant lots of flowering herbs, edible blossoms and posies for picking in your potager.

The braconid wasp is a clever killer. As you can see below, it’s not the delicate wasp herself who actually does the dirty deed to the hornworm. Oh no… She tasks her voracious off-spring with the job; depositing her eggs on the backs of her unsuspecting caterpillar victims! Gothic garden? Yes, indeed. This Kafkaesque process is true inspiration for a stomach-churning horror-flick. After the adult wasp lays her eggs on a wormy, slow-moving host, the tiny larvae hatch and burrow into the skin of the victim, devouring the caterpillar from within and pupating on its back. Warning: this process (captured below by photographer Tim Geiss) may be upsetting to some viewers. Sorry folks, Mother Nature isn’t always pretty! But, you really ought to take a close look to become familiar with your mercenary friends. You want to leave the parasite-infested caterpillars near your garden, protecting the living ‘nursery’ beneath nearby leaves and grass. The Braconid’s parasitic children may be the stuff of true hornworm nightmares, but they are a tomato lover’s best friend….

Braconid Wasp Larvae Eating a Hornworm – ALIVE ! – Image ⓒ Tim Geiss at Poltergeiss

It’s important for a gardener to know the difference between the good and the bad, and to learn to tolerate the ugly. Not sure of whom to trust? For some great resources, check out my post, “Good Bug, Bad Bug? Let’s See Some ID Please…” over at Barnes & Noble’s Garden Variety blog, and round up your posse. When it comes to protecting my veggies, I’ve learned to work with Mother Nature’s big gun mercenaries, and to show no mercy… Just like Clint…

Whom Do You Trust? YouTube Clip from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Finale…

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Tomato Hornworm photographs are ⓒ Tim Geiss – many thanks to the artist for his patient stalking of the dread caterpillars!

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly images are ⓒ Untied Artist Pictures

Article ⓒ Michaela at TGE. All product images are courtesy of linked retailers.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Inspiration: The Japanese Tea Garden… Water Bowls Reflect Quiet & Calm

July 24th, 2010 § 1

Image ⓒ Linda Younker from Gardening with Stone by Jan Whitner

Calm, cool and serene; even the tiniest pool of water can create a quiet, contemplative mood in the garden. In summer’s sweltering, mid-day heat, a few stolen moments in a shady oasis can refresh and rejuvenate the spirit. Whether constructed from hypertufa, carved from natural stone, or assembled from man-made materials, small water features can attract wildlife and provide birds, bees and other creatures with a cool drink. However unless the pool is sloped and very shallow —like the one above from Jan Whitner’s inspirational book, Gardening with Stone— be sure to provide an escape route to prevent the drowning of bees and small mammals.

Building a small water feature from stone is a relatively simple project, even if the pool will be recirculating. Helpful tips can be found in the final chapters of Barbara Pleasant’s Garden Stone (see image excerpts below), a beautiful title with many creative ideas for both small and larger stone and water combination projects. The author has included a useful plant list for water bowls, which includes water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes), lily (Nymphaea), lotus (Nelumbo), iris, water clover (Marsilea mutica), and more. Foliage and flowers add an extra touch of beauty to miniature water gardens, and they also provide a handy resting spot for dragonflies, honeybees and butterflies…

Image ⓒ Dency Kane from Barbara Pleasant’s Garden Stone

Image ⓒ Dency Kane from Barbara Pleasant’s Garden Stone

In my search for Japanese-inspired water features, I turned up several beautiful books filled with creative hardscaping and layout ideas for even the smallest courtyard. Pocket Gardens by James G. Trulove contains both stylish, urban, modern and classic, traditional design-inspiration for small gardens – including many miniaturized water gardens. And one of my all-time favorite garden books, Haruzo Ohashi’s stunningly beautiful title, The Tea Garden, (currently out of print, but available used) features ritual water bowls on nearly every page…

Image ⓒ Roger Foley from Pocket Gardens by James G. Trulove

Image ⓒ Haruzo Ohashi from The Tea Garden

Image ⓒ  Haruzo Ohashi from The Tea Garden

On days when a dip in the lake or splash-down at the river isn’t possible, a shady garden room provides cool respite. A glistening pool surrounded by ferns and moss calms the eye and soothes the senses. Below, positioned at the corner of my Secret Garden, a reflective water bowl mirrors the sunlit wall…

Secret Garden Reflecting Bowl at Ferncliff ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Many solid bowls and vessels can be filled with water to create a tiny pool. Adding steady movement to the water will require the installation of a pump. Below are some pretty, pre-made water bowls and fountain kits I found online at Amazon…

Stacked Slate (lightweight stone veneer) Fountain at Amazon

Laguna Water Bowl Fountain available via Amazon

Water Fountain available at Amazon

Click here for Gardener’s Supply Company’s Organic Mosquito Control Rings for Still Water Features

**Mosquitoes will breed in rain barrels, bird baths, water bowls, and untreated still pools. Mosquito dunks are a safe, biological control utilizing Bti, a naturally occurring bacterium (Bti targeted usage is OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) approved. See site linked above for more details. For more information on Bti and it’s usage, please click here to read this well-written article with an explanation of Bt strains from Colorado State University**

Image excerpts from reviewed publications and/or products are copyright as noted and linked. Article and all other photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Sweet Summertime Risotto with Zucchini, Basil & Golden Peppers & Cultural Notes and Tips from the Kitchen Garden…

July 22nd, 2010 § 6

Summertime Risotto ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Endless summer. Between the deep green leaves in my kitchen garden, zucchini plants offer up their tender, young fruit and bell peppers glisten in the morning sun. Green and purple basil plants —pinched to form bushy mounds— brush my ankles, scenting the air as I walk along the pathways. Sungold tomatoes drip sweet from their vines and haricots verts fill my harvest baskets.

This certainly is the season of abundance, and one of my favorite ways to enjoy it is a simple summertime meal of risotto and garden-fresh vegetables. There are many, many wonderful possibilities when it comes to cooking risotto, and I like to use whatever is plentiful and freshest at any given moment. This week, another half dozen zucchini seem to present themselves every day, and the first ripe peppers have just begun to appear – what a delightful combination with a handful of basil leaves and freshly grated parmesan…

Summertime Risotto – Photograph ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Summertime Risotto

Ingredients: serves 4 moderate dinner servings or 6-8 as a starter. Double recipe to increase portion size or quantity

2          Tbs olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

3          Small zucchini, washed and  diced (4-5 inch freshly picked zucchini for best flavor)

1          Orange or yellow bell pepper, washed, seeded and diced

1          Clove fresh garlic, chopped fine

1          Small to medium sweet onion, chopped fine

1 3/4   Cup Arborio Rice

3          Tbs dry vermouth or dry white wine

3 1/2    Cups homemade or high quality vegetable broth, on simmer

1           Tbs unsalted butter

1/2       Cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese – plus extra for serving

1/2       Cup of fresh basil leaves, washed and torn into small bits. Plus a few whole basil tips for garnish

Directions:

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on high heat. Add zucchini and orange pepper, quickly sautéing (about 2-3 minutes) until gold. Lower heat and stir in garlic. Cook for another half a minute or so, stirring constantly. Remove and set aside to a plate.

In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil on medium. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent (about 2-3 minutes). Toss in the rice and cook another 2 minutes, coating the grains in oil. Add the vermouth while stirring. Immediately follow with a ladle (about 1/2 cup) of stock, stirring constantly. When the stock is absorbed, add another ladle, stirring steadily. Continue to ladle in stock as the rice absorbs the fluid. After about 20 minutes, taste the risotto. It should have a very creamy, but firm to the bite, consistency. At this point, stir in the butter, reserved zucchini and peppers and their juice. Add the torn basil and grated parmesan and stir gently. Remove from heat. Drizzle with oil and serve hot with a sprinkle of parmesan and a garnish of fresh basil.

Summertime Risotto with Zucchini, Basil and Orange Bell Peppers – Photograph ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Cultural Notes and Tips for Growing Great Zucchini – From the Kitchen Garden

My vegetable garden is growing and producing well this year, but I still keep a watchful eye for signs of trouble. In high-summer, when the weather in New England tends to be quite humid, I apply a homemade, organic fungicide to prevent powdery mildew on cucurbits (this plant family includes zucchini and other squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and more). This simple remedy (see recipe below) is mixed fresh in a pail and applied when the air is still, with a hand spray-bottle. Try to water the garden in the morning, focusing the shower at the root zone. I also patrol the garden for squash bugs (they attack all cucurbits, including cucumbers) removing them by hand when I spot them and applying insecticidal soap to plant leaves. Mint, oregano and nasturtiums are good companion plants for deterring squash bugs, though you may wish to contain aggressive mint —and rambunctious cousin oregano— in planters. Keep in mind that zucchini and other squash should be picked daily to promote fruiting and avoid the dread “door-stop zucchini”. Try to harvest small fruits (4-5 inch long zucchini have the best flavor and texture) in the morning.  Squash are heavy feeders, preferring compost-rich soil with a high nitrogen content. I plan ahead by amending the soil in next year’s squash bed (rotate to prevent disease) with ample compost and dried blood. If the soil in your garden needs work, then squash will benefit from supplemental feeding with fish emulsion during the growing season.

Homemade Anti-fungal Baking Soda Solution

3 Tbs baking soda

2 Tbs vegetable oil

3 gallons (plus) warm water

In a medium sized kitchen bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of baking soda with 2 cups of warm water. Add the oil and whisk together. Pour the mixture into 3 gallons of warm water. Transfer to spray bottles and use immediately, spraying the undersides as well as the tops of leaves. If any is left over, store in the fridge and warm in sun before using.

Use on cucurbits during warm, humid spells and at first sign of powdery mildew. This remedy is also useful for black spot.

***

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Chinese Proverb: The Best Fertilizer is The Gardener’s Shadow…

July 18th, 2010 § 2

The Gardener and Her Shadow Delivering Fish Emulsion to Cippolini Onions… Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Morning Chores After the Rain Storm. Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

High winds, driving rain, thunder and lighting; a violent band of storms shook me wide awake last night and when I heard hail on the tin roof, I immediately began fretting about the garden. Fortunately, when I headed to the potager this morning to inspect the damage, I discovered but a few minor knock-downs and some torn leaves on the summer squash. A wren house, no longer occupied, fell to the ground, and my weeding baskets were tossed about here and there. Lucky this time, even the morning glories seemed to smile at the new day…

Morning Glories in the Potager ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

We gardeners can not control the weather, but there are some other hazards we can at least try to prevent. Fungal infections, insect infestations, excess competition from weeds; these are a few of the expected garden threats which I can control. I tend my vegetable garden daily, and by doing so, I keep my work load light. If the weather is particularly dry, I may spend most of my time watering the root zone of thirsty plants and potted herbs. And if things are wet and humid, evening hours will be occupied by plucking slugs from my broccoli plants and alpine strawberries. There’s always something to do…

Serenade Garden Disease Control from Gardener’s Supply Company Online

Serenade and Bonide organic disease and insect control products are also available to order online at Amazon.com and in most garden supply stores

Last year, much of the United States was troubled by late blight, causing the loss of tomato and potato crops, particularly in the Northeast. I was fortunate, and the blight missed my garden last summer, but I didn’t want to take any chances this year. There is no cure for late blight, and once infected with the disease, tomato and potato plants are doomed and must be removed from the garden and burned. Prevention is the key, and although there are no guarantees, OMRI approved copper fungicide has proven somewhat successful in keeping late blight at bay. I regularly dust or spray my plants with Serenade or Bonide (copper fungicide) and keep my tomato and potato plants clear of weeds and debris. Burpee also sells organic insecticides and fungicides for online…

Burpee Organic Fungicide/Insecticide

In truth, diagnosing a problem can be difficult without seeing, and learning to identify diseases first hand. Such skill comes to all gardeners eventually, with time, experience and education. Vegetable MD Online, the diagnostics page from Cornell University’s horticulture department, is an excellent, free online resource for all gardeners. Good photography combined with a wealth of great, up-to-the-minute information on plant disease and control makes this site my top choice for diagnostics. If you want to be a successful organic gardener, then learning natural ways to maintain healthy plants is key. The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control, from Rodale, is my favorite resource for the latest information on disease and organic trouble shooting. Keep in mind that even organic solutions can be harmful to beneficial insects, such as honeybees, when applied to plants indiscriminately. Insecticidal soaps and oils should only be used on targeted problems as they appear.

The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control

Weeding, pinching and pruning, mulching, dusting, fertilizing and harvesting; yes, my garden is frequently visited by the gardener’s shadow. But unlike Peter Pan, I haven’t quite figured out how to separate from my silhouette. If I could, maybe it would be willing to do half of the work…

The Ever-Present, yet Elusive Shadow ⓒ TGE

Disney’s Peter Pan

Hello Shadow, Won’t You Come Help With the Watering, Weeding and Harvest?

See these gorgeous steel baskets and more wire caddies, plus metal flower buckets and other garden treasures I have found online in The Potting Shed.

Inspiration/Image: Walt Disney’s Peter Pan

Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All other images are copyright as noted or linked.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Ruby-Red, Fragrant Fraises des Bois: Life’s Sweetest Little Luxuries…

July 2nd, 2010 § 5

Fraises des Bois, or alpine strawberries, offer a continuous supply of summertime fruit – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Oh the magic of Fraises des Bois! To me, they look as if they belong at the center of a tiny table in an enchanted forest; one set just for leprechauns, fairies, nymphs and elves. Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are fragrant, delicious and easy to grow. Sometimes called ‘the wood strawberry’, this rose-relative is a separate species from the common garden strawberry, (Fragaria x ananassa), and is native to North America, Europe, northern Africa and some parts of Asia. Unlike their runner-forming cousins, these lovely mounded plants produce fruit throughout the growing season – spring to fall. Many cultivars are available, including the delightful red ‘Alexandra’ and ‘Mignonette’, and for the more kaleidoscopic plate, there are even white and yellow alpine strawberries! Strawberries of all kinds are best planted out to the garden in early spring – but it is important to prepare the site well in advance (unless you are growing in containers). So if you would like to grow alpines in your potager next year – read on….

Alpine strawberries are herbaceous perennials (the foliage dies back in fall and then returns from hardy roots in spring). Many cultivars are very cold hardy (some to -30 degrees fahrenheit) and they can be grown directly in the garden, or in containers – especially strawberry planters – on decks, patios, steps and terraces (if grown in containers, the berry plants are best moved indoors for overwintering in cold climates). Alpine strawberries are easy-care perennials, and they are usually propagated from seed (collected or purchased),  or easier yet, by division of plants. All strawberries prefer slightly acidic (pH 6-6.5), hummus-rich, well-drained soil. Growing strawberries on a slight slope  –raised bed or in containers– helps to provide both drainage and air-circulation. When grown directly in the garden (as I grow mine), spacing plants at least 16″ apart will result in best fruit production. Mulch is important both to protect the shallow roots from dehydration and temperature fluctuations. In winter, I heap mounds of clean straw over alpine and common strawberry plants, and I try to protect them from late spring frosts with removable row covers (though as patches increase in size, this becomes much less feasible). Alpine strawberry plants can and should be divided every few years – in cold climates this is best done in early spring so that the root systems will have time to establish. Early fall division is also possible, though much riskier in zones north of USDA 6. When the task is undertaken early in the season, the easiest way to make more alpine strawberries is through division of the underground stolons (though collecting and drying seed for germinating indoors works too, if you are patient). I fertilize all strawberry plants with good compost, and I regularly test the soil in all of my garden beds to assure a proper balance of key nutrients (particularly phosphorus)…

The jewel-like color of the fruit, sensational fragrance and sweet flavor more than compensate for the tiny size of alpine strawberries. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Alpine strawberry blossoms ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Frais des Bois at harvest ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Competition for alpine strawberries comes in many forms; from weeds and insects to chipmunks, mice and birds. In my garden, the boisterous mocking bird clan living in the adjacent scrub seems particularly interested my strawberry crop this year. I do love their singing and bug catching, but I wish the mocking birds, robins and other winged-robbers would stay away from my strawberries! Now, don’t you feel too bad for my feathered friends – they have plenty of wild elderberries (Samubus canadensis), bramble berries and bugs to feast upon. If birds are snagging your berries, you can always cover them with safe Bird Netting, which allows air flow and pollinating bees to fly in and out. Alternately you could use insect pop-ups (such as those linked below) set in place when berries are close to harvest, and then removed at intervals for critical wind and bee pollination. Slugs can be a real problem during rainy periods (copper edged raised beds, beer traps and diatomaceous earth are some commonly used deterrents), and insects –particularly sap beetles, tarnished plant bugs and bud weevils — are always an issue with strawberries of all kinds. Never apply an insecticide, even an organic insecticide, during bloom periods, as you will kill beneficial insects (including our precious honeybees) along with the less desirable, ‘bad bugs’.  For backyard berry growers, I advise hand-picking insects and the limited use of row covers (see below) when berries are close to ripe.

For more on berry growing, check out my review of Barbara Bowlings excellent Berry Grower’s Companion (linked here) available through Barnes & Noble online. And say tuned… More berry growing tips will be coming soon!

Containers with pockets, like the one pictured from Amazon above, are a great way to grow alpine strawberries.

***

Article and photographs, (excepting last four by affiliates), © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Native Plant Seminar Discussions: Viburnum Beetle Alert…

May 17th, 2010 § 2

Healthy Viburnum trilobum foliage and flower buds

Over the weekend, I presented a talk on native plants for ornamental landscape use to a fantastic group of New England gardeners, and some very good questions were raised about alien pests and diseases of North American native plants. One of the gardeners participating in the workshop mentioned die-back on the cranberrybush viburnum, (V. trilobum, as pictured above), in her yard. Without looking at the actual shrubs, it is impossible to know whether the die-back is being caused by viburnum beetles or by late frost or some other defoliating disease. However, at this time of year, I am concerned about the appearance of viburnum beetle larvae. It is very important for gardeners in the northern/north central United States and Canada to be on the lookout for small, greenish-yellow, caterpillar-like larvae on viburnum. If you grow shrubs in this genus -particularly cranberrybush and arrowwood viburnum- and you begin to notice skeletonization of foliage, check the undersides of the leaves -using a magnifying glass if necessary- for beetle larvae, (see Cornell University photos below). Spraying larvae directly with insecticidal soap at regular intervals will help contain the infestation. But be sure to avoid spraying beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, when applying any pesticide, including organic oils and/or soaps.

Photo Kent Loeffler/via Cornell University – click link here for CU article

The viburnum beetle, (Pyrrhalta viburni) -shown above in its spring larval stage- is a highly destructive, non-native beetle introduced to North America. In North America, the beetle was originally spotted in Canada, and it has been moving southward ever since. The beetle was first seen in the United States in 1994 along the New York State, US/Canada line. This voracious insect has been slowly, but steadily expanding its territory in the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest, and has now been spotted on viburnum, (particularly the native arrowood viburnum, V.dentatum and cranberrybush viburnum V. trilobum), in a number of northern states in the US. Both larvae and adult viburnum beetles feed on plant leaves, robbing the shrub’s ability to photosynthesize. Unchecked, this insect has the potential to destroy the native populations of a number of viburnum species throughout the North American continent. Arrowwood viburnum, (V. dentatum), and cranberrybush, (V. trilobum), fruit is an important source of food to North American songbirds. Horticulturalists hope that over time, our native viburnum will develop resistance to these insect invaders, though widespread destruction of wild viburnum populations is feared.

Some viburnum appear to be more resistant than others to this invasive pest. However, the shrubs most vulnerable to destruction are viburnum with smooth, broad leaves, including many natives. For more information on this beetle, including varieties most susceptible, and other ways to spot and manage the pests, visit the Cornell University “Citizen Science” Viburnum Beetle Information Page, linked here. If you suspect viburnum beetle in your area, be sure to report the sighting to your local university extension service, in order to help with tracking and management of these insect invaders.

No viburnum beetles have been spotted on my compact cranberrybush, (V. trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’), yet this spring, though the insect infestation is here in North America to stay. All gardeners should be on the look-out for this destructive pest, so that it can be properly managed.

I would like to extend a special thank you to this weekend’s seminar participants at Walker Farm for their great native plant questions. I will be posting more articles and information from the seminar over the coming weeks. Please scroll down the blog to find additional native plant posts, information and resources…

***

Top photo is copyright Kent Loeffler via Cornell University Online. All other photos are copyright TGE.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Organic Manifesto: Maria Rodale’s Unflinching Look at the Perilous State of Farming in America & A Call to Action…

March 16th, 2010 § 4

Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto, (available at Barnes & Noble today)

Last year, when a friend of mine insisted that I rent and watch “King Corn”, I put my name on a long waiting list, even though I am not one to get overly excited about documentaries. I’d heard about the film of course, and after watching “Food, Inc.”, I knew that a deeper look at American agriculture -particularly corn production- would be sobering. After watching both films, I began to seriously doubt the integrity of many government-run institutions and policies, which I’d always assumed benefitted American farmers, and protected us as consumers. So when Kristin, my editor at Barnes & Noble, sent me an advance copy of Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto, I thought I was already fairly well informed. I was wrong. This book was a real eye-opener, and I hope you will take the time to read my review of the book for Barnes & Noble at their Garden Variety blog linked here.

Both “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn” are must-see films, but as important as these documentaries are, I urge you to read Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto. Better yet, (if you can afford it), order a copy for yourself, and then drop it off as a donation to your local library for others to read. I think it’s that important. Rodale’s new book, with an introduction written by Eric Scholosser, takes a deeper look at some of the issues touched upon in “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn”. This throughly researched exposé bravely explores both the history and the environmental consequences of chemical, (aka “conventional”), farming, and offers realistic, organic alternatives. Do we really need man-made fertilizers and toxic chemicals to grow food, or is this a myth created by the multi-million dollar companies benefitting from this government-supported system? Rodale calls the public to action in her manifesto, urging us to act on the most basic level: demand organic produce.

Have you seen “King Corn” and “Food, Inc.”? Have they changed the way you look at farming in America?

Buy “King Corn” –  from Barnes & Noble

Buy “King Corn” –  from Amazon.com

Buy “Food, Inc.”  –  from Barnes & Noble

Buy “Food, Inc.” –  from Amazon.com

***

Article copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal and may not be used or reproduced without written consent.

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Hello Friend – WAIT – Whose Team Are You On Anyway?

March 9th, 2010 § 7

It’s easy to recognize this friend as an adult. A ladybug rests upon Peperomia. Photo © Michaela at TGE

Hello friend… or foe? In all of life it’s important to know your friends from your enemies, but as gardeners this issue is especially important. We are conditioned to think of bugs as destructive, ‘icky’ and ‘bad’. Of course this isn’t always the case. Hardly. In fact, some bugs are easy to like – especially if they are beautiful. Butterflies and moths easily charm us with their colorful patterns as they dance on the breeze, and dragonflies delight us with their bright colors and aerobatic maneuvers. Honeybees seduce us with their sweet nectar, and their bumbling cousins are equally charming as they buzz about the garden. Perhaps the most famous of all, pretty red and black ladybugs have become the pin-up girls of the beneficial insect world. In fact right now, as I type this sentence, hundreds of these helpful creatures are emerging from hibernation in my house, covering my houseplants like a smattering of little red polka-dots.

But what about the other “good” bugs? Would you know a beneficial insect if you saw one? It’s certainly been a long time since my last entomology class, and I admit that I am a bit rusty. Although I can easily recognize most garden pests, and I know how to combat them, I am not always spot-on with my identifications. Part of the difficulty lies in the nature of insect metamorphosis. What? Yes, that’s right: metamorphosis. Remember that from school? And no, I’m not talking about Franz Kafka’s famous novella, (although that is one of my all time favorite, freaky-works of fiction). Most of us become familiar with the process of metamorphosis in elementary school, when butterfly caterpillars, (particularly Monarch and Swallowtail), are collected in containers during science class. Kids of all ages love to watch as a mature butterfly emerges, transformed after weeks inside a moody, magical chrysalis. All insects live out their lives in stages, and it’s important for a gardener to know how they look in their ‘baby’, (larval, nymph, pupa), phases as well as in their mature form.

Most experienced gardeners will recognize the black and orange ‘monster’, (pictured below), as a ladybug, (or ladybird beetle, also known as Coccinella septempunctata), in its larval stage. In one of the more dramatic insect transformations, this freakish-looking creature morphs into the cute little red and black beetle we all know and love. If you have never  seen one before, do get to know this chameleon, for it is your dear, dear friend. The ladybug is a garden hero, and it does an extraordinary amount of work before it even reaches adulthood. Aphids; mites; scale: these garden pests are the ladybug’s favorite foods. In fact, a single ladybug can consume thousands of destructive aphids, mites and other insects within its lifetime. Would you have killed this creature, (pictured below), if you saw it in your garden? Many do. Sometimes the ladybug larvae is mistaken for a pest, and other times it is accidentally wiped out with an application of insecticide intended for the very aphids it is actually consuming, (warning: many organic pesticides can kill beneficials, especially in the larval stage)…

But would you recognize it as a baby? (An immature lady bug feasting upon aphids. Photo: Vejezus via Wikimedia Commons)

The first step toward becoming a responsible, organic gardener is to recognize the natural things living around you, and to learn about the role they play in the ecosystem. ‘Good’ or ‘bad’, all creatures are part of the web of life, and we should respect them. Of course this doesn’t mean that I invite aphids to join me for dinner in my vegetable garden. Heck no. I plant my garden to enjoy –  and to EAT! But, I do try to work with nature, not against her, in order to keep my garden free of insect competitors!

Like most gardeners, sometimes when my plants are under siege, it’s hard for me to decide who or what is to blame. Even the calmest gardener can start to panic when a favorite cultivar is being skeletonized. Learning to recognize the tell-tale evidence left behind during or after an insect attack is one of the keys to gardening success. Recently I posted an article, “Help! Something Is Bugging My Plants, (And Me Too)!” on the Garden Variety Blog at Barnes & Noble. There you will find some helpful diagnostic resources. I also believe that a good, easily transportable, insect ID guide book is an excellent gardening tool. Below I have linked my two favorites, in order of preference. For quick reference, I am a big fan of the indestructible, laminated Mac’s Field Guide to bugs, which hangs on my garden gatepost all summer like a wild-west “Wanted” poster. One side has “good” guys, flip it, and on the other, “bad” guys are illustrated in all stages – very useful. While you are here today, have a look at the right hand side of this blog. Scroll down until you see the “Insects and Entomology” category – there you will find a list of useful links. Explore some of the free online resources listed there. Many of these sites offer fantastic images to help you identify common, as well as uncommon insects, and some offer excellent information on how to combat backyard pests in a safer way.

The garden season is on its way! It’s time to flip through the list of regular insect-characters, and familiarize yourself with the different players and costume changes you will encounter this year. Friend or foe? Before you start attacking, or laying out your welcome mat, it’s wise to spend some time getting to know your garden “guests”…

Your friend, Milkweed Assassin Bug, is one of  over 4,000 members of the Heteroptera order. (Photo credit: Ira Eskins via Wikimedia Commons)

Buy from Amazon : NWF Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America

Buy from Barnes & Noble: NWF Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America

Buy from Barnes and Noble : NAS Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders

Buy from Amazon: NAS Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders

***

Article and photographs, (with noted exceptions), © Michaela at TGE. All rights reserved.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced in any way without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world an link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Enjoy this site? Help it to grow and flourish! Please help support The Gardener’s Eden by shopping through our affiliate-business links. A small percentage of each sale will go toward the maintenance of this blog. Thank you !

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