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The Balance of Nature: Bugs, Good and Bad

April 30th, 2009

The insects world is quite an amazing thing, there are so many of all shapes, sizes and colors.
yellow-spider
Insects can be good or bad; spiders are good, aphids are bad (I realize spiders aren’t technically insects, but we’re going to include them). The good insects are predatory and they feast on other insects, these are the kinds of insects you want to have around.
praying-mantis-web
Some bugs are very beneficial, but they creep us out – spiders are the main culprit here. I have made peace with all of the big wolf spiders that live around our home (and boy can these guys get HUGE). I have to remember that they eat tons of bad insects.
beneficial-insect-order
You can order beneficial insects from various dealers and release them on your property. Certain insects can really help deal with an infestation of another insect. For example: Ladybugs LOVE aphids. If you have an aphid problem, order some ladybugs or some green lacewings. Here is some great information about the best predatory insects for your gardens.
beneficial-ladybugs
green-buglocust
Insects are also beneficial to the gardens because many of them are pollinators. Pollinators are great in the garden because they increase your crops.
honey-bee-on-milk-weed
There are all kinds of pollinators you can encourage in your gardens without actually having to keep bees. The easiest way is to buy a Mason Bee house to encourage these little orchard bees to reside on your property.

Do you welcome bugs into your gardens?

The Balance of Nature: Growing Soil

April 28th, 2009

SOIL (noun) – the portion of the earth’s surface consisting of disintegrated rock and humus.
sandy-soil
Healthy soil is the foundation of a good garden. You can grow plants in bad soil but it will require tons of chemicals, and that’s not good for you or the environment. I believe real gardeners grow soil not plants. If we focus on growing good soil our plants will thrive!
clay-soil
We aren’t blessed with good soil here at Chiot’s Run. When we moved here 7 years ago the soil was in terrible shape. Years of chemicals and pesticides had left our flowerbeds a barren wasteland with few plants and not a beneficial insect or earth worm to be found. I wasn’t really in to gardening at that time, but I knew I needed to improve the soil if I ever wanted to have any flowers or plants. So we started our first compost pile and bought some organic chicken manure and worked it into the flowerbeds.
wheelbarrow-of-compost
I’m glad I did that now, because even though our soil still has a long way to go, it’s beginning to become loamy and my plants are finally starting to flourish. I notice worms every now and then when I dig and other beneficial insects are returning.
front-flowerbed
So how do you improve your soil? There are many articles, books, and experts out there that will tell you to get a soil test done. I never have, I’m a bit of a minimalist when it comes to these kinds of things. I figure if people could do it years ago, I can do it now. I believe in working with the soil you have; adding good compost and feeding it well. There are ways to tell if your soil is deficient without a soil test.
working-in-the-garden
First you want to figure out if you soil is clay, sandy, or loamy. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference, if it comes up in big chunks and gets hard as a rock when it’s dry, you probably have clay soil. If your soil has the same texture as your children’s sand box and it’s dry the day after a big rain, you probably have sandy soil. If your soil is dark brown, crumbly and stays moist but not too soggy, congrats, you have loamy soil. I have clay soil on my front hillside and sandy soil in my front flowerbeds.
dark-soillight-soil
The next thing you want to figure out is if your soil is acidic or alkaline. My soil is acidic, how can I tell? My first sign was the blue hydrangea. It’s the most beautiful shade of blue, hydrangeas only bloom this blue in acidic soil.
ph-testing-kit
You can buy an inexpensive pH testing kit at your local garden center to test your pH. It’s simple, easy and fun! Do it with your kids for a science lesson. You can also send in a sample of your soil to a lab to get a complete test.
soil-additives
The best thing you can do for your soil is to avoid chemicals and pesticides and add compost, manure and other kinds of humus. You should stick to all-natural fertilizers made from rocks and minerals and natural materials (like blood meal, bone meal, greensand, wood ash, phosphate etc). Compost is by far the best thing you can add to your soil, and homemade is best because you know exactly what’s in it.

So are you a grower of soil? How do you feed & nourish your garden beds?

The Balance of Nature

April 27th, 2009

I saw this ladybug in my garden this past fall, so I snapped a photo. I thought it would be a great reminder of how all things in the garden work together.
lady-bug
Our garden health is like our personal health: maintaining a healthy foundation limits problems now and down the road. When you maintain healthy soil in your garden you’ll have healthy plants and you won’t have too many problems with insect infestations or plant diseases.
four-lined-plant-bug
When bad insects come they are usually followed by the beneficial ones that prey on them. This is the balance of nature, and it’s important to keep that balance.
praying-mantis-web1
When we step in trying to fix things we perceive as problems with chemicals and quick fixes, we often only do further damage. Plant disease and insect infestations are often symptoms of a deeper problem. If we resort to the quick fix spray, often our problems will persist or multiply because we aren’t fixing the actual cause, we are only treating the symptoms.
yellow-butterfly
Even so called green, non-toxic, and all natural products often kill the beneficial insects along with the bad ones. So what are we to do if we don’t want to upset this natural balance? We’ll be exploring this all this week here at Chiot’s Run.

Are you an organic gardener, or do you use chemical fertilizers, herbicides & pesticides?

Quote of the Day

April 26th, 2009

There is a very fine line between “hobby” and “mental illness.”

–Author Unknown

bees-on-gloves
I had to laugh when I read this. I do have people tell me I’m weird because I like to grow some of my own food, keep bees and want to have pet chickens. I have to wonder though, with some of the hobbies people have, am I the weird one?

What do you think, hobby or mental illness?

Betsy Ross at Chiot’s Run

April 25th, 2009

It’s that time of the year again to put up Old Glory at Chiot’s Run. I always love to have a flag in the garden, it is a constant remind of what a wonderful country we live in.
tattered-flag
My flag was a quite tattered from spending the summer outside last year so it was time for a new one. I have a special flag pole that doesn’t allow the flag to wrap itself around it, but in order to attach a new flag I had to cut the loop off of the old flag and attach it to the new one.
stitching-flag
Not a difficult task for someone who started making Barbie clothes at the age of 10. So I pulled out my sewing machine and stiched up the new flag to fit the current flag pole.
stitching-flag-2
Obviously Dexter does not know proper flag etiquette since he draped himself in the flag, I suppose he’s seen it on TV too many times to know it’s not proper.
cat-draped-in-us-flag
STANDARDS of RESPECT

The Flag Code, which formalizes and unifies the traditional ways in which we give respect to the flag, also contains specific instructions on how the flag is not to be used. They are:

* The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing. It is flown upside down only as a distress signal.

* The flag should not be used as a drapery, or for covering a speakers desk, draping a platform, or for any decoration in general. Bunting of blue, white and red stripes is available for these purposes. The blue stripe of the bunting should be on the top.

* The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard.

* The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, fireman, policeman and members of patriotic organizations.

* The flag should never have placed on it, or attached to it, any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind.

* The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.

When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting hands and arms. To store the flag it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously.

The flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary.

When a flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner.

flag-disposal
I wasn’t really up for burning my tattered flag, so I decided to take it to my local local American Legion. Ours has this handy flag disposal box out front so that’s where our flag went. Most American Legion’s have a special ceremony to properly dispose of the flags on June 14, which is flag day.
retiring-flag
My new flag should last a year or two, proclaiming my love for this wonderful country and decorating my gardens.
flag-in-the-garden
Is you garden patriotic? Do you have a flag flying?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but just recently moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine.

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