Tag Archives: beneficial insects

Monarch butterfly


Photo credit: Rick L. Hansen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wikimedia

Monarch butterflies have been in decline for years. As a result, backyard gardeners, butterfly lovers and environmentalists have been encouraging homeowners (and renters) to provide plants for Monarchs. I found the following graphic on Facebook and thought I would share it here:


  1. Plant milkweed. It is important to locate seeds and plants that are native to your area. Very, very important.
  2. Encourage your locals schools and businesses to allow a Monarch-friendly patch of milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants to thrive. Important: do not mow down plants until and unless they have gone to seed or died back naturally.
  3. No pesticides: my property is a pesticide-free zone. During the warm months, there are hundreds of insect species that stop by or live here including butterflies, bees, wasps (not all are bad), dragonflies, flies, and more.
  4. Share this information with others. If I had my way, pesticides would be banned from use by the general public and government entities.

More information: Journey North Monarch Butterfly project.


Organic Gardening in New England – Late Spring 2014


One of my two oregano plants that come back every year.

One of my two oregano plants that come back every year.

I spent a good part of yesterday gardening in my slow-motion way alternating with studying (for my online summer class in communication). I pulled weeds, hand-turned soil to loosen it up, and planted Lemon squash, Suyo Long cucumber, Stowell’s Evergreen sweet corn, and King of the North sweet pepper seeds–all heirloom varieties.

Amish deer tongue lettuce transplant

Amish deer tongue lettuce transplant

Because I rotate crops, the squash seeds were sown in the terraced garden near the driveway, the sweet pepper seeds in the grow bags I made last year on the other side of the driveway (that provided lots of yummy tomatoes), cucumbers and corn in the back garden raised beds. I transplanted those little Romaine lettuce volunteers I found in the grass in the front garden as well, and they have recovered and are enjoying this cool, dark day.

Today, I hope to sow pickling cucumbers and bush beans in the front garden; Moskovich tomatoes, red and blue potatoes, and some herbs will go in the remaining back yard raised beds, two remaining — the third will remain fallow this year except for a cover crop and volunteers (garlic and broccoli). I need to dig up some hills to sow the pumpkin seeds outside the fenced in back yard garden so they can sprawl again over the septic tank.

Suyo Long cucumber seeds sown May 27. Need to construct a central trellis.

Suyo Long cucumber seeds sown May 27. I need to construct a central trellis. The sea of green surrounding the raised beds is wild violets.

Looking over what I did yesterday, all I see is dirt. Because I didn’t start my seeds indoors this year, everything is starting in the garden. I am just sowing seeds, and we shall see what works this way and what doesn’t. I wasn’t terribly impressed with how my transplants did last year anyway, so this might work better. The seeds will come up when they feel the time is right, the plants will naturally harden off because I planted a couple of weeks after the last frost, and for many of the crops I am growing, late spring and early summer are not the best times to put out young transplants with our sporadic temperatures.
Terraced bed sown with Lemon squash. A couple of cilantro plants, a single onion, and what looks like a wild carrot.

Terraced bed sown with Lemon squash. A couple of cilantro plants, a single onion, and what looks like a wild carrot break up the brown.

For all of the work I have done over the past 5 days, there are a handful of lettuce transplants and the occasional volunteer. Okay, there is the oregano that comes up every year, and a carrot that came back (or it might be a wild carrot — I didn’t have the heart to pull it up). I also had a couple of cilantro plants come up. None of my other herbs came back from last year. I was sad that the sage didn’t survive, but we had a hard winter.

I have invested a lot of time (and money in seeds) with the hopes that down the line I will reap a bountiful harvest of delicious and nutritious vegetables. I bought a pressure canner over the winter that will be used to put up green beans and corn, meat I find on sale, and possibly black beans with stewed tomatoes. I will make jar after jar of pickles to my youngest son’s taste — he is really picky about his pickles.

Red bell pepper seeds sown in grow bags beside driveway so they will get a lot of heat.

Red bell pepper seeds sown in grow bags beside driveway so they will get a lot of heat.

I can already taste the Suyo Long cucumbers, their sweet tenderness, the crunchy green skin, and how amazing they are with Feta cheese and a few fresh-from-the-garden tomato slices.

Gardeners are investors, and for those of us who use organic gardening methods, utilize permaculture and look to sustainability, we are giving back to the earth, providing safe havens for beneficials: earthworms, snakes, bees and wasps, butterflies and moths, frogs, toads, and salamanders, even birds. My yard is a haven from pesticides; my soil is full of microorganisms.

I might have a garden full of dirt right now, but I know that in a few weeks everything will be green and promising. Oh, how I love gardening.

Happy Wednesday, y’all!

Permaculture for the Future


“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.”-Bill Mollison

Common milkweed that I allow to grow in a portion of my back yard attracts and hosts Monarch butterflies

Common milkweed that I allow to grow in a portion of my back yard attracts and hosts Monarch butterflies

We have all seen the words sustainability and permaculture in the news a lot, at least if you pay attention to articles on agriculture, GMO seeds, Monsanto, global warming, and green technology. I can sniff out an article on these topics from 1,000 miles away. I swear, I really can.

Growing thousands of acres of GMO corn, or any single crop, is called monoculture: planting the same crop on the same soil using the same methods year after year after year, depending on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides to get as much out of that land as possible for the least amount of money and human effort. Sugar cane, soy, canola, corn, wheat, cotton, tea, and tobacco are all cash crops that are monocultures (the opposite of biodiversity). The soil is not replenished with organic matter, not fed, and allowed to rest as in organic farming. The crops do not complement other crops, fruit trees, berry bushes, water plants, butterflies, and bees. And we can all see that these are farmed by corporations, not family farmers who also raise cattle, grow hay in fields, keep chickens, turn the manure into crops, and so on.

In organic farming, insects actually survive (they aren’t all bad, you know), the soil is replenished with manure and compost, plants are fertilized with fish emulsion and dried blood meal. The land is allowed to rest every few years. Crops are rotated, companion planted, and the soil is a living thing.

Permaculture is a new term being bandied about, consisting of structures, garden beds, orchards, homes and land that encourage green living, growing your own food, with a slower, local economy, decentralized (meaning it stays in the community and doesn’t end up in some CEO’s bonus check).

According to the Permaculture Institute, “permaculture is an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how to design natural homes and abundant food production systems, regenerate degraded landscapes and ecosystems, develop ethical economies and communities, and much more. As an ecological design system, permaculture focuses on the interconnections between things more than individual parts.”

I know this sounds nebulous. And I know it sounds really hippie-dippy, but deep down it makes so much sense.

Terraced bed -- permaculture

Terraced bed — permaculture

When I turned my ugly flower bed into a terraced vegetable garden I was practicing permaculture. When I added two raised beds, a bean teepee and doubled the size of my front garden, I was practicing permaculture. Taking my kitchen scraps, adding them to shredded leaves and weeds in a pile behind the former goat house is a part of permaculture (and those pallets stacked up near my compost pile would definitely be considered permaculture if I built that two-section compost bin). I am trying to embrace the concept of permaculture on my property as I walk it and search for wild edibles, think about whether I can and should attempt to grow cranberries near the bog, or go forward with planting cattails at the edge of the pond (because they are a great food source and provide shelter for creatures that do not hang out at our pond at present). Choosing to grow heirlooms vs. hybrids is practicing permaculture. The idea that I might be able to trade some of my organic pear preserves or garlic for something my family needs but does not produce is practicing permaculture. Although I don’t plan to add chickens back to my family food production plan, I might be able to trade for eggs this summer. I am allowing wildflowers, wild herbs, and even indigo to grow down at the pond.
Bean teepee -- while the twine must be replaced each year, the saplings will last several seasons

Bean teepee — while the twine must be replaced each year, the saplings will last several seasons

Collecting rainwater, composting, replacing invasive shrubs with something that might make the bees and butterflies happy, planting to reduce erosion, and restore the watershed is practicing permaculture.

Did I pique your interest? You’re sitting on the edge of your seat. Admit it! Take a few minutes to visit the Permaculture Institute to see how you can adopt some of the practices permaculture advocates.

I would be happy if all of my friends stopped buying anything made by Scott (lawn and garden junk), stopping paying the lawn truck to come spray nitrogen-rich, herbicide sprays on their lawns (causing algae bloom in nearby waterways, ponds and lakes, and killing birds), and allowed dandelions to grow in their lawns. Can you imagine a world full of those pretty yellow flowers that can be used to make jelly and wine, bees buzzing around sipping nectar and carrying pollen on their legs? How happy it would be!

Wild violets are everywhere!

Wild violets are everywhere!