Apr 18

Grow more veggies - and don’t forget the pollinators

The age of COVID-19 is upon us, marking a time for anyone with access to growing space to step up and grow food. Never done it? ‘Snippets,’ on this website, is a general gardening series I did for the Springwater News a few years ago that touches on some basics of growing, including vegetables. For instance, now is a good time to start seeds indoors, and May 24 is the traditional date you can safely put frost-tender plants outside, although with coverings at the ready, you can do so much earlier. And fortunately… there’s LOTS of help out there on the world wide web. A down-to-earth advisor on growing food in conditions like ours is Maritime gardener Greg Auton, to be found on YouTube and through podcasts.

I find the most productive vegetable in terms of space, deliciousness and freedom from pests is the French filet bush bean. Which despite its Frankish name is a New World native. The homegrown tomato is another list-topper for deliciousness. Also a native, as are corn and squash. A tip: If you’re growing in pots, your plants will do better if the pots are placed on earth so soil micro-organisms can access the roots.

But when growing food, don’t forget the pollinators. They will increase the productivity of your vegetables. Plant some pollen- and nectar-rich natives in your kitchen garden beds to attract the insects that will not only ensure good fruit and pod set, but will also be the predators that take care of some of your pests.
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Apr 18

Bugs in the garden: If you plant It, will they come?

Thanks to Randi V. Wilfert Eckel, owner of Toadshade Wildflower Farm, a New Jersey seed business, for permission to re-publish this article. It first appeared in the current Spring 2020 issue of the state's Skylands Visitor magazine

By Dr. Randi V. Wilfert Eckel

Insects are critical components of any natural area. Gardeners have become increasingly aware that, if we want wildlife in our gardens, we must support all life stages, year 'round. With the fragmented state of our natural areas, wildlife relies on our gardens, yards, fields, hedgerows, and woodlots to survive. When using native plants in a landscape, we are attempting to recreate functioning ecosystems to support the wonderful wildlife that, in fact, needs us to survive.

Insects of all kinds fulfill critical, and under-appreciated, roles in our lives. They are pollinators, herbivores, predators, and parasites. In a balanced ecosystem, there are rarely outbreaks of any particular insect species because, in the humorous words of Victorian mathematician Augustus De Morgan:
"Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum."

Near the very bottom of the food chain, insects are the primary consumers of plant matter on the planet. Leaves, bark, seeds, roots, flowers, rotten wood-they eat it all. Most insects die young because they, in turn, are the primary food source for a great deal of the animals on our planet. Many caterpillars never grow up to be butterflies and moths, but rather are fed upon by birds and fed to their young. Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home (among other wonderful books), has found that a single nest of black-capped chickadees needs 390-570 caterpillars a day to keep the young birds fed. Hummingbirds do not raise their young on nothing but nectar. They need protein, which they get from hunting small, soft-bodied creatures such as aphids, gnats, and spiders.
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Mar 22

Monarchs embarked on the journey north

Spring has officially arrived. My daily walk takes me through a forest clearing deep in snow. As always in that spot, I have a vivid memory of its summer residents, Monarchs enjoying the milkweed, drifting from plant to plant, the females laying eggs that would turn into boldly striped caterpillars.

Those that emerged here last fall and made it to the Mexico wintering grounds are among the ones that are now returning. Journey North is reporting sightings in a band across the continent - Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida. Over a couple of generations, some of their progeny will make it back to the Simcoe forest tract where the Common Milkweed flourishes in the sandy soil.

They’re on their way.

March is the month Monarch butterflies start moving north from their wintering grounds in the high mountains of Mexico. And the colony at Cerro Pelón Butterfly Reserve is on the move, Ellen Sharp advised last week. She and her husband Joel Moreno own the JM Butterfly B&B at the edge of the reserve, where I stayed in December. In mid-February, the weather warmed, a “massive amount of mating” was observed, and the remigration north appeared to begin, early. 

All is not well.

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