Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Natural, Organic Pest Control

There are tons of ideas and recipes out in cyberspace regarding organic pest control, but which ones work and which should you use? Understanding what you are battling and knowing some guidelines will help make the most of your time, energy, and money.

Edward Smith gives his three U's as guidelines in  The Vegetable Gardener's Bible which are very helpful. 

1. Make the habitat unacceptable.
2. Make the habitat unavailable.
3. Make the habitat unsurvivable.

I would never have thought about my fertilizer attracting bugs, but it can. Smith says that fertilizers rich in nitrogen attract aphids, mites, and whiteflies, while soils rich in phosphorus and potassium reduce wireworms. However, if you use kelp or seaweed extracts in your beds, it can actually help reduce the negative effects of your fertilizer in regards to pests.

Other tips for making the environment unacceptable to pests include keeping the pH of the soil balanced to the needs of the plant, practicing companion planting where you plant something the pest doesn't like next to a plant it does like, or planting herbs that act as scent repellents. Smith's book gives you all the details on these methods.

Personally, the big pests are an issue at my homestead. I'm talking about those darling rabbits, deer, and small rodents that are only cute when in a Beatrix Potter storybook if you are a gardener. I like to use Liquid Fence or Repels-All. These products contain all natural ingredients that really smell and make the area undesirable for vermin. Be sure to spray standing up-wind!

Did you know that timing when you plant your seeds or seedlings can protect them from pests, not just weather? Think about it. In the early spring, many insects such as cabbage worms aren't an issue a little later. 

Another great tip Smith includes is to avoid planting all of the same vegetable right together. Spread them into patches throughout your garden. That way, you stand a better chance of keeping a pest or disease from spreading to all your onion crop, for example, if it is broken up into areas. Certain bugs tend to have favorites and they might not eat the tomatoes next door much less cross three other varieties just to get to more onions. This also works by creating an intermingling of odors that make it difficult for pests to find certain plants. You'll at least have a chance at having some onions this way.

Crop rotation is very under-rated. While farmers practice this religiously, home gardeners seem to totally ignore this practice, but the benefits are tremendous. And in regards to pest control, those insects that attack in the soil will find their favorite fare has been replaced the following season.

Keeping weeds down, mulching, proper watering, and compost helps plants and soil stay healthy as opposed to a garden that is not well tended and an open invitation for uninvited critters. Fences are great for keeping larger animals out and row covers work well for keeping smaller critters out. Just be careful not to let your plants get too warm and check them regularly. 

Finally, all those years we've planted and spaced everything so that it had plenty of room... well, turns out that it gave bugs easy access to the plants. Closer plantings can keep pests at bay. 

This doesn't need to mean poison. It just needs to be something that the bugs can't survive, such as soap. Buy some cheap dish soap and keep it out in the garden by the hose along with a can and mix a batch every couple of days. Dropping caterpillars into this soapy bath will cause them to sink and drown. 

Pick off egg clusters from leaves before they hatch, introduce "good" bugs that eat "bad" bugs, and utilize various bacterium that are safe for humans, but not pests. But a word of caution, these bacterium can hurt the "good" bugs, too.

Rather than list all the natural recipes for pest control in this post (there's so many!), I plan to include a few over the next few weeks. Most of us are just beginning our summer battle against these intruders that love our veggies as much as we do! Let me encourage you not to give up! You may loose some of your produce, but if you keep at it, you'll gain experience and eventually, success. It will be all that much sweeter when you bite into that ear of homegrown corn!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lingering At the Table

I don't know where I got the notion that the French linger over their meal, eating it slowly, savoring each course, and enjoying the conversation with family or friends. Perhaps it's the Italians or Greeks, but it doesn't really matter. I just know I like it. 

Our world has become so fast paced that we rush everything, including that which should be held as most important amongst people: relationships. Now there are many ways to build relationships, but I happen to like remaining at the table once in a while with good company and good conversation. I think this is something we should cultivate in our society beginning with families.

Imagine, your family gathers for the meal, the table is beautifully set, the meal lovingly served, and everyone gulps it down and rushes off to whatever it is on their agenda. Nope. Just doesn't cut it for me. A long meal isn't always practical, but couldn't we at least have just one meal a week where everyone knows that the family is sticking around to visit and share their day? (This would be a great opportunity to set a lovely table with cloth napkins - See Dinner Napkins)

This is a topic I want to explore further with readers, so be watching for posts on The Family Table. I want to share ideas, traditions, and examples from history. Perhaps we can encourage each other with our progress in this area. And don't be afraid to leave your comments! We all would love to hear from you!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Selecting Chicken Breeds

This weekend, I had a conversation with a friend who is getting ready to select her first batch of chicks and she had some typical questions that most newbies have regarding what kind of chicks to raise and as we talked it occurred to me that these were exactly my thoughts three years ago. Keeping animals is partly science and partly art because every one you talk to has a bit of facts and lots of opinions. It's kind of like raising children. There are things you must do, like feed them and give them clothing to wear,  but their are many ways to do this based on your own ideas and convictions, like feeding organic food versus non-organic or wearing designer labels versus hand-me-downs. As for me, I take three factors into consideration when selecting poultry.

One factor is the climate. I live where winters are cold and long (as opposed to the south where winters are mild, but not so cold as places such as North Dakota!). So selecting a breed that is hardy in cold weather is wise.  Some of these include (but not limited to) Americans, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Reds, or Wyandottes. Obviously, if you live where summers are very hot, you need to consider breeds that are well adapted to your climate.

Another consideration is temperament. Because I have children, I selected breeds that were a bit calmer and wouldn't be so aggressive when the girls went out to feed them. Leghorns are prolific layers, but can be a bit nasty (okay, perhaps aggressive is a better word). After having several breeds, Rhode Island Reds are my favorite. If there was ever a "smart" chicken, it would be a RIR. They are perky without being overly aggressive and often Henny and Penny (our RIR's) would follow us around the yard and just "hang out" with whoever would have them. (Henny has since passed on, the victim of a bobcat).  Buff Orpington's are also calm and docile. 

Last, but not least, is the breed's propensity for laying. Since you're paying for the feed, your "girls" need to produce something. You don't want to pay for a lot of feed for a hen that is only going to lay every third day if she's in the mood. You want a consistent, reliable, layer that only misses a day on occasions. (Let's face it, around here, everybody needs to earn their keep!) If you live in a colder climate or one with a long winter, choose breeds that are good winter layers as well.

Free digital Photos

I recommend using Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart to quickly access and compare all the information you need to consider before purchasing chicks. It will give you all the information that I mentioned above and then some!

Over the years I've read books and websites on chickens. Some have said things like 'don't mix breeds together because they don't get along' or perhaps comments such as 'you can't mix older chickens with younger chickens'. Now while there may be some truth in each of these statements, it's not the whole story. There is a way to mix breeds and chickens of various ages if you use a little common sense and make a strategy to implement  your plan. 

The first year, chickens do not molt and will continue to lay throughout the first year once egg production has begun. However, on the second year, hens will go through a molting process, usually when the days are shorter and there is fewer hours of sunlight. They can look downright pitiful and naked! I feel so sorry for them. They will stop laying during this period in order to use their energy producing new feathers. I have not had my whole flock do this at once because I stagger the age of my hens. 

Therefore, if you want to keep your egg production up each winter, you must raise new chicks each spring and keep them separate from hens because they will peck the chicks to death. You can put a screen wall in your hen house or raise them in a separate area. Some people say not to allow the chicks near your hens because of the possibility of disease. I take this risk because they will be together eventually and I try to keep my flock healthy at all times. If you put a door in your screen wall, you can eventually open it up and allow the two to co-mingle. However, I usually do this after I have "introduced" the new chicks one or two at a time. I accomplish this by going out at night and place one of the new chicks (now a pullet) on the roost alongside the older layers. When they wake up in the morning, things seem to go on as normal. If you notice that they are pecking her, separate  her again for a few weeks and try again.

As far as mixing breeds... well, I'm not sure what the fuss is about that. If you are mixing breeds of very different temperaments I could see where this might be an issue. But I suspect that it has more to do with raising too many chickens in a space that is not adequate in size. I'm not one to put animals on the same level with humans, however, the Bible says in Proverbs 12:10 "A righteous man cares for the needs of his animals". Let's at least be merciful and give them enough room! Anyway, I usually get at least two of each breed. Don't really know why, I just think they look cute out there in pairs! 

I could watch them all day long... just scratching, pecking, and taking dirt baths! So relaxing, but I have other work that needs to be done! Ah, well...


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