Sunday, June 2, 2013

Keeping a garden journal

I've been reading through garden notes I've kept in a large white binder for the last twenty years. Its ring-bound pages are interspersed with loose sheets, some now dog-eared and yellowing -- a journal of sorts in various levels of order. It must weigh 5 pounds. Martha Stewart would be horrified. I'd love it if my journal was all scrappy-booky cute, but it's not going to happen.

It's the content I love, which takes me back to the days when I was struggling to turn our 2 acres of rocks and weeds into something a little more visually appealing.

An early entry during my initial foray into gardening (it's always been organic) was written as I sat on the bare earth among my burgeoning tomato plants. June 28, 1995: "Maybe the excitement will wear off  when the garden is in its late summer decline but as I sit here in the middle of the rows, tomato plants towering over me, it's just too beautiful for words."

Over the years I've experimented with companion planting, homemade concoctions (lots of garlic), manure tea (yumm), and learned a little about the balance of nature.

Even in all their glorious mess, I'm so glad I kept notes. As insignificant as they might have seemed at the time, they remind me of experiments I made, plants I planted, and gardens that have long since been tilled back into the earth.

The Beneficial Garden is how I came to define what I was doing and help me focus on the garden environment as a whole. I scratched out my very first plot in a section of what used to be an old railroad easement. Every shovelful contained more rocks than dirt. I planted and watered, but the barren, dry earth surrounding it was a haven for 'bad bugs'. They knew a good thing when they saw those precious green sprouts emerging in my carefully tended plot. "Enough of this dry star thistle," I could almost hear their glee. "I'm going for the fresh stuff."

Research revealed what seems obvious now. The environment around the garden was just as important as within. I learned there were zillions of 'good bugs' that would feast on the 'bad bugs', but I needed to create the right environment. It wasn't all that difficult, but it's not a quick fix. Organic requires patience.
Ladybugs and other beneficial insects need the nectar and pollen of flowering plants to supplement their diet of 'bad bugs'. 

A few members of the Daisy family
An simple rule of thumb for picking plants is choosing from the daisy family. Plants in this family are easy to recognize with pollen centers surrounded by a ring of petals. With almost 20,000 species, the second largest plant family in the world, you can create a beautiful flower bed with lasting benefits.

This year I'm revitalizing my beneficial garden, sometimes known as The Insectary. It borders the south side of our veggie garden, just outside a wire fence which used to contain the chickens.

Currently there are some well-established perennials: a butterfly bush, lemon scented geraniums, pineapple sage, and an old comfrey plant. The established plants offer undisturbed areas that make the insects feel at home.

Plants still in their plastic containers waiting for me to finish weeding and preparing the ground are:

 two yarrows (Achillea millefolium 'summerwine'),

a Fernleaf dill (which doubles as culinary)

      and a coreopsis, (Coloropsis Salsa), which sounds good enough to eat. 

Let me know if you keep a garden journal. Or have a garden blog. I'd love to share notes.

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