October 27, 2013

Eat Local(s). ~ Paige Vignola

Organic Backyard Gardening in Zone 10.

During the hot, humid, oppressive summer months, I often wonder why it is that I live in Miami. When October comes around, I remember.

While the rest of the country is buckling down for the cold weather of winter, I get to stroll around my backyard, soaking up the joyous rays of the sun, reveling in the break of the weather finally cooling down, allowing me the opportunity to delve into my garden.

I am an organic backyard vegetable gardener.

I’ve never really seen the point in growing flowers or other non-edible plants, so my garden has a distinct theme:

Eat Local. 

So local, in fact, that I must merely walk out the back door with a pair of shears to shop for my greens.

This year’s garden is partially standard fare but also partially an exercise in horticultural experimentation. In addition to my traditional carrots, sweet potato, beets, green beans, peas, peppers, tomatoes and spinach, I planted collard greens, swiss chard, kale and—the problematic neighbors—spaghetti squash and cucumbers.

My experience has taught me in the past that planting marigolds—which can be dried and made into a simple tea—chives, garlic and thyme interspersed throughout my garden goes a long way towards reducing the number of pests who also view my garden as a free grocery shopping opportunity. I love planting multi-use plants. Many herbs are both delicious and natural deterrents to garden predators.

The collards and chard this year seem to have attracted a good number of snails to my greenscape.  Luckily for me, the snails who like my produce also enjoy a good beer.

I leave a glass pie plate filled with beer on the soil between my plants.  Each morning I wake to find a snail or two who boozed it up the night before drowned in the plate.  Better the beer than my produce.

I’m currently experimenting with which types of beer the snails prefer.

Thus far Newcastle has won out.

My apologies, by the way, to vegans and those who adhere strictly to the practice of ahimsa. However, my experience with home gardening has shown me that although I may be able to grow food organically, the lives of some of the plant predators out there must still be claimed in the name of good food, or they would happily consume all that I grow.

This year my greatest challenge, however, has been with maintaining the health of my squash and cucumber plants.

A new foe has moved in and he is a hungry bugger: meet the squash bug.

This new local diner has taken a shine to my experimental plants. The squash bug is a small and relatively innocuous seeming fellow but he is a voracious eater and a prolific reproducer. In the course of two days in which I had to neglect my garden duties, my squash leaves went from a beautiful bright green spade shaped promise of future culinary delight to a black dotted, lattice-worked, partially desiccated and depressed looking plant-skeleton.

The good news is that the local lizard population and I have teamed up to combat this adversary.

I start by spraying down the individual leaves of the plants from top to bottom along the tomato cage in which they are growing. I blast each leaf clear of both bugs and eggs. Then, I bust out my homemade pepper spray:

6 cloves of garlic

6 dried red chilies

Blend them together into a rough paste and add a cup of water.

Let the mixture infuse overnight in the refrigerator.

In the morning strain the mixture through a coffee filter into a spray bottle.

Add a tablespoon (or so) of dish washing liquid and top off with water.

The purpose of this spray is not to kill the pests.  I douse the leaves of my plants with this spray to make them less palatable to the bugs. Apparently the bugs enjoy the flavor and feel of garlic and chilies absolutely not one bit.

So, how do my friendly neighborhood lizards play a part in this affair?

They flock to the outer walls of my garden enclosure. The scattered herbs combined with my garlic-pepper spray encourage the garden pests to stay off my vegetables, forcing them to migrate to other more palatable locations.  Their exodus runs them right past the local lizard population who lie in wait.

I work assiduously to afford myself the option to eat as locally as I possibly can. The lizards eat the locals.

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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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