One of my Mother’s Day traditions is to spend time in the garden. It feels almost decadent to have a full day of unstructured time where I can work with my hands in the fresh air. And last Sunday, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for such a thing.
This year, we planted a vegetable garden and have been in constant amazement at the miracle of life happening in our back yard. I was so enthralled with my first full-grown snow pea, that I had to take a picture of it to share with you. However, in addition to the life that is our plants, there is other not-as-welcome life: the inevitable garden pests. Critters with teeth have been nibbling and insects have added decorative holes to our greens.
Wanting to keep to our commitment of maintaining a natural garden, we refuse to buy pesticides, and have planted thing like marigolds and hot peppers, which are supposed to deter interlopers. However, it became apparent that we had to take a bit more aggressive action, so I pulled out the neem oil, which I keep in stock for the production of some of my bath and body products. Neem oil is extracted from the tropical neem tree. I had read a while ago that it is a very effective insecticide, miticide and fungicide, and is listed as okay for use in organic production.
According to Plant-care.com, neem oil has the following features:
• Broad spectrum insecticide/fungicide/miticide
• Controls insects and mites including whitefly, aphid and scale
• Controls fungal diseases including black spot, rust, mildew and scab
• For indoor/outdoor use on ornamental plants, flowers, vegetables, trees, shrubs and fruit and nut crops.
Mountain Rose Herbs says that neem biodegrades rapidly in sunlight and within a few weeks in the soil. Neem oil has very low toxicity to humans and pets, but it is not recommended for internal use.
I had also read that rosemary and lavender are effective pesticides, plus they smell better than neem, so I decided to include the in my natural pesticide.
Here is my recipe: Mix 1 gallon of water with 2 tablespoons of neem, and ½ teaspoon each rosemary and lavender essential oils (I used organic version of all the oils). You can also add a couple of tablespoons of phosphate-free liquid dishwashing soap. Mix thoroughly and pour into a spray bottle. Spray over every part of your plants, mixing frequently to keep the oils and water from separating.
By the way, these Sprayco spray bottles, which I buy at my local family-owned hardware store, are made in the US from recycled materials and provide jobs for handicapped individuals.
When were on the Mall last month for the Climate Rally, my husband and I passed a vegetable/herb garden on the grounds of the US Department of Agriculture. It looked like a large, very well-kept version of a garden you would find in someone’s yard. It was the first time I had noticed it.
Then, a couple of days ago, I was talking to a friend who works for the USDA who told me that the gardens are part of their People’s Garden Initiative. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, established the garden on February 12, 2009 in commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday. Vilsack challenged all USDA employees to create similar gardens at USDA facilities worldwide, or to help their communities create gardens in vacant lots, schools, or churches.
In addition to the sustainably managed gardens that I happened across, the USDA headquarters is also offering programming from May to August, including workshops and youth programs, all of which are free and open to the public. The workshops will cover topics such as composting, beekeeping, green roofs and natural pest control.
The USDA also has a farmers market, which is held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m, every Friday from June 4 through October 29. It is located in USDA’s parking lot, corner of 12th Street and Independence Avenue, SW.
For those of you who are not located conveniently to Washington, DC, the People’s Garden Initiative website is a great resource where you will find links to gardening tips, recipes, healthy eating tips, and more.
You can download a PDF version of the People’s Garden Program Guide, which lists all the upcoming festivals, gardening workshops and youth programs being held from May through August. To register for one of the Healthy Garden Workshops call (202) 690-3898. And to schedule a guided tour of the People’s Garden or Program for Youth call (202) 708-0082.
One of the best things about my home is that it came with a greenhouse in the backyard. It’s been dormant all winter, but this weekend I put it to good use by starting some seeds.
This is my second year of using the greenhouse. Last year, I had a success in starting basil, tomatoes, peppers and thyme, most of which successfully transferred.
In staying true to the “green” in greenhouse, I use only organic seeds in organic potting soil. And, I’ve been saving bowls from Annie Chun’s noodle bowls (my husband apparently had quite a few this winter), which are made from corn-based compostable “plastic”. (Yes, that’s plastic wrap on the pots, not terribly green, but it’s a less toxic type I bought from Whole Foods).
For pest control, I’ve been using a soy oil based spray that I bought at Whole Foods and a mixture of rosemary and lavendar essential oils in water that I made. This year, I’m adding neem oil to my arsenal.
We plan to plant several vegetables and herbs later in the season, but it’s nice to get a head start with some species that are easy to grow from seed.