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.
Yesterday I created a salad made from ingredients that are as local as they get. Each of the ingredients originated on my property – either our month-old garden, or from wild plants.
I was able to harvest a cup full of arugula from the garden, and a few marigold flowers. For the bulk of the salad, though, I turned to the wild plants in my yard.
My newly discovered favorite, garlic mustard (Alliaria Petiolata), provided a very nice mustard-green-and-garlic flavor to the salad. I included both the heart-shaped leaves and the petite white flowers in the salad.
It is a highly invasive plant, which can be harvested throughout the year. It grew in abundance on my property in Connecticut – if only I had known then how delicious it is! In my area of the country, garlic mustard will flower from April to June. After that, the plant goes to seed.
Besides being delicious, renowned ethnobotanist Jim Duke (in his book, Handbook of Edible Weeds) points out that it is a highly nutritious plant, containing twice the betacarotene of spinach, as well as the cancer preventive constituents of both garlic and mustard.
I also included some young dandelion leaves. I have long avoided eating dandelion because I disliked the bitter taste, but I found that including a small amount of young leaves added a nice bite to the salad, along with plenty of nutritional value. Euell Gibbons, in his book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, recommends using leaves from dandelions before they have produced flower stalks.
I topped off the salad with a delicious vinaigrette, made with a blend of fresh herbs from my herb garden, and a few violets for color. Here is the vinaigrette recipe:
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano and parsley)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon of prepared mustard
2 garlic cloves, crushed
a pinch of sea salt
a dash of freshly ground pepper
Whisk all of the ingredients together, then pour over salad. It tastes best if prepared a couple of hours ahead of time to allow the flavors to blend.
Please Note: Make sure not to use any plants that have been exposed to chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. And if you are harvesting wild plants, only use those that are at least 8 feet from the road in order to avoid potential chemical runoff.