The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener—How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature

The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener—How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature

By Tammi Hartung

Submitted by ~ Ann Guthals

Tammi Hartung and her husband started Desert Canyon Farm in Colorado in 1996 to grow herbs and raise food for themselves. They are now a certified wildlife and botanical sanctuary and they often have field trips for students at their farm. Their goal is to co-exist with wildlife — meeting the needs of wildlife as well as their own needs. They attempt to provide protection, food, water and homesites for wildlife.
They now have over 20 years experience trying to meet these goals. Some solutions have worked, like growing parsley for rabbits and deer to avoid losing lettuce and other crops. Some solutions have not worked, but have taught them much about nature. They have found that being wildlife-friendly can actually increase garden yields through better soil, more pollinators, and more beneficial predators helping with pest management.
book review 2
This book lays out the steps one can follow to develop a garden that is supportive of wildlife. The first activity is the get to know the site — the land, its inhabitants, water sources, light and wind patterns. Tammi believes the most important first step to beginning the garden itself is to make sure there is healthy soil. She describes how to minimally disturb the soil, provide organic matter including by growing green manure, ensure a water source, and incorporate the use of mulch. Then she explains the importance of deciding where to position perennials to provide a structure to the garden and not, for example, overshadow vegetable crops. She suggests one research the site carefully because once in, the perennials are more difficult to move than annuals. Next she wants us to get to know pollinators (bees and other insects and animals) and beneficial predators (ladybugs, praying mantises, lacewings, spiders, wasps, etc.) on our land and to research how to encourage and support them to work in partnership with the gardener. Tammi actually
creates mini-habitats for wild animals to meet the goals outlined above and also to keep them from the main garden.

One of the most useful chapters is how to repel pests without using poisons — ironic in a book about encouraging wildlife. Strategies described include sharing crops, planting crops that distract animals from other crops, hand-picking pests, repelling them with aromatics, hosing the pests off plants, using hot pepper, mint, cinnamon, and wood ash to repel pests, trapping, scare tactics (like the Scaredy-Cat, a motion-activated spray device) and blocking access with netting, screens, fences, hoop-houses, and greenhouses.

The illustrations are delightful and the book is applicable to our growing conditions because the farm is in Colorado. The sidebars are very useful and I plan to use several suggestions going forward. There is also a quick reference chart for remedies at the end of the book.

The only disappointments were the plans in the last chapter for different kinds of gardens did not provide specific information about the plants in the plans and it seemed to me you would need quite a lot of property to implement all of Tammi’s ideas, though one could still learn much from the book even for a smaller garden.
It took me a little while to catch the rhythm of this book, but once I did I began to realize what a plethora of information the author was presenting. And I have many ideas to try in the garden this year after finishing the book.

(Also available as an ebook from Amazon)

What is Square Foot Gardening (SFG)?

Submitted by ~ Suri Lunde

Square foot gardening (SFG) is a method of creating small, orderly, and highly productive kitchen gardens. Developed by gardener, engineer, and efficiency expert Mel Bartholomew as a better way to grow more vegetables in less space, the idea was popularized in his books Square Foot Gardening (1981) and All New Square Foot Gardening (2006).

The basic system: a 6-inch-deep frame or raised bed is created, filled with a mixture of vermiculite, peat moss, and com-post, and divided into a grid of 1-foot squares, which are masquarefoot 2naged individually. Each of the squares is planted with a different crop depending on the size and requirement of the crop. When a square is harvested, just add compost and plant a different crop within it, allowing for continual harvest. Since there are no paths between the squares, there is no wasted space, and the soil in the bed stays loose because you never step on it.

It is an almost fail-safe system for new gardeners, the elderly or disabled (SFG beds can be built at a raised height to make them more accessible), children, and people with limited yard space or little time, or who want a highly organized method to follow. Additionally, SFG can also be included in a garden plan that uses traditional planting methods.

Pros of SFG

  • High yields: Intensive planting means plentiful and continuous harvest from a small space.
  • Fast set-up: SFG is a quick way to start a new garden. Raised garden bed kits and raised garden soils can be purchased if you prefer not to create them from scratch.
  • Place the raised bed anywhere (even over grass or pavement), fill, and start planting in just a few hours.
  • Ease of maintenance: Since the garden is small, regular tasks like planting, maintaining, and harvesting take less time, and watering can be done by hand.
  • Less weeding: An SFG bed filled with good soil-less mix should not have seeds which means no weeds to pull in the first season. Closely planted crops also minimize weeds in the beds.
  • Increases biodiversity: Growing a variety of different crops close together is a form of companion planting which increases biodiversity and helps reduce pests and diseases.

Cons of SFG

  • High initial cost: The expense of building or buying even a small raised bed and filling it with soil-less mix can be costly.
  • Cramped beds: SFG beds are not ideal for crops that take up a lot of space such as pumpkin, squash, or a big planting of sweet corn. Therefore, grow compact vegetables such as carrots and radishes in SFG beds and plant large crops in traditional rowed vegetable gardens.
  • Insufficient depth: The 6-inch-deep beds recommended in SFG might be too shallow for some plants. The solution: make your frame at least 12 inches deep to accommodate plants like carrots and potatoes.
  • Watering: Consider installing soaker hoses or a drip irrigation system since the soil in raised beds tends to dry out faster.

SFG Bottom Line
Many gardeners find vegetable gardening a relaxing activity, and there is satisfaction in eating something grown in your own backyard. SFG can be that successful backyard gardening method but before you decide if SFG is right for you, know your gardening style, needs, and preferences. Happy gardening!

Noteworthy: YCMGA has square foot demonstration gardens at the Metra. Check these links for information.

http://aboutus.msuextension.org/localprogramhighlights/MasterGardener.html

http://yellowstone.msuextension.org/horticulture/mastergardener/mggallery/photogalleries/sqftgarden.html

http://yellowstone.msuextension.org/horticulture/mastergardener/mggallery/photogalleries/Greenhouse_educationcenter.html

The Winter Wildlife Garden

The Winter Wildlife Garden
by Ann McKean

Here in Montana most of us withdraw from the garden for the winter and dream impatiently about the return of summer, but there is a whole season of beauty and benefit that you can tap into by adding some wildlife friendly plants to provide late season food and cover. 014However, before you even plant a thing, think about changing your gardening habits.

First, switch your garden cleanup season to spring instead of autumn. Nature doesn’t do fall cleanup so why do we?! Besides returning some lost nutrients back to the soil and adding winter interest with structure and texture, the plants you don’t cut down and the leaves you don’t rake up provide critical winter shelter for birds, small mammals and even hibernating insects. They also help protect the crowns and roots of your plants. If you have a specific concern about disease and need to rake under or cut 015down certain plants in the fall, try creating a winter brush pile in another area to preserve hollow stems and create a place to hibernate and hide. Remember to wait to compost or toss what’s left until critters have had a chance to wake up.

Second, try not to use pesticides. Reducing or eliminating pesticide use not only spares the caterpillars birds need to raise their young, but also preserves the beneficial predatory insects which help keep things in balance. If you practice good cultural maintenance with proper plant selection, spacing, pruning, watering and judicious feeding,016 nature will usually be able to keep pest populations below the threshold of chemical intervention. As Master Gardeners, we must lead the way to a paradigm shift about how we view our gardens and the wildlife they support.

There are many plants we can include in a winter garden to benefit wildlife and add beauty. Native plants are always a good choice because they have evolved with the insects, animals and conditions in our region. Some of these plants offer vital late season nectar and pollen, including rabbitbrush, asters, coneflowers, goldenrod and perennial sunflowers. Many also provide nutrient and calorie packed seeds through the winter. There are also a host of native and non-native shrubs and trees which offer a bounty of 017nuts, berries and sometimes even twigs to nibble. Chokeberries and chokecherries, snowberries, sumacs, viburnum, red-twig dogwood, roses, mountain ash, crabapples, oaks and cone bearing evergreens are a few examples. I’ve even watched in amazement as wild turkeys deftly strip grass seeds from their stalks. All of these plants also add rich texture, structure and subtle color to our winter landscapes.

As you plan next season’s garden additions and head out to the nurseries this spring, think about how fortunate we are to enjoy such a wide variety of wildlife so close to home, and remember to include some plants for your winter garden to support those treasures. 018You, your garden and your community will be enriched.

Source: https://www.nwf.org/Magazines/National- Wildlife/2012/DecJan/Gardening/Winter- Table-for-Wildlife

 

Helping Bees

Bees and other pollinators are in decline. In the summer 2019 issue of “Permaculture” magazine, there is an article entitled “Bee Roadzz” by Milly Carmichael that offers some hope. The following is a synopsis of that article.

In 2014 in England the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) wrote the 10-year National Pollinator Strategy to improve the state of bees and other pollinating insects and to monitor progress. Yet despite this focus on the pollinators’ plight, bees are in trouble still. The reasons for the decline in population of honeybees and other bees are manifold and complex and include loss of habitat. “…in the UK, in the last 60-70 years we have lost 97% of wildflower meadows, 300,000 km. of established hedgerows and 80% of flower-rich chalk downland.”16 Helping Bees 2

A group of people in the village of Marlborough decided to tackle this problem from a local perspective. Knowing that honeybees can travel up to 4 miles to find food and that their nearest village was 7 miles away, the people of Marlborough met with their neighboring village and set up a “bee road” between the 2 villages. They met with many different people in the town as well as farmers in the adjacent area. The first step was to work with existing resources, then re-assess and take the project further if successful. “Whatever can be done is encouraged, whether it is: reviewing garden plans and choosing more bee-friendly ones; sharing those plans with friends and neighbors; taking part in national monitoring schemes; reducing pesticide use; creating hibernation and nesting habitat for solitary bees; landowners surveying field margins for wildflowers and seeding the less rich areas…planting dozens of honeysuckle cuttings in the hedgerows; or letting a corner of a churchyard grow wilder.” Farmers were encouraged to increase wildflowers in edges of fields as well as in meadows, re-introduce hedgerows, and plant flowering trees.

In addition to increasing food sources in the farmland between the towns, creating bee habitats in yards and gardens was encouraged. “There is growing evidence that allotments, domestic gardens and community green spaces in urban environments offer enormous potential for increasing pollinator populations and protecting genetic diversity.”

17 Helping Bees 3

Now more villages are becoming involved in creating bee roads. The Marlborough group’s goal is to cover the country with “Bee Roadzz” so bees have habitat and food sources continuously available instead of islands of food and shelter surrounded by deserts without these resources.

In Montana our towns are many miles apart, so creating bee roads like these would be hard. But in urban areas we could work to make our yards and gardens more bee-friendly and also work with farmers and ranchers to increase food sources and habitats for bees similar to the English project.

~Submitted by Ann Guthals

Billings Arbor Day Activity

by Elaine Allard

Again this year, Master Gardeners took an active part in the City of Billings Arbor Day activities. This year’s event was held on May 2nd at Central Park.

Sharon Wetsch, Fay Danielson, Sue Weinreis, and Linda Brewer helped the City Arbor Day Committee with registration and a variety of other tasks. Charlie and Ron Hendricks helped all of us who arrived early and were scurrying to get canopies, tables, posters, and props for our educational booth set up before the fourth graders’ 9 a.m. arrival.

JAS 17Sheri Kisch and Sherry Doty presentations on pollinators and their importance to the environment captivated the students. With some help from the students, Merita Murdock and Elaine Allard mixed clay soil, potting mix, water, and native flowering plant seeds to form a ‘cookie dough’ consistency mixture. Mary Davis, Vonnie Bell, Rosemary Power, Debbi Werholz, and Bess Lovec helped the 175 students that rotated through our booth use the mixture to make their own ‘seed bombs’ and pack them into egg cartoons. At noon, after having a very fast moving and enjoyable morning, it was time to pack up, have lunch and start thinking about next year’s Arbor Day.

Seed Bombs to Create Habitat for Pollinators

Presented by Yellowstone County Master Gardeners

The seed bombs contain a mix of clay soil, potting mix, water, and flower seeds which bloom at different times. The flowers will attract pollinators (bees, bats, butterflies, moths, beetles, etc.) by providing them food (nectar) and a place to live. This will help to make a better environment for humans and many animals that depend on pollination for much of their food.

Directions

  1. Leave the seed bombs in the egg carton in a cool dry place for a couple of days.
  2. Throw or place the seed bombs in an area where the ground has been disturbed or in a flowerbed. The seed bombs do not need to be buried.
  3. Hope for good rains or help them along with a little water.

Dandelions

by Elizabeth Waddington

Do you love sunflowers? Then you should embrace the pesky dandelions in your lawn since they are in the same family. Both are cheery yellow, can be used as accents in floral arrangements, especially if you have grandchildren picking the dandelions, and are

JAS 13

artwork by Elizabeth Waddington

attractive to pollinators for your garden and fruit trees. The family is Asteraceae (Asters/Sunflowers) and the Species is Taraxacum officinale (Common dandelion). The name (recorded from late Middle English) comes from French dent-de-lion, translation of medieval Latin dens lionis ‘lion’s tooth’, because of the jagged shape of the leaves.

What is your tolerance level for these non-native plants, aka “weeds” in your yard? If you don’t mind them, leave your dandelions to attract the pollinators who help with our neighborhood fruit and vegetable crops. You may have a good reason to not have them blooming for special events; I will be nipping off the yellow blooms when my toddler grandchildren come to visit, but otherwise leaving them until they go to seed (no, I don’t want THAT many, thank you!)JAS 14

But what can you do if your tolerance level is zero dandelions in your prized putting green turf? You can use a commercial weed and feed granular mixture in a drop or broadcast spreader when they are actively growing which will cover your entire lawn. You can spot treat with a weed killer that only targets broadleaf plants and will not harm the lawn (usually in a spray container with a nozzle). Or you can manually extract them with devices designed to pry them up by the root. Note that you need the whole root in order to eradicate the plant and that is easiest after a heavy rain. The small blue and white JAS 15digger is simple to use but takes skill to get deep enough to remove all of the root. The large red and silver “jumper” is like using a pogo stick on the dandelion. Or, as my husband asked, “What ARE you doing?” It does take a hunk of sod out with the weed so consider it to also be an aerating tool. You can always hire a commercial yard care company to maintain your lawn, but does that give you satisfaction?