>> Monday, January 31, 2011

Spiders are beneficial inhabitants of any garden, ecosystem, or home because of their important contributions to biological control of pest insects. Spiders are considered to be the most important terrestrial predators, eating tons of pest insects or other small arthropods every year.  Spiders are generalist predators that are willing to eat almost any insect they can catch.

They can rapidly colonize a suitable habitat and they will eat enormous numbers of insects.  Since many spiders over winter as adults, they can reduce prey numbers early in the season before other biocontrol agents are active.

Garden spiders include the following: meshweb spiders, crab spiders, running crab spiders, wolf spiders, nursery web spiders, comb-footed spiders, stretch spiders, orb-web spiders, sheet web spiders, dwarf spiders, sac spiders, and buzzing spiders. Most all of garden spiders are orb weaving, which basically means that they are known for their orb looking webs.

There are many different types of garden spiders, as listed above, however two common species are the European garden spider and the Argiope garden spider. The European garden spider is recognized by its large tan and gray body with mottled tan or brown markings across the back, which is also highlighted by five or more large white dots forming a cross like shape. The Argiope, shown at right, usually is yellow or black with two rows of three white spots along its back. The Argiope also spins their web with a very unusual zigzag pattern in the center of it.

One of the most abundant spiders in the U.S. is the Wolf Spider, of the genus Lycosa. Its body (excluding legs) is about 0.6 of an inch long. In the drawing at the right the red circles are the eight eyes,  the pink ovals are the jaws (known technically as chelicerae) and at the very bottom of the two jaws you can barely make out two sharp, horizontal items, and these are the fangs.

Spiders are arachnids, not insects. They have two body segments instead of three, eight legs instead of six, and no antennae or wings. Unlike insects, spiders possess special body parts, called spinnerets, that allow them to spin webs.

All spiders are predators. They immobilize their prey with venom injected through specially designed fangs. The vast majority of the roughly 3,000 species that inhabit North America, however, are completely harmless to people. In fact, most species lack mouthparts that can penetrate human skin. Of those that can, there are only three that pose any threat to people: the black widow, the brown recluse, and the hobo.

The stereotypical spider spins a web in the vegetation and waits patiently for an insect to stumble or fly into the sticky threads and become trapped. Many of the most commonly seen spiders use this method. Other species don’t use webs at all to capture their prey. Wolf spiders, for example, stalk and actively hunt for their food on the ground. Jumping spiders also stalk their prey and, as their name suggests, capture food with impressive pounces many times their body length. Other spiders, such as crab spiders, lie waiting in camouflage for an unsuspecting insect to come within striking range. Some spider species even inhabit tunnels or funnel-shaped webs from which they snatch prey.

One thing is true of all spiders: They’re phenomenal predators of a vast array of insect pests. Collectively, spiders consume everything from aphids and beetles to moths and mosquitoes. Anyone with a garden—indeed, anyone who spends any time outdoors—should welcome spiders. Use these tactics to attract spiders to your garden:

  • Eliminate pesticides. Chemical sprays temporarily eliminate pests, but many also kill pest predators such as spiders. It’s much more sustainable and healthy to practice organic gardening and rely on natural pest predators.
  • Provide a diversity of plants. They attract many more spiders than a lawn alone.
  • Build a brush pile or rock wall.  They make excellent hunting grounds for spiders. If you live in an area with venomous spiders, wear gloves when moving brush or rocks, and you’ll be safe from accidental bites.
  • Leave part of your yard a little overgrown. Spiders over winter as adults inside or under dead vegetation, or as egg cases. They help ensure a healthy spider population next spring, ready to gobble unsuspecting garden pests.

It is very true that most spiders cannot even penetrate through our skin, even though most mystery bites are wrongfully blamed on spiders.

Spiders eat about 80% of bugs eaten by predators, more than ladybugs or mantis and they are indiscriminate feeders as long as the size is right, so can help you in many more places than other invertebrate predators!

To give you a sense of proportion, out of the 38,000 spider species known so far, more than 3,500 make their home in the United States. Of these 3,500 there are only four spiders living in the U.S. that carry venom in large enough doses to hurt a human being. These would be (clockwise below) the Black Widow, Brown Recluse, Yellow Sac spider, and Hobo..

These spiders are the ones you do want to watch out for as their venoms do amazing damage in some cases. But, that's a whole different conversation. The vast majority of spiders don't even have the mandible power to bite through human skin.


Herptile Haven

No well-respected 'natural' home garden should be without a Herptile Haven. Don’t know what that is? Herptile is the term classifying both reptiles and amphibians which includes salamanders, toads, snakes, turtles, frogs, and lizards and they are some of the most important pest predators. Frogs are bug and critter devourers and will feast on many of the your problematic garden pests. Mosquito larvae, sowbugs and caterpillars are all common delicacies for the garden frog. They also love flies, slugs, beetles, voles, mice, and moles.

Amphibians and reptiles are also prey for other species of wildlife you might want to attract. Red-shouldered hawks, roadrunners, and herons are just a few of the birds that eagerly gobble frogs, lizards, and snakes. Herptiles are food for all sorts of mammals, too, including opossums, javelina, and foxes. The more varied your garden wildlife the more natural your garden is.

Herptiles act as the ‘canary in the coal mine’, they absorb gases and liquids through their sensitive skin, making them very susceptible to toxins. They cannot survive in polluted environments, so if you find them in your garden, you know it’s healthy for your family and pets, too.

Here’s how to attract these beneficial creatures to your garden:

Provide cover. To attract tree frogs and lizards, make sure you have plenty of dense vegetation—this provides hiding places and hunting grounds. Brush piles also offer hiding spaces for frogs, lizards, and turtles.

Provide warm rocks. To attract reptiles, build a rock wall or rock pile. In addition to providing hiding places for many types of benefical wildlife, rocks serve another important purpose for reptiles. Reptiles need to bask in the sun to absorb heat and metabolize their food, so they love to “lie out” on sun-warmed rocks.

Don’t use pesticides. Pesticides rob herptiles of their prey and often kill them outright. Amphibians, in particular, are very susceptible to pesticide poisoning.

Give them a drink. Provided that frogs can have access to pools of water, whether it be in a bucket or an unused bird bath, they will find your garden hospitable. In fact, the more moist your garden is the more chance frogs will start to inhabit your yard.

Build them a place to lay eggs. While you can’t build a house for herptiles to raise their young like you can for birds, you can create a pond where amphibians can lay eggs. Keep an area of sandy soil in a sunny spot for turtles, snakes, and lizards to build nests. Baby herptiles receive no parental care or protection, so dense vegetation and brush will give them places to hide from predators.

Reptile or Amphibian? 
People often confuse reptiles and amphibians. Both groups are ectothermic, which means they depend on the outside environment for temperature regulation. In places with cold winters, they hibernate at the bottom of ponds or underground. They often share the same habitat. But that’s where the similarities end. 

Reptiles (snakes, lizards, and turtles) are covered in dry, scaly skin. Most species lay eggs with leathery shells in nests excavated in the ground. Amphibians (frogs, toads, and salamanders) generally have moist, smooth skin. They lay their eggs underwater or in wet environments on land, such as under rotting logs. 

Here are some tips to identify the critters that show up in your garden: 
Snake or Lizard? Legless glass lizards are often confused for snakes. Here’s how to tell them apart: Lizards have eyelids and external ear openings, unlike snakes. All snakes are carnivores, while some lizards eat plants.

Frog or Toad? Toads are really just one type of frog. Toads tend to live in dryer environments than other frogs and have dryer, bumpier skin. They walk or hop on short legs, whereas frogs have long legs for swimming and leaping. Frogs have tiny teeth; toads don’t.

Lizard or Salamander? Lizards are reptiles with dry, scaly skin. They lay eggs with leathery shells. Salamanders are amphibians with moist skin, and they lay their eggs in wet environments. Many salamanders produce skin toxins as protection from predators.

Frogs or Toads
Frogs will just have to share the award. When the Association of Zoos and Aquariums declared 2008 the Year of the Frog (which they did in order to call attention to the global decline of frogs and other amphibians), they meant toads, too—because toads are a type of frog. And toads are actually more likely to show up in a typical garden, because they are more adapted than other kinds of frogs to terrestrial habitats (as opposed to aquatic ones).

What better way to celebrate than to roll out the red carpet for toads in your garden? They’re easy to attract and they make great garden inhabitants.

Learn to recognize toads. There are many species of toads, but they typically belong to the family Bufonidae. Toads generally have a stocky appearance, dry skin, and short, thick legs with little webbing between their toes. They move around by walking and taking short, quick hops rather than massive leaps or underwater dives. Many sport tan, gray, and brown patterns that camouflage them in dry leaves or rocky terrain. These adaptations allow them to range further from water for longer and survive in dryer ecosystems than other frogs.

Build a toad kitchen. To provide food for toads, select native plants for your garden. This isn’t because toads eat plants—like all amphibians, they are carnivorous, consuming any living thing they can capture with their sticky tongues and stuff down their throats. Some large species tackle mice, snakes, and even other frogs, but insects and other invertebrates are the most common prey. You have the best chance of attracting a healthy insect population—and thus, happy toads—with native plants.

Dial back your level of control. Garden designs that are not overly tidy provide good habitat for insects and shelter for toads. If you cringe at the thought of providing habitat for insects, remember that toads are voracious predators that will help keep pests in check. Toads are actually a far better method of pest control than toxic chemicals, which don’t kill just insects—they kill toads, too. Amphibians as a group are extremely sensitive to toxins, which they readily absorb through their skin. And speaking of toad skin and toxins, toads don’t have warts. The bumps on their skin are called parotid glands, and they produce toxins that make toads taste bad to predators. You cannot get warts by touching a toad.

Give tadpoles a pool. Although adult toads are terrestrial, they rely on standing water for their eggs and tadpoles. If you don’t have a lake or pond nearby, create a simple garden pond. Bigger is better, but even small, prefabricated plastic pools work, provided they have gradually sloping sides or plenty of vegetation and branches dipping into the water to allow the toads easy entry and exit. Toads will also attach their eggs, which they lay in long strings, to this plant material. Be careful about introducing fish, which will find toad eggs and tadpoles a tasty treat. If you have fish, provide plenty of aquatic vegetation and underwater branches near which tadpoles can hide.

It’s quite a sight to find dozens of toads mating in your pond in spring. The trilling calls of the males will be your first indicator, but toads are not shy and are easy to see floating on the surface. Even if you don’t attract a breeding population, just knowing that you’ve created a friendly habitat for these important little creatures will make you feel good.

Make a toad abode 
Provide shelter for toads and other small wildlife by making a “toad abode.” Start by finding an old clay flowerpot—perhaps one that has cracked and is no longer usable for plants. Using a hammer and chisel, chop out a half circle from the pot rim. This hole becomes an entrance when the pot is turned upside down and placed on the ground. Pick a shady spot for your toad abode. Stack some rocks around it and plant some ground covers or ferns nearby. Toads will seek out the dark, damp overturned pot as a place to escape the sun and predators, as well as a place to hunt for insects.



Host and nectar plants are important for butterflies, but also remember these additional tips for attracting butterflies:
  • Provide an open, sunny location. Butterflies like warmth and need light to see.
  • Plant or build windbreaks to calm the air. Butterflies don't like strong breezes.
  • Stay away from pesticides. They can kill caterpillars or mature butterflies.
  • Build a "puddling" area in a recessed container. Mix half sand and half composted manure, and water thoroughly.

They're beautiful, they don't bite, they don't carry disease, they visit both urban backyards and rural fields with equal pleasure, and they do a wonderful job of pollinating plants.

Jeffrey Glassberg, founder and president of the New Jersey-based, not-for-profit North American Butterfly Association, and author of the recently published Butterflies Through Binoculars: A Field Guide to Butterflies of the East, is an ardent and passionate proponent of these painted beauties. The association he founded, NABA, is dedicated to both increasing public enjoyment and conservation of butterflies, as well as saving endangered species across the country.

NABA is made up of about 3,500 amateur butterfly enthusiasts who, among other projects, post the number and type of butterfly sightings they've recorded on the association's web page at http://www.naba.org.

For instance, on one day in mid-April, NABA watchers in Maryland and New Jersey recorded spotting eight different varieties of butterflies, from Eastern Pine Elfins to Spring Azures to Gray Hairsteaks.

Butterflies are a uniquely watchable type of wildlife. Their popularity among gardeners has been rising steadily, both for the enjoyment they bring, and for the challenge that attracting them into a prepared setting entails. Although there are some very common backyard visitors—Monarchs, Swallowtails, and such—most butterflies prefer to feed and lay their eggs in open spaces such as meadows, roadside ditches, and out-of-the-way locations. In truth, the butterflies we all commonly associate with "butterfly gardening" are really the showboats of the butterfly world--big, brightly colored, and amenable to visiting our backyards.

More than 725 species of butterflies have been observed in North America, says Glassberg, and about 575 of these occur regularly in the United States. In fact, he adds, in any particular area of the U.S., it should be possible to find about 100 species of butterfly at any one time during warm weather. The average gardener seldom observes most of these butterflies, perhaps because they're small (many are only a half-inch in size) or because they prefer to feed on weeds that flourish in fields and other neglected spots (common milkweed, dogbanes, nettles, and thistles are chief among these butterfly favorites).

Glassberg suggests that serious butterfly enthusiasts purchase binoculars which can focus at close range (under 6 feet) if they want to increase the number of butterflies they "collect" through observation, much as a bird-watcher collects species for his or her hobby.

To attract butterflies, you must create a real habitat for them. You must understand their lifecycle, from egg to larva to butterfly, and the likes, dislikes, and needs of each particular stage. After all, any good host or hostess must offer visitors a gracious and relaxing experience if he or she hopes for a return visit. You can't just plant a couple of "butterfly plants" and then stand impatiently at the kitchen window, waiting for your guests to arrive.

For instance, although most adult butterflies feed on nectar from flowers, the caterpillars that become butterflies need what is known as "host" plants. The caterpillars eat these host plants after they hatch. Good host plants include many cultivated species, from pipevines (Aristolochia spp.) to passionflowers (Passiflora spp.) to herbs such as parsley, dill, rue, and fennel. In fact, many herbs make excellent host plants.

The perfect location
First things first: Butterflies are not demanding guests, but they are particular about their surroundings.

If you want to landscape all or a portion of your yard to make it hospitable to butterflies, you need to choose an open, sunny location. Shaded areas are less attractive to butterflies because they see differently than humans do, and their eyesight may even be hampered in darker locations.

"The vast majority of butterflies are sun-lovers," Glassberg says. "Butterflies only see [well] in a fairly narrow light intensity range." Not surprisingly, all of the plants commonly suggested as butterfly magnets are sun-lovers, as well.

Once you've selected your site, consider the question of adequate over-night accommodations. Sorry to disappoint, but if you've invested in a "butterfly house," an attractive piece of wooden garden craft ostensibly designed as a butterfly home, what you really have is just a lovely piece of art. Butterflies seek shelter at night and in bad weather under leaves, among grass, or in other natural locations. It's highly unlikely, although not impossible, that they would choose to stay in a manufactured butterfly house.

Butterflies also prefer to spend their time in spots that are not windswept. If your garden is in a particularly windy location, consider adding windbreaks of some sort to create a more placid environment. Try incorporating shrubs or grasses around your garden, to serve as windbreaks and as shelter.

A butterfly bar
Of course, any good host knows that offering guests appropriate food and drink is the surest way to make a visit pleasant. Adult butterflies sip nectar from specific flowers, and we'll show you plenty of choices later on. However, butterflies also engage in a behavior known as "puddling." You may have noticed a flutter of butterflies perching at the edge of a mud puddle or another shallow, damp depression after a rain. These butterflies use their long, thin, tube-like tongues to sip both liquid and other trace elements from the puddle.

If you'd like to add this version of a butterfly bar to one corner of your butterfly garden, here's a simple way to do it. Create a small depression in the ground--an inch or two deep works fine--and place some type of waterproof container in the depression. (An upside-down garbage can lid is the perfect size.) Now fill the lid with a fine mix of one-half sand and one-half composted manure, and then use a hose to fully saturate the mixture. Voila! Instant mud puddle.

If you'd like to make your puddle more decorative, line the edges with limestone slabs or other attractive rocks. Keep the mix damp and you may find butterflies stopping by for a quick sip before they go back to visiting your flowers.

Finally, if you want butterflies, stop spraying your yard with a devil's mix of chemicals designed to leave your flowers bug - free. Insecticides and pesticides do not discriminate between a tomato hornworm and a swallowtail caterpillar. What kills one will kill the other, and that includes such environmentally benign and "natural" pest treatments as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).

Butterfly gardeners can either accept a few nibbled plants, or better yet, identify pests and dispose of them by hand, rather than killing caterpillars indiscriminately.

Butterfly Identification         



If you’re terrified by bats or consider them little more than winged mice, let me assure you that their benefits far outweigh any perceived negative impact they have. You really do want these amazing animals around.

They eat all sorts of things—frogs, small mammals, fish, and even nectar from flowers—but the majority of bats in a typical garden are insect eaters. They consume mosquitoes (several hundred per night for the common little brown bat), as well as moths and beetles that do major damage in the garden. Here’s how to attract these voracious insect eaters:

Eliminate pesticides to ensure healthy insect populations for bats. You can’t expect bats to eliminate all insects, but they certainly reduce and control pest populations. This is good for both natural ecosystems and your garden.

Plant a habitat for bats. With the exception of certain nectar-eating species in the Desert Southwest, you can’t plant a “bat garden” to attract bats in the same way that you can for birds or butterflies. Instead, include mature trees for roosting and a healthy native plant community that supports insects.

Install a bat box to mimic natural roosting sites. The key to a successful bat box is proper construction and mounting. Build bat boxes from wood, and stain them brown or gray to help retain heat.

In most areas, bat boxes should face south to maximize sun exposure. Make them at least 20 inches across by 24 inches tall. Smaller boxes likely won’t be used. The box can have a single chamber or several made with slats of wood inside the box, with less than 1 inch between chambers.

Mount bat boxes on the side of a building or on a pole at least 12 feet off the ground. This provides protection from predators such as snakes and raccoons.

Provide water. Bats prefer a body of water a bit larger than an average birdbath so they can swoop over and grab a sip of water while flying. Bats also use garden ponds as a water source. To prevent bats from drowning, provide “ladders” to help them get out of the water, such as rocks dipping into the water and some branches and plants extending into the water.

The Truth about Bats 
There are many myths associated with bats. Here are the facts:

True: Bats are common all over the world. With over 1,100 species worldwide, bats account for a quarter of all mammal species on the planet. There are 47 species in the United States, 16 of which are also found  in Canada.

False: Bats are rodents. Bats are not rodents, but belong to their own group of mammals called Chiroptera. Bats are more closely related to primates than to mice and other rodents.

False: Bats are related to birds. Bats are not related to birds. They have fur rather than feathers and nurse their young, which are born live.

False: Bats can’t see. Bats are not blind. Insect-eating bats use echolocation (using the echoes of high-pitched sounds to find prey) to hunt. That’s why they don’t need large eyes like many other nocturnal creatures. 

True:  Vampire bats drink blood. There are three species of vampire bats that primarily feed on the blood of birds and mammals. They live in Latin America.

False: Bats are likely to spread rabies to humans. Bats, like all mammals, are susceptible to rabies but pose little threat of infecting people. 

False: Bats get caught in people’s hair. This myth may stem from the fact that bats sometimes swoop close to people’s heads when chasing insects, but they won’t get stuck in your hair.



With more than 4,000 bee species native to North America, plus imported species such as the honey bee, these colorful insects are one of the easiest types of wildlife to attract to your garden. You might have more bees in your garden than you think—there are more black, blue, and metallic green species than the easily recognizable black-and-yellow ones. Most rarely sting, and all are extremely important pollinators of wild and agricultural plants. In fact, one third of the food we eat is the result of animal pollinators, the most important of which is the bee.

Bees are threatened by overuse of pesticides and habitat destruction, but you can help by planting a bee garden. Since bees feed on nectar and pollen from flowering plants, anyone with a small garden patch is already providing a bee habitat. Here’s how to make your garden even more attractive to bees:

Include a diversity of blooms from early spring through late fall to provide for different species that are active at different times of the year. The same plants will also give them shelter from predators and heavy rains. The best plants are the species native to your area. They are adapted to your local soils, climate, and precipitation, and they are the species with which native bees evolved. Some plants are even wholly dependent on certain bees to pollinate them.

Provide bees with nesting areas. Most species are solitary and do not form hives. Many lay their eggs in tunnels in sandy, dry soil, so leave a bare patch in your garden to provide nesting areas. Others, notably carpenter bees, nest in tunnels in decaying wood. Keep a dead tree snag or log in your yard for these bees.

Lure orchard mason bees to your garden by putting out bundles of dried, hollowed-out stems of bamboo or native shrubs such as elderberry. A female bee will deposit a small amount of pollen and nectar in the stem, lay an egg, and seal off the chamber with mud. She’ll repeat this process until the stem is filled. The larvae hatch and feed on the pollen-nectar deposit, pupate, and emerge as adults the following spring. Or drill 3- to 5-inch-deep holes in blocks of untreated wood with a 5/16-inch drill bit and place the block in a sheltered spot in the garden.

Bumble bees form hives and often use abandoned mouse burrows. You can build hive boxes filled with dried grasses to simulate what a bumble bee queen would find inside a mouse burrow. Plans for bee nests are available on the Internet.

Give bees a water source. Add rocks to a birdbath to provide a safe landing place for bees to get a drink. A dripper will not only keep the water clean, but will also create a muddy patch beneath the bath that certain bees will use for nesting material.

Practice organic gardening. Organic gardening will make your bee garden complete. Insecticides kill beneficial insects, including bees, along with the pests. Bee gardens attract birds and butterflies as well, providing these crucially important pollinators and other wildlife with the habitat they need to survive.

The Truth about Bee Stings
Many people are afraid of getting stung by bees, but the reality is that bees rarely sting. Here are the facts:

Only female bees have the ability to sting.
  • Stinging is often a reaction to threats to the hive. As a result, aggression is higher in hive-forming bees. Fortunately, the vast majority of bees are not hive-formers and only sting if severely harassed.
  • Honey bee stingers are barbed. When a bee stings someone, she tears a piece of abdomen, causing her death. Some wasp species can sting repeatedly.
  • If you are allergic to bee stings but love to garden, see your doctor and keep appropriate medications handy. Make sure your family and  neighbors know of your allergy and what to do in case of a sting.

Honey Bees at Home
Think of it as room and board for dedicated garden workers who will boost your harvest and provide you with half your body weight in honey. If you turn a corner of your yard into an apiary—a home for honey bees—you’ll get a lot of help with pollinating (which will boost your plants’ production of fruits and vegetables) and more honey than you can eat. Raising bees in your own backyard might sound crazy, but the risks are minimal and the rewards are sweet.

The Buzz on Bees
There are more than 4,000 bee species native to North America, but the imported European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is the species to which the term “beekeeping” typically refers. Honey bees have a set division of labor within their colonies, which can include as many as 80,000 bees. The queen is the core of the hive and the only female that mates and lays fertile eggs. Drones are male bees; their sole purpose is to mate with the queen. The rest of the bees are female workers who collect pollen and nectar, make honey, build honeycombs, manage hive temperature, defend the hive, and feed and care for the queen and larvae.

Bees produce honey using enzymes and evaporation. They bring nectar back to the hive and pass it along from mouth to mouth, which adds the enzymes. They then deposit it in chambers of the honeycomb, where workers buzz their wings to evaporate the water content, leaving behind concentrated sugars and other nutrients.

When the chamber is full, the bees seal it with a wax cap and store the honey for future consumption. Honey bees make more honey than they consume, which means some can be extracted for human use. You can harvest approximately 80 pounds from each hive each year.

Setting up a hive in your yard isn’t difficult. Here’s how to start: 
Check with authorities. Talk to your local government and find out if there are any restrictions on beekeeping.

Do your research. There are excellent books and Web sites that describe how to set up an apiary. Also, a quick search of the Internet or the phone book should reveal a beekeeping group in your area. Local wisdom is invaluable in learning about the best regional materials and practices.

Find the equipment. Hive boxes, harvesting equipment, and live bees are all available online or through mailorder catalogs. If you’re more adventurous, you can try collecting a swarm of wild bees. Contact your animal control agency to find out how to get involved in swarm removal.

Consider allergies. If anyone in your family is allergic to bee venom, beekeeping might not be the hobby for you. With a little knowledge and communication, however, you can avoid problems. If you don’t harass them, bees won’t sting, because it literally kills them to do it. Wear protective clothing when working in a hive, and resist the urge to swat at a bee. If your neighbors are uneasy about the presence of bees, offer to share your honey. An ounce of honey is worth a pound of cure!

Colony collapse disorder 
In recent years, wild honey bees have fallen victim to various microbes, diseases, and pests. Wax moths, for example, lay their eggs inside the hive, where the resulting larvae consume the wax and stored honey.

Most of these issues can be controlled in an apiary, but 2007 saw massive, unexplained hive die-offs. The cause of this so-called Colony Collapse Disorder remains a mystery, although some have hypothesized that the collective impact of introduced pests, pesticides, lack of wild habitat, and constant moving of commercial hives results in a mass weakening of bee immune systems. 

Colony Collapse Disorder could have a significant economic impact, as honey bees are important pollinators of agricultural crops.


Attracting Birds

One of my favorite pastimes is watching and listening to birds feed right outside my window while I work away inside. Hanging bird feeders around your yard will soon attract many birds. Black Sunflower seeds is the favored seed for many seed-eating birds. Setting out fruit, nuts, suet and even peanut butter will attract many different species.

The simplest feeder is a tube feeder. As its name implies, it’s a tube of durable plastic or glass with multiple feeding ports and perches along its sides. Tube feeders come in a range of sizes, colors, and styles that will fit into any yard or garden. Inexpensive models are easy to find. They’re also easy to keep clean.

Among the many food options available, black-oil sunflower seed is the clear choice if you’re not sure which birds you’ll be attracting. This small, black seed is available at birding specialty stores, pet shops, grocery stores, and discount stores. The most common feeder birds—including cardinals, juncos, chickadees, finches, jays, titmice, nuthatches, and woodpeckers—are sure to be attracted to a tube feeder stocked with these high-fat, high-protein seeds. Be patient, though, because it might take a few weeks for birds to discover and use your feeders.

Hang the tube feeder in a place where you can view it from your window. Be mindful not to hang it too close to a shrub where cats might lurk waiting for their chance to pounce. About 10-12 feet away should be fine. I hang mine in trees around the yard, I don’t have a squirrel problem so this works out well for me. If you do have squirrels they will find your feeder fairly quickly. There are many ingenious ways to foil their attempts to get to the feeder, and they probably have just as many ingenious ways to defeat your attempts.

Store your seed in a cool, dry place to prevent mold. A metal trash bin works well and is also rodent-proof. Every couple of weeks, empty out your feeder and wash it with a solution of one part chlorine bleach to nine parts water and a scrub brush, rinse well. This will remove any seed shells, mold, bird droppings, and other disease-causing elements and will ensure that your avian friends have a clean place to enjoy a meal.

To provide for birds in a more natural way, provide plants that produce berries and seed heads that they enjoy. Here are some of the best bird plants available for the garden. Ask your local nursery for species native to your area.

  • American cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum,  Zones 2 to 7)
  • Annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
  • Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica, Zones 3 to 6)
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta, Zones 3 to 7)
  • Clove currant (Ribes odoratum, Zones 5 to 8)
  • Common juniper (Juniperus communis, Zones 2 to 6)
  • Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis, Zones 4 to 9)
  • Hackberry (Celtis laevigata, Zones 5 to 9)
  • Limber pine (Pinus flexilis, Zones 3 to 7)
  • Oak (Quercus spp., Zones 3 to 9)
  • Oregon grapeholly (Mahonia aquifolium, Zones 5 to 9)
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea, Zones 3 to 9)
  • Red osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera, Zones 3 to 8)
  • Shadblow (Amelanchier canadensis, Zones 3 to 7)
  • Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica, Zones 4 to 9)
  • Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Zones 4 to 9)

Bird seed can become a bit expensive, and you really should not be overly concerned with making your feeder the birds sole source of food. They can find many natural sources on their own. I fill my seven feeders daily and by just after noon they are all empty. The birds go away, they feed elsewhere and come back the next morning. Following is a list of tips to keep birds coming back and feeding without breaking the bank.

1. Say No to Insecticides – Before you reach for the bug killer think about this: 96 percent of bird species in North America feed their babies insects.  Most adult birds rely on insects as a source of protein too, but even those that primarily eat plant foods as adults still feed their young insects, including hummingbirds.  Make sure you have plenty of insect life for the birds by going organic and eliminating insecticides.  Let the birds control the insects for you.

2. Go Native – Native plants that grow naturally in your area provide birds with the foods they’ve been eating for thousands of years and thrive in local soils and weather.  Many exotic plants don’t provide seeds or fruits that birds can eat and those that do have become invasive pests.  Native plants also support up to 60 percent more insects than exotics and therefore more birds.

3. Attract Birds with Water – Even if you can’t provide food, a simple bird bath with clean water will attract plenty of birds to your yard.  Replace the water every three days to keep the bath clean and to avoid mosquito problems.

4. Free Food – Make your own suet by recycling bacon grease. Next time you fry up a batch of bacon, pour the grease into a plastic container and freeze it. You can then put it out in a suet cage or mesh onion bags as a high calorie treat for birds such as woodpeckers, jays and chickadees. Saving the plastic packages from store-bought suet and using them again to make your own will save you even more.

5. Buy in Bulk – If you are addicted to watching the constant activity of birds visiting your feeders, consider buying seed in bulk to save some cash.  Avoid seed blends which often have “filler” seeds that most birds toss aside and feed black-oil sunflower seed, which all feeder birds relish.  Store seed in a metal container with a secure lid to keep moisture and other critters out.

6. Grow Your Own Feeders – Plant sunflowers instead of buying expensive sunflower seed.  The flowers look beautiful and also provide nectar for bees and other beneficial insects.  In the fall, cut the flower heads and hang them in the yard as home-grown bird feeders.

Hummingbirds hold a special place in every gardeners yard. Nothing is more exciting than watching them flit around playfully chasing each other, and they occasionally will fly up to within feet of you seemingly investigating what you are up to. What a delight it is to hear one zoom past you defeating almost every attempt for you to follow. Hummingbirds flap their wings so rapidly—approximately 50 to 80 flaps per second—that they actually produce a humming sound when they fly.

It’s easy to provide the basic elements of hummingbird habitat in your garden and encourage these feisty little birds to take up residence in your neighborhood.

Provide nectar. Hummingbirds feed on flower nectar and are attracted to red, so include red-blooming plants in your hummingbird garden. Always select native plant species first. These are the plants that hummingbirds have been feeding on for thousands of years. What’s native varies greatly by region, so check with your local native plant or birding group to find out what will attract hummingbirds in your area.

How you arrange your plants will affect your garden’s attractiveness to hummingbirds. Individual plants are hard to spot from the air and won’t provide enough nectar by themselves. A bed filled with clusters of several species of nectar plants, however, will be much more successful.

You can also attract hummingbirds by putting out a feeder with homemade nectar. You can use a pre-packaged powder to make nectar, or make it from scratch by dissolving one part white sugar in four parts water. Never use honey, which can grow mold and bacteria that sicken hummingbirds. Don’t use artificial sweeteners, either, because they lack the calories these birds need to support their high-energy flying. A word of caution: do not add food coloring to your feeders!

Allow tiny prey to go pesticide-free. Hummingbirds cannot survive on nectar alone. They also need tiny insects, spiders, and other invertebrates as a source of protein. When you’re tempted to grab the pesticides, remember that many pesticides not only kill hummingbirds outright, but also rob them of an important food source. Having a diversely planted, pesticide-free garden will ensure that you have plenty of invertebrate prey for hummingbirds.

Install a birdbath or mister. Hummingbirds drink water and bathe in it to keep their feathers clean. They’ll use a standard birdbath for these activities as long as it’s not too deep. They are also attracted to the sight and sound of moving water, so adding a pump-powered mister will make your water feature irresistible to hummingbirds. They enjoy flying through the fine mist of water, effectively bathing on the wing.

Give them a place to call home. Hummingbirds build tiny, cup-shaped nests. They use spider webs, plant fibers, and seed down to create the cup, and then add lichens to the outside surface. They build their nests in a fork in the branches of dense shrubs and trees. Add a shrub row or other woody vegetation to give hummingbirds a protected place to nest.

Hummingbirds have co-evolved with the plants on which they feed. The birds and the plants depend upon each other for survival. It’s no random happenstance that hummingbird flowers are long and tubular. This structure forces the bird to put its whole face into the flower so its long bill can reach the nectar in the bottom. In doing so, the bird’s face and forehead are dusted with pollen, which it then passes to the next flower as it continues feeding. When it does this, it pollinates the flower, thus ensuring that the plant will produce seeds for the next generation.

When we think of wildlife in a backyard garden, most of us picture rabbits, squirrels, sparrows, chickadees, a variety of insects, and maybe the odd raccoon. Fierce, soaring hawks and mysterious, sharp-eyed owls are not what we expect in an urban yard. And yet several birds of prey are surprisingly common in cities and towns.

Few things are more thrilling than catching a glimpse of a hawk or an owl in your very own neighborhood. If you understand a little bit about raptors’ habits and habitats, you can create the kind of yard that will attract them—and increase your chances for a close encounter.

Attract raptors to your yard. Protecting and restoring natural plant communities is the best thing you can do to attract raptors. Plants provide habitat for prey species and shelter for raptors. Raptors need large, mature vegetation (such as trees and cacti) for nesting. Some smaller species are cavity nesters, laying their eggs in old woodpecker holes or places where branches have broken off. Larger species typically use nests made of branches piled in the tops of trees. Some species don’t build their own nests, but take over those built by crows or other raptors. Dead trees, called snags, work as well as living ones, so leave them standing if they pose no danger.

Learn to identify hawks and owls. Hawks and owls are the most likely raptors to show up in your yard. Depending on the species, they feed on rodents, snakes, insects, and other birds. They have extremely keen eyesight, hooked beaks, and sharp talons. However, despite their similarities, hawks and owls have key differences and are not closely related.

Hawks are active during daylight hours. Owls, on the other hand, are adapted for nocturnal living. Owls have special feathers that muffle the sound of their flapping wings, and their flat, round faces funnel sound into their ears, allowing them to locate prey in the dark.

Look for raptors in urban areas. Here’s a list of the raptors you’re most likely to see in your yard and garden:
Screech owl
Both eastern and western screech owls are common in cities and towns. These small owls nest in tree cavities, but will also use a properly mounted nesting box.

Red-tailed hawk
These large hawks live in every type of ecosystem, from forests to deserts to grasslands. They are easy to spot because they hunt voles, rabbits, and squirrels while perched in trees along highways.

Great horned owl
Great horned owls are the nighttime counterpart to the red-tailed hawk, living in similarly diverse habitats. They can tackle large prey and, lacking a good sense of smell, are one of the few regular predators of skunks. They often use the same nests as red-tailed hawks but avoid competition by laying their eggs much earlier—sometimes in the middle of winter—and completing their nesting process before hawks begin theirs.

Cooper’s hawk
This swift hawk feeds primarily on small birds and is a regular visitor to gardens with bird feeders. Seed-eating songbirds get an easy meal in such gardens, and so do bird-eating hawks.

American kestrel
One of the tiniest raptors (only about 10 inches long), kestrels will nest in the same tree cavities or nesting boxes used by woodpeckers. Males sport colorful slate-blue wing feathers that are easily recognizable.

Bird Information Resources
Bird Identification          
Hummingbird Society       



Over the years I have accumulated some very good books on gardening, sustainable living, wildlife, etc. Her are just a few of them. I’ll add more as I collect them.

I’m not affiliated with any booksellers so I am not pushing these to make any money on them. I truly find that they are a good sources of information.

The Vegetable Gardeners Bible - 2000
Edward C. Smith
Smith writes about organic gardening in staggered planting in raised beds. He covers his system, from soil preparation to companion planting and compost. For beginners, he takes the mystery out of such subjects as hardening off ("like a little boot camp for vegetables") and deciphering the shorthand used in seed catalogues. An abundance of photographs (most of Smith's own garden) visually bolster the techniques described, while frequent subheads, sidebars and information-packed photo captions make the layout user-friendly. The book concludes with an alphabetically arranged listing of vegetables and herbs in which Smith offers advice on every aspect of cultivation, as well as a selection of the most flavorful varieties. Smith doesn't necessarily break new ground here, but his book is thorough and infused with practical wisdom and a dry Vermont humor that should endear him to readers.

Backyard Berry Book - 1995
Stella Otto
Here’s hands-on advice from a professional horticulturist and experienced fruit grower to help gardeners create an edible landscape. "The Backyard Berry Book" provided all the information that backyard gardeners need to grow strawberries, rhubarb, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, lingonberries, currants, gooseberries, grapes, and kiwi fruit. Includes details on soil nutrition and testing; disease, pest, weed, and bird control; and trellis design. A trouble-shooting section and Seasonal Activity Calendar will help ensure success.

Complete Book of Edible Landscaping - 1982
Rosalind Creasy
She began her career in horticulture in the 1970s as a landscape designer and restaurant consultant. By 1982 she had published her first book, The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping, which won the Garden Writers Association’s Quill and Trowel award, was chosen as a Book of the Month selection, and hailed by The Wall Street Journal as the best garden book of 1982. Considered a classic, it coined the term “Edible Landscaping,” now a part of the American vocabulary.

Four-Season Harvest - 1999
Eliot Coleman
This instructional manual explains how to create an abundant garden in a cool climate throughout the year. Author and noted plant expert Eliot Coleman explains, step by step, how garden devotees can take their outdoor summer gardens through the dead of winter.

Garden Insects of North America - 2004
Whitney Cranshaw
Garden Insects of North America is the most comprehensive and user-friendly guide to the common insects and mites affecting yard and garden plants in North America. In a manner no previous book has come close to achieving, through full-color photos and concise, clear, scientifically accurate text, it describes the vast majority of species associated with shade trees and shrubs, turfgrass, flowers and ornamental plants, vegetables, and fruits--1,420 of them, including crickets, katydids, fruit flies, mealybugs, moths, maggots, borers, aphids, ants, bees, and many, many more.

How to Grow More Vegetables
John Jeavons
Now, with the recent release of the seventh edition of How To Grow More Vegetables, the best book on GROW BIOINTENSIVE® gardening just got even better. Whether you have an older edition or have never read this book before, the new improved seventh edition with a foreword by Alice Waters is the gardening book you need and will come back to time and time again.

New Victory Garden - 1987
Bob Thomson

The book is broken down by months with a long list of vegetables for planting, tending, and harvesting for each month as well as other garden tasks.

Rodale's garden insect, disease & weed identification guide - 1988
Miranda Smith
This book is a one-volume field guide to everything that could go wrong in your garden. With this book in hand, you can identify every major insect, disease & weed right in the garden. This guide brings you even more; it's also a valuable reference on the life cycles of insects, diseases & weeds, the plants they affect and the latest organic control to keep them in check.

Secret Life of Plants - 1989
Peter Tompkins & Christopher Bird
Quite possibly one of the most engrossing books pertaining to biology and symbiotic relationships between plants and humans ever written. Described as "A fascinating account of the physical, emotional, and spiritual relations between plants and man."

Worms Eat My Garbage - 1997
Mary Appelhof
A new edition of the definitive guide to vermicomposting--a process using redworms to recycle human food waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer for plants. Author Mary Appelhof provides complete illustrated instructions on setting up and maintaining small-scale worm composting systems. Internationally recognized as an authority on vermicomposting, Appelhof has worked with worms for over three decades. Topics include: bin types, worm species, reproduction, care and feeding of worms, harvesting, and how to make the finished product of potting soil.


>> Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent upon it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.

Galileo Galilei


Great Backyard Bird Count

>> Saturday, January 22, 2011

Just a quick reminder of the dates: February 18-21 presented by Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Brush up on your winter birds, get out the binoculars, and remind family and friends that the 14th annual GBBC is just around the corner. Downloadable flyers and web buttons are available on the GBBC website to you help you spread the word.

Each year, GBBC participants help count all birds they see in their own backyard, or some other choice spot, so that we all can get a better idea of bird populations across the country.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a nonprofit membership institution interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Visit the Cornell Lab’s website at www.birds.cornell.edu.


Natural Controls for Pest and Diseases

>> Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The easiest way to prevent insect damage in your garden is to discourage them from coming in the first place. A healthy garden is the best defense.
  • Pull out any weak plants. They may already be infected. If not, they will attract predators. Pull the plant and dispose of it away from the garden area.
  • Build healthy, organic soil. Natural composting methods, mulching and top-dressing your soil with compost or natural fertilizer is the best way to develop strong, vigorous plants.
  • Seaweed mulch or spray. Seaweed contains trace elements such as iron, zinc, barium, calcium, sulfur and magnesium, which promote healthy development in plants. Seaweed fertilizer in mulch or spray form will enhance growth and give plants the strength to withstand disease. Seaweed mulch also repels slugs.
  • Minimize insect habitat. Clear garden area of debris and weeds which are breeding places for insects. Use clean mulch.
  • Interplant and rotate crops. Insect pests are often plant specific. When plantings are mixed, pests are less likely to spread throughout a crop. Rotating crops each year is a common method to avoid re-infestation of pests which have over-wintered in the bed.
  • Keep foliage dry. Water early so foliage will be dry for most of the day. Wet foliage encourages insect and fungal damage to your plants.
  • Disinfect. If you've been working with infested plants, clean your tools before moving on to other garden areas. This will reduce the speed of invading insects.

Beneficial Insects
Beneficial insects are insects which you can attract to your garden, or buy from catalogs, which prey on harmful insects or their larvae. There are many different species for specific problems, and more information is available at several of the links listed on this page.

Brachonids, Chalcids and Ichneumon Wasps
These small beneficial insects destroy leaf-eating caterpillars. You can attract them to your garden by planting carrots, celery, parsley, caraway and Queen Anne's lace, all members of the Umbelliferae family. These plants are easy to grow, and some should be left to flower. It's the flower that attracts the insects.

These common insects consume aphids, mites, whiteflies and scale. They can be attracted to your garden by planting members of the daisy family (Compositae), tansy or yarrow. Ladybugs are also available from catalogs online.

Lacewings are avid consumers of aphids, and their larva eat aphids and other varieties of other insect pests. They are attracted to "composite" flowers, such as yarrow, goldenrod, black-eyed Susan's and asters. Lacewings can also be purchased online at the sources listed below, and released directly into your garden.

Hover-flies are avid consumers of aphids, and the larva of hover-flies eat aphids and other insect pests. Like the Lacewings, they are attracted to "composite" flowers, such as yarrow, goldenrod, black-eyed Susan's and asters. Seeds for these flowers are available online, or at most garden centers.

Praying Mantis
These large insects have an appetite for most garden pests. Praying mantis eggs are set out in the garden where they hatch and quickly grow to adult size. The eggs are available through mail-order catalogs.

Effective against cutworms, a common pest which destroys sprouts before they can grow into seedlings. Nematodes are also effective against beetles and root weevil larvae.

Nematode eggs are microscopic and come in a small sponge a million at a time. These are mixed with water and applied to the soil, where they hatch and go to work. If they get on foliage, wash them off to the ground.

Nematodes are harmless to humans and pets. They are available in some garden centers and through mail-order catalogs.

Garden 'Mini - Insectary'
You can also set aside a small garden plot of flowering plants designed to attract and harbor beneficial insects. These 'good' insects prey on many common garden insect pests, and offer the gardener a safer, natural alternative to pesticides.

These 'good' insects prey on many common garden insect pests and offer the gardener a safer, natural alternative to pesticides.

A garden insectary is a form of "companion planting", based on the positive effects plants can share as a method of deterring pests, acquiring nutrients or attracting natural predators. By becoming more diverse with your plantings, you are providing habitat, shelter and alternative food source, such as pollen and nectar, something many predators need as part of their diet.

Aphid predators such as aphidius, need the pests to be present in order to reproduce. The idea of inviting the pests in may seem alarming, until you understand that you can encourage host specific pests. These pests will remain on the desired plant in your mini insectary yet provide an ideal breeding ground for the associated predators and parasites.

The plot does not have to be large, just big enough to hold 6-7 varieties of plants which attract insects. Once the garden has matured you can watch your personal insect security force do the work for you.

A garden insectary should be thought of as a long-term permanent component of your garden. Results are not instant and conclusive; rather, the benefits to your garden are cumulative. As your plantings mature and resident populations of beneficial insects are established, the need for chemical pesticides and other aggressive insect control techniques will diminish. Your garden will become a more natural and balanced environment for the healthy production of vegetables and flowers.

“Mini Insectary” Plants / Beneficial Predators Attracted

Achillea filipendulina / Lacewings, Aphidius, Ladybugs
Alyssum / Hoverflies, Lacewings, Tachnid flies
Amaranthus / Ground beetles
Anethum graveolens (Dill) / Ichneumon wasp, Ladybugs, Lacewings
Angelica gigas / Lacewings
Convolvulus minor / Ladybugs, Hoverflies
Coreopsis / Hoverflies, Lacewings, Parasitic wasps
Cosmos bipinnatus / Hoverflies, Parasitic wasps, Lacewings
Digitalis  / Dicyphus
Foeniculum vulgare (Fennel) / Damsel bugs, Ladybugs, Lacewings
Helianthus annulus / Pirate bugs, Beneficial mites
Iberis umbellate / Hoverflies 
Limonium latifolium (Statice) / Hoverflies, Parasitic wasps
Lupin / Aphidius, Aphidoletes, Hoverflies
Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm) / Parasitic wasps, tachinid flies
Parsley / Parasitic wasps, hoverflies, tachinid flies
Queen Anne's lace / Lacewings, Ladybugs, Hoverflies
Scabiosa (Pincushion flower) / Hoverflies, Parasitic wasps
Shasta Daisy / Pirate bugs, Beneficial mites
Sunflowers / Pirate bugs, Aphidius, Parasitic wasps
Tanacetum vulgare (Tansy) / Ladybugs, Lacewings
Verbascum thaspus  / Dicyphus
Yarrow / Hoverflies, Parasitic wasps, Ladybugs

Beneficial Predators / Prey

Aphidius / Aphids
Aphidoletes / Aphids
Beneficial mites / Thrips, spidermite, fungus gnats
Damsel Bugs (Nabidae) / Eggs of many pest insects
Dicyphus / Whiteflies, aphids, Thrips, spider mites
Ground Beetles  /  Slugs, small caterpillars and grubs
Hoverflies   /  Aphids, mealy bugs and others
Lacewings  /  Scale, aphids, mites, soft bodied insects
Ladybugs  /  Aphids, mites
Pirate Bugs  /  Thrips, aphids, mites, scales, whiteflies
Tachinid flies  /  Caterpillars, beetle and fly larvae
Wasps (parasitic)  /  Whiteflies, moth, beetle and fly larvae

Tips and suggestions:
Intersperse vegetable beds with rows or islands of insectary annuals. This will add decorative elements to your vegetable beds while luring beneficials toward prey.

Allow some of your salad and cabbage crops to bloom. Brassica flowers (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy) are also attractive to beneficial insects. 

Include plants of different heights in your insectary. Ground beetles require the cover provided by low-growing plants such as thyme, rosemary, or mint. Lacewings lay their eggs in shady, protected areas, so providing such places near crop plants is a good idea. 

Tiny flowers produced in large quantity are much more valuable than a single, large bloom. Large, nectar-filled blooms actually can drown tiny parasitoid wasps. 

Members of the Umbelliferae family are excellent insectary plants. Fennel, angelica, coriander, dill, and wild carrot all produce the tiny flowers required by parasitoid wasps. 

Composite flowers (daisy and chamomile) and mints (spearmint, peppermint, or catnip) will attract predatory wasps, hoverflies, and robber flies. 

Grow green manure. Clover and vetch, commonly used as cover crops for soil enhancement, are also effective insectary plants.

Herbs (coriander, dill and fennel) will attract hoverflies, lacewings, ladybugs and Tachnid flies to your garden. Coriander (cilantro) is one of the top insectary plants. Caraway, chervil, dill, fennel and parsley flowers are also valued insectary plants.

Non-toxic and Homemade Remedies
Homemade remedies are inexpensive and, best of all, you know what is going into your garden. Many homemade sprays have been used with good results to control harmful insects. They usually involve noxious (but non-toxic) ingredients such as garlic, cayenne, stinging nettles or horsetail which are diluted in water and blended to be sprayed on the plants. Here are a few simple formulas:

Soft-bodied insects (mites, aphids, mealy bugs):
Mix one tablespoon canola oil and a few drops of Ivory soap into a quart of water. Shake well and pour into a spray bottle. Spray plant from above down, and from below up to get the underside of the leaves. The oil smothers the insects.

For lawn or garden grubs, there is a natural remedy called milky spore. The granules are spread on the soil and cause the grubs to contract a disease that kills them. This natural control affects only the grubs, leaving the beneficial organisms unharmed. Milky spore multiplies over time and will sit inactive, waiting for grubs to infect. One treatment is said to last 40 years. The grubs are actually the larvae of Japanese beetles. So, when you kill the grubs you kill the beetle.

Mites and other insects:
Mix two tablespoons of hot pepper sauce or cayenne pepper with a few drops of Ivory soap into a quart of water. Let stand overnight, then stir and pour into a spray bottle and apply as above. Shake container frequently during application.

Earwigs, slugs, and other soft-bodied garden pests:
Sprinkle diatomaceous earth over plants and around edges of garden beds. The diatoms particles are very small and sharp – but only harmful to the small exoskeletons of insects, slugs and snails. Insects cannot become immune to its action, as it is a mechanical killer – not a chemical one.

Fungal diseases:
Mix two tablespoons of baking soda into a quart of water. Pour into a spray container and spray affected areas. Repeat this process every few days until problem ceases.

Powdery mildew:
Mix equal parts milk and water and spray on infected plants. Three treatments a week apart should control the disease.

Insects and fungal diseases:
Combine one tablespoon of cooking oil, two tablespoons of baking soda and a few drops of Ivory soap into a quart of water. Pour into a spray container and apply as above.

Insects on fruit trees:
Lime sulfur and dormant oil, available at nurseries and garden centers, can be sprayed on the trunk and branches of dormant fruit trees. This concoction will suffocate insect egg cases. Because the oily spray is heavy compared to the other water-based sprays, you'll need a pump sprayer. These are fairly inexpensive, and are available to rent from some nurseries. Only use this method while the tree is dormant, however, or it can kill the tree.

Commercial dormant oils may contain petroleum oil or kerosene. A less toxic solution that you can make yourself is:
1 cup vegetable oil and 2 tbsp liquid soap mixed in one gallon (4 liters) water
Mix the soap and oil first, then add the water. Shake often during use.

Caution: Sprays which kill harmful insects will also kill beneficial insects. Use these homemade remedies selectively, only spraying the infected plants. Apply them early in the morning or just before dark. Re-apply after a rain. Wear protective clothing when spraying insecticides.

1-Mild soap and water.  One of the safest and most effective homemade pesticides is some dishwashing soap mixed with water.  In general, it just takes a few drops of soap into a spray bottle followed by water.  You don’t need to use an excessive amount of soap to get the trick done (just one tablespoon).  Basically, this mostly irritates the pests and gets them to leave on their own.

2-Spearmint hot pepper horseradish spray.  To make this powerhouse recipe mix ¼ cup of hot red peppers, ½ gallons of water, ¼ cup of fresh spearmint leaves, ¼ cup of horseradish (both the root and leaves), and ¼ cup green onion tops.  You basically soak everything in water for several hours (overnight) and then drain and save the water adding 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap.

3-Salt and water. This is a very simple irritant used to chase away cabbage worms and spider mites. Mix 2 tablespoons salt in 1 gallon of water and then spray that mixture onto your plants.

4-Oil and soap spray. You can also mix in one cup of vegetable oil (sunflower oil, corn, soybean, or even peanut oil will work) with one tablespoon of mild liquid dish soap and two cups of water.

5-Ammonia spray.  This one is not my first choice as the smell is really strong and the ammonia can have negative effects as well (especially if you use too much).  You mix this in a 1:7 ratio with water and apply the solution to the infected area.  This should get rid of most insects (reapply as needed).

6-Citrus spray. Soak 1 cup of lemon or orange peels, ¼ cup of spearmint leaves (or sage), and ¼ cup of lavender leaves overnight in a gallon of water.  Drain this mixture and save the water along with 1 tablespoon if liquid dishwashing soap and then apply that solution to your plants.

7-Wormwood tea.  If you have a problem with moths, slugs, snails, or even moles and gophers you might want to mix up some wormwood tea.  This involves about ½ pound of Artemesia leaves (A. Absinthium is common wormwood) along with 6 pints of water.  You coarsely chop the leaves and bring them to a boil in 2 pints of water. Then you simmer that solution for 30 minutes pouring the result into a spray bottle along with a quart of fresh water.

8-Sugar and boric acid.  If you find yourself struggling with an army of ants (or in an all-out battle) you may want to mix one part confectioner’s sugar to one part boric acid powder and sprinkle that around the perimeter of ant mounds or anywhere you see a lot of ant activity.

9-Garlic spray.  You can soak 1-15 diced garlic cloves in 2 cups of mineral oil for 24 hours and then strain that solution adding the liquid to a spray bottle.  Then apply that to your plants.

10-Onion, peppers, and garlic.  If you really want something that packs a nice punch then you can grind 3 large onions, 3 hot peppers, and 1 bunch of garlic and place them into a gallon of water.  Let that mixture sit overnight and then strain the spices and top off your gallon with fresh water.

Make an all purpose organic pesticide from vegetables
This is a cheap, all-purpose organic pesticide for herb & vegetable gardens alike. It can be used on a variety of insects that live in the dirt or on the plants including worms, mites and other parasites.

This pesticide will eventually break down and be reduced to nothing, so it is OK to eat any herbs or vegetables that are growing.

The materials used to make the pesticide should be easy to obtain.

You will need:
  • an empty & clean gallon jug (such as a milk jug)
  • a spray bottle with spray nozzle
  • a funnel
  • a piece of cloth such as a shirt or bandanna
  • a pot that can hold 1 gallon
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • a jalapeno pepper, chopped with seeds
  • a clove of garlic, chopped
  • some dish soap

Simply blend all the vegetables into a paste.

***Take care not to rub your eyes or face after handling the liquid or the vegetables. The pepper especially can really burn if it gets in the eye!***

Mix the paste with one gallon warm water and let it sit for 20 minutes.

The ground up vegetables and water will make the killer tea, and it’s going to be quite fragrant.

Straining out the veggies
Once the tea has been allowed to sit for a couple of hours the flavor and odor has mixed with the water, the liquid needs to be strained.

Use a funnel and bandanna to catch the vegetable particles leaving only the liquid.

The mush that collects in the cloth can be squeezed out into the jug and the leftover can simply be thrown out or put onto the compost pile.

Add some dish soap
After all the straining is complete, add 2 tablespoons of dish soap to the liquid.

The soap helps the liquid stick to everything you spray it on. Plus, it makes the already bad-tasting, stinky liquid even less palatable to the insects that inhabit the plants.

Using the pesticide
Using the funnel, fill the spray bottle up and set the nozzle to a light mist.

At this point, the rest of the liquid can be capped and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Simply shake it up before it is used.

Take the spray bottle and spray the plants first. Try to get all over the plant including the stem and under the leaves. Spray the soil as well so that the top of it is wet.

What this liquid does is make every part of the plant that it touches unpalatable to the insect. The water evaporates and leaves behind the odor and flavor. It smells and tastes gross and they won't eat it and will starve to death. The liquid will not kill the insects on contact, so do not get upset if you see increased activity after the application. They're simply struggling to find something to eat.

Treat every 4 or 5 days to kill off the pests and prevent newly-hatched babies from feeding. It may take 3 or 4 treatments, but the numbers should gradually decrease.

If you’re looking for an alternative to chemicals and pesticides to keep creepy crawlers at bay, Mother Nature has a few tricks up her sleeve. Give these a try
Lemon: Cut up a lemon and squeeze out the juice where the ants are coming into the house or are building mounds on your land. Outside, change their route by pouring a line of cayenne pepper, dried peppermint or damp coffee grounds across the ants’ path.

Boric Acid and Corn Syrup: Combine one part boric acid to nine parts corn syrup. Microwave the mixture until the powder dissolves, about one minute. Poke four holes (one for each compass direction) along the bottom edge of an empty margarine tub and place a quarter-size drop of the mixture in the center before replacing the lid. The ants eat the syrup and share it with their colony, poisoning them all.

Dust Mites
Eucalyptus Oil: Add a few drops to your laundry or stored clothing/bedding for dust mite prevention.

Garden Invaders
Marigolds and Chrysanthemums: Marigolds, like chrysanthemums, contain chemicals that repel bugs. If you plant them around vegetables that are prone to insect damage (tomatoes are a classic example), the flying critters often don’t bother trying to make their way through the flowers to find the vegetables. A bonus: Insects do not develop a resistance to this method of pest control.

Peppermint Oil or Citronella: Fend off a rodent invasion by placing cotton balls soaked in oil of peppermint or citronella around your home’s foundation, at the spot where you suspect mice are getting in.

Peanut Butter and Humane Traps: To give critters the boot, use snap traps that capture but don’t kill. Bait the traps with peanut butter and place them perpendicular to any wall that serves as an entry point, then deposit trapped rodents outside. Block every entrance into your house with silicon sealer or cement, and stuff steel wool in any gaps around your pipes.

Plant Oils: Up until recently, the government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deemed only products containing one chemical — the potentially toxic DEET — effective at preventing mosquitoes from biting you.

But in 2005, the CDC gave a nod to products containing less risky ingredients: oil of lemon eucalyptus, as well as a lab-made chemical called Picardin, which has long been used in insect repellents in Europe and is considerably less irritating to the skin than DEET.

Other plant oils that may repel mosquitoes include citronella, cedar, verbena, pennyroyal, geranium, lavender, pine and cinnamon. If you want to mix your own repellent, dilute 1 oz. essential oil of pennyroyal in 16 oz. vegetable oil, then apply to your body with your hands.

Herbal Sachet: Make a sachet with two 4- by 4-inch pieces of natural fiber material, such as silk or tight-weave linen, sewing three of the sides together with a simple straight stitch. Or take a shortcut and use cotton tea bags, which come ready to fill with a drawstring. Combine 2 teaspoons each of dried thyme, rosemary and mint, and 1 teaspoon of whole cloves in a bowl. Stuff your sachet about three-quarters full with the herb mixture and sew up the last side to seal, and leave the sachet in your drawer or around the closet where moths strike.

Cedar Chips and Lavender Sachet: Available ready-made at drugstores, cedar chip and lavender sachets work just as well as mothballs — and don’t fill your home with overpowering fumes.

Boric Acid, Sugar and Bacon Drippings: To clear your home of roaches, mix 1/2 cup of boric acid (a low-toxic powder available at drugstores), 1/8 cup sugar and enough drops of bacon drippings to form a stiff dough when mixed together. To use as bait, roll into marble-size slabs and place them behind the fridge or the stove where pets can’t reach them. Roaches will keel over from the poison in boric acid. Follow up with a thorough cleaning by scrubbing with soap and hot water, and vacuum all the nooks and crannies to get rid of any eggs.

Eucalyptus Oil and Water or Vegetable Oil: Even if you haven’t been hiking in the woods, you can still pick up ticks in your backyard or from family pets.

For a homemade repellent, herbalist Andrea Candee mixes 1/2 oz. eucalyptus oil with 16 oz. water in a spray bottle, then mists it on her body. For longer-lasting protection, combine the eucalyptus oil with vegetable oil instead of water, store it in a jar or vial, and apply with your hands.

To protect a furry friend, dip a thin rope in undiluted eucalyptus oil, then wrap the rope in a bandanna and tie it around your pet’s neck. Re dip the rope about twice a week.

Plants for Pest Repellent That Actually Work!
It can be impossible to get rid of fleas. If your inside animal gets into them, they're pretty much everywhere, but here are some natural repellents to get fleas under control.

Citrus - for natural flea control. Slice a lemon into 4 pieces. Score the skin to release more essential oil. Pour a cup of boiling water over your lemon and allow to sit overnight. Sponge onto your dog and spritz around your house. Sponge yourself before leaving the house to prevent bites.

Cedar – Cedar and cedar oil are natural flea deterrents. Create sachets or use oil to keep fleas away. Commercially made cedar dog beds are also available.

Fleabane – One of my favorite wildflowers, fleabane is a weed you may want to keep around for flea control.

Eucalyptus – Use the scent of eucalyptus leaves  to repel fleas.

Tansy – a colorful flower to grow in your garden, the tansy also works for flea control.

Lemon Grass or Citronella – also good for mosquitoes, growing this plant will keep your fleas away.

Rosemary – burning rosemary is a great way to combat mosquitoes. Throw a few springs onto your BBQ grill and enjoy the delicious flavor and a bug free environment!

Sage – works the same as rosemary.

Marigolds – planting these in your flowerbeds and around your entrances to keep mosquitoes at bay. They don't like the smell.

Thai Citronella – considered more potent against mosquitoes than true citronella.

Other Plant Oils to Consider – Cinnamon Oil, Lemon Eucalyptus Oil, Cinnamon Oil, Rosemary Oil, Garlic Oil, Lemongrass Oil, Cedar Oil, Peppermint Oil, Clove Oil and Geranium Oil.

Ants can be a tough pest to get rid of, they seem to be everywhere!! Try these safe, all-natural repellents and worry no more!

Mint – Ants don't like mint. Place a few springs at their points of entry.

Bitter Cucumber – Ants have a natural aversion to cucumber, bitter works best.

Citrus – spray across their points of entry. You can also soak string in citrus oil and 'rope' off your ants.

Garlic – slip a few pieces of crushed garlic into their crooks and crannies. They will not be going there anymore!

Pepper – black or cayenne will work. Sprinkle near their gathering places to send ants packing!

Cinnamon – works same as pepper.

Catnip – A natural repellent to cockroaches, catnip can be a lifesaver. Make a sachet of dried catnip and place in the roaches favorite gathering places. You can also boil fresh catnip in hot water to make a tea to spray. Use with caution if you have cats who are highly affected by catnip.

Hedgeapple – The fruit of the Osage orange tree is an amazing repellent to cockroaches. The tree is native to American and grows naturally in Texas and Oklahoma. I have not tried this one, but they say simply setting a hedgeapple in your room is enough to deter roaches for 2 months.

Bay leaves – Bay leaves can easily be tucked into cracks and other tiny hiding places to keep roaches OUT!

Garlic – works the same as bay leaves. (see above)

Cucumbers – works same as bay leaves. (see above)

Mint – the smell of mint is enough to keep flies away. Make small sachets of mint and hide all over your house, for great smell and a fly-free home.

Eucalyptus – works same as mint (see above)

Basil – Not only does it smell amazing and taste great, it naturally keeps flies away. This is a great herb to plant near entrances and in your yard. Sweet basil may work best.

As you can see, there are many plants and natural repellents that can help with the summer bugs and pests. Before you start spraying chemicals around your home, kids and pets, try out some a few of these organic methods. You probably already have most of these plants around your home!

Traps and Barriers
Yellow Flypaper: Old-fashioned fly-paper is very effective in the garden for aphids and whiteflies. In fact, any board or heavy paper painted yellow and coated with a sticky substance such as tanglefoot (available at garden centers) will do the job.

Apple Maggot Traps: The apple maggot is the most destructive pest of apples grown in home orchards. This insect is a type of fly which pierces the skin of ripening fruit and lays eggs. In 5 - 10 days, the eggs hatch a maggot which burrows through the fruit. These pests can be managed by using sticky red sphere traps. Hang one trap for every 100 apples in a tree.

Pheromones: These biological mating scents attract insects to a trap which is coated with a sticky substance. Pheromone traps are effective, but remember they are "attracting" the insects - be sure to position them on your garden perimeter or you'll attract outside pests into your garden!

Floating Row Covers: Floating row covers consist of lightweight opaque material which is draped over the garden bed. Sunlight and water go through, but insects and birds are kept out. The material is so light that the growing plants simply push it up as they grow. The edges of the row cover need to be anchored with rocks or boards or the wind will lift it. The material is "spun" which resists tearing, but usually begins to break down after a few years. Row cover material comes in rolls so you can make a continuous cover no matter how long the garden bed.

Row covers are great for protecting seedlings. They are even more useful throughout the growing season when placed over vegetables such as carrots, beets, broccoli, Swiss chard and spinach because it makes an effective barrier against flying insects looking for these plants to lay their eggs on.

Cloche: The cloche is like a miniature greenhouse for your seedbeds and young plants, and acts as a barrier against pests. Unlike the floating row cover, however, the cloche has to be opened on hot days and for watering, and this presents an opportunity for pests to find the plants. But because the cloche helps seedlings and young plants get well established, the enhanced natural resistance of stronger healthy plants is the best defense against pests and disease.

Barrier Paper: Scraps of waxed cardboard from milk cartons, or a scrap of roofing felt are a simple yet effective defense against cabbage moths. Cabbage moth larva kill young sprouts of the Brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale or cauliflower).

Cut into 2" squares and slit one side into the center; make another small slit crossways. Open the slit and slide the square so the seedling stem is in the center. This prevents the cabbage moth from laying eggs at the base of the sprouts. Leave in place - as the plant grows it will simply push the slit open wider. Be sure to apply as soon as the sprout appears, or the moth will beat you to it!

Rodent Control
First, secure any open food sources, especially the compost bin. Sealed compost bins, such as compost tumblers, are recommended if you have rodents in your garden. As a deterrent, soak a rag or cotton balls in oil of peppermint (found at most health food stores), and place in areas of rodent activity. Place under an eve or under a cover that will keep the rain from diluting the peppermint. Rodents are allergic to peppermint and will avoid it. This method is also effective at deterring rabbits.

Mole Control
Organic mole repellent is now commercially available for area-specific mole control.


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