Monday, 30 April 2012

Strawberries and white grubs

As the sun eventually peeked out for a couple of hours, I went out in the garden to start potting up a hanging basket - thinking I might try some strawberries with some trailing geraniums. When I dug up a couple of last years strawberry plants I noticed a collection of white grubs in the container among my plants. A little snoop around the internet brings up information on the Scarab Beetles, which include the June beetle, European chafer and Japanese beetle. As mine are 'active' now (late April. early May) I'm going to assume that they are the June beetle variety. Anyhow, I've whacked the root core of each strawberry plant, half a dozen grubs have fallen out onto the floor. Turning the whole container upside down I have tipped out all the dirt and picked out the little white grubs, laid them out on a platter, and now I've stepped back inside for a cup of tea to let the healthy bird population around here come in and feast!

On closer look, and more snooping around the internet, it looks like these might be strawberry root weavil (Brachyrhinus ovatus).

The closer image (below) is from a wonderful blog I discovered called garden therapy, while looking for information on the strawberry weavil. She had the same problem as mine - you can see her photo below - but overcame it and now has some mighty fine strawberries. I hope mine do half as well!!
Original Image: ©

What I also discovered while hopping around the internet, is that geraniums are toxic to white grubs!! Who knew!? So moving the strawberries to the hanging basket to see how they live together was a good move on both parts!

I'm building a list of beneficial companion planting and plan to create an app that will help gardeners with choosing beneficial plants for their own garden. If you have any experience of beneficial planting schemes of your own, please leave a comment over in the companion planting post so that I can include as many tried and tested beneficial companions as possible!

Now lets see how the strawberry and geranium get along this summer. 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Starting Out - prepping the garden soil

There are many ways to prepare a garden, and no way is the 'right' way, each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Either way, starting afresh can be very satisfying, especially when all the work is done and your plucking big fat juicy produce right out of your own yard! 
So, lets look at the no-dig method here, there is also a double dig method which we'll cover later. 
The no-dig soil building method involves, yes, you guessed it, no digging! This technique is based on layering! Lots and lots of layer! Think of it like a giant garden lasagna - instead of pasta, tomatoes, veggies, and cheese, we'll be layering compost, newspaper, cardboard, rotting leaves, manure, the works! 
It is essentially a sheeting compost system, best done in the fall, which allows the whole winter to decompose and do what soil does best, get ready for planting in the spring. Raised beds can also be started like this but you dont need to enclose it for it to work. 
The hardest part will be the gathering of 'layer' materials! Cardboard, newsprint (not the glossies as the inks contain a lot of junk!). You'll also need a LOT of compost material: food scraps, leaves, grass clippings, manure. You may have the kind of neighbors who know little about the value in those bags of leaves left out at the curb. After dark 'gathering' missions might be required! 
1. Pick a good spot for your garden. Take note of what you want to grow, versus how much sun the spot gets.
2. Lay down a thick (approx 2 inches!) layer of cardboard and hose it down really well.  
3. Cover the cardboard with a layer of compost materials: leaves, grass, twigs, manure to about 4-6 inches.  Thats a LOT of stuff - you might need to clean out your fridge, raid your neighbors leaf rakings, clean up your own garden, anything organic you can lay your hands on and dump it all on the lasagna heap. You might be able to strike a deal with your local city leaf collection department, or talk to local farmers for manure, spent straw, the throw outs at the end of market day. 
4. More cardboard, but even thicker this time, around 4 inches. You can now start to introduce newspaper and straw in this layer - bulk it out!  Its good to introduce air pockets too - try corrugated cardboard  Air pockets are good at the base - using corrugated cardboard helps, then its just a free for all and as much organic matter as you can lay your hands on! 
Rinse and repeat until its a whopping 2 feet tall! 
For an extra booster, you can cover the whole thing with a black tarp for a couple of weeks, but that’s not really necessary.
Sit back and make yourself a well deserved cup of tea!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Companion Planting App

Original image ©
As a gardener with geek tendencies, I've been noticing for a while, the lack of really useful gardening apps out there. Apps that might cover such areas as crop rotation, companion planting, pest control, plant finder, or maybe even a plant guild database to refer to while standing in the yard looking out at all those half planned beds! The BBC have a virtual garden app on their site built in Director which is no longer maintained, but does have some nice features that might be worth exploring. One problem to overcome would be the sheer volume of information input required to keep the resource up to date, as well as contain enough content to make it both relevant and useful. One  great resource for plant types is Daves Garden - a rich site with a plant database built, maintained and updated by a community of gardeners from around the world. Another useful resource is this growing guide from heirloom organics! Further reading on Plant Guilds can be found here. And musings on Permaculture here.

This New York Times article comparing the top five gardening apps is an interesting read too!

Still pondering the potential and usefulness of this, and wondering about using openframeworks to build the thing!

Related Links
Permaculture: A Beginners Guide
How to Make a Forest Garden: 1
Permaculture in a Nutshell: 1

Monday, 9 April 2012

Permaculture Webinar Series

While talking with a friend about the installation of a rain barrel at his home in Michigan, and his desire to design a rain garden, I got to thinking about how I might incorporate a rain garden at the property I am about to buy. So, with this in mind I started to research rain garden design and look into the processes and options available. Having already taken the first half of the Permaculture Design Course at Offshoots in the UK last year, I had a feeling that installing a rain garden might fall within the realms of Permaculture Design.

And sure enough, I stumbled across this inspiring webinar series by Bill & Becky Wilson of Midwest Permaculture. It offers a wonderful overview of the Foundations of Permaculture, with some real world examples of rain garden design in the 'Bill and Becky's Permaculture Raingardens + Yard' video (14). Not only is this a very inspiring series, it is entirely free!

The couple deliver courses and have a healthy Networking Site which has a wealth of information for and from, past and present students, to connect and facilitate knowledge transferral and growth within the Permaculture community.

Here is the full Webinar Series:  Intro to Permaculture 

1 - What is Permaculture
2 - The Currents State of Agriculture
3 - Topsoil
4 - The Productivity of a Ditch
5 - Peak Oil
6 - 2 Trillion Barrels of Oil
7 - The Power and Effects of Oil
8 - CO2 Levels and The Goals of Permaculture
9 - Where Will Energy Come From
10 - Ancient Sunlight
11 - Rural Permaculture
12 - The Industrial Egg vs The Permaculture Egg
13 - The Hydrological Cycles
14 - Bill and Becky's Permaculture Raingardens + Yard
15 - Suburban Permaculture
16 - Urban Permaculture
17 - Pavement Gardens, Buildings and Greenhouses
18 - The Goal of Permaculture