Grow Herbs for Bugs!

Swallowtail Butterfly on Dill
Even if you don’t cook with herbs there is another terrific reason for growing herbs in your garden and yard.
Swallowtail Butterfly Larva on Dill

The flowers attract beneficial insects and butterflies. If you grow any of the plants in the Umbrilliferae family: dill, parsley, fennel- the butterflies come and lay their eggs on the plants so the hatching larva have something to eat. Those larva, the caterpillars, of course, can decimate a plant in no time. But, we get butterflies in exchange, and generally the plant recovers.

Other insects, many of them beneficial to our gardens, are attracted to herb flowers, too.

The following was posted by “Honey Gal” at Organic Consumers Association’s web forum years ago, but it’s relevant today: “I’m a beekeeper and teach classes in bee stewardship. One thing folks can do to help, even if you aren’t a beekeeper, is to make your yard bee friendly. Plant a flowering herb garden.

Bees use herbs medicinally and your plants can help make a difference. I suggest rosemary, sage, THYME (lots of it), marjoram, chives, basil, all the mints and other herbs with flowers. Bees will find them. To do more, plant native flowering bushes, too. In our area (WA) spirea and goldenrod are bee magnets. Try to have flowers in bloom through into fall.

Put out a big shallow dish of water with sticks or moss in it (so they don’t fall in) and keep it moist. If you can get seaweed, bees are particularly fond of the minerals so I keep a little pile of seaweed in the “bee pond.” All these small actions add up and make it a little easier on your local bees.”


Mint Flower- don’t be afraid to let your mints flower. The flowers bring beneficial insects to your garden. Use the flowers in teas and drinks, too!

 

 

Low growing plants such as mint and thyme act as cover for ground beetles which are good predators for lots of tiny pests. These low plants also provide shady, protected areas for laying eggs.

 

Cilantro in Bloom

 

 

Tiny flowers, like plants from the Umbelliferae family: fennel, angelica, cilantro/coriander, dill, Queen Anne’s Lace, yarrow, and rue will attract tiny beneficial wasps.

 

 

Tiny flowers of Chamomile

Composite flowers (calendula and chamomile) and mints (spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm, catnip) will attract predatory wasps, hover flies, and robber flies.

 

 

Attract the above mentioned beneficial insects to combat the following:

  • Parasitoid wasps – feed on aphids, caterpillars and grubs
  • Lacewing larvae – feed on aphids
  • Ladybug larvae – feed on aphids
  • Ground beetles – feed on ground-dwelling pests.
  • Hover flies, and Robber flies – feed on many insects, including leafhoppers and caterpillars

Many common pests in gardens can be deterred by interplanting herbs among and along vegetables and in flower gardens. This practice eliminates the need for harsh pesticide use around your food crops and your family and pets.

The following list will give you some basic information regarding which herbs to plant to deter the pests that can plague your garden.

Aphids – Chives, Coriander, Nasturtium

Ants – Tansy- not useful for Fire Ants in the South

Asparagus Beetle – Pot Marigold (Calendula)

Bean Beetle – Marigold, Nasturtium, Rosemary

Cabbage Moth – Hyssop, Mint (also clothes moths), Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Southernwood, Tansy, Thyme

Carrot Fly – Rosemary, Sage

Flea Beetle – Catmint (Contains nepetalactone, an insect repellent. Steep in water and spray on plants.), Mint

Flies – Basil, Rue

Fruit Tree Moths – Southernwood

Japanese Beetles – Garlic & Rue (When used near roses and raspberries), Tansy

Potato Bugs – Horseradish

Mosquitoes – Basil, Rosemary, Lemon Grass

Moths – Santolina

Nematodes – Marigold (Marigolds should be established for at least 1 year before their nematode deterring properties will take effect.)

Savory, Winter – Some insect repelling qualities Squash Bugs & Beetles – Nasturtium, Tansy

Ticks – Lavender (Also thought to repel mice and moths.)

Tomato Horn Worm – Borage, Pot Marigold

You can find seeds for many of the plants mentioned here at The Herb Cottage Seed Shop. Or, if you’re local, you’ll find me out and about at Markets and Garden events. Check the calendar to see where I’ll be. You can come see me at The Herb Cottage, too! Just give me a shout and let me know when you’ll be coming so I can be here to greet you! 

I hope you can use this information to better plan your next garden, whether it will be in the spring or next fall and winter, for those of you who live and garden in the South and West where mild winters allow for gardening. In mild winter areas pests are not killed off by the cold and freezing weather and can be a problem year round.

 

QUOTE FOR THE MONTH

I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties through my love for truth — and truth rewarded me. -Simone de Beauvoir, author and philosopher (9 Jan 1908-1986) 

Spring!

Spring just has to be the most exciting time of year for us gardeners.

The equinox has passed and the sun is climbing in the sky offering us longer days, more sun to help our plants grow and milder days to work in the garden.

Oh, I know many of you are still in the grip of Old Man Winter, but, Spring will come soon enough. Have you started your seeds yet? Planned this year’s garden? Started cleaning out the beds?

Here in the South, our gardens are transforming, with the end of our winter crops of leafy greens, root vegetables and green peas clearing space for warm weather crops such as beans, cucumbers, squash, melons, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and the like.

I’ve been harvesting Snap Peas for weeks.

Tired Pea Vines!
Tired Pea Vines!

 

The vines are looking a little peaked now and I think it’s time to cut the pea vines and plant something else in that tub. Since I grew peas, which added lots of nitrogen to the soil, I’ll grow a heavy feeder such as a Tomato, Pepper or Eggplant in that tub.

New Lavender, Thyme and Rue!
New Lavender, Thyme and Rue!

 

New herbs are being stocked here at The Herb Cottage just in time for Spring shows and markets.

 

 

 

People are making their way out to the farm to get the best selection of herbs and vegetables, too.

Cucumber, Melons, Okra

In the herb beds, new growth is everywhere!

IMG_0315
Texas Bluebonnets love The Herb Cottage!

Of course, since I let our State Flower, the Texas Bluebonnet, grow wherever it pleases, the beds are full of them now. I’ll have to wait another few weeks until they fade and throw their seed out before I can replant my favorite warm weather annual, basil.

In the greenhouse, I have seeded traditional Genovese Basil, but also lemon, lime, Holy and Thai varieties.

Los of little basil! 4 varieties!
Los of little basil! 4 varieties!

 

 

Each type has a different aroma and flavor. Watch for it at my markets starting in mid to late April.

 

 

 

This year I also have African Blue Basil, which I ordered in for a local bee keeper. He said his bees love it the best. So… if you want to attract bees to your gardens and yard, plant some African Blue Basil for them. Most people find the flavor of the African Blue variety too strong for cooking, but it makes a fabulous landscape plant for the bees and for cut flowers. It’ll bloom until frost! If you live in a frost free area, African Blue Basil is perennial! Start more plants from cuttings, as the seed is sterile.

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia
African Blue Basil- Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

African Blue Basil isn’t just for bees. It’s a great butterfly plant as well.

In fact, most plants that bees like are also favored by butterflies.

 

Continue reading “Spring!”

Companion Planting

Monthly Feature FEBRUARY 2013

Red Bud Tree

Here in Texas, early Spring is knocking at our door. We’re winding down the cool season crops and looking at planting our warm season selections. At the Markets, almost everyone is asking for Basil…  note: it’s not ready yet. The nights are staying too cool, in my opinion, to have new basil plants in the garden. So, there are tiny, tiny plants in the greenhouse, on the heat mat, which will be ready in a few weeks. 
Even though, for us, time for planting is almost upon us, for much of the U.S. and parts of North Texas as well, gardens are still in the planning stage. So, while you’re looking at how to best use your garden space, whether in the next few weeks or a couple of months from now, don’t forget to plan for herbs along side your vegetables.

HERBS ATTRACT INSECT PREDATORS!

Herbs are great companion plants for vegetables and flowers, as well. Besides adding visual interest, herbs attract beneficial insects which help control the ones which come to eat your garden. For maximum effectiveness, inter plant your herbs and vegetables, rather than having single variety rows of crops. If you are a row gardener, plant some herbs in between your vegetable plants in each row. If you use the square foot plan or raised beds, just add some of the beneficial herbs to your beds wherever they fit in. Container gardeners can add herb plants along with vegetables in containers as well. Plant them near the edge of the container so they get maximum sun and don’t become shaded by a big tomato or squash!

HERBS ATTRACT INSECT POLLINATORS!

Many herbs, especially the ones with umbel-type flower heads- dill, parsley, fennel, cilantro- are great at attracting pollinators. These bees, butterflies and tiny flies pollinate the flowers of your vegetable plants so you have better yields. In past gardens, if your plants have produced a lot of flowers but few vegetables, pollination could be an issue. Especially if you garden in an urban area, you might need to give your plants extra help in pollination by planting herbs attractive to insects.

Continue reading for charts with specifics for companion planting.

Continue reading “Companion Planting”

Wild and Weedy Apothecary

If you saw a book with the above title, would you pick it up and look at it?

Well… I did and now I have it here with me.

Here’s how I acquired the book- I attended the Texas Renaissance Festival with my sister-in-law earlier this month. One of our favorite shops is Creative Life Booksellers, not too far inside the front gate. The shop is filled with books, calenders, coloring books, cards, book marks, tarot cards and more on subjects as varied as dragons, faeries, pirates, Celtic history, the Renaissance and, of course, herbs.

The herb book selection is small, but there are always books I don’t have, and such is the case with The Wild and Weedy Apothecary by Doreen Shababy.

Book Cover

The book contains “recipes” for healing uses of herbs, simple teas, food recipes using herbs and a lot about harvesting and using herbs found in your own area. Then, there is an encyclopedic listing of herbs with remedies and recipes for each listing. For instance, under A, you will find the following– Alliums, Anise, Apple, Aromatherapy and Aunt Carols’s Manicotti– each with a recipe or useful commentary

The aspect of this book I like most, besides the content itself, is the tone. It’s friendly and helpful rather than pedantic or authoritative. It feels like you’re sitting at the kitchen table with Doreen over a cup of herb tea, discussing the herbs you’ve used, have growing in your yard or nearby outdoor area and herbs you’re interested in but have yet to grow or try. There’s no feeling of having to rush through this book. The information is easy to access and to use. It’s one to keep handy and think of when you’re feeling a cold coming on, flu-like symptoms, have irritating bug bites or one of your kids has a sore throat.

The recipes for food are for wholesome dishes with easy to find ingredients- or with ingredients right out of your own garden. There’s lots of family history tied up in food and recipes in general, and Ms. Shababy generously shares some of her family with us.

All in all, I consider this book a great find. I’ve been slowly going through it skipping from section to section as I think of herbs to look up or recipes to try.

If you’re into reading blogs, Ms. Shababy has one here.

One more book that is a little unusual that captures my imagination is an Almanac, as it follows the Calendar, rather than an alphabetical pattern. It is by Susan Wittig Albert, author of the China Bayles herbal-infused mystery series set in a fictitious Texas Hill Country town called Pecan Springs.

Book CoverThe book is called China Bayles Book of Days.

Each day of the year has a discussion of a particular herb, usually with a recipe or two to accompany it, often with gardening advice. There is a wealth of information in this book. You can read it year after year as the entries follow the calander and thus, the seasons, rather than any particular year.

There are myriad herb books that have been published, from Culpepper’s Herbal published in 1649, to the many colorful books of the present. Some are herb growing guides, some are food recipe books using herbs, some are strictly medicinal, some are about crafting with herbs, while many are a combination of the varied aspects of the world of herbs. Whichever is your choice, there are books to help you learn more and deepen your knowledge and appreciation of this vast world. Whatever your interest in herbs, it is all rooted in the plants, the soil, the natural world around us.

I hope you’re enjoying the holidays with family and friends.

CELEBRATE THE SEASON!

green line

QUOTE FOR THE MONTH
C.S. Lewis said “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

December 2002 – Madder Than a Wet Hen

Madder than a wet hen…

Have you ever heard the expression, “Madder than a wet hen”? I don’t know how that expression came into use. My hens don’t seem to mind the water a bit. Today is a cold and rainy day, but I made my mucky way out to the chicken yard to open the doors for the birds. There are ducks housed with the chickens and I knew they’d love to be out in the mud and rain, no matter what the temperature. Did the chickens stay inside where it was dry, where I spread their scratch grain? No, not those chickens. They wandered outside in the rain and mud to peck around and enjoy the cold. I don’t expect them to stay out very long…. but, go out they did, got wet and kept their even temper.

The weather today is conducive to staying indoors putting on a pot of soup or stew, baking savory bread or sweet, buttery cookies, curling up with a book or even going over your garden notes from last season. I’ve learned to actually keep notes on growing conditions both in the greenhouse and the display gardens. I track germination times, hardiness, water needs, sun or shade preference and mature size of different plants. If you like using a computer, set up a database for yourself listing your plants, various characteristics, notes throughout the season, and perhaps where you acquired the seeds or plants and the cost. You can include anything that you would find helpful to evaluate your plants. It gives you a way to evaluate new plants and old favorites. Continue reading “December 2002 – Madder Than a Wet Hen”

March 2002

Being too busy to prune…..

I discovered this week how being too busy to tend to a gardening chore actually helped my plants. I finally got around to trimming back my big lemon grass plant and Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida or Sweet Marigold, Texas or Mexican Tarragon) this afternoon when I realized something. I had wanted to get those plants cut back earlier–, about 3 weeks ago, actually. But, I just got around to it today. Well….. that dead looking foliage actually helped protect the new shoots coming from the root ball.

We’d been experiencing a definite warming trend thinking spring had really arrived when WHAM! — we were hit with the coldest temperatures of the season. In fact, we hadn’t experienced temps in the low 20’s and teens in several years. Many plants had started putting out new growth, and the ones I had cut back earlier lost all that new growth. But, the ones I cut back today had their new growth protected by the mass of dead foliage.

Both plants I cut back today are considered tender perennials. In Zone 7 and above neither the lemon grass or Mexican Mint Marigold is winter hardy. See, that’s why we’re so spoiled. To us here in the southern part of the state, cold weather is something that arrives for a few days, gives us something to complain about, and then the winds turn around from the South, and we’re warm again. Our plants really like it that way. But, a plant can be tricked by prolonged warm weather in Jan. or Feb. and start sending out new growth. The next cold snap kills that new vegetation, and the energy that went into making those new shoots is lost from the root system.

COMPANION PLANTING Continue reading “March 2002”