Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Animals III: The Unwanted

In the sort of imaginary world where candy canes grow on trees and financial crises caused by too much debt can be solved by adding even more debt, the only animals a backyard gardener would ever have to deal with would either be small livestock who keep the refrigerator full, or helpful critters from the surrounding ecology who come fluttering or slithering in on cue to pollinate plants, turn plant matter into compost, and generally make themselves useful to the garden and the gardener. Alas, we don’t live in such a world, and if you have a backyard garden, you’ll be dealing with plenty of other animals whose goal in life is to eat the food you grow before you can get to it.

Call them the Unwanted. If that sounds like the title of a second-rate Western, that’s not wholly inappropriate, because most American gardeners seem to think of them in terms borrowed from Hollywood cowboy flicks: your garden is the inevitable happy but helpless Western town, the animals we’re discussing are the black-hatted bandits, and you’re the gunslinger with the tin star on your shirt who stands there in the middle of Main Street waiting for the baddies to show up, with both hands hovering over the grips of your six-sprayers.

Popular though the image is, it’s not a useful approach to managing a garden ecosystem. The idea that you ought to control unwanted animals by squirting poisons all over everything may not be the dumbest notion in circulation these days, but it’s arguably pretty close; a healthy garden, remember, is one with a diverse population of living things in balance, and the toxic compounds too many gardeners like to spray all over everything are just as deadly to bees and other helpful creatures as they are to the ones you think you need to get rid of. Most of them aren’t exactly healthy for you, either, and dumping poisons on your own food supply is not generally considered to be a bright move.

For that matter, it’s not even an effective way to get rid of the critters you don’t want. It’s important to understand why this is the case, because it points up a crucial difference between the unhelpfully mechanistic approach that governs so many activities in contemporary industrial society, on the one hand, and the ecological approach that ought to guide your work as a green wizard, on the other. Imagine, then, a big field full of a single crop, sprayed regularly with a chemical poison to keep some insect or other from dining on that crop. In ecological terms, what do you have?

What you have is a perfect environment for any insect that can learn to live with the chemical poison. That insect is looking at an abundant food supply, helpfully guarded by a chemical “predator” that will take out other insects who would otherwise compete for the same food supply. Offer evolution a chance like that, and it won’t be slow to take you up on the offer – which is why losses to insect pests for most crops in the US have risen to levels not far below those that were standard before chemical pesticides came on the market, even though most pesticides are being used at or above their maximum safe dosage per acre.

It doesn’t help any that nearly all chemical pesticides are single chemical compounds, each of which interferes with the biochemistry of its intended target in one and only one way. The fetish for chemical purity that runs through so much modern technology has many downsides, and this is one of them. Plants that have evolved chemical defenses against insect predators use as many as a couple of hundred substances that attack an insect’s biochemistry at many different points, an approach that makes it extremely difficult for ordinary random mutations in the insect population to work around them. Rely on a single compound with a single chemical pathway, though, and you make things easy for evolution; one mutation in the right place is all that’s needed, and sooner or later the luck of the draw will go in the insect’s favor.

The same bad habit, interestingly enough, lies behind the explosion of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in recent years. Any given antibiotic relies on a single effective substance with a single impact on the bacteria it’s supposed to combat; even the sort of antibiotic cocktail used so often nowadays has only two or three active ingredients. Compare that to St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), which is best known these days as an antidepressive but had a much bigger role in traditional Western herbal medicine as a medicine for wounds, and contains dozens of antibacterial compounds – hypericin, rottlerins, xanthones, procyanins, resins, oils, and more. It’s precisely this complexity that makes it impossible for microbes to evolve resistance to herbal treatments.

Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land used to take a wineskin, stuff it with St. John’s wort flowers, and fill the skin with olive oil; by the time they got to where the fighting was, the oil was blood red, and they used it to dress sword wounds to keep them from festering in the not exactly sterile conditions of a twelfth-century military camp. American laws being what they are, I would probably get in trouble for practicing medicine without a license if I encouraged you to consider herbal remedies such as St. John’s word for infection, or even recommended that you read such excellent books on the subject as Stephen Harrod Buhner’s Herbal Antibiotics, so of course I’ll do no such thing.

The same logic, though, can be applied with a good deal less risk of legal trouble to a backyard garden. Instead of trying to get rid of unwanted creatures in your garden by the simple-minded and easily circumvented approach of a single poison, you need to change the environment so that it no longer encourages the Unwanted to hang around. That isn’t as easy as squirting poison all over everything; it requires you to learn about the life cycle and environmental needs of each of the creatures you intend to discourage, and to figure out ways to deprive them of things they need, make your garden welcoming to things that eat them, irritate, annoy, and frustrate the living daylights out of them until they throw up their forelimbs in despair and go bother someone else.

Sometimes a few simple things will do the trick. One classic way to keep raccoons from eating your sweet corn before you get to it, for example, is to intercrop the corn with some vining plant that will twine all around the cornstalks. Raccoons hate unstable footing, and the tangled, sliding mess of vines you’ll get around your corn will often annoy them enough that they’ll settle for the contents of your neighbor’s garbage can instead. Combine that trick with other methods of making life annoying for raccoons – for example, raccoons detest baby powder, and this can be sprinkled liberally on corn ears and leaves to make them leave corn alone – and barriers of the sort raccoons can’t easily get past – for example, once the silks have turned brown and pollination is over, you can cover individual ears with old knee-high stockings held on with rubber bands, and – and the fellow in the bandit mask isn’t likely to bother your corn much.

Some insects, similarly, can be dealt with by the simple expedient of physically removing them. On a large farm this would be a herculean task, to be sure, but in a small intensive garden, it becomes workable. Japanese beetles, for example, can be handpicked off your vegetables; do it first thing in the morning, when they’re still groggy, and put a tarp on the ground under the vegetables to catch those that fall off. In effect, you become an additional predator of Japanese beetles, and put enough pressure on their population to keep it from getting out of control.

In much the same way, one very effective way to limit the number of slugs in your garden is to find the places they like to hide in the daytime and remove these, except for one nice convenient board left flat on the ground in the middle of the garden. Every day, go out and gather up all the slugs that have hidden under the board, and feed them to your chickens, who will be delighted by the treat. (Those gardeners who lack chickens can drop the slugs into a pail of salted water.) Do this regularly and you’ll keep the slug population of most gardens down to the point that damage to plants is minor at best.

Not all problems with the creatures who want to eat your vegetables, or for that matter your animals, can be solved that easily. Any gardener worth his or her salt has a couple of good books on pest control, and takes the time to learn as much as possible about the habits and weaknesses of insects, mammals and birds who have to be controlled if you’re going to get food out of your garden. A few good over-the-fence conversations with local gardeners can also clue you in to methods that have been evolved locally. A garden notebook, kept up to date with notes on what works and what doesn’t, is another valuable resource.

Perhaps the most important resource, though, is the awareness that in planting and tending a garden you’re working with an ecosystem, not running a machine. Machines require purity; ecosystems thrive on diversity, which is the opposite of purity. This means that you should have many different crops growing in your garden at any given time, and they should be intercropped rather than grown in nice neat blocks, so that an insect or a plant disease that gets started on one plant can’t simply hop to the next one. It means that you should be prepared to use a series of partial deterrents when something that likes to eat your vegetables gets out of balance with the system, rather than attempting a knockout blow that may just knock out something you need.

It also means that you need to accept that a certain number of your plants are going to get sampled by other living things, and concentrate on keeping that number within acceptable limits, rather than trying to drop it to zero. You may not want raccoons and slugs in your garden, but they play necessary roles in the wider ecosystem, and as a green wizard – rather than a poison-toting sprayslinger – your job is to learn to work with that wider system in ways that work for all concerned.


Two excellent books on keeping your vegetables safe from your rivals are Rhonda Massingham Hart’s Bugs, Slugs, and Other Thugs and Helen and John Philbrick’s The Bug Book. Most organic gardening books also contain useful hints on keeping the Unwanted at bay, while books on raising small livestock such as chickens and rabbits almost always discuss ways to keep predators from dining on your animals before you do.


Even archdruids need to take vacations now and then, and the pressures of my other writing projects have made something of the sort a good idea just now. As a result, I’ll be taking next week and the month of October off from The Archdruid Report; expect my next post – on another dimension of the Green Wizards project – the first week in November. Until then, enjoy the harvest season, and keep on with your studies!


john said...


Thank you for your reply last week,your answer is something that I've thought about many times over the years and is something I ascribe to pretty vehemently(the religious unmentionability of death and it's associated taboo's etc.Especially here in Japan,where the Kanji for 4,shi is part of the japanese word for death and as such it is often replaced with yom.Another thing here is don't ever stick your chopsticks vertically into a rice bowl,this is something to do with funeral rituals,but I digress from today's question...).

I should maybe have asked this a few weeks ago.I was very pleased when I saw your post on compostingas I had started to do it about a month and a half before.The problem I have is twofold.

I live by the sea here in japan and so I have a soil which needs the addition of A LOT of organic material,hence the compost.Should I buy some compost?

The second problem I have,I think is down to sand as well,in that I have zero worms.Near my home there is very productive(as far as I can tell)small scale allotmenting,easily tended to by 3 guys in their 70's.I've had a look at their soil as well,and although it's richer in humus than mine(my soil is for ornamental bushes only and as such is poor quality,I'm not even sure I'm allowed to use it,but nobody is whinging as of yet!)it also has no worms.My question to you ,and everyone else for that matter is should I try to buy some and are they that necessary?

Thanks in advance.

Twilight said...

John - I appreciate you not making that recommendation. Enjoy your break - the empire can collapse without your attention for at least a little while anyway!

darius said...

Interesting. Sure wish you had included a remedy for stinkbugs who ruined my entire tomato crop this year!

Jason said...

Thanks for this lovely post, Archdruid -- you're a goldmine, or something more useful! This is "proper hobbit stuff" as a friend of mine calls it. Enjoy the holiday.

American laws being what they are, I would probably get in trouble for practicing medicine without a license if I encouraged you to consider herbal remedies

You're not kidding... and UK laws are no better.

For anyone planning to make any use of store-bought herbal medicine (and even vitamins I'm told), there may be trouble ahead. There are laws on the books for 2011 that will prevent obtaining that stuff without prescription apparently. No joke -- that site is run by some friendly MPs trying to reverse the situation.

Not much point perfecting your use of Chinese Tonics to remain in tip top condition (thus unburdening an overburdened NHS) if they swipe your access to poria cocos and codonopsis! If, like me, you'll be in trouble without this stuff and have been deliberately going over to it in order to look after your own health responsibly, you might want to fight this law which they are planning to enforce. Of course you can grow your own western herbs, but dashed if the whole thing isn't a big pharma lobby triumph.

dandelionlady said...

I'm glad to see you talking about intercropping and sensible pest control, but you might want to add on some information about disease control as well.

If you intercrop too much having any kind of crop rotation schedule is just a mess. Learning what garden plants are related to one another is very useful for this since the ones that are related often get the same diseases. That way you're not planting your melons in the same place your cucumber just got mosaic virus last year.

Also, I totally second anything that Stephen Harrod Buhner writes. He's amazing!

I've been dealing with rather larger pests this year. We had a groundhog decide to set up shop underneath our shed and he happily snatched every pumpkin we grew, chewed holes in the melons, and generally ran rampant through my garden. We finally got him to move out by sticking rocks into all of his tunnel entrances and blocking a hole in the fence once he was on the other side, but my cucurbits took a serious hit this year.

rakesprogress said...

Not sure, John—here in VT we have worms aplenty. Might be good to ask your neighbor gardeners what lives in their soil. Though if your Japanese is as good as mine, you're in for a long and meandering conversation that may or may not have anything to do with worms.

This year was our first with chickens, and we found they loved the slugs we picked out of the garden. Great idea about making sure the garden has just one slug motel. And it looks like our ladies auxiliary might help out with the Japanese beetles too:

Andy Brown said...

One of the things I've enjoyed about NOT being a subsistence gardener is the ability to just observe nature. To take pleasure in the catbird, without worrying about the berries or my peaches. To observe the chewing beetles without hostility. But of course, that is a kind of willful blindness on my part to the war on nature that takes place "away" in the farms that grow my food, often enough in devastating monocultures. I know at some level that there is nothing more natural, (as in a true participation in an ecosystem) than going in there and competing for the things you need. Thwarting the catbirds and beetles enough to secure your existence. But I think I'll miss the illusion of being above it all. (I hope I never get so greedy or so desperate that I stop liking catbirds and beetles, though.)

risa said...

We have a "chicken moat," that is, the birds are fenced into a kind of doughtnut shaped area within which is the garden, out of which they are also fenced. The garden is the hole in the doughnut. Or the castle within the moat. The orchard is also in the moat. The chickens, ducks, and geese eat "drops" with my having to gather the fruit for them, and they clean up bugs on tree trunks and in the dropped fruit. But they also eat any slugs that are migrating through toward the garden. In the fall, after the bulk of the harvesting is done, we open a gate into the garden for a couple of weeks, and the enthusiastic birds rootle through the beds (and pathways), cleaning up both bugs and weeds (and some aphid-y brassicas) with little cries of joy. So far, so good.

Cathy McGuire said...

I will miss reading the weekly columns, though I know you deserve a vacation - I hope it's a very productive and good one! I will have to get my fill of green wizardry on the green wizards forum...but I know I will by habit check out this page every Thursday. :-}
Thanks for the post - I'll check out those books!

Kevin said...

Our biggest problem here is bears. Not all year - just in the fruit season - but they are a real challenge not only to existing fruit trees (ripping off branches to get at the fruit) but to all kinds of public food projects.

They are also a barrier to changing bylaws: currently the biggest argument against allowing people to keep backyard chickens in our small town is that they will attract bears.

The only really effective way to keep out bears is an electric fence, which just is not likely to go down well with the neighbours when you're on small lots (not to mention that's illegal in town too).

If anyone else has effective ways to keep out bears, I'd love to hear them. While I actually don't mind brother bruin wandering through our yard a few times this time of year (though both bruin and my partner Alfred were startled to meet each other by the front steps one night last fall as Alfred came home from work), it makes proposals for public fruit trees, for example, dead in the water.

PanIdaho said...

Enjoy your well-earned vacation time, JMG! We'll be looking forward to the next installment of the GW course when you return!

Steve said...

Best wishes for a joyful autumn vacation! Thanks for the Animals series, and I'm looking forward to reading more come November.

Nathan said...

john @ 3:01 -

In the Rodale Book of Composting (which I was reading coincidentally last night) one of the examples discussed is a gardener with hard, dry "lifeless" soil. If your soil looks like it might needs heavy helpings of compost and worms, you might want to consider his method - composting directly into intended garden.

After loosening the soil, he sheet composted directly on top of the area he intends to plant. First, he mulched the garden with green plant waste (weeds, stems, leaves) in a 4 inch-layer. Then, he laid down a layer of high-nitrogen material (in his case, cottonseed meal, but this could be manure, vegetable wastes, etc.) and then on top of that, he put another layer of dried leaves.

Every 3 days, he mixed the pile with a tiller and kept it damp. After 20 days, he reported that the soil beneath was crumbly and dark brown and crawling with earthworms.

This method might help you because I have found it is much cheaper (or free) to buy / find material to compost with then to buy the compost directly. Also, this will improve the fertility of the entire bed of soil, instead of merely mixing in a sprinkle good soil into a patch of already dead dirt.

Reference: Rodale Book of Composting, New and Revised Edition. 1992. Chapter 8, p. 160.

LRogers said...

This is off-topic but I was wondering if you'd read Feasta's "Tipping Point" paper (, and if so what you thought of it.

Also, I was looking for tips on dog/coyote-proofing a chicken run, other than just burying a fence deep enough so they couldn't dig under it.

ChristineStone said...

We have a small garden pond near our veggie patch, no fish, but many frogs, consequently no slug problem.

eatclosetohome said...

Sadly, my experiments with keeping raccoons out of the corn were a total bust this year. The corn was all intergrown with rampant squash vines and half the ears were covered with stockings. Every single ear was eaten.

I found the last ear of corn, with its stocking chewed open, on top of the compost bin, clearly a "ha, take that!" gesture from the masked bandit!

TG said...

Happy autumn, John Michael. Good luck with your writing, the upcoming conference, and all the amazing things you do. We'll miss you while you're gone!

--Tracy Glomski

Jeff BKLYN said...

Squirrels... For the love of God and all that's holy, how do I keep squirrels out of my small Brooklyn garden? They make a mess with their incessant digging but me and wifey love 'em too much for traps or posion...

john said...

And First!! Shinjilalanai!!

And where were my manners....have a great holiday.

Michael said...


I know you will enjoy a little break from posting but we will all miss it. Looking forward to seeing you at ASPO in D.C.

sofistek said...

Good point about poisons killing off more than just the creatures you want to get rid off. They can kill the predators too. And the predators often take longer to build up again, because they have no prey, than the "nasty" creatures. So you have to redouble your efforts, since there will probably never be any predators to help you.

Mind you, it is tempting, sometimes. There are so many places for slugs and snails to hide that it sometimes feels like a losing battle. But the chooks sure do like those slugs!

flute said...

The same reasoning can be applied to unwanted plants, i.e. weeds.
The weed removal mode currently in vogue is weed extermination using herbicides.
An organic farmer in Sweden observed that what is needed is not weed extermination but weed control. I.e. don't let the weeds take control but take control over the weeds. Keep them down, but the odd weed that you've missed won't make much difference as long as you've manually removed 90% of the weeds.
As for animal pest control, insects that want to devour your veggies are best kept under control by regular inspections. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale need to be inspected at least twice a week during summer to avoid larvae, but for other plants you can do it more seldom. But I'm not overly zealous about my other brassicas. If the a larva nibbles a bit at the leaves of my turnips I won't make a big fuss, as long as the plants aren't invaded and most of the leaves eaten.
As for slugs, chopping them in two is much more "humane" and simple than salt water. Besides, salt water doesn't go well together with plants.

Enjoy your blog vacation!

Paul said...

Did you coin the term "tertiary wealth" to describe money instruments versus the primary wealth of nature and the secondary wealth provided by value-added human labor?

I've heard concepts such as "tertiary wealth" (and other concepts) used by Chris Martenson in his interviews and I suspect he may have read your (and others' writings), but not given any credit (to you or to others).

P.S. - Your writings are very calming, seriously. If civilization is going to heck in a handbasket, at least I'm glad you're the guide.

katsmama said...

What about snakes- I know people who are very freaked out about even garter snakes, and would consider them pests, but since snakes moved in, I haven't had slug problems. I've encouraged them buy having mulch, groundcover so they have places to hide, and flat stones so they have places to sunbathe. It may be a paradigm shift for some, to consider attracting something they fear.

Jim said...


Enjoy your vacation.

risa said...

Yes, we have LOTS of garter snakes and they are all about slugs! We talk to them nicely but they only pretend to be listening; their minds are on slug patrol.

MisterMoose said...

People have always thought I was a little weird, sort of like a mad scientist in a bad monster movie, but I've always had this thing for spiders. I always try to have a nice collection of hunting spiders in and around the garden, and they seem to do the trick. They have removed just about all of the unwanted insects, and any that they miss eventually fall prey to the lady bugs.

There are also some small lizards who live in the garden. They evidently eat insects as well, but their main function seems to be providing endless entertainment for our dogs...

The only other potential threat in the area are the @#$%& gophers (I can really identify with the Bill Murray character in the movie Caddy Shack. I'm trying to find a bull snake in the local woods that I can bring home to gorge on gophers. All of our raised beds have bathtubs of wire mesh buried underneath them to prevent the gophers from burrowing in. I have destroyed all the gopher burrows out to a radius of 30 feet from the garden, but I know they're still out there, biding their time and plotting...

Bobby said...

What an excellent and very timely post considering the unfortunate invasion of brown marmorated stink bugs in the Mid-Atlantic region this year. Here in northern MD local organic farming operations have suffered significant losses to this pest. Luckily in my neighborhood, where pretty much everyone has a gardening operation of some sort; the crops have escaped unscathed this year, at least from the stink bugs, not so much from the drought. No one seems to understand the life cycle of these invasive species so everyone from ag extension offices to universities are pouring big bucks into figuring out how to control the invasion (the fact that there is an invasion in the first place deserves a rant in and of itself, but that is an entirely different issue, cheap crap from China anyone?)

Again, instead of attempting to implement IPM-type solutions to control the spread, what do we do? Return to old, outdated, and destructive chemical-based solutions from the devil’s pantry. It is the same old nonsense. I guess the line of thinking is similar to the BP disaster, if we throw enough money and commit our technology to solving the problem, it will disappear magically, no side effects, and no problems. To that end today Congress, in all of its infinite wisdom, petitioned the EPA to allow for the emergency and unregistered use of any pesticides found to be effective against the bugs. Apparently conventional sprays are not effective against the Asian marmorated, so Congress wants farmers to pull out the big guns and use some of the most toxic poisons in the arsenal to defeat the problem. Who cares about the side effects? If the stink bugs leave the fields, office buildings, and suburbia, then everyone is happy. It is a disgusting prospect, yet one that is in all likelihood fairly certain to come to pass.

As for us, we have found an excellent use for our swarm. Apparently what is a nuisance to a human is a five-star dinner to a chicken, and our girls have thoroughly enjoyed disposing of our problem in good fashion. It something that you and others mention all the time, let nature provide the solution, for it is always better than that which can be concocted by the industry.

Finally, enjoy your time away! It is certainly well deserved! Finally, I am looking forward to seeing you and hearing your discussion next weekend at Spoutwood Farm!

Don Plummer said...

I have never have much luck growing beans. This year, I tried the "three sisters" method, by growing pole beans with my sweet corn and squash. The beans grew up the corn stalks. It worked to some extent: I actually harvested some tasty beans. But, just as in previous years, the bean plants get eaten up. The leaves are skeletonized and even the beans themselves are eaten. But I can never find what's eating them. It's difficult to learn the lifecycle and needs of an insect (I'm assuming it's some kind of insect) that one has failed to identify, so I have no idea what to do to control it.

Anyone have similar experiences?

By the way, the squash never set fruit, either. The variety was Delicata, and it blossomed fine; the bumblebees were all over the flowers, but no squash.

At least we did get some corn. And I have a bumper crop of kale.

joanhello said...

About a decade ago I lived on a farm that was having problems with some small rodent or other chewing down the corn stalks and stray dogs getting too interested in the poultry. I was dispatched to the local animal shelter to acquire the mouse-killingest, dog-intimadatingest feral cat they had. That cat was on the job for many years and more than earned his kibble. He is now quite arthritic and has been retired to house-pet status while a younger feline has taken over his duties and his nest in the barn.

There's good eating on a raccoon. If you haven't the patience or the markspersonship to sit up all night waiting for him with your weapon of choice, you might borrow a securicam to find out what size of 'coon you've got, then rent the appropriate size Havaheart trap and, next time you kill a bird for your table, put the guts in as bait. Hey, just because you catch him alive, that doesn't mean you can't eat him once you've got him.

I've heard that bear is very tasty, too, but even if you've got the firepower to bring one down, they're probably protected.

Alexander Ac said...

Dear JM Greer,

I am going to visit the ASPO conference in Washington and I would like to give you few geustions about peak oil and the future of industrial civilization. This might be interesting for readers in Czech and Slovak Republic, since your articles are regularly translated to Czech language.

If You would have little time, it would be great experience for me,

kind regards, Alexander

Cherokee Organics said...


Have a nice holiday - you deserve it too! I'm impressed by the quality, consistency and quantity of writing content that you produce.

I can't add much to this weeks post as you covered most bases. We don't have raccoons, fortunately for us, as they sound like pretty fearsome beasts! This niche is filled by possums here, which I'm fortunate not to have as the trees in the surrounding forest have a slightly too high eucalyptus oil content for their palates. There's plenty of other things out there though to sample the orchard. Mostly I live with them and share the produce. It's easier and given the huge diversity in plants, there's always something that they've missed. The local animals also serve a very useful purpose too in fertilising, eating the bugs and keeping the grass down. The occasional bit of damage seems a cheap price to pay for their services.

A great quote comes to mind from Jackie French (who is am excellent organic gardener / small holder / writer in Australia) - "Concentrate on growing things, not on killing them". Nuff said!

I'm halfway through the Basic Ecology book and am quite enjoying it. The book reads like a manifesto for the environmental movement. I'm not personally an activist because, it's impossible to change the system without being caught up in the system and it can challenge and change your beliefs in ways you never thought possible. Look at Peter Garret (former frontman of Midnight Oil). I feel sorry for the dude. Nature will sort it all out in her own time, you can't cheat it.

I'm amazed that back in the 1950's when it was written, the problems that they explained and discussed are with us today still, except much worse and much larger. Not good really.

Good luck!

Joel said...

I would second the sheet-mulching advice, and add that you might take a small bucket of that soil to the old gentlemen at the allotment and ask them their opinion on what might possibly grow in it.

If they think you could grow buckwheat or millet or field soybeans, or some mix of these, the roots and residue will go a long way toward sheet compost, and save a lot of hauling and tilling. Any seeds you don't use might help attract birds.

You might also try digging a pit, filling it with a mix of compostable material and soil, and planting curcubits in it.

wylde otse said...

I am surprised the "hits" comming my way about the relationship we have with animals lately; so have been reading and considering such anew. Not only do animals experience sensations as we do; but also love and altruism (simian experiments). They have a soul, if we have one.

Bears are somewhat territorial. If they hang about an area in which they are not hunted, they lose fear of humans.

Once I discouraged a dog from peeing on a cabin step, by peeing around the fence-line; no problems after that.

Diatomaceous earth(inert non-poison)sprinkled around baseboards dessicates bed-bugs - is that insecticide or murder. (I recognize also that mosquitos have, in our one contiguous cosmos/existence a legitimate claim on my blood - but, I will fight them for it :o)

I consider you blog a gift - a direction to a better world.

A few weeks ago, I was dining with a freind, and some new faces. The conversation got around to religion. One young woman finally added her bit, " If I have a religion, it is kindness."
We stopped talking then - almost as if we were in a holy presence - a 'last word'.

Indigobusiness said...

To drive slugs away from your garden, for an entire season with one application, place sliced cucumbers in an aluminum pan in the problem area...slugs will disappear and not return.

I'm not sure what is created chemically, but the scent is unnoticeable to humans, yet slugs and snails abhor it. I tried this, with some skepticism, and found it a remarkably effective, non-toxic remedy.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

You don't have to post this, but...

would just like to say I've greatly enjoyed reading these posts (and the comments following)--have learned, been stimulated to learn more and as a result have changed my thinking and acting in certain areas.

Have a happy holiday (a busman's holiday?)

Look forward to more when you return.

sofistek said...

How many cucumbers? Do you leave the pan there all season? Does the cucumber need refreshing?

This would be great if it works. I have so many slugs.

Paul said...

I need my JMG fix!!!

Only one more week!!!

spottedwolf said...

Living with a Chartered herbalist and organic gardener for the last 10 years has been a real 'treat' and I don't say this lightly. I have long-shied away from complete surrender to the 'chemical world', be it gardening or anything else but the amount of natural know-how the woman holds is simply amazing. For one thing.....she can spot 'critters' on plants from distances I could only compare to a "hunter's eye". Things I think are 'tit's up' have a way of springing fervently to life under her touch. I believe I am blessed.

jnaegele said...

JMG-great post.

I follow a similar philosophy with my garden and have had satisfactory results. Yes I loose some of my work to bugs, but I plant more than I need so there is enough to "share" with one exception and that is my potatoes. I haven't ever gotten a satisfactory potato crop because the grasshoppers in my area absolutely love them. I live in a grassland area that stretches as far the eye can see. I have chickens but they can't possibly keep up with these migrating insects, there are just too many.

I've tried inter-planting them among other plants that the grasshoppers don't eat but they usually still find them. I've done the bowls of water with mollases which catches some, but not enough to keep them from destroying my potatoes. So I've been thinking about what to try this year and came up with an idea I'd like to share and see if you or any of the other green wizards here have tried and can advise me on.

As I said, the grasshoppers here only destroy my potato crop, they eat some of everything of course, but potatoes they mow right down to the ground. This year, I'm thinking of grafting my tomato plants onto the new potato starts and letting them grow that way. My grasshoppers have never done any serious damage to my tomatoes, so I'm hoping this will lead to my first successful potato crop. I'm wondering if anyone has any experience grafting the two plants and can tell me if it negatively affects either the taste or the growth of the potatoes?