Tuesday, September 24, 2013

WAR AND PEACE – The green version


Gardening within the area I do (on a nature reserve in the Lowveld region of South Africa) is like full scale war. You are dealing with aerial attacks, evasive tactics, invasive tactics, infiltration, intelligence, undercover agents, camouflage and Gorilla tactics.

First I have to explain that I hate killing anything, so I am probably the worst ever General in command of an “army”.  I look for peaceful solutions, while being bombed and bullied. Besides no matter how I try and look at this, I am the aggressor and the invader. This is their world and I am claiming a space for myself within their territory and obviously this is not a peaceful surrender.

This time of the year is also normally very dry with very little green to eat, the temptations is simply bigger that the risks, especially with a “hippy peace freak” type commander in charge of protecting the juicy green things.

Escape Artist!

The baboons are using the grab and run/ Gorilla tactics very effectively, they simply jump the fence, grabs a cauliflower and whatever else close by and retrieve back over the fence. They do not touch the fence, these “special forces” are not afraid of anything.

Our 1st line of defence is an electric fence right around the garden, (this obviously does not stop a hungry baboon), but it does work well to keep out the elephants, buck and lots of other critters and creatures,  like porcupines and other “undercover agents” I am sure I am not even aware of yet.

Old implements in front of the gate to keep the Elephants away

You also have to put old implement or anything big and very heavy in front of the gate, I have explained this somewhere before, but for the sake of clarity – there is an electric fence around the garden, but the gate is the weak point, if an elephant can get to the gate, it takes one good shake (from the elephants) and a small shock (to the elephant) and the gate is gone!

This normally happens in the evenings, a night invasion. Our night guard, Jeremiah, shoots them with a Paint ball gun, this does scare them off, for a while at least and often you see elephants with pink or yellow spots, to the big embarrassment of the rangers, who has to explain this to the guests. 

The porcupines are the infiltrators, looking for weak spots (rusty bits etc.) at the bottom of the fence and simply chew or dig their way through. This also allows access for the rest of the army!

This means the 2nd line of defence is to check the first line of defence (fence) daily.  

Still it is not the end, now we come to the aerial attackers, in this case flying things of all sorts of shapes, sizes and appetites. These are the grasshoppers, the bird, the vine borers and and and....but I must admit they are not all out to do harm, some are there to help. That is why I can never use Chemical poisons, because you also kill the good guys, like the bees and butterflies, amongst others. Besides who are we to say what is good and what is bad, these creatures are just doing what little creates do, Invade gardens.

I think I am winning against the foot soldiers an Infantry troops.... the snails and slugs and
other invaders. So far our 3rd line of defence, (a row of Marigolds right around the garden, just inside the fence) is very effective in keeping these out.

I am not quite sure where the Horn bills fit into the whole story; they are more like a “travelling circus” than an invasion. They are also friend and foe, they eat anything from insects to my lettuce. They seem to favour one specific type of lettuce, so I am simply not planting that lettuce any more.

Horn bills clowning around

Some of the peace proposals also seem to be working, like the sunflowers to keep ant and Aphids happy (see previous article). I have also not resorted to the chili a la garlic potion, because that actually kills them; that will be my last line of defence.

I have also made some great friend of the animal kind, the squirrels are super cheeky and not one bit scared of this softy. I outsmarted him (them) though, I simply do not plant Sunflower or Peanuts directly into the ground, I make seedling and plant those and then half these seedlings are eaten by grasshoppers and friends, so you simply have to plant a lot, otherwise the Ants and Aphids won’t be happy....

Nyala snackings

There is also the old one eyed Nyala that comes around in the afternoon and patiently waits for something green, his favourite is spinach and we have tons of Spinach.

Within this whole peaceful approach there is the important matter of actually producing food for humans, but then just looking at what we harvested today I have come to the conclusion that the only real solution is to plant ENOUGH, meaning enough for humans and animals alike, I do have enough space after all.

Too much to carry, our delivery to the kitchen today - 20 kg beetroot, 20 kg onions, 10 kg leeks, 5 kg carrots, 5 kg salad tomatoes and more...  it is all 100 % organic! (the kg's are measured by bucket, so it might not be totally correct)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

TRAP CROP – Ants and Aphids

First Sunflower for the season!

What is a trap crop, you might ask. This is a crop (plants) that you plant that deliberately attract certain insects. The idea is that these crops will then keep the insects away from your other plants.

I do not think there is a gardener in this world that did not have to deal with aphids at some stage or the other. The problem with the aphids is that they come with ants, the ants actually “farm” with these aphids. The ants will even take the aphid eggs into their nest during winter and look after them and when spring comes around they bring them out and put them on your plants. 

An old photo, but I still love it...

I am not sure whether ants has somehow worked out that aphids like Sunflowers better than anything else of whether the ants prefer the “nectar” the aphids secrete when living on/off Sunflowers best. The ants put the aphids on your plants to feed, then they stimulate (stroke) the aphids, which then secretes a sweet (they say) nectar like liquid. Me and the ants again, but the more I look at them the more I realize exactly how smart they really are.

I am planting Sunflowers everywhere and the firsts ones are starting to flower. They are already full of ants and aphids and all the other plants are happy and aphid free. The Sunflowers, by the way, are not that much effected as long as it is not completely overrun by ants and aphids, so you have to plant a lot. 

Now there is a bit of a new problem, the “mousies”, as Sabrina calls the Squirrels, have discovered the Sunflowers seeds and are taking them out as fast as I can put them in. they dig the seeds out and leave the shell and a nice little hole as evidence. This simply means that planting them (Sunflowers) and the peanuts (let’s not even talk about the peanuts I planted!) directly into the ground does not work, so I will have to raise them in trays until they are no longer seeds but plants.

"Mousie" the Squirrel (also know as seed thief), trying to hide behind the onions.

In perma culture they say that you should always have at least 3 reasons why you do sometime/plants something somewhere, in the case of the sunflowers there is not that much to eat (there are the seeds, which are very nice, but quite a job to get open and cleaned) so food is not really a good reason in this case. I do believe that aesthetics is as good a reason as any to plant something. The sunflower also grows very well with Tomatoes, the tomato can and do use the Sunflower stalk as a support and obviously it work well as a trap crop. There are many other trap crops, I am just using the Sunflower as example.

Tomato using a Sunflower as support, can you imagine how colourful this will be once the flower is yellow and the tomatoes red!

The idea of adding something to solve a problem , instead of removing/destroying something, also comes to play, you cannot remove all the ants and aphids, that is simply impossible, unless you are willing to go the poison route ( I am not willing) so you compromise...you give them what they want, and they leave you and yours alone...

I have my three very good reasons to plants lots of these beautiful sunny smiley plants. They can also, to a lesser extent, provide some shade for other plants and they do not only attract ants and their aphid farms, they also attract other useful insects like Bees and Butterflies.