Thursday

Super Homemade Herbal Insect Spray

If you've got lots of bugs and want a super bug killing solution without resorting to dangerous chemicals, let a few herbs help. I put this herbal bug spray together last year and certainly helped with whitefly, mosquitoes and aphids.

Bugs hate it. It uses five super bug-busting herbs that are easy to grow in the garden. Another bonus is that just having these plants growing in your yard can keep bad bugs from moving in.

Given the properties of the individual herbs, the spray should help combat: Japanese beetles, whitefly, tomato hornworm, squash beetles, mosquitoes, ants, aphids, moths, snails and spider mites.

Homemade Herbal Insect Spray Recipe

1 Cup catnip leaves
4 Cayenne peppers
1 Cup cilantro
1 Cup French marigold (Tagetes) flowers  and leaves
4 Cloves garlic
1 Cup parsley
1 Cup lavender leaves and stems
1 Tablespoon dish washing liquid
4 Cups distilled water

Combine herbs and flowers in a food processor and pulse until you have them broken up and juicy. Add water as you go.

Place the mixture in the refrigerator overnight.

Strain and discard the solids. I use cheese cloth to squeeze every bit of liquid out of the batch.

Add a half-gallon (2-quarts) of water for each cup of liquid (which is concentrated) and spray on flowers, herbs and vegetables. Be generous.

Keep the mixture refrigerated. If you can't use the whole batch within ten days or so, you can cut the recipe in half. I did try freezing a cup and using it later. Actually, it did seem to work, but I still have more testing to do.

Special note: You'll have to reapply the spray after a heavy rain.

Tuesday

Marigold Bug Spray

Marigolds

Marigold bug spray, and organic bug spray made with French marigold flowers(Tagetes patula) discourages asparagus beetles, whitefly, tomato hornworms, mosquitoes, and lots of other crawling and flying bugs.

It's a nice alternative to stinkier sprays like garlic or catnip; both are effective but can put a damper on a patio party if you happen to be down wind.

Marigold can attract spider mites, which is why I add cilantro to the spray. Cilantro is a turnoff to spider mites, making this a good all-purpose spray that you can harvest right from the garden and use all summer.

Marigolds are easy to grow and can be a good companion plant. I usually plant marigold, catnip, chives, lavender and garlic around my vegetable and flower beds to keep insect activity under control.  There are two types of marigold commonly available, French marigold (Tagetes patula) and pot marigold (calendual officinalis).  These are two distinctly different plants.  Many French marigold varieties are toxic (to humans as well as  bugs), while pot marigold can be used fresh in salads, as a coloring agent in rice or dried and ground in stews. They can look very similar. If you purchased your marigold at a local nursery, it's likely a French marigold variety.

Homemade French Marigold Bug Spray Recipe

1 cup French marigold flowers, leaves and stems (fragrant marigold varieties are best)
1/4 cup cilantro leaves and stems
8 cups water (2 quarts), prefer distilled water
1 teaspoon dish washing liquid

Crush the marigold and cilantro. You can even stick them in your food processor and pulse them for a few seconds.

Add two cups of distilled water to the mixture and place it in your fridge for a day or so.

Strain through cheesecloth and add the remaining water.

Add soap and shake vigorously.

You can use the liquid in a sprayer on you flowers, veggies and around your deck or patio. It will keep in your fridge for a week or more. Shake before using, and respray after every rain. There may be dye transfer onto light colored fabrics, so be careful of your clothes and patio furniture.

Saturday

Make Herbal Mosquito Repellent

You can make yourself, and your yard, less sweet-smelling to mosquitoes by employing four traditional herbs:

Parsley
Garlic
Catnip
Marigold

You can use them as a spray with either a vinegar or water base. A garlic and pepper spray follows, but in a pinch you can just rub the leaves of any of the herbs above on your skin (marigold could stain if you're not careful, though).

Garlic Pepper Mosquito Spray Recipe

4 Garlic cloves
1 Cayenne pepper
2 Cups distilled water
Strainer or cheese cloth
Pump sprayer

Blend the garlic cloves and pepper in a food processor (you don't really have to peel the garlic first, just smash it). Add water slowly. Let stand fifteen minutes and then strain (Discard the solids or use them in a nice salsa). Place the liquid in a pump sprayer and use it on your skin or the plants around your patio or deck.

Note:  Keep it away from your eyes as it can sting. It can be effective for up to eight hours.

The mixture will last a week in the fridge, especially if you use distilled water, which is free of impurities and retards bacterial growth.

Friday

Companion Planting Herbs

If you've been playing around with the idea of companion planting herbs, I have a few ideas for you.

Herbs Make Amazing Companion Plants

Here's why:

They're easy to grow, and most varieties will adapt to the soil that's available.

Many herbs are fragrant in a way that bugs absolutely hate, too. One herb variety can also protect against a number of different insect invaders, so if you don't know who the culprit is, a few well-chosen herb warriors planted near your perennial border or vegetable patch can ward off "mystery bug" plant poachers.

You may be planting some garlic (with rue) around your roses as insurance against aphids, but come fall that same plant bulb will make a tasty ingredient in stir fry.

Companion planting with herbs is beneficial when the plant is in the ground, but it can also be an effective pesticide when harvested and sprayed on your flowers and vegetables. It's an inspired two-for-one solution.

Best Companion Planting Herbs

I'll start here with my absolute favorites. These should give you some useful ideas.

  • Catnip - Hey, even I think this one is stinky. If you're having problems with: flea beetles, squash bugs (I hate these), aphids, mosquitos or ants, catnip will smell like sweet salvation. It can also be an effective Japanese beetle and mouse deterrent. Keep it in your vegetable garden.
  • Lavender - Attractive and fragrant, lavender repels whitefly and a variety of moth species.  It also invites beneficial insects to your garden that'll be a second line of defense against destructive bugs.  If you want to encourage praying mantis and ladybugs to hang around for lunch, plant lavender.
  • Chives - One of my favorite culinary herbs, chives is also kryptonite to aphids. Chive tea can  inhibit the growth of powdery mildew too -- if you catch it early. Keep it by your roses.
  • Garlic - I've already mentioned the benefits of garlic, but it can also repel snails. Garlic juice  discourages aphids and whitefly.  A spray made from garlic makes a fast and easy mosquito repellent too.
  • French marigold - This cheerful and easy to grow flower (and herb) can repel whitefly, asparagus beetle and tomato hornworms. Spider mites like it, though, so make sure to plant it with cilantro or dill (both of which spider mites hate). Just remember to choose the French marigold varieties as they're scented.

If you keep these five or six friends in your veggie or flower garden, you'll have fewer marauders to worry about.  Companion planting herbs with your other garden plants is a successful way to limit or eliminate the amount of insecticide you use in the garden this year. Give it a try.

Monday

What Caught My Eye

From bees that build nests out of flower petals to some truly fine tips on taking better photos, there's a lot of spring activity in the cyber-garden.

I spent my weekend feeding peonies, thinning out oregano and weeding around my lavender bushes. It was chilly, so when I finished I came indoors and made some very nice lavender tea and started a new batch of lavender sugar. Everything is greening up nicely, and the birds are making short work of any worms misguided enough to stick their heads up. I have to say I'm usually on the side of the worms in these exchanges, even though a fat robin wrestling a worm out of the ground is a pretty awesome sight after a long winter watching our feathered neighbors huddled on branches or telephone wires.

These articles are worth a scan, and make a nice cuppa when you're done:

Busy Bees Use Flower Petals For Nest Wallpaper (from National Public Radio)


10 Tips for Hummingbird Photos (from Living Green in a Colorful World)


Lavender Tea


Make Lavender Sugar

Saturday

Herb Markers

It's remarkable how many folks end up visiting my blog because they're stumped for an easy (or more attractive) way to identify their herb plants.

Well, actually not so remarkable if you think about it. Many immature herbs lack a distinctive fragrance, and recognizing the difference between peppermint and chocolate mint can be a challenge.

Although my family can tell a parsley leaf from a clump of chives when I send them out to harvest one or the other for dinner, the refinements that distinguish cilantro from dill or basil from an immature eggplant, pepper, or even geranium, can apparently be illusive.

They're always pretty game to give it a try, though. Getting bounty from the garden can feel a little like finding money you'd forgotten in the pocket of your jeans -- a guilt free thrill. I like to send dinner guests out to harvest herbs in the early evening when the garden is settling down after a long, hot day. They get a kick out of it and always carry their clippings carefully back indoors as though they're worth their weight in gold.

Use a Simple Wooden Stick as a Plant Marker

Anyway, I've gotten into the habit in the last few years of identifying my herbs with craft stick markers. I ran across a sale on them a couple of years ago and bought hundreds (well, enough to last to the next millennium anyway) for a couple of dollars. They look like chubby Popsicle sticks (three quarters of an inch wide and six inches long). They're easy to write on with permanent marker and look natural in the garden, unlike the plastic photo spikes that come with so many nursery plants these days. I just insert them two inches into the soil and close enough to the plant to be easily associated with that particular herb.

Give them a try. You can probably find a supply of sticks at your local craft store. The photo will give you a general idea.  Can you go with something fancier?  Sure.  The preprinted, engraved and stamped ones are only available in a very limited number of herb varieties, though.


Sara

Wednesday

Growing Marijuana

Marijuana PlantsI'm not advocating growing illegal substances, but it's always nice to see folks so passionate about their herbs. Marijuana (Cannabis sativa) is a greedy crop that needs plenty of nutrients and lots of light. It doesn't like acidic soil.

Growing marijuana in any quantity indoors is impractical, but the new hydroponic setups, like the compact AeroGardens make it possible to cultivate a single plant efficiently for, say, medical reasons, so that it won't break the bank on grow light and energy costs. The tall AeroGardens designed for tomatoes and other large plant crops are the only models that could potentially work successfully. If you're planning on growing marijuana, you probably have a seed source. I'm not going to address the relative merits of different varieties here.

Again, I'm not advocating this, but people ask, so I'm telling you. If this has piqued your interest, there's a YouTube.com video you should take a look at for amusement's sake: Growing Cannabis in an AeroGarden. It's funny, silly and pretty much hits the nail on the pot-head.

I feel compelled to insert some additional cautions just in case you haven't been listening: Illegal pot growing is nothing to mess around with. In the U. S. it carries some severe potential penalties, including imprisonment and forfeiture of real and personal property. If you're visiting this page with more than intellectual curiosity, make sure you recognize what you may be getting yourself into . . . and don't, unless you're living in or planning on traveling to a more . . . liberal climate.

If you believe you have a legitimate medical condition for which medical marijuana may be a viable palliative, discuss your options with your doctor, and check the laws in your state.

No one expects to get caught, and orange jumpsuits are totally unflattering. Grow some nice oregano and learn to cook Italian instead. Become a dynamic baker and get high on the aroma of bread rising. It's nice to want to learn to grow herbs and plants, but do it for the right reasons -- it's healthy, responsible, cost effective and eco-friendly. Keep it safe and legal. Your family will thank you.

Special Note: The photo is courtesy of Morguefile.com. I have never grown Cannabis and although I admit there's something romantic in the notion, I don't plan on starting.

Tuesday

How to Keep Herbs from Bolting

(Delayed bolting means a larger harvest of tasty leaves.
One bane of fast growing herbs is that they bolt quickly when the weather starts to warm up. Bolting is the process of rapid growth (sometimes looking leggy and spindly). Plants quickly flower and set seeds. When most plants enter this phase, they stop producing leaves. To encourage your plants to keep leafing, as opposed to flowering, these tips will help:

How to Keep Plants from Bolting

These tips should be applied with care. Some call for snipping new growth from plants, which can cause plant shock if you do it too aggressively. Likewise, if a plant is already stressed, under bacterial or insect attack, or looking unhappy, being rough with it is probably not a good idea until you address other, more pressing, concerns.

Keep plants in a cooler or slightly shadier location. This should keep the temperature lower for a bit longer and slow the plant's development.

Put plants out in the garden a little earlier in spring so you can to extend the cool growing season for them. The plants will still bolt when the weather gets hot, but you'll have more time in cooler weather for abundant leaf growth.

Pinch back flowers further down the stem than you probably have been doing - about 1-1/2 to 2 inches. Pinching back at the base of the flower usually works, but going further down the stem can sometimes buy you more time before the flowering process starts all over again.
Dense leaf growth on mature dill stems

Start harvesting leaves while the plant is still immature. The more leaves you harvest, the more energy the plant will expend on leafing out rather than on flower production. This really well works for a while, but nothing works forever. Take only a quarter to a third of the stem at a time.

Harvest the plant through the growing season. Do this three or four times from spring to fall (or whatever your season happens to be).

Some good herb candidates for this type of approach are: basil, cilantro and dill.

Staggered Planting

Since bolting is inevitable, try staggering your plantings, too.  You can start seeds indoors in batches every few weeks, and put them out as they develop to the seedling stage.  Since intense summer sunlight can be brutal to young plants, introduce late additions to the outdoors in gentle stages -- say every morning for a week to 10 days.  When they're acclimated, place plants in a partly shady spot if you live in a high heat area. A good option is under or behind another plant that screens the light somewhat. Adding a protective layer of mulch is also a good idea.

References

Photo 1 Cilantro1.jpg Courtesy of Jeffrey Collingwood StockXchng,com  -  http://www.sxc.hu/profile/Spiders

Photo 2 Flowering Dill Courtesy of Morguefile.com