caterpillars

Vigilance Required

This week, garden duty was all about vigilance.  What’s eating our tomatoes?  What smashed our pumpkin?  What burrowed beneath our squash?

All good questions, and thankfully, we have Upper Elementary on the lookout.  Many of our tomatoes are beginning to turn red and we want nothing to jeopardize their progress.  Ruh-roh.  Too late.  Moms–close your eyes.  The ick factor will scare you… More

Dirty Dozen

You’ve all heard of the dirty dozen, right?  Not to be confused with Dirty Harry (though my mother would plant him in her garden, if she could!).  These are the top twelve fruits and vegetables known for being laden with pesticides and fungicides.  Unfortunately, my favorite “Granny Smith” tops the list every year. 

Apples.  The number one offender when it comes to toxic residue.  According to Environmental Working Group (EWG), the group who publishes the list every year, it’s believed “more pesticides and fungicides are being applied after the harvest so the fruit can have a longer shelf life.”  Huh.  Well who’d a thunk it.  Yet another reason to grow your own.  That’s what the kids think, anyway.  This week we chased caterpillars from the garden and talked pesticide.  Organic pesticide.

The little boy looked up at me in horror.  “You want me to squish it?” More

Inspectors in the Garden

Well, you knew it would happen.  Yes, our plants have come under attack.  By what, you ask?

Not sure.  But these kids are on the hunt.  Folded within the leaves of the beans are bugs, the kind with numerous legs and countless more eggs.  As you can see, once fully grown, these little fellas can do some damage!

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How to Plant a Butterfly Garden

Last week the kindergarteners planted their very own butterfly garden.  Talk about excitement, these kids had a ball!  Better yet, they’ll get to visit their handiwork every day in their very own outdoor garden space behind their classroom.  It’s one of my favorite aspects of Montessori training.  Not only do kids learn the basics of reading and math, they learn about cleaning and caring for their space and this includes their outdoor environment.

Caterpillars can eat through leaves at alarming rates which totally interferes with the life cycle of the veggie plant!  Think:  no growth.  And no growth = no veggies!  Very bad.  But not to worry, our butterflies will be very happy in their new courtyard.  Which plants will attract butterflies?

Glad you asked.  Bright colors will attract the butterfly as well as sweet delicious nectar.  And make it easy for them to find you by grouping your flowers by color (easier to spot from afar).   Best colors?  The brightest, of course!  So be sure to include bright red, yellow and orange, pinks and purples, too.

Nectar plants are a must have in your butterfly garden but you can also include non-nectar plants like milkweed and daisies.  Butterflies enjoy them and it gives them a place to lay their eggs.  Another hint for success? 

Keep your flowers close together if possible.  It helps focus the attention of both children and butterflies. :)  In our garden we chose the butterfly bush (for obvious reasons), orange and pink pentas, pink and purple petunias, orange-yellow crossandra, sunset gold lantanas and various shades of ixora. 

Other good choices would be zinnas, marigold, coneflower, lilac, impatients and asters.  Really hard to go wrong, just check what grows best in your area.

And get those kids involved.  As you can see, kids are amazing when it comes to the garden and are quite capable when it comes to the business of transplanting so by all means, let them have at it! 

With one simple instruction on how to dig a hole slightly larger than your flower container, gently pull the plant from free, supporting the stem with one hand and the root ball with the other, then placing it into the awaiting hole and lightly packing the dirt back in around it, these kids were ready for the garden show.

In no time we had this garden section filled with bright and lively color and do you know what?  I bet we’ll have butterflies by the end of the school day.  Now listen, don’t let this shady photo fool you.  In Florida, afternoon thunderstorms are one of those things in life you can count on and this project accomplished as the last task of the day, but bear in mind most butterfly garden flowers prefer full sun.  At least enough to stretch out and warm their leaves and attract our fluttering friends!  But shade is good too–especially in our type of heat. 

And speaking of heat, include some stones near your garden to capture and retain the sun’s heat–butterflies like soaking in the rays.  They also like splashing in puddles so make sure you have a small “pond” nearby for them to drink up.  After all, you don’t want them leaving this beautiful enclave for a water trip, do you?

No way!  We don’t want them flitting anywhere but here.  (Can’t wait to hear the stories of butterfly observation.)  Now what are YOU waiting for?  Get busy and send out the invites!  You’ll have butterflies fluttering around your yard in no time.

 

Hornworms and Tomato Curls — We Have Issues!

BIG issues.  Look at this fellow, chomping away on my tomato plant.  Pig.  He’s the sixth one in two weeks!  Not only does he favor tomatoes, but he’s partial to peppers, too. 

Then I strolled by the black bean plants and spotted this little beast.  Can this kid eat, or what?

Of course there are the usual flies in an assortment of colors.  This one is blue, but they come in gold and green.  Lovely if they weren’t hurting my plants.  I’d show you the crickets hopping through my beds, but they’re a tad more agile than caterpillars and worms and hard to photograph.  Hmph.

Oh.  And don’t forget the aphids.  Pests.  On a brighter note, I did harvest my first two squash today — this one included.

My sweet peppers were happier on the patio.  Screens do a lot to keep the bugs away.  This transplant went into the ground green and healthy and now look at him.  Poor thing.

What’s a gardener to do?  I’ve sprayed with insecticidal soap.  I keep them watered, fed and healthy.   For the most part

Vigilance.  That’s the answer.  I make bug watch walks twice daily now, just to be sure.  And if the bugs weren’t enough, I have leaf curl. 

My tomato plants are curling at the leaves and I don’t know if it’s due to a virus or the climate.  Could be either, but hopefully not both.  That would be bad.  Very, very bad.

But I won’t despair.  The “middle” of any growth cycle is always trying.  Do you know what happens to your body during middle age?  It isn’t pretty.  It’s difficult.  Everything becomes harder; harder to lose weight, harder to retain muscle, harder to see, harder to hear…  

Not to mention sagging middles in your novel!  (That’s writer talk.)  The period between sprouts and harvest is no different.  It takes work.  Maintenance.  Weeding, feeding, watching and waiting, but then comes harvest.  One of my favorite times in the garden!

For now, I work, I watch, I prune, I pick (worms right off my leaves) until the time comes when I can pluck, and pull — and EAT! 

Yes.  Harvest is a great time in the garden, but it won’t happen if I don’t work through the middle.  Neither will my golden anniversary.  Or my golden years, my gold-rimmed glasses…

Golden, like this squash.  Okay, it’s yellow but you get the point.  Life is golden, no matter how you slice it.  Beats the alternative, anyway.