Sunday, August 28, 2016

Organic Gardening Revisited

Quite a few posts ago (a year or two?) I had big plans for my garden. I wanted to grow heirloom veggies so they would taste like they did 40 or 50 years ago. I ordered seeds from Seed Savers and had them delivered to my friend's house in California. Then I stashed them in between my clothes and hoped I wouldn't get caught at the airport. (I didn't!)

Back in Mexico, I planted all kinds of goodies in my small back yard - French green beans, eggplant, red peppers, Sicilian tomatoes, a bunch of herbs, some edible flowers - I can't even remember them all now. And I was determined to keep my garden organic.

Everything started off with a bang. Almost 100% of the seeds grew. I was really excited and looked forward to the treats I would have at harvest time. The French green beans came first. They were delicious! But right about the time I started picking the beans, I noticed that something was nibbling on the leaves. I wasn't too worried about it; I had plenty to share.

As the days went by, I noticed more and more of my garden showed signs of some critter munching on the leaves. Then I realized that I had an awful lots of pill bugs (aka rolypolies and doodle bugs). Normally, they are helpful garden residents that eat dead leaves and (I assume) turn them into fertilizer. Everything I found online said they were good bugs. Then I started finding comments from a few people having the same problem as I was - the damned things were eating the healthy, live plants.

I hate using garden chemicals and I really wanted to keep this organic. Besides, I don't think I ever found a chemical that was recommended to kill them. I read that they like beer so much that they will climb in a container of it and drown. I put containers of cheap beer all over my garden. And they did like it and did climb in and drown by the hundreds. But the abstainers seemed to be producing replacements faster than the others drowned.

I was really excited to harvest my first red peppers and eggplants, but as I cut off each ripe fruit, I discovered that the bugs had beat me to them. They had eaten holes in the ripe fruit and were eating them from the inside out! Every time one of them got close to ripening, the bugs invaded. I never got a single red pepper or eggplant! Then the same thing happened to my beautiful, ugly, lumpy Sicilian tomatoes. I got to eat two small tomatoes because I picked them before they were ripe.

Eventually, I just gave up and pulled up everything that the pill bugs seemed to like. I decided that there must be too many critters in Mexico to garden organically. But I never got around to using any chemicals on my garden. I planted other plants - things that pill bugs don't seem to like, as long as I could get them past the young and tender stage. If the bugs ate something, I just tried something else. I kept doing the beer traps until I got tired of dumping the hundreds of dead bugs every day.

This year my garden is again full of plants. It is also still full of pill bugs, but I don't really see any damage from them. Most of the dirt is covered with dichondra (a ground cover) between the larger plants and the bugs are hiding in their own miniature forest of green. Now I feel like I am winning the battle because I have help - lots of help. Starting early this spring, I began to notice that my garden is full of birds. All kinds of birds, from hummingbirds and sparrows to doves and Orioles and lots more that I have no idea what they are. When I open my back door to go out, they all panic and fly away. There are so many in my tiny yard that they often startle me when they all fly up at the same time.

I see pill bugs eating overripe limes that fall off the tree, but they aren't bothering any of my herbs and stay completely away from my blackberries. So I guess I've got things balanced out  - for now. I just love to stand at the back door and watch as the birds walk through the dichondra, ducking their heads down between the leaves and come up happily munching on pill bugs. (Hmmm... do birds munch or just swallow whole?) I don't have red peppers or eggplants, but my blackberry plant has presented me with a generous handful of beautiful ripe berries for my breakfast every single day for almost three months now - and it shows no sign of slowing down.

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