Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Beginning the Rebalancing Process

For the first time since we got our "stuff", I spent much of yesterday outside, continuing the organic process of settling in to our new homestead.

I worked on 3 main tasks I've come to view as critical to maintaining my yard organically: weeding, pest control, and mulching. First, I cleared (by hand) the beginnings of my frontyard perennial garden. As I weeded, I separated the weeds into "not yet seeding out" and "seeding out" piles - the former went into the compost pile; the latter was bagged and put into the trash.

Weeding has become meditative for me. While I'm weeding, I notice things that I would normally miss while I hurry through the yard. It was gray and overcast. And quiet, at least as far as human noise was concerned. When a car came by, I could hear it from at least a mile away before it zoomed past the house. The cottonwood leaves were rustling in the breeze. In the swale, the yellow-billed cuckoo announced its presence with its distinctive, drum-roll song. Cardinals frequently defended their territories with melodious liquid notes. An eastern wood peewee sang its name over and over. The robins nesting in the honeylocust nearby alternated between singing, alarm pips, and silence as they fed their young. And the neighbors cows lowed insistently for at least 15 minutes, presumably quieting once they were fed.

When I got bored and ready for a change, I moved around to the back and cleaned out the little deck-side beds that I started late last winter. Given the time of year and my absence as a gardener, they were choked full of crabgrass just beginning to form seed heads. "A year of seed; 7 years of weed" kept running through my head.

Later, as I was walking out to the mailbox, I noticed a mass of caterpillars on the leaves of a small walnut along the driveway. They had defoliated one moderate branch and were beginning to work on a second. There seemed to be 2 broods: one getting big enough to pupate, and one newly hatched.

So, I got out the big guns: a old peanut butter jar filled with water and a few drops of dishwashing soap. Then I did one of my least favorite tasks of all - I handpicked all of the older brood and most of the younger brood, dropping them into the water where they rapidly drowned. I hate killing anything, but at least this way I'm only killing the insects that are out of balance. Which leads me to why I only killed part of the younger brood: there was a hemipteran nymph feeding on one group of the newly hatched caterpillars. I decided to leave it chowing down, in hopes of increasing the population of predatory insects doing 24/7 guard duty in the yard. I'll keep an eye on that tree and remove the remainder of that brood after he's has his fill and moved on.

An hour later (it was evening now), Prairiewolf came in and said that squash bugs were "running all over" the squash vines. So I got out the big guns again and hunted squash bugs. I probably got 15-20 adults, 2 broods of newly hatched young, and (most importantly) I found and removed at least a dozen batches of eggs on the underside of the leaves. I've kept squash bugs at bay for weeks on end using this somewhat primitive method. Whether it will work here or not, I don't know, but I certainly set the population back a bit last night.

Of course, once I was looking that closely at the vegetable beds, more weeding was in order. (Why do people plant bermuda grass? It is the most awful plant to keep out of gardens.)

Last but not least, before I went in for the evening, I decided to spread some corn gluten on my newly weeded flower beds, then cover it (and them) up with cedar mulch.

Weeding - pest control - mulching. This year will be the most time intensive as I try to establish new biological balances. (Or should I say, reestablish old balances?) Birds and predatory insects should eventually solve most of my plant-eating insect issues. Mulching consistently and keeping weeds from setting seed will decrease weeds in the yard. These aren't quick fixes, but they are satisfying and ultimately richer. It's a recipe I've followed several times before, and the results have always been well worth it.

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