Friday, May 23, 2014

Patio Garden!

Last year, I decided that growing edible plants would be fun. Unfortunately, the aphids, spider mites, whiteflies, and squirrels decided that eating my plants would be equally fun. This year, with my mind set on defeating the evil squirrels and aphids, I put in a bit more effort, and so far, it seems to be paying off!

Bottom left: you can just barely see the black flower barrel and next to it the green leaves of our hibiscus coming back. Middle left: vegetable cage. Top middle: hanging tomato plant. Top right: fusia basket. Bottom right: some of the herbs on our patio table. 

Firstly, I read up on aphids and other bugs. As it turns out, a natural way to control the bug populations in your plants is to plant a variety of edibles and flowers that create a sort of habitat. Rather than attracting a single bug (such as aphids), this habitat can also attract beneficial insects that prey on the harmful ones. Monoculture (planting only one plant) is a recipe for disease and bug infestation. Of course, not all plants love growing next to all others, so I used some helpful online sites to make choices. One of the predator-attracting flowers that has grown easiest for me this year is alyssum, a small white flower. Many brightly colored flowers attract other bugs, as well. And bonus: my fusia has attracted hummingbirds, which are just plain fun to watch! For lists of predator attracting flowers, read more here and here.

Top left: herbs and flowers on our patio table. Bottom left: flower barrel
with alyssum and snap dragons. Right: fusia flowers.

I also found out that certain plants are known to repel aphids (such as chives, green onions, mint, and marigolds), which I planted near the edibles I wanted to protect this year. I also tried some of the tricks I read about that may or may not be old wives tales (such as burying pieces of banana peel around affected plants). And finally, I made sure to plant everything in places where I could easily reach them this year, because physically wiping off aphids with gardening gloves when the population is small helps to prevent them from multiplying rapidly. I also read that the scent of smashed aphid warns other aphids to stay away. And smash the aphids that have dared to enter my planters I have done! I also occasionally spray the plants with an organic pesticide (made of plant oils), if it looks like there have been too many aphids on my lastest bug-smashing expedition. I try to avoid using sprays as much as possible, because I do not want to harm any of the beneficial bugs. (Plus, I found that the oils alone did very little to get rid of the aphids last year. However, combined with this year's multi-pronged attack strategy, I figured it wouldn't hurt on occasion.)

All in all, we have significantly fewer aphids this year.

Vegetable cage with a tomato, bell peppers, chives, green onion, arugula, and several types of flowers.

As for the squirrels, I designed a cage-like contraption with swinging doors, and so far, I have not had any whole heads of lettuce go missing. (Yes, that happened last year, when the heads were still too tiny for a human to want to eat; they were just pulled completely out of the pots, with nothing but a hole where a lettuce once had grown!) For the cage, I simply drew a rudimentary design on a piece of paper, and my husband and I wrote in some measurements. We bought the wood, metal brackets for the corners, wire fencing material, and other supplies and went to work! This was a three-weekend project for us between the shopping, building the frame, attaching the wiring, attaching the doors, etc. It was more work than I thought it would be (especially for my husband, as he did some of the heavier lifting), but I am very happy with the result!

Constructing the vegetable cage. I love drills! (Not!)

Our plants are looking great so far! This year, we have tomatoes, bell peppers, chives, green onions, arugula, basil, parsley, lovage, thyme, and rosemary, in addition to several species of flowers, such as marigolds, alyssum, pansies, snap dragons, Shasta daisies, a fusia basket, and the perennial hibiscus I planted last year (which is just starting to grow new leaves, so hopefully the flowers will come in again soon!) The veggie plants are getting quite large, and I hope that we get actual tomatoes and peppers in the near future. Hopefully I can post more pictures when we do.

Another angle showing most of the garden.

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