Organic gardening almost became a thing of the past some years ago because necessary beneficial insects that would have made that possible were being killed off along with the pests.
Wholesale growers and every sort of gardener, large and small, were industriously dusting, spraying, drenching — literally throwing everything they could find in an attempt to rid their plants and lawns of harmful insects and diseases. Beautiful green lawns without weeds and gorgeous flowers and vegetables without blemishes were the goals. To some extent, it was achieved but at a price none of us could continue to afford.
In the laboratory at Purdue University and other universities around the country, agriculture and horticulture scientists were working to eliminate the use of these toxic chemicals and to prove to the world the need to get back to nature — and to begin once again to feed our families safe food.
It is hard to go back and change when what we are doing doesn't work, but fortunately a great many people are doing just that. Community gardens dedicated to organic gardening are cropping up all over central Fort Wayne.
A new nonprofit group, Better Fort Farm's, will open several large gardens this spring and will offer “The Plots” to the public. I'll share more about that in a future column.
Hopefully, you are planning on establishing an organic vegetable garden in your backyard or maybe joining a community garden this spring. If so, I know you would like to learn how to lure beneficial insects to help you achieve the healthy “green” garden you are dreaming of. To reach that goal, here are a few interesting ideas for you to try:
•Sink a small birdbath top or a shallow bowl nearby or in your vegetable garden. Keep water in it so that tiny beneficials can perch and drink without drowning. To prevent mosquito larva from hatching, put a piece of a Mosquito Dunk, a nontoxic mosquito repellent containing Bti that comes in the shape of a doughnut, in the water. This is EPA-approved for organic gardening and can be purchased in most garden centers and Do it Best hardware stores, or online through Amazon.com.
•Plant a hedge of rosemary or provide a trellis for peas or beans or cucumbers along one side as a windbreak. This will reduce dust so your beneficials will not become dehydrated. Be sure to plant it where it will not shade full-sun plants.
•Plant a border of companion plants that will attract beneficials and supply them with nectar and pollen. A few ideas would be marigolds, dill or yarrow — all good food sources for adult stages of these insects. Also, set some potted herbs nearby, such as basil or mint.
•There is even advice given to allow a few weeds to flourish here and there in the vegetable garden. These will provide an alternate food source and give needed shelter to your beneficials. I know, I can't believe I am encouraging letting weeds grow — but we are talking about luring insects that will kill pests. (Notice the word “few” before “weeds.”)
•If you are going to buy beneficials to add to your garden, wait until your plants are growing — otherwise these insects will die waiting for food or will leave and go where there is a food source. As the saying goes, timing is everything.