Ecosystem Gardening: Blog Action Day on Food 10/16/11
|Meadow garlic (Allium canadense), a Florida native,|
belongs in your herb garden next to the chives.
What is a post on food doing on a native plant society blog?
Native plants play an important role in sustainable edible gardens. Sometimes native plants are the crops such as meadow garlic (“A Native Herb has Earned a Spot Amongst the Mediterranean Species” ), prickly pear ("Edible Native Recovers from the Frost"), and dotted horsemint (“Dotted Horsemint: An Appreciation”), but mostly native plants play a supporting role. An edible garden with all its non-native plants, both the carefully-bred cultivars and ancient heirloom species, does not exist in isolation; it is part of the larger ecosystem—the surrounding landscape and neighborhood.
|Butternut squash (Curcubita maxima). Squash flowers|
need to be visited by 8 or 9 pollinators to ensure
good fruit formation.
We’ve heard a lot about the honeybees and the colony collapse disorder that beekeepers have been grappling with, but if you practice ecosystem gardening, you’ll attract native bees that can do a fantastic job as pollinators for your crops and fruits, plus if the non-native honeybees find their way into your yard, you’ll be supporting them, too.
|A native blue bee works a prickly pear cactus flower|
(Opuntia humisfolia), an edible native.
· Your crops will not have any pesticide residues.
· The predators do much of the work, although you will help with physical controls.
· It helps to prevent the development of pesticide resistance in target bugs.
· You are not contributing to overall environmental pollution.
· Insect predators will wax and wane in pace with pest populations.
· It's a more balanced ecosystem. A poisoned landscape requires ever vigilant, total life-support from you.
|Beggar ticks (Bidens alba) may be a weed, but it attracts|
a wide variety of insects including these cool
polka-dotted wasp moths.
Provide good habitat for both the insects and their predators--some have called this farmscaping. You'll want to encourage a large insect population to keep the predators supplied with plenty of food. This may seem counter-productive since you're trying to get rid of problem insects, but your goal as an ecosystem gardener is to let the populations reach a balance or equilibrium. The predator populations expand and contract in reaction to the pest populations. You can purchase ladybugs and other predatory insects, but adding too many predators at once rarely works, and of course, the ladybugs will fly away home or at least to some other place.
It's a good idea to keep a variety of flowers with different colors and structures blooming in areas in and around your edible gardens throughout the growing season—that means year round here in Florida. This way you provide nectar and pollen for both the adult predatory insects and the important pollinators. Create different layers of vegetation in the areas around your edible gardens by planting native hedgerows that have leaves from the ground to high shrubbery level to provide good shelter--hedgerows make a good windbreak, as well.
Some specific plant types attract your beneficials:
1) Low-growing creepers provide cover for ground beetles.
2) Small florets arranged in a flat flower head are good for the adult phase of those tiny parasitoid wasps. Plants from the carrot family (Apiaceae) work well. These are plants that you'd have in your herb garden anyway such as parsley, fennel, coriander, and dill.
3) Flowers in the daisy family (Asteraceae) such as asters, mist flowers, coreopsis, black-eyed Susans, marigolds, zinnias, and goldenrod.
4) Flowers of the mint family (Lamiaceae) members such as monarda, salvia, scarlet sage, and various mints to attract hummingbirds, predatory wasps, hover flies, and robber flies.
|Plant a bug garden with some parsley or dill so |
you'll have a place to deposit the beautiful
black swallowtail larvae. This way you can
eat your herbs and still support the butterflies.
In addition to maintaining a large insect population, attract and keep carnivorous birds and bats on your property by supplying appropriately designed bird and bat houses and other shelter such as snags and brush piles. Hummingbirds eat insects when they are raising young, so keep them coming to your property with red or orange tubular flowers and hummingbird feeders. (“One Native Plant = Three Habitat Benefits” ) Install a purple martin apartment house in an open area near a body of water. Maintain some of your property as an open meadow (rather than a closely cropped lawn) for the bluebirds and other ground-feeding birds. If you garden in a small urban plot, a balcony, or just a cinder block raised bed garden, you could plant butterfly and insect-attracting plants nearby: in containers near the front door, in a hanging basket under eaves, or at the local community center, school, or church yard. This way, your whole neighborhood becomes a functioning ecosystem.
Leave some out-of-the-way places uncultivated with no weed barrier and no mulch, but with a log or a pile of brush where critters can make their nests in the ground. Most solitary bees, which are important native pollinators, build their nests in the ground or drill into dead wood. Create permanent toad shelters in and around your gardens—toads will return the favor by dining on your slugs and bugs. A toad shelter can be as simple as a piece of a clay pot or a flat rock with a small crevice under it.
|Green darner dragonflies mating and depositing their|
eggs in the water. Water features should include still
water with emergent plants such as this
native spatterdock (Nuphar advena).
Your Neighborhood Ecosystem
Many people call themselves locavores and try to use only local sources for food. What could be more local than growing edibles in our yards, school gardens, and community gardens? More native plants in and around your yard and the entire neighborhood provide the backbone for a bug-welcoming ecosystem, which provides the perfect environment for the neighborhood edible gardens.
· My post over on the Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens blog includes an explanation of the harmful poison cycle: "A Poison is a Poison is a Poison."
· At the FNPS conference last May we learned about native bees: “What was all that Buzzz at FNPS?” and “More Buzz About Bees”
· “Why are they Dying?” From the New Internationalist Magazine
· “On Einstein, Bees, and the Survival of the Human Race” from the Entomology Department at the University of Georgia.
· U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s “pollinators” web page with lots of resources:
The post is part of the Blog Action Day October 16, 2011
The official Blog Action Day tag is #BAD11
Now is a great time to start an edible garden in Florida, where we grow the cool weather crops right through the winter. Producing your own food—now that's action.