I think what fascinates me the most about many of our native herbs is how the Native American Tribes found uses for them. Many times by observing what was going on in nature itself.
It is said that they first discovered Echinacea Angustifolia by observing how the Elk would seek it out to eat when they were sick or wounded.
In turn the people found it useful for healing wounds and even snake bites. They made the discovery of a very beneficial plant for a whole host of ailments. I can’t find where modern science can pin down its benefits through their research.
It appears that what research has been done has not been with thorough studies. For the most part I’ve found that our modern day scientist have found it to aid as a cold remedy. I think it is good when researchers can find what properties there are in herbs that are beneficial.
But I think we learn far more by observing nature as the Native People did hundreds of years ago.
I want to think of the Elk with the same respect as our ancient cultures did. Even though we don’t have Elk roaming the Prairie of Southeast Texas, we do have plenty of wildlife that could benefit from such an herb as Echinacea.
When I roam the gardens with my camera in hand I can always rely on finding an abundance of wildlife adorning this herb, from birds to bees and an assortment of butterflies. I think that perhaps if Elk found it medicinal that perhaps deer might as well.
I think it is critical to create as many natural habitats as possible especially with our country loosing most of its habitats. Most of the loss is due to the expanding populations and development as well as the thousands of acres being farmed for food crops and biofuels.
The Echinacea you see in my gardens is the Purple Coneflower or E. Pupurea. It is a herb that is native throughout North America in a wide variety of terrains. It does extremely well in drought prone areas and so requires very little watering. It grows from a tap root and spreads fairly well.
When the weather cools a bit in October here in the south, I divide it up to start new plants. It does have a pretty good germination rate, so growing them from seed is easily achieved.
I first started mine from seed some 6 years ago and directly sowed them in the fall. I try to keep my plants growing with other companion plants that appreciate the same growing conditions and water requirements.
My Echinacea shares its beds with a variety of Salvias and Lavender as well as other native herbs and flowers. It begins to bloom in late spring and lasts well into fall providing brilliant purple flowers throughout the entire summer. They also make a splendid display as cut flowers and they last for a couple weeks in a vase of plain water.
It is my hope that developers as well as homeowners will acknowledge the demand for diversity before it is all gone. We should all garden and landscape with wildlife in mind. Big farms should also put diversity in practice.
We should indeed insist upon a diverse world with future generations in our minds and hearts. What a fabulous and easy to grow herb that our children can observe. What will they discover that could benefit all of mankind?
Valentines Day means more than just Cupids here in the garden. It really means Potato Planting Thyme in Texas!
Mr. Garden, also known as El Spud by some has the easiest system for growing clean and easy potatoes in raised beds.
This year it seems one of the several compost piles had lots of extra oak tree leaves. We always use what we seem to have the most in as far as organic material goes. Last year it seems it was pine straw that was used.
Part of the raised beds get filled with leaves. Then as you can see, Mr. Garden tosses in some seed potatoes.
Then we get in there and space them in nice straight rows about a foot to 18" apart. Pretty easy so far!
Next he simply covers the potatoes with more leaves.
Our four raised beds take about 6 lbs. of seed potato. Mr. Garden likes to buy them just the right size (smallish) so we have no need to cut them like you would for the really big seed potatoes.
All that will be left to do is to water them in and wait for them to grow. As they grow you will just simply add a bit more leaves on the top.
I know that there is nothing more disappointing than sowing seeds and either nothing germinates or you have a few more empty spaces than you had planned. For me, I have just waisted time, soil, a marker and a pot.
Although there are several different ways to test your seeds for viability, the quickest way is a simple float test. The supplies needed is a cup and a little warm water. I use a clear plastic cup, but a glass container can be used. We just need to be able to see what is going on. If using glass, it needs to be washed with soapy water and labeled.
The float test is not 100% full proof, but it sure comes close.
I start out by counting out the amount of seeds I want to sow, plus a little extra. I mark the cup with a permanent marker so I remember what variety is in the cup.
I do my float tests before I go to bed at night. I add a little warm water to the cup and sprinkle my seeds in it. By morning I will know that the seeds that sunk to the bottom of the cup are viable and the seeds that stayed floating on the top are not good.
The float test works well for seeds the size of tomatoes or peppers. If they are very tiny like perhaps carrots or lettuce seeds, they will want to float no matter what you do. So stick with the larger sized seeds and not the micro mini sizes.
The trick for sowing with teeny tiny seeds is simply to plant extra seeds and then thin the pots out.
I usually do a float test for seeds I had saved for sowing directly into the garden. Especially for things like cucumbers and squash. Even melons and pumpkins get a float test for a better germination rate in the garden.
Some people use an alternative method of testing seed viability, like using a damp paper towel or coffee filter that is placed in a ziploc plastic bag and labeled. For me personally, I find it much more time consuming and I get such great results with the quickie float test.
So next, after taking all the floating seeds out and discarding them, I make sure that all of my pots are well watered in before planting the good seeds that sunk to the bottom of the cups.
A good rule of thumb when planting seeds is to generally go by the size of the seed. For something the size of a tomato seed you would not want to plant it in the soil deeper than say 1/4 of an inch.
I usually make a small indentation in each pot and place the seed in each one. Then I go back with a large pot of dirt I keep handy and sprinkle the dirt over the top of each seed. After that I press the top of each pot lightly to get a good connection of seed to soil.
After I have them all planted and tagged, I water them in once more. Just be sure to keep the water gentle so as not to wash everything back out of the pot.
The soil should be a good loose well draining mix of compost, garden soil, peat and even a little perlite if you can find it organic and without chemical fertilizers.
Petunias are always the best place to begin for all new gardens. They benefit so many vegetables (especially Beans!)
The Petunias act as a magnet for many harmful insects, like aphids and the dreaded Mexican Bean Beetle. Although they may deter other harmful insects.
The trick when companion planting with trap crops, such as the Petunias, is to monitor closely. Trap crops do not deter insects out of your garden. They attract the harmful insects away from your food crops. In this case the beans.
Many gardeners have said that the Petunias will actually deter many harmful insects. This may be true as well, but from what I've experienced over the years you would do well to monitor them as a trap crop.
I have watched as Butterflies, Bees and Ladybugs are attracted to the Petunias. This is good! The ladybugs will get to work on the aphids, while the butterflies and bees stay busy pollinating and putting forth a lovely show.
In the photo above you may notice Cilantro blooming on the end on the Petunias. These blooms beckon the ladybugs into this area of the garden.
Luckily I've never had to many problems with Mexican Bean Beetles. They can really cause some destruction. So as you monitor your Petunias, keep an eye out for the populations of both the aphids and Mexican Bean Beetles.
The beetles can be crushed with fingers (gloves on) of course. Although lots of gardeners don't care if they squish with bare hands. This method is quite effective, but if they swarm or you have a ladybug deficiency, by all means spray them with a mild soapy solution. (Never Use Chemicals)
The happy news is that your beans are safe and guarded by their love, The Petunia.
We have lived upon this land from days beyond history’s record, far past any living memory, deep into the time of legend. The story of my people and the story of this place are one single story. We are always joined together ~ Pueblo Elder
The legends of corn can easily be told by the Native American Indians. They knew how to grow it and how to achieve sustainability from it through hundreds of generations.
Actually all corn is Indian Corn and not just the pretty colored corns you see around the holidays. It is native to America and Mexico and there were once around 250 different varieties of native corn.
Most have since become lost and extinct. It is said to have originated from the Mexican areas more than 7,000 years ago and thought to have been cultivated from wild grasses.
The Native American people were the original agriculturist in our country. They understood what worked best naturally.
They gave the utmost respect to the soil and water and knew that one must always give back to the earth what one takes from it.
It’s quite apparent that a great deal of the settlers that came to this country never acquired the same respect for the land and its inhabitants. It certainly still shows itself today in the way that big farms have reduced themselves to farming with poisonous chemicals and genetic engineering that is causing a staggering loss of diversity and natural life to the critical point of extinction.
Even today, if one would listen to the wisdom given by the Native American Indians, they would learn so much about gardening and farming.
There is a Native American by the name of Buffalo Bird Woman of the Hidatsa Indian Tribe who has given a detailed account of how her family sustained themselves with their garden. (ca. 1839 – 1932) I love going to her writings for reference as well as the inspiration she seems to give me.
What has stuck with me the most I think is that the closer we get to the original heirloom native varieties of seed the more success there is for the harvest. This is one of the reasons it is so important to protect heirloom seeds.
I sought after a Native Texas Dent Corn variety that happens to be near extinction. It was important to find the perfect variety that would serve the same needs for my own family that the Indians had for theirs.
The Native Americans grew their corn to dry it during harvest so it would last them throughout the winter months. They would grind it into cornmeal to eat as well as crack it for feeding their livestock during harsh winter weather.
The beans the Indians grew was for the purpose of having dry beans. Dry beans were easy to harvest and put away for winter storage.
The beans we chose was a Native American Cornfield Bean that grew well over the top of the corn. The pods dried on the vines and we picked and shelled them for our pantry as well.
The timing was perfect as our beans were ready for harvest at the same time as the corn. The beans had benefited from the corn by using its stalks to climb on. They in turn benefited the corn by adding nitrogen back into the soil that helps feed the corn.
The squashes they grew were varieties that would store well throughout the winter months.
It also was grown on the outside of the mounds the corn and beans were growing in. The squash would in turn provide a natural living mulch and ground cover for the corn and beans as it stretches across the ground.
The squash in turn enjoyed the protection from the harsh hot summer sun growing beneath the corn and beans.
It’s a remarkable combination of companions that fit each other so very perfectly.
We switched from growing pumpkins with the corn crop and turned to a heirloom variety of Butternut Squash. With the Butternut we had no problems with the troublesome squash borers that injure and kill the pumpkins so easily in our area.
The Butternut Squash was ready for harvest near the same time as the corn and beans. The flesh is sweet and rich orange and wonderful in many dishes.
I’ve seen many gardeners have lack of success at trying to grow the Three Sisters Way. I’ve had previous failures as well.
The lesson’s that I learned is you must grow it just like the Native Americans did. That doesn’t mean growing it in rows. You have a more abundant harvest and stronger stalks when it is grown on mounds or circles. It’s a natural support system for the trio.
There is also less problems with timing and harvest when you grow for drying purposes. Sweet Corn or Pole Beans that must be eaten fresh interrupts the entire process and is difficult to harvest. If you want to imagine trying to pick sweet corn or green beans while pushing your way through a tangled web of vines and trying to tip toe over squash vines then you’ll understand.
It’s odd how we have so much more success when we notice the little details that end up making all the difference in the world. It’s easy to see why protecting our heirloom varieties from cross contamination and extinction is so critical. What a beautiful and perfect tradition that must live on. This is to the hope of our future generations.
The best way to protect your garden in spring is to attract ladybugs as early as possible. By planting various wildflowers and herbs in the fall you get a head start in spring. They will be the first to bloom to allure the ladybug.
The favorite blooms that will attract the ladybugs are the ones with tiny white clusters of flowers.
I usually plant tons of Cilantro in and around my garden. Cilantro is easy to grow and will be the first to bloom hoards of white clusters.
Other plants that work wonders are things like Sweet Allysum, Yarrow and Dill.
The ladybugs will then fly to flowers like Marigolds, Zinnias and Cosmos. They will lay many eggs along the way and soon you will find them in many stages throughout your garden.
The next thing you will discover is the ladybugs moving in on various garden crops and feasting on aphids throughout the season.
It is important to know the life cycles of your beneficial insects. That way you can best recognize them and not mistake them for a pest.
The Ladybugs lay tiny white eggs under the foliage of different plants. Usually they lay a cluster of 10 to 15 eggs. As soon as the larvae begins to hatch out they look for aphids to eat.
In the larvae stage the ladybugs are said to look like tiny alligators and can be various colors depending on its variety.
From the larvae stage the ladybug goes into its pupa stage before it emerges into a lovely ladybug. I found this ladybug chart fascinating to get a look at some of the different types of ladybugs in the adult stages.
You may be surprised to learn that the ladybug is not always red with black spots. There are literally thousands of different types of ladybugs in all kinds of colors around the world.
Many have spots while others have none and some actually have stripes. Their colors range from orange to red, to pink, yellow, green and even black.
Although they all benefit the garden, it is said that the ladybug called hippodamia convergens is the best one. They will make your garden home for a very long time and eat thousands of aphids. You can recognize this ladybug by two white slash marks above her wings.
It is true that the Lady Beetle is also well known as the Ladybug. They are indeed blessings from above when dwelling in the natural garden. They feast upon your aphid pests so that no pesticides are ever needed. They have also been known to eat various scale and mites that may infest your garden as well.
Lovely little ladybug sent from heaven above please watch over my garden and fill it up with love. ~Author Unknown
There are so many times I find a gem, such as the Marigold, become so misunderstood through the ages. Much of the confusion is derived from the loss of natural beneficial qualities the Marigold obtained before man decided to improve upon it.
The old school Marigolds were esteemed as being powerful and even magical by the Aztec Indians. It is said that the early Spanish Explorers in the 16th century took the native Marigold seeds from the Aztecs and carried them off to Spain and they were then cultivated in Monastery gardens. From Spain the seeds went to France (thus the French varieties) and to Northern Africa (thus the tall African varieties). It wasn’t until a few hundred years had passed before the seeds found their way to North American, shortly after the Revolutionary War.
In every culture and through the ages the Marigold played an important role and leaving many ole wives’ tales along the way. Many of them reflect on the garden and the warding off of pests. Sorting it all out can be quite the task, but the simple truth is the old fashion varieties were very pungent and fragrant. They obtained a natural chemistry of toxins put out through their root systems and into the soil.
I have to wonder what wisdom ancient cultures discovered by growing Marigolds in their gardens and what information got lost along the way.`Our own Grandmothers told of planting Marigolds throughout their gardens. Some say to keep rabbits from eating garden vegetables, some say that planting them with your beans will keep the Mexican Beetle away, and why have so many generations found it important to plant Marigolds with tomatoes?
After research from science and agriculture departments from universities such as Louisiana State, we know that the toxins in the older varieties help reduce Root Knot Nematodes that can sometimes plague the southern gardener. The results of Root Knot Nematodes are sick and diseased plants, a major decrease of fruit and vegetable production and eventually death of the stunted plants. Marigolds can work as a virtual workhorse in the garden, but they must be used properly.
Here’s How to Make Marigolds Work for You!
1. Marigolds must be planted with diversity in mind. By this I mean no chemicals or pesticides should ever be used anywhere in the garden. Even organic chemicals can have devastating results if not used properly and actually there is really not much need for any of them when beneficial predators are in place.
Marigolds as well as other flowers and plants can have problems with pests such as aphids and spider mites. But there are many natural predators to take care of the pests. Small lady beetles, predatory mites, minute pirate bugs, big-eyed bugs and predatory thrips will maintain and keep things in check.
2. Soil rich in organic matter and a well mulched garden will also keep all plants vigorous and healthy. Leaving bare dusty and sandy soil, especially during dry and drought periods will increase pests such as the spider mites. Healthy soil will also help keep plants free from various virus’ as well as many diseases.
3. Planting in wide rows and inter-cropping allows for much more diversity throughout the garden. One of the biggest problems in the garden is straight row mono-cropping. It is good to have Marigolds planted all throughout the garden. They will not help with just nematode problems but they will feed and attract many beneficial pollinators to the garden as well.
4. Cover cropping with Marigolds in areas where fruit and vegetables are prone to Root Knot Nematode problems. Plants such as tomatoes, strawberries and even corn can be effected by harmful nematodes. For instance, if you are making plans to rotate your tomato plants next year, plant a thick patch of Marigolds in the spot they are to go this year. The Marigolds will help choke out weeds in the new planned area too!
According to Louisiana State University some of the recommended varieties are the Bonita Mixed, Gypsy Sunshine, Scarlet Sophia, Single Gold, Petite harmony, Petite Gold, Tangerine, Crackerjack and Flor De Muerto. It will serve you and your garden well if you start your flowers from seed. Most nursery bought flowers have been sprayed with chemicals.