Bee-Safe Garden Practices

By Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

In my last post I wrote about the findings of scientists in identifying the world-wide crisis in bee farming and their investigations into why up to 80% of beehives are dying each year.

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In this blog I want to share what I have found out about good practices in your garden for maintaining healthy bees that help you produce a bountiful crop. At the end I introduce some flowering plants that will have the bees flocking … er … buzzing!

Natural sprays

Tomato Leaf Spray (from About.com)

Tomato plants, as members of the nightshade family, contain toxic compounds called alkaloids in their leaves. When the leaves of tomato plants are chopped, they release their alkaloids. When the alkaloids are suspended and diluted with water, they make an easy to use spray that is toxic to aphids, but still safe around plants and humans.

Ingredients
  • One to two cups of tomato leaves
  • Two cups of water
  • A strainer or cheesecloth
  • Spray bottle

To make tomato leaf spray, simply soak one to two cups of chopped tomato leaves in two cups of water. Let it steep overnight. To make the spray, strain the leaves out of the liquid using cheesecloth or a fine strainer. Add another one to two cups of water to the liquid and add it to a spray bottle.

To use the tomato leaf spray in your battle against aphids, spray the stems and foliage of the infested plant with the spray, paying special attention to the undersides of leaves, since that is where aphids most commonly congregate. The tomato leaf recipe, above, won’t harm beneficial bugs like ladybirds.

Garlic Oil Spray

Organic gardeners have long relied on garlic as part of their pest-fighting arsenal. Garlic contains sulphur, which, besides being toxic to pests, is also an antibacterial and antifungal agent. The dish soap in this mixture also breaks down the bodies of soft-bodied pests, such as aphids.

Ingredients
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • Mineral oil
  • Strainer or cheesecloth
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Water
  • Spray bottle

Mince or chop 3-4 cloves of garlic finely, and add them to 2tsp of mineral oil. Let this mixture sit for 24 hours. Strain out the garlic pieces, and add the remaining liquid to one pint (600mls) of water. Add one teaspoon of liquid dish soap. This mixture can be stored and diluted as needed. When you need to spray, use two tablespoons of the mixture added to one pint of water in a spray bottle.

To use your garlic oil spray, first test by spraying an inconspicuous part of the plant to see if your mixture harms it at all. If there are no signs of yellowing or other leaf damage after a day or two, it is safe to use. If there is leaf damage, dilute the mixture with more water and try the test again. Once you have determined that it won’t harm your plant, spray the entire plant, paying special attention to the undersides of leaves.

Warning: Garlic oil is a non-selective insecticide, which means that it will kill beneficial insects (such as lady bugs, who are natural predators of aphids) just as easily as it kills the bad guys. It’s best to keep as many beneficials around as possible. This spray should only be used if you haven’t seen any beneficial bugs in your garden.

Rhubarb insecticide Spray

Rhubarb garden spray is an effective spray for controlling aphids and other sucking insects, as it suffocates them. It is excellent for plants such as roses, which tend to suffer from aphid problems.

Ingredients
  • 1kg / 2.2lbs rhubarb leaves (not stems – use the stems for cooking rhubarb for dessert)
  • 2 litres / 67 fl.oz water
  1. Place the rhubarb leaves into a large pot
  2. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes to half an hour
  3. Strain off the leaves
  4. Dilute. The solution should be diluted 1 part solution and 9 parts water; in other words, add 9 litres / 2.3 gallons water to create the spray.

Note: This spray should not be stored but should be used within 24 hours to achieve the best effectiveness.

Feed the bees

Here are some flowers you can plant in your garden to ensure bees have plenty to eat, while you attract them in as pollinators. Try to plant a range that flower at different times of the season from Spring through to Autumn.

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Bergamot/Bee balm (left) and Black-eyed Susan blooms (right) attract bees

Bee Balm

Bright flowers and a minty fragrance make bergamot (Monarda) plants ideal for perennial borders. Bergamot is known by several other names, including bee balm, monarda and Oswego tea.

Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia

Black eyed Susan plants are drought resistant, self-seeding and grow in a variety of soils. Growing black eyed Susans prefer a neutral soil pH and a full sun to light shade location. They can be propagated from seed heads. Blooms late spring through summer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA           lupin-flower-foliage

The flowering currant (left) and Lupin are two old-fashioned bee attracting blooms

Flowering currant

Flowering currant or Currant Ribes (above) is a breath of heaven as Spring warms up. the scent spreads and is a signal to honey bees that nectar is around.

Lupins

Lupins are later bloomers, but can be planted in autumn for winter soil conditioning. Keep a plant or two to flower on over the season and then collect the flower seeds for another blooming.

Penstemon  PurpleConeFlower

Penstemon (above) blooms in Spring and Purple Coneflower later in the season

Penstemon

Penstemon is in the foxglove family and blooms in spring. It grows from 2-5 ft.  and is a robust perennial topped with stalks of clusters of white, tubular, unevenly-lobbed flowers. Inside the flowers are purple lines especially to attract bees.

Purple coneflower Echinacea

A perennial plant with purple petals around a domed spiny centre.  A highly attractive nectar source frequently visited by butterflies and bees.  A good choice for mid-season blooms.

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Sages like Variegated Sage (left) and Pineapple Sage have enticing trumpet-like flowers

Here are some other examples of bee-loved garden flowers
  • Basil Ocimum
  • Cotoneaster Cotoneaster
  • English lavender Lavandula
  • Giant hyssop Agastache
  • Globe thistle Echinops
  • Hyssop Hyssopus
  • Marjoram Origanum
  • Rosemary Rosmarinus
  • Wallflower Erysimum
  • Zinnia Zinnia

Visit the the website below for a list of plants to grow in New Zealand for bee fodder.

National Bee Keepers Association

By Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

How to dry herbs for teas

I have been experimenting with a number of teas and herbal tea blends looking for useful (medicinal) and flavoursome teas. Of course, you can make lovely teas from fresh herbs and they look great in the cup.

MintTea

The trouble with fresh herbs is that they are not available all year. The next best option is to dry them for using later.

Retaining the flavour

Because herbs get their scents and flavours from their essential oils you need to take care to dry them in a way that keeps that flavour and oil intact. Essential oils are extremely volatile and will evaporate easily when exposed to light and heat. This is important to remember when picking them and drying them.

You key aim when drying herbs is to do it:

  • Quickly to avoid mould
  • Away from light
  • Without applying too much heat

If you are collecting herbs for drying from your own garden, harvest them in the morning when their oil content is at its highest. However, wait until any dew has evaporated. Overnight, the plants replenish the essential oils they gave up during afternoon heat.

Some herbs do not dry well and are best preserved by other methods. Herbs that do not dry well include parsley, coriander, rosemary, chives and basil. These herbs keep their flavours when made into herbal oils and vinegars which can be used in cooking rather than in teas.

Drying Leafy Herbs

During the winter our wood burner is going almost constantly. I have hastened the drying process by using a roasting tray on the top of the stove, but this is probably not the best option.

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Above: New Zealand Kawakawa leaves drying out on the stove

A better way is to hang the herbs, leaves down, with stems held together with a rubber band. Hang the herbs where they can dry away from direct light or heat. After a week they should be crispy-dry and the leaves should crumble easily off the stems.

Strip the leaves from the stems. Crumble them in your hands before storing the dried herbs in tightly covered glass jars, again away from direct light or heat. You can use a mortar and pestle but be careful not to crush the herbs into powder. Just as some cheaper teas are unpleasantly dusty, herbal teas will also become ‘dusty’ if over-worked.

KawakawaTeaGrindKawakawaTea1

A mortar and pestle can be used to crumble herb leaves for teas. The leaves above are the dried tea made from the kawakawa leaves.

Using a slow oven

If you cannot wait for your herbs to dry naturally, or they are taking longer than a week to dry, put them in your oven on the lowest temperature for no longer than 5 minutes.  Let the herbs cool at room temperature for 5 minutes before transferring to jars.

Drying Herbs in a Dehydrator

Drying herbs in a dehydrator has the advantage of being relatively quick. I have, however, found the dehydrator I bought took ages (and several hours of electricity) before the herbs were dried enough to be crumbled. Drying close to the fire was far more effective. However, here are some tips:

  • Strip larger leaves from the stems (e.g. lemon balm, mint and sage)
  • Leave small-leafed herbs on the stem (e.g. thyme)
  • Make sure herbs are spread thinly over the tray so they dry evenly
  • Dry at 95F/35C until crispy-dry. This will take 2-8 hours depending on the thickness of the leaves and the humidity in the air
  • Check every 2 hours to see if the herbs are dry yet

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

What herbs will be planted in my garden?

In a previous post I shared a brief overview of what I had researched about medicinal herbs. In this post I am going to share my list.

I decided I had to go about creating a list of desirable herbs by starting from the common ailments that I might like to cure or lessen the effects of. So I started from a book I have had in my library for about 30 years, called: Common Plants as Natural Remedies, By Cynthia Wickham. In it are given some recipes for teas and concoctions suggested by Swiss homeopath, Dr Robert Quinche. Dr Quinche has a book still available on ABE Books website called: Herbs from the Garden to the Cooking Pot.

Cynthia’s book looks at really common plants like camomile (chamomile), Marigold (the taller one with long full leaves), yarrow (a remedy for severe colds) and great mullien (a woolly tall plant you often see along dry river beds). Some of the herbs mentioned in the teas she credits Dr Quinche with devising are a little out of the ordinary – my view – like ‘blessed thistle’. I know it exists because our local Health Food online supplier HealthPost advertises it. Apparently Blessed Thistle is a supplement you can take to support breastfeeding.

Shirley’s Wellness Cafe has a detailed description of the herb, but it looks far too close to Scotch Thistle for me to risk growing in the garden. The neighbours might complain! Come to think of it, I wonder if Scotch Thistle might do as a substitute? The answer is “NO” but it might be useful in treating ulcers and skin cancers. What wondrous routes one takes when researching a tea recipe.

Here is the recipe that contains the Herbs I want to top my list:

 

Above (left to right): Cowslip, Arnica and Bergamot

  • 25g cowslip flowers
  • 10g chamomile flowers
  • 5g arnica flowers
  • 5g marigold petals
  • 5g lavender
  • 1.5g bergamot
  • 5g peppermint leaves
  • 25g blessed thistle

According to Quinche: Make an infusion. For chronic headaches take half a cupful of tea every 2 hours. Put a cold compress of spirit of lavender on the forehead.

So here is the start of my list:

  • Cowslip
  • Chamomile (got the seeds)
  • Arnica
  • Marigold (got them growing
  • Lavender (got the seeds)
  • Bergamot
  • Peppermint (got it growing)
  • Blessed thistle (hmmm?)

In my hot little  mitt I have seeds for:

  • White sage
  • Evening primrose
  • Anise (one of those plants that will just have to go to seed)
  • St John’s Wort
  • Feverfew
  • Meadowsweet

Next I’ll share with you what all these plants are purported to do. Meanwhile I’m off to plant some tenderly loved seed.

By Heather Sylvawood, author of Real Estate Rollercoaster – what professionals forget to tell you about buying, building and selling real estate.

What should go in your herb garden?

As part of our move toward being more eco-friendly human beings, I have convinced my partner that we need a herb garden. The final convincing argument about why we should lose lawn and gain herb garden was there was nowhere for the strawberry patch. The prospect of no strawberries was enough to make a herb-cum-strawberry garden seem bearable.

Now my next task was to decide what to put in it? Was the herb garden culinary or medicinal? Would I plant international or native plants?

I opted for medicinal – which sent me into a lot of research. Here is a sskin tonics, ummary of what I discovered:

  • Culinary herbs are often also medicinal. (e.g. sage as a deodorant or mouth wash, thyme to promote sleep, (lemon balm for headaches and tiredness)
  • Many herbs considered as weeds are extremely beneficial. (comfrey, heartsease, yarrow, nasturtium, puha and sorrel)
  • There are so many herbs and vegetables that make effective cosmetics and skin tonics. (e.g. citrus, cucumbers, onion and even strawberries)
  • A herb garden is unlikely to be tidy as you have to let some plants go to seed to harvest and others (like yarrow) are weeds most people would remove immediately. Depending on what I decide to put into the herb garden, this could be the subject of strong discussion between my partner and me.

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Sage – not just for taste alone – the tea  taken regularly can reduce body odour

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Heirloom Garden seeds come with hints about their medicinal uses

Seed suppliers

I started by looking for suppliers of seed. The more unusual herbs may not show up as plants in your local garden shop. One gem of a website I discovered was Carol’s Heirloom Garden.  Carol produces a wonderful array of seeds, including herbs at very reasonable prices, but she can only supply in New Zealand. She also has some eBooks on sale, including one on Seed Saving at Home. It’s on my ‘must-have’ list.

What I like about Carol’s seeds is that they come in tiny packets which have growing instructions on one side and medicinal or culinary properties on the other. Once these herbs grow into healthy plants I am going to have to decide:

  1. In what part of the herb garden will they grow on best?
  2. How can I water and cultivate them to get best results?
  3. How I will label them so that come harvest time I still remember what they are?

Maybe that’s counting my herbs before they’re grown. I’ll keep you posted.