Farming with bees: Attracting bees to your organic garden

The music of humming honey bees in an organic garden is a music like no other. They bring freshness as they toil among your flowers. Honey bees play a vital role in the organic garden, especially when it comes to pollination. They assist in the pollination of fruits and berries of all varieties and also of a large number of vegetable crops. The truth is that without bees, we will be much poorer off.

The unsettling fact is that the count of honey bees have been fast declining in the recent past. It is important that you do something in your garden so that they get attracted to your garden. If you wait for them to come naturally, then there is more than an even chance you will have to wait for a much longer period of time than what would be considered feasible. The good news is that attracting bees is fairly simple and if you execute the following methods, then you will see a big swarm of bees buzzing into your garden. You will enjoy a good harvest of honey and bee-pollinated crops as well.

Stop using pesticides

You should stop or at least reduce the use of pesticides in your organic garden. Normal garden chemicals contain neonicotinoids thiacloprid along with acetamiprid. They are approved for use in the home garden and are available at most of the DIY stores and garden centers. You should read the label before buying the bottle.

Offer a place

It is a good idea to add any insect house to the organic garden. This will offer better nesting sites for insects and solitary bees. You can either make your own insect house or buy it. Whatever you do, make sure that its roof is waterproofed. You can also invest in a hotel for bees, like Big Insect Biome.

Be active in your locality

Lobby your local lawmaker and council to stop or reduce the use of pesticides in the area. It will not only benefit the local flora and fauna, it will save the taxpayer’s money too. Ask the local municipality not to cut road verges and leave the wildflowers for the benefit of wildlife. You should encourage the local groups to plant the native wildflower.

Rewild the lawn

Lawn weeds may not be always harmful. Dandelions make excellent bee plants and offer vital pollen. The honeybee is attracted to white clover. The bumblebees with longer tongues prefer the red clover. Allow the grass to grow much longer. Permit lawn to flower. Replace the lawn with a wildflower meadow.

Buy only organic

Search and exclusively buy organic plants, bulbs along with pesticide free seeds. Grow them without the use of insecticides. It is hard to get organic ornamental plants. The scarcity is due to the fact that since we do not consume them, they do not matter.

Check the shed

Be aware that it is illegal to buy or sell any pesticides containing the three neonics, thiamethoxam, imidacloprid,and clothianidin . They are banned within the EU zone. If you do find a bottle, dispose of it in a responsible manner. Consult the local authority for help if you need it.

Another way to attract bees is to plant trees in your garden. In order to get effective forage, bees need a huge number of flowers in a single location. Small trees or big shrubs are an important food source. If there are five established trees, they will generate an identical amount of nectar and pollen as equal to a meadow. Select the trees which flower during winters and in early spring. Few of the flowering trees are hazel, wild cherries, and willow.

Role of Microorganisms in Soil Fertility

The normal understanding of microorganisms is that they cause disease. But there are also many microorganisms that are beneficial. Microorganisms are important for soil fertility, where they have a definitive role.

Some of them help to decompose toxic waste while others actually increase soil fertility. We won’t be going too far if we said, if there were no microorganisms in the soil, the world would be barren.

Jacob Lipman, a famous microbiologist once remarked, ‘a soil that does not have microorganisms is a dead soil.’ Fertile soil contains a variety of microorganisms like algae, protozoa, fungi, viruses and bacteria.

Most of them are located in the rhizosphere (the portion of the soil around plant roots), decomposing organic matter into humus. Here are some reasons why microorganisms are necessary in soil.

Microorganisms break down organic matter: Microorganisms decompose organic matter and release the nutrients for absorption by plants. There are different types of microbes for different kinds of organic matter.

Microorganisms recycle nutrients: Plants absorb nutrients in the ionic form (a small percentage is absorbed in the molecular form). It means, before any nutrient can absorbed by any plant, it should be broken down into its ionic form. This conversion is done by microorganisms through a process called mineralization. So microorganisms are essential for recycling nutrients in soil.

Microorganisms create humus: Humus is nothing but completely decomposed organic matter. When microorganisms have done their job, what is left behind is called humus. Humus is dark brown in color and jelly like on constitution. It retains moisture and builds soil structure. Some say that humus also suppresses plant diseases.

Microorganisms create soil structure: Soil structure is an essential component of plant growth. Some microorganisms secrete glycoproteins, polysaccharides and gums which bind minerals in soil together. This is the basis for soil structure. These soil aggregates are further bound by plant roots and fungal hyphae.

Microorganisms can control diseases and pests: You might have heard about Bt. Cotton, Bt. Eggplant, Bt Corn and other GMO plants. Most people don’t know what Bt stands for. Bt is actually short for Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacteria. Bacillus thuringiensis produces some proteins that inhibits insect growth. Scientists inserted a gene (that produces the insecticidal agent) from this bacteria into the DNA of commercial plants. Once the gene is in place, it expressed itself and the plant starts producing the insecticidal agent. Bt Eggplants can resist insect pests like fruit and shoot borers.

Microorganisms perform nitrogen fixation: The main source of nitrogen for plants is atmospheric nitrogen. Atmospheric nitrogen is converted into nitrates by microorganisms. The first step is nitrogen fixation, where bacteria like rhizobium convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. This ammonia is later converted into inorganic nitrites by a species of bacteria called Nitrosomonas. This inorganic nitrites is then converted into nitrates by a species of bacteria called Nitrobacter.

Microorganisms are essential for plant growth

Organic matter in soil contains more than 95 percent of the soil’s nitrogen, between 5 % to 60 % of its phosphorus and close to 30 % of its sulfur. The availability of these nutrients to plants is dependent on the extent to which organic matter is decomposed by microorganisms. Here are a few scenarios that can happen if there are no microorganisms in soil.

  • When organic matter accumulates in soil, it clogs the soil texture and reduces soil fertility.
  • When humus accumulates in soil, it locks carbon and other structural elements necessary for plant skeletons.
  • Overuse of fertilizers can lead to soil and water pollution.

On the basis of these arguments, we can conclude that microorganisms are necessary to increase soil productivity and beget higher crop yield.

Testing the Soil in your Vegetable Patch for Nutrients

Providing the best possible growing environment for your plants will enable them to provide you with the best possible produce. The first step in making sure that you are providing your plants with the best possible growing environment is by testing the soil in your vegetable garden, and making sure that it has all the right nutrients. A plant will be able to get all the essential nutrients that it needs from the soil itself.

 

Why is it essential to have a balanced pH level and nutrient content?

Testing the soil basically means determining the nutrient content and the pH level. The outcome of your vegetable garden, a thriving one or one that looks right out of an apocalyptic movie, is heavily dependent on these two factors. A balanced nutrient level and a balanced pH level is required in the soil for the plants to grow healthily. For example, if there is a deficiency of calcium in the soil, tomatoes growing in that patch will develop blossom-end rot. Now, if there is excess nitrogen in the soil, it will result in the plant growing a lot of leaves, instead of fruits/vegetables.

When it comes to the pH level, if the soil is too much alkaline or acidic, it will prevent the plants from taking up the nutrients present in the soil. No matter how much fertilizer you add, the nutrients will not be available for the plants. A pH level of 1 is considered as most acidic, and a pH level of 14 is considered as most alkaline. The ideal pH level in the soil should be between 6 and 7. If the pH level is below 6, nutrients like phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium become less available for the plants to absorb. If the pH level is greater than 7, then phosphorus, manganese, and iron become less available for the plants to absorb.

 

Different methods to test the soil in your vegetable garden

As they say, and a pretty gets-on-your-nerve one as well, soil analyzing is not rocket science. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to test and analyze the soil in your vegetable garden. Right, moving on, below are 2 ways how you can test the soil.

 

Do-It-Yourself (DIY) kit

With a DIY kit, available at most of the nurseries, you will be able to measure the soil’s alkaline and acidity levels. Some kits will also let you measure the soil’s major nutrient content.

Get a soil pH test kit. Get the sample soil (taken ten to fifteen centimeters from the surface), and place it on the mixing card. Add two or three drops of indicator dye to it. Dust it with white powder. Wait for a few minutes. The color of the mixture will change. Match it with the color chart provided with the kit. Each color indicates the pH level of your soil. A minimum of six tests is recommended. You can take the soil sample from different parts of your garden.

 

Soil lab test

If you want to thoroughly analyze the soil from your garden, then take the soil to a soil lab. In addition to the pH level, they will also be able to find:

  • Nutrient content of the soil – Finding out the nutrient content in the soil will help you to decide what kind of fertilizer to use, how much fertilizer to use, and so on.
  • Geographic region specific problems – Finding out local problems affecting the soil, will help you to resolve it accordingly. For example, in dry areas, the soil will be salty. Adding gypsum, a mineral soil additive (readily available) will help to fix the soil.

The ideal season to test the soil is fall, mainly because it is the season when soil breaks down slowly. This means you will be able to improve the fertility of your soil, based on the test results. Kale, bell peppers, eggplant, and so on are very good for your health. It is important that you provide them with a fertile soil, in terms of pH and nutrient, for them to thrive.

Attracting Beneficial Insects to Your Vegetable Patch

Plants need insects to pollinate their flowers and believe it or not, protect them from other insects. There are two types of insects in the content of plants. Some insects are beneficial to plants. Other insects harm plants. These latter type of insects are called pests. In this article, we will see how to encourage beneficial insects to come to a Kale patch.

Beneficial insects are of two types. One type pollinates flowers, like bees. The second kind, kill and eat other insects (parasitoids and predators) that harm plants, like wasps and ladybugs.

Like pests, beneficial insects also depend on plants for food (pollen, nectar) and shelter but they don’t cause any harm to the plants. Some of them are pollinators. Examples of pollinators are honey bees, carpenter bees, bumble bees, leaf cutter bees, mason bees and others.

The other category of beneficial insects is called parasitoids (or predators). They are natural enemies of the pests. Conserving these insects in your garden can suppress insect pests and improve crop yields.

Did you know, some insects are both pollinators and parasitoids, like wasps. The adult wasps feed on nectar while their larvae feed on insects. Now we will learn more about the parasitoid and predators because their work has a positive effect on kale plants.

Main types of parasitoid insects

Lacewings: Lacewing larvae feed on aphids. Because of their voracious appetite for aphids, sometimes they are called aphid lions. They also feed on insect eggs and mites.

Ladybugs: Ladybugs are easily recognized because of their red bodies interspersed with black marks. Both adult ladybugs and their larvae feed on insect pests.

Syrphid flies: Syrphid fly larvae feed on mealybugs, aphids and other pests.

Parasitic wasps: Parasitic wasps are also potent pest killers. The adult females pierce larvae of butterflies, whiteflies and moths with their ovipositor and lay eggs inside them. When the larvae hatch, they literally eat the host caterpillars inside out.

Tachinid flies: Tachinid flies lay eggs directly on pests. Their larvae kill and eat caterpillars, stink bugs, beetles, squash bug nymphs and fly larvae.

How to attract beneficial insects?

Now, for the most important part. How to encourage beneficial insects to come to your Kale patch? Here are some tips.

Grow plants with overlapping bloom periods – To attract pollinators, grow plants that have overlapping bloom periods. This way, the pollinators will have nectar and pollen all year round and they will keep coming to your vegetable patch. If you can’t these plants in your vegetable patch, grow them on the perimeter of your vegetable patch.

Allow some plants to bolt: Bolting is a stage where a plant flowers and makes seeds. The good news is, Kale is a bolting plant and bolting plants attract beneficial insects. When the Kale bolts, the plant releases chemicals. These chemicals attract parasitoid wasps, ladybugs and syrphid flies. They search the Kale foliage for insect pests to feed on or lay eggs in. Note that, the trick is to allow only some plants to bolt.

Create a beneficial insect reservoir bed: A beneficial insect reservoir bed or BIRB is an area around the perimeter of a vegetable patch or even an island in the vegetable patch. The idea is, the BIRB will promote insect diversity. For example, in hot weather, some parasitoid wasps live for only 10 days. But in cooler weather, the same species can live for up to 6 weeks. If designed well, the temperature in a BIRB can be up 10 to 20 degrees cooler than surrounding temperature.

Grow small flowered plants: Parasitoid wasps sustain on nectar from tiny flowered plants. Only parasitoid wasps can feed on nectar from these flowers. Examples for tiny flower plants are Bishop’s lace, yarrow and allysum. Dill and coriander will also do. Another option is to grow plants with lacy foliage such as fennel, cosmos. These plants attract predators like ladybugs and lacewings.

For more details about controlling pests with beneficial insects and encouraging them to come to your Kale patch, please contact us.