I was just reading through some recent posts, and realized that I forgot one of the most important reasons why I had my most successful gardening year ever in 2012.
I had very few pest problems this year, and with our mild winter/early spring I had actually expected an increase in pests. Two reasons: first, I added beneficial nematodes to the garden in early June, all around my zucchini plants. I later saw (and failed to catch) adult squash vine borers in there, so I know they laid eggs, but the nematodes must have done their job because my zucchini plants looked gorgeous all summer.
Second, and more important: I have added a great variety of native plants to my yard and garden over the past two years, and I can’t believe how many more birds, butterflies and spiders are around. I actually watched two birds flying in and out of the vegetable garden one day, feasting on crickets. HUGE spiders set up shop in several areas of the yard this summer.
American Highbush Cranberry (viburnum trilobum) is just one of the native shrubs I added this spring. They’re absolutely gorgeous right now, and next year they should produce berries.
I keep saving seed and replanting Florence Fennel from a packet I originally bought several years ago (I also get MANY volunteers). This fennel frustrates me because it seems that no matter what part of the yard I plant it in, I almost never get a bulb worthy of dicing. I get lots of neat foliage, and I use the seeds and feathery leaves interchangeably with dill, but I am ready to try a different variety—I keep dreaming of cucumber fennel salad and never getting around to making it. Anyway, when I pulled out the remaining fennel plants this weekend, look what I found! Weird fennel carrot-like roots!? So, we boiled them up with some parsnips and mashed them. Not too shabby.
Garden’s not done yet! I’ve never seen a better chard plant than this one; it’s been completely cut down several times and just keeps coming back. Apparently it’s hardy to about 15 degrees (F), so we’ll probably want to use it up by the end of November or so.
With all the native plants we added this year, our need for leaf mulch increased to the point that we no longer need to bag/dispose of ANY leaves. We raked them off the small grass area, and threw the extras on the raspberries. So there’s one chore greatly reduced, at least. Leaf mulch is exactly what native plants want and like—after all it’s what they’d get in the forest.
A friend of mine was touring my garden this summer, and seemed perplexed at all the work I’m putting into adding natives that supply only a little food at most. Why not focus more on adding as many vegetable and fruit areas as humanly possible? Well, that’s likely the direction I would have gone, if I didn’t have so much shade. Since I can’t grow traditional vegetables and fruits in the vast majority of my yard, I had to improvise. I am SO glad I did: even if you can’t eat all of the plants I’ve added, they still greatly benefit the plants that I CAN eat by increasing biodiversity in my little south Minneapolis yard.
There’s also the permaculture aspect of this: in order to achieve greater sustainability we need to expand our definition of edible and explore the native plants of our regions. In that vein, I will be more than thrilled to welcome nannyberries, highbush cranberries, gooseberries, fiddlehead ferns, and even more herbal teas to my table next year. Now if I can just get my hands on some ramps and a serviceberry bush or two, I’ll be set!