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Organic Gardening

Spring garden care

Spring has sprung and with it the faint stirring of garden pests - weeds and bugs.  Before taking up arms (weed whackers and garlic sprays), take the following steps to prevent pest problems before they start.

Create Healthy Soil. Healthy soil = healthy plants. If your soil is poor, your plants may be less healthy and may be overcome by weeds and attacked by bugs. In your vegetable gardens mix in a good amount of compost. Once the soil has warmed, use a mulch (leaves, grass clippings, straw, bark, etc.) around veggie plants to suppress weeds.

Try companion planting. Plant flowers, veggies and herbs that benefit each other by being close together. 

  • Basil stimulates the growth and improves the taste of tomatoes when companion planted.
  • Plant flowers/herbs that repel bugs (marigolds help protect tomatoes by repelling nematodes).
  • Plant flowers/herbs that attract bugs (nasturtiums attract aphids away from veggies and evergreen trees and shrubs). 

Don't plant veggies too close to each other. Good spacing allows air to circulate between plants, reducing pests, mildew and rot.

Hang up some bird houses. The more insect-eating birds hanging around your yard - the less bugs. Grosbeaks, robins and starlings consume adult potato beetles while sparrows, robins and blue jays dine on cutworms. The same thing applies to bats and bat houses, for the more adventurous.

For an overabundance of spiders, do weekly spider egg hunts. Check hidden protected corners, spray the eggs down with the hose and stomp, stomp, stomp. Remember that spiders devour many types of undesirable insects.

Check trees for tent caterpillars.  Dismantle the tent.

Prune any shrubs or trees that were damaged over the winter. Damaged branches are more susceptible to disease and insect infestation.

Plant native plants and shrubs. They tend to be hardier and more disease resistant.

 Don't plant the same vegetables in the same place year after year.  Rotating your crops decreases the chance of disease or insect infestation. It also prevents mineral deficiency in the soil, which leads to weaker, less productive plants.

 

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Fall garden care

A healthy lawn and garden will have natural pest (weeds and bugs) resistance. Once the natural balance is altered by chemical fertilizers and pesticides, recovery to a healthy state takes time, energy and $$$. Here are a few things that you can do in the fall to ensure a healthy pest-resistant lawn in the spring.

Cover all soil surfaces. Soil is full of life (micro-organisms, bacteria...) that can dry out or freeze and die if left exposed to the elements. Cover gardens with a layer of leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, a winter crop (i.e. winter rye) or other mulch to protect the soil. Leave vegetable garden remains (except tomatoes), unless they show signs of disease or bug infestation. In the spring these mulches can be turned into the soil, adding nutrients.

Water cedars and evergreens. Cedars and evergreens need to be watered well just before the soil freezes for the winter. In early spring the leaves start to photosynthesize and the roots need that reservoir of water to prevent the tips and edges from drying out and dying.

Hang out a bird feeder. If your lawn is chemical-free and your cats are wearing bells (to warn the birds) hang out a bird feeder. Once birds get accustomed to visiting your home for food, the next spring spiders and bugs may not be as abundant. Consider building a bat home for the same reasons.

Build a composter. If you don't already have one, fall is a great time to build a composter. Leaves collected in the fall could be stored and available for use next spring. If you own a lawn mower/mulcher, leaves will decompose more quickly.

  More tips on composting

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Composting

Our area is rich in beautiful gardens with many mature trees.  Most homeowners in Beaconsfield have room  to set up their own composter.  Composting  leaves, and lawn and garden clippings is a simple and natural way to recycle organic materials and make our own garden fertilizer,  while at the same time reducing our carbon footprint.  

For the time being, Beaconsfield residents can also bring  bags of leaves (or needles) and empty them out at the bulk material site located at 300 Beaurepaire Drive, next to the fire station at the west end of the parking lot. Every year, leaves taken to this site account for two-thirds of the leaves collected in the city. These are later sent to the Saint-Michel Environment Complex for recycling and composting.  The resulting compost is returned and is available to residents free of charge. 

The City also organizes fall and spring branch collections. The branches are chipped and the mulch is available to residents free of charge.

What can be done with excess leaves that you do not need for immediate composting?

  • Rake leaves into piles and run the lawn mower over them or chop them up with a shredder.  Chopped leaves make a much smaller pile.   Move the pile to a secluded corner for later use.

  • After the first hard frosts, pile leaves over your roses.  Cover perennials at least half a metre deep with leaves.  Surround trees and shrubs with leaves, just keep the mulch 15 cm, away from stems and trunks

  • By spring the pile will have shrunk a lot, you will wish you had more.  Use it for summer mulching.

  • You can also let it sit for a couple of years.   It will reduce down to fine, crumbly leaf mod and can be spread with a rake under trees and over grass, where it will add valuable, moisture holding humus.

  • In the fall, don't forget to save a couple of bags of dry leaves for adding to your own compost.

  • Not enough leaves?  Find out if your neighbours have a surplus.  Or collect yourself great bagfuls from the Borough leaf depots.  Let's keep those leaves in Beaconsfield !

  More tips on composting

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Organic pest control

We've listed a few common pests here as well as suggestions for getting rid of them. 

Ants

Ants flourish in a drought stricken garden.  This may have been caused by cutting your grass too short, having south facing slopes, and/or having no shade trees on your property.  To get rid of them and their little sand castles, mix 1 teaspoon of borax with 250 grams of apple jelly (or other sweet jam/honey).  Place spoonfuls of the mixture in beer bottle tops near their nests.  Commercial mixtures that are environmentally friendly include Safers Attack (A borax mixture), Insect Stop and Insectigone (both diatomaceous earth).  All four methods are slow acting and it may take up to a week to see the results.  Using mulches on the garden will keep moisture in the soil, discouraging ants.
 

Aphids

Your plants are infested with aphids if 

  • there is a sticky, honey-like residue on the leaves or on the floor

  • you find tiny green, white or grey bugs on the leaves or stems

For house plants: In case of a minor infestation, carefully wipe affected leaves with a water-dampened rag.  Repeat in one week if needed. For a major infestation: place your plant in the bathtub or large sink.  Spray leaves and stem with "Safer's Soap" or one of the many home-made mixes such as dish-soap and water in a spray bottle (1 squirt of soap per litre).  Avoid spraying soap into the pot (a small amount won't do any harm).  Let stand for 20 minutes.  Rinse the plant well with lukewarm water.  A moveable shower hose is very handy.  With a major infestation of aphids, a second soaping and dosing may be necessary in two weeks.  Avoid fertilizing your plants until they are bug-free.

For garden plants: Same cure as house plants above - a spray treatment with soapy water with 1 or 2 applications will usually get rid of these.  Remember ladybugs love eating aphids - bring those on!

 

Cats

Want to keep cats from defecating in dry or dusty places in your garden? 

On vegetable gardens which are not yet seeded, use chicken wire fencing as a dependable cover. Once your vegetable patch has sprouted but is still not mature, cover bare areas with prickly branches or switches to discourage these unwanted visitors.  In decorative parts of your garden, or around your house walls, or under trees and decks, cover the area with sappy pine cones.  Cats will avoid getting sticky sap on their fur.  If you find tall white pine trees in your neighbourhood, and there are many in Beaconsfield, their owners will surely let you rake up piles of these for free - they produce bags of sticky pine cones all year round, with fall being the most plentiful season.

 

Slugs and Earwigs

Slugs and earwigs  love cool moist areas.  If you notice holes in your rhubarb and other leafy plants - slugs may be your problem.  To rid your lawn and gardens of too many slugs or earwigs, place grapefruit or orange peel halves in affected areas.  This creates a cool resting place for them to gather under.  Each morning lift up the peels, checking your catch.  Slugs can be snipped in two or stomped and then composted.

Earwigs can be treated like ants or collected like slugs.  Shake earwigs into a jar of soapy water or onto the pavement for grape stomping practice.  

 

Spiders

Do weekly spider egg hunts. Check hidden protected corners, vacuum or  spray the eggs down with the hose and stomp, stomp, stomp. Remember that spiders devour many types of undesirable insects. 

 

White Grub

Are white grubs (beetle larvae) damaging your lawn? Are raccoons or skunks digging up your grass up  in search of these tasty larvae ?- check out our detailed  White Grub advice page!

Looking for info on other insects?  Try these resources:

Montreal's Botanical Garden:  Insect Pests and Diseases
Winnipeg Bug Line
Environment Canada in the Atlantic Region:  Non-pesticidal Control of Insects

Your children can be involved in pest-removal practices.  They are observant and will soon find the ant runs, aphid-covered plants, or where the worst slug damage is occurring.  Perhaps they will pick the caterpillars and greenfly off the roses for you too. 

For professional help or sources of organic pest control products, check out our list of locally available Organic Gardening Products and Services.

Companion planting

Some plants do better when in the company of other plants. Companion planting uses this knowledge to increase plant performance. Companion planting involves planting flowers, herbs or vegetables to repel or trap harmful insects. It also includes using plants to attract useful insects which prey upon harmful insects. Many gardeners use companion planting as a way of reducing chemical insecticide use. For specific suggestions of plants, visit  Winnipeg Bugline Companion Planting for Repelling Insects.

 

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Useful weeds

Many plants we call weeds can be used for various medicinal purposes. Check these out. 

 

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