Thursday, November 1, 2007

praises for beneficial insects

so last january erin schelpped out here from the coldy moldy northeast and for three months we looked at every god-awful apartment in san francisco, trying to find something that was better than the place in the mission i had been living for the past 2 1/2 years. it was a rude and ugly awakening to realize i had commited to leave what turned out to be a diamond in the rough, and that i could no longer afford to live in even the tiniest, dirtiest, sketchiest places in the mission. so in the 11th hour, i think 2 days to be exact, before we had to be out, we found a horribly decorated, stained wall to wall carpet, scrambled egg tiled, most perfect ever single family home in bernal heights, with everything, seriously everything, that we had been longing for. we moved our stuff into the garage before we even signed the lease or the painter had finished painting, made a deal with the landlord to do rent/work exchange to refinish the hardwood floors, and slept on a mattress on the kitchen floor for the first month while we sanded ourselves into carpal tunnel oblivion.

the point of this story is that one day, if you're lucky, i'll post some pictures of our darkroom in the bathroom, our shabby chic hot tub retreat guest room, our in-house art gallery, our garage studios and everything else wonderful and amazing in our house... no, no. that wasn't the point. the point was that we have a garden! a garden that has changed me and now i can't imagine living without one ever again.

our garden was mostly weeds and oddly placed bricks and dirt mounds when we moved in. we had a few largely overgrown jasmine plants and a science fiction-like monster aloe plant, some scraggly trees and a ton of horsetails. so we trimmed and pulled and dug and composted, and eventually our roommate set up a waterfall of succulents and we planted a ton of new seeds and seedlings, mostly vegetables, but a good handful of flowers because i buy a lot of those half dead 25cent plants at the hardware store because, well, i can't just leave them there so sad and lonely. so we were set, and things started to grow. a few things grew really well like tomatoes and zucchini and cucumbers and arugula. but all the leafies, especially the dark leafies were getting eaten up more and more, no matter how much soapy hot pepper yadda yadda we would put on them (of course we're organic, you know we're hippies). we couldn't figure out what the problem was until one day i realized that the cute little caterpillers that were always hanging out were getting fatter and fatter and the cute little moths that the cats would chase were getting more and more prolific. turns out those cute little caterpillers were cutworms and cabbage loopers. drats.

we weighed our options and after feeling severly emotionally scarred by putting a caterpiller in a bucket of soapy water after a book told me to, we started looking into benefical insects. we bought trichogramma wasps, which are teeny tiny little wasps that feed on the larvae of the caterpillers. they come on postage stamp sized papers that look like sandpaper, and we hung them from thread in the trees and in a few days all the little rough bits were gone from the papers and our wasps were off fighting the good fight, the collard greens and swiss chard fight. and wouldn't you know it, about a month later and our greens are growing with minimal chewed bits and we're getting ready to dig a bunch of sad stuff up, move it around and re-plant. i can't wait.

i'll be unleashing some more beneficial insects on the garden this weekend- predatory nematodes. they are supposedly the end all, be all of beneficial insects because they'll eat anything that lives in the soil and is smaller than an earthworm. they come in a sponge which you rinse in a gallon of water and then water them into the soil (i know, it's all so sci-fi). i'll let you know how that goes and keep you updated on all the rainy season gardening fun that ensues in the next few months.