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Garden Journal

Here comes the rain again, and the garden loves it

Afternoon thunderstorms are common nowadays, washing the air and leaving everything fresh and clean. Record rainfall brought drifting flower petals to the ground, like colorful snow, and a delighted goldfinch landed in our birdbath fluffing its feathers. Catmint and coneflowers are humming with bees – bumbles, you know, the friendly kind, the ones that ignore humans and animals.

There are more than 250 species of bumblebees ranging from tiny ones to jumbo size. White clover blooming continuously in the lawn even after mowing is one of their favorite things, so be careful to not step on them while you are frolicking in the yard. Bumblebees and white clover are such a delightful addition to your luxurious lawn, be sure to top dress in the fall with clover, as it will not only make the lawn extra-soft for tender little feet, but it puts nitrogen back into the soil and adds extra bounciness.

I was going to write about manure tea but everyone knows how great it is for growing vegetables and flowers when all of a sudden, a white moth distracted me. Those darn cabbage moths! The moth happily fluttered down to the cabbage patch, where the slugs have remodeled one of the big cabbages so it now looks like Swiss cheese. I grabbed the butterfly net and yes, I’ll admit I looked kind of silly, but I finally captured the fearsome pest. No matter how delicate and cute it might seem, the cabbage moth will lay eggs that hatch in just a few days and unleash hundreds of tiny caterpillars that can decimate all of the cruciferous plants – broccoli, kale, cabbage, and more. Well worth a few minutes of childish giggling while chasing about waving a net.

I must mention here that this year’s Japanese beetle infestation seems higher than normal; they are shredding the leaves of almost every flower, especially in the grapes, and even weeds. Beetles can make some amazingly intricate designs by leaving only the veiny skeleton of each leaf. The plant becomes stressed defending itself, and without the leaves, there is no photosynthesis going on and the plant cannot grow its flowers or fruit.

Manually shaking the beetles off each plant seems to help. Just fill a bucket with water and mild soap and add a splash of cider vinegar to do the job. I also add slugs and grasshoppers to the bucket, along with those cabbage moths and hornworms. Daily handpicking is a most effective pest management method in a small garden as is the welcome arrival of frogs. They can consume up to 10,000 insects and many slugs in one season. Their main food is mosquitoes and flies. If you see frogs and toads hopping around your garden, you should be thrilled, for their delicate ecosystem is functioning properly.

All frogs need food that is not pesticide riddled, they thrive in a moist environment with places to hide and feel safe. Children love to find frogs in the garden but please teach them to respect these creatures and leave them where they are. Sadly, toad and frog populations worldwide are suffering and are in sharp enough decline to be labeled a crisis, with many populations suffering from widespread mutations and failure to thrive. Encouraging frogs to feel welcome in the garden benefits us all.

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