Sunday, November 4, 2012

Home-made Organic Pest Control for Plants

Last year I tried growing mint. I spent many hours picking caterpillars off the fragrant leaves and transferring them to other plants, but in the end I sacrificed the mint to the caterpillars and grew butterflies instead. This year I decided to try my hand at growing strawberries and I realized that I needed an effective way to get rid of pests like aphids and caterpillars if I wanted to eat any of my home grown berries.

Above: Aphid infestation on my strawberry plants. The aphids arrive overnight and cover the under sides of leaves within hours. The top photo isn't great quality, but it shows that aphids aren't particularly scary, just annoying.

I got my strawberry plants from a friend and unfortunately they each have some kind of problem so I'm probably going to have to toss the lot of them away at some stage. This turned out to be kind of a good thing 
because it means I'm a little more willing to experiment on these plants. So, spray bottle in hand I set about making a home brew to get rid of the aphids. This is what I came up with:

I filled a spray bottle with water, put in a drop of liquid soap and added about 5 drops each of lavender and citronella oils. The liquid soap is an emulsifier, which basically means that it will cause the oils to mix with the water. I've since made this home made pest repellent with dish washing liquid with no problems. I'm pretty sure any liquid soap will work for this mixture, but listen to your instincts - glittery liquid bubble bath probably wouldn't be a grand idea.
If you don't have these two essential oils on hand, there are a few other aromatherapy oils that chase off bugs, such as peppermint oil, lemongrass, lemon, eucalyptus and tea tree. The soap in the mixture also helps the oils to adhere to the leaves of the plants, making the insect repellent even more effective.

Above: Liquid soap, water, lavender oil and citronella oil, all mixed in a handy spray bottle.

As far as I can tell this mix hasn't killed the aphids, simply chased them off. I'm okay with that. I have nothing against aphids in general, I just don't particularly want them to destroy my favorite plants. This home made insect repellent is proving to be quite effective not just against aphids, but against caterpillars and beetles too. I'm not sure how bees feel about it - I'll keep an eye out and post if I spot any sickly looking bee ladies around my strawberry plants.

I've also been spraying this mix on my ornamental plants and herbs as a precautionary measure against insect problems. I'm fairly sure that it will help to prevent fungus and rot diseases too. The most effective way to use this spray is to spray liberally to dry plants, coating both the top and under side of the leaves. The plant should be dripping with the bug spray. Allow to dry and avoid washing the solution off during watering - rather water the ground around the plants directly. Apply the mixture every day until the insect problem is solved, and after that, spray about once a week to dissuade the critters from coming back.

You can also use this home made spray to discourage mosquitos and other biting insects by spraying on bare skin. You can also spray around windows and doors as a way to prevent insects from entering the home, or if you have  plants near your doors and windows, turn the plants into bug repellents by spraying with this solution.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bean's Blanket

My sister-in-law is pregnant with her first child, a boy (currently nicknamed "Bean"), so I decided to crochet a baby blanket for him. I chose a wide variety of bright colors, and though I used a rainbow sequence, you'll see that I didn't rigidly stick to a color pattern.
The crochet pattern is very easy, and works well for a baby blanket because it doesn't have lots of gaps for teeny weeny baby toes to get caught in.

Crochet Pattern for Bean's Baby Blanket:

Chain an uneven number
Row1: Work 1 SC (single chain) in 2nd ch from hook and in each ch to end. Ch1, turn.
Row 2: Working through the front loop only, work 1 SC in 1st and each ch to end. Ch1, turn.
Repeat row 2 for pattern.

I used a combination of synthetic yarns and crochet cotton. Because of the different thicknesses of the yarns, I had to be careful to use the thin cottons in a sequence (every 4th row), to avoid the finished product being unevenly weighted.

Above: Every 4th row is cotton, to keep the weight as even as possible. Not all of the synthetic yarn is the same thickness, though. Note how thick the dirty pink is (left of the middle of the photo), compared to the orange next to it. Altogether, the texture is very interesting.

Above: By turning the blanket over after completing each row, there is no '"front" or "back" on the blanket. 

To finish, I used the same stitch to make a border of 6 rows. I debated putting tassles onto the blanket but decided to leave these off, because I didn't want Bean's little nose to be tickled by them. I'm hoping that this will become a real drag-around kind of blanket.

Hope you enjoy your blankie, Bean!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

How to Prepare Carrots for Sushi

Small, sweet carrots work best for making sushi. Choose a variety that has a vivid orange color.

Above: Peel and cut the carrots into thin carrot sticks.

Above: To create carrot sticks of the same size, invest in a mandolin. This kitchen utensil really does speed up the preparation process.

Above: This is a close-up of the two mandolin blades used to create carrot sticks. The device can be set for different sized sticks.

Dissolve 200ml rice wine vinegar with 1 tablepoon of sugar and a large pinch of salt. Place your carrots sticks in an air-proof container, and cover with the vinegar solution. Keep the container in the fridge for several hours until the carrot sticks are "floppy". Rinse before use.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Succulent Bonsai Garden

My boyfriend gave me a bonsai for Christmas a few years ago. It was a good choice for a beginner bonsai keeper like myself, because it's a tough succulent that has a tenacious grip on life. It's called Crassula Sarcocaulis, though it's commonly known as Bonsai Crassula. If you're considering starting bonsai keeping, I'd recommend starting with Crassula.

Above: Crassula Sarcocaulis. Like all succulents, Crassula grows from cuttings. Each of those little branches could potentially be a future bonsai. 

I kept the succulent bonsai in its original dish for a year or so and then decided to give it a new home as part of a miniature garden. I began by taking the bonsai dish and placing it in a large planter dish (the bowl that catches the water below a pot plant). Then I filled the area around the bonsai pot with soil and added a few succulent cuttings. The result was a two-tiered garden, which you can see in the picture below. After about a year, I decided that I'd prefer the miniature garden to exist in only one dish, the larger planter dish.

Above: Equipment ready. Planter dish, plants, soil (under table), spray bottle and chopsticks (in my mouth. I'm still practicing the whole "being normal" malarky. Sometimes I forget...)

Above: Close-ups of some of the succulents and cactii for the miniature garden. I bought these from a couple at the Porter's Market in Tokai. They had a variety of interesting plants for sale at decent prices. Each plant has its own unique needs with regards to watering and fertilizing. Caring for a miniature garden is much the same as caring for a normal sized garden, except that everything is done on a much smaller scale.

I spent a while looking for inspiration online, but it seems that miniature gardens of this type are quite rare, so I fell back on the classic guideline of, "I'll put it where I want to."
I emptied out the planter dish and poured in a thin layer of fine gravel. I placed the uprooted bonsai into the dish and then filled the dish with potting soil, placing rocks around the base of the tree. I then tamped down the soil around the bonsai's roots pretty well. I didn't want any air channels to be caused by eroding soil, as the air would just dry out the roots.
After that, I started planting, using chopsticks to dig holes, place the cuttings into the holes and then cover the roots with soil. A lot of the cuttings were tiny, and the chopsticks gave me more control than fingers would. Eating utensils, gardening tools, same difference.

Above: The finished result. I placed rocks around the roots of the bonsai to support the soil and create a little "hill" for the tree to live in. I used moss to create a grass-like effect around the base of the bonsai.

 Above: About a year after planting, needing another trim. I've added a few plants, removed others and moved one or two to better spots.

 Above: I may have gone a bit OTT (Over The Top), my favorite method of doing anything. I love all the different colors in this one tiny pot. It really tickles my crazy bone.

Above: The miniature succulent bonsai garden looks spiffing on our porch table, and is a talking point for visitors.

Logically, moss and succulents shouldn't be able to thrive in the same container, because moss likes to be moist and cool, while succulents like to be dry and hot. But... life's too short for logic, so I did it anyway. I water mostly with a spray bottle, so I can control how much water each area gets. The different plants all thrive.
One of my favorite things about this bonsai tree is that it flowers almost all the way through summer with tiny, scented white blooms. The trunk is steadily becoming thicker, so over time it will eventually achieve a stumpy bonsai trunk.

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