Prepare your garden for battle!

9b Gardens is entering it’s 4th year since inception, thus slowly starting to mature into (what I hope will be) a self-sustaining permaculture food forest. Despite my efforts over the years of establishing a host of beneficial plants such as Yarrow, Wild Carrot, Milkweed, Dill, Nastursium, Marigold and various native wildflowers; I’m having trouble attracting more beneficial insects to join my miniature garden defense army. So in this article, I’ll show you how to prepare to wage war against our gardens most dangerous invaders… the Aphids!

My choice of recruits for this mission: Coccinellidae; more commonly known as the Ladybug. Here’s some quick facts about my little soon-to-be mercenaries:

  • There are over 350 species of Ladybugs in North America alone and over 4,000 worldwide.
  • Both the adults and larvae are predators of aphids.
  • Adults consume roughly 300 aphids before it lays eggs and will consume upwards of 5,000 throughout its lifetime.
  • Larvae consume about 400 aphids during its developmental stage.
  • Adults often overwinter under fallen leaves and bark (watch your step!).
  • The larvae look like fierce tiny alligators.

I’ll be releasing ladybugs that I’ve purchased from my local Lowe’s (you can easily find live ladybugs online as well). But before I set them free to wreak havoc on the pests in my garden, I’ve gotta give my warriors a reason to call 9b Gardens their new home. 3 key things here: Food, shelter and timing.

Let’s get started with our “Ladybug Hotel”. You’ve probably already seen more elaborate bug hotels for sale or on pinterest. What I’ve created is a very quick and dirty method for housing beneficial insects.

  1. Choose a proper location and prepare the ground for the foundation if your bug hotel. I’ve chosen a spot that is central to my garden and close to plants that are known to suffer from aphid attacks. Simply lay a concrete block here.20170416_094104

2. Add more concrete blocks. Remember, I’m keeping this simple and quick! You get the idea.20170416_094740

3. Add some rocks because what bug doesn’t like a good rock! These will heat up in the sun, giving ladybugs a place to sunbathe.20170416_095226

4. Add sticks/twigs of various sizes. Throw in a few pine cones. I also added some old Wisteria pod cases to give the ladybugs all sorts of interesting nooks and crevices to hide in. 20170416_100011

5. I was running out of things to fill the concrete blocks with, so I ripped up some Mint from the ground and threw it in there. Mint seems to attract lots of beneficial insects, so I figured it couldn’t hurt.20170416_100338

6. Prepare your Ladybug warriors for battle by putting them to sleep! Store the ladybugs in your refrigerator for 6-8 hours before release. The dark and cool temperature will calm them down (but not kill them) so that they don’t fly away immediately upon release.20170416_194344

7. Spray down your new bug hotel and surrounding area with water before release. This will further encourage them to stay in the area since they’ll be very thirsty after being trapped in their container so long. Protip: throw some raisins in your bug hotel. Ladybugs love raisins. Now you’re ready to release the ladybugs!

IMPORTANT! – The release must be done AT DUSK. Fun fact: Ladybugs don’t fly at night. Releasing them at sunset will give them ample time to settle down and adjust to their new home.

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Now you’ve got your natural defenses up and ready for the battle against the dreaded Aphids! Check out the 9b Gardens Instagram page for videos of the morning after release. Spoiler alert: the Ladybugs are here to stay =)

Re-potting a San Pedro Cactus

Greetings fellow gardeners! This past weekend I decided to pick up a cactus that will hopefully produce beautiful and fragrant blooms.

The famous San Pedro cactus – Echinopsis pachanoi. I wanted to provide you guys with some quick tips on replanting this particular cactus.

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  1. Get your soil mixture ready. The San Pedro cactus thrives in a rich, nutritious soil with good drainage. This allows the roots to permeate throughout the entire container and lets water flow freely.20170402_101515Here we’re going to mix up a 50/50 mixture of composted steer manure/sand and capped off with lava rock. Choose a container with a good amount of drainage holes. I went with a dark colored container to draw in a bit more heat from the sun since cacti generally enjoy warm roots. Nothing fancy here – I like to keep things easy and cheap.
  2. Drop in some lava rock for the base layer of your pot. This will ensure you’ve got good drainage. If the roots become waterlogged on the San Pedro (or any cactus/succulent), it will most likely perish.20170402_110602
  3. As I mentioned in my previous post, wood chips are the secret sauce to my garden! I’m adding a small amount here to encourage fungal activity in the root system.20170402_110625.jpg
  4. Mix up the manure and sand really well. Gently tamp down the soil mixture around the cactus. Make sure to gently break up the rootball when transplanting. Leave about 2 inches of room for another layer of lava rock.20170402_111239
  5. Top off the container with lava rock. This helps ensure adequate air exchange can occur at the top of the roots and keeps the soil in place. Rocks also help draw in heat from the sun and retain it overnight to make the cactus feel at home. Water the container thoroughly. If it retains the water briefly and then runs out from the drainage holes, you’ve done good! Set it out in the sun and that’s it!

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