Our home gardens in the neighborhood provide support and habitat for birds and insects. Choosing certain plants that support these “friends” can help you keep the “foes” of your garden to a minimum. After spending time and energy getting your kitchen garden a.k.a. “Victory Garden” installed, there is nothing more frustrating that seeing crops being stressed by pests and impacting the harvest you have worked so hard to achieve.
Plant stress and insect damage can be minimized by building your soil, paying attention to the health of your crops, and keeping a diverse mix of plants in the edible garden. Working to attract pollinators and beneficial insects can also help decrease the chances of a pest infestation. Why not let the good guys eat the bad guys? (instead of turning towards chemical warfare)
Planting flowers interspersed with your vegetables is one way to encourage pollinators. I like to use only edible flowers in my raised garden beds. That way I know I can pick any of them to use in my cooking without having to remember which were edible and which were not.
Kitchen gardens are also enhanced by using herbs planted in among the vegetables. Different herbs will bolt at various time points in the season and can be left to flower as additional pollinator attractions. Chamomile is a great perennial plant (comes back every year) and both the flowers and the greens can be used fresh or dried to make tea. Cilantro does well in the spring and fall here in Seattle, but bolts in the heat. This plant produces ripe seed pods you may also know as coriander.
For edible plants that produce “fruits” like eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, and squash, pollinators are a critical part of the production life cycle. These types of plants have flowers (both male and female) that need to cross pollinate in order to make the vegetable that we want to eat. Without that transfer of pollen from male to female flowers the plant will not set fruit and provide those delicious items you have been waiting for! Selecting additional flowers for those parts of the garden can increase your pollination chances.
Borage is easy to grow and flowers throughout the season. Bees love those blue flowers! Nasturtiums are another easy-to-grow edible flower that adds a pop over color to the garden beds when tucked in between fruiting plants. Both of these plants are annuals (only live one season) but I have found that they easily self seed, and given our mild winters, they will often produce again the following year without replanting.
Birds and bees need a consistent water source during this hot dry time of the year. You can support them by building a bird and/or bee bath in your yard and keeping it filled with fresh water. Bird baths are self explanatory but bees need a shallower place to land.
Build your own bee bath by finding a small container and filling it with marbles or stones. Fill the container with water so that only the tops of your marbles or pebbles are exposed. This will provide a safe landing spot for the bees when they come to drink.
Next time you are walking in the neighborhood see if you can spot these interplanting techniques or a bee bath. Many raised beds have been placed out on parking strips this year, so see if you can spot pollinator habitat being placed near fruiting plants!
Hope you are all enjoying this lovely weather and getting Good to Grow!