Fresh Smoothies To Ward Off Deer

Garlic, Lemon Balm, and Mint, Oh My

A reader is curious about my garlic water deer repellant, as well she might be. Like so many of us, she has tried many things to keep deer from eating her plants. So far, she has experimented with spraying everything from eggs to mint and garlic on her plants, but finds the eggs clog her sprayer. She has also put up bars of various kinds of soap deer are not supposed to like, and is now using a commercial spray, but wants to make her own more successfully.

Well! So glad you asked! Gardeners have struggled with garden pests for centuries, and some of their time-tested techniques are still viable today. Some of those solutions were too dangerous to perpetuate, however; there was plenty of fatal stuff in every Victorian garden, from foxgloves to datura. When dealing with garden pests, gardeners mostly stuck with the classic four deadly plants; hellebore, aconite, nicotine, and hemlock. Extracts of all of these noxious plants were cheerfully sprayed on everything from rose bushes to rutabagas to kill off cutworms and caterpillars, slugs and snails, molds and mildews, or whatever was giving trouble at the time.

Sauce For The Goose

Eventually people began to notice that folks who used these sprays often ended up as dead as the pests they were fighting. That’s not surprising, since heritage pesticides often included mercury and arsenic as well as strychnine, nicotine, and copper. As for deer, they had many a trick, including ha-has, deep trenches with steps going in and out that people could use but small hooves could not manage. A ha-ha served to keep deer (and cattle) out of the garden and safely in the distance, where they could be decorative but not destructive. My yard, sadly, is too small for a decent ha-ha, but on acreage, they are still an excellent means of critter control.

My own yard is visited daily by a small herd of deer, and despite all the published lists of plants deer don’t eat, wherever deer populations are high, there are very few plants that won’t be browsed. For years, I planted the outer areas of my gardens with strongly scented foliage plants, finding that deer rarely ate them. These days, I’m noticing that, while adult deer seldom graze on intensely flavorful herbs like scented geraniums, rosemary, and lavender, young deer will eat anything, at least for a while.

Distracting Deer Denizens

I can’t promise that my advice will rid you of their presence, but I can offer some ideas for making deer and other pests less welcome. As an example, Victorian critter chasers consisted of slim wands like fishing rods, with twine that held a potato stuck with feathers bobbing at the end. They used fly paper in greenhouses and in vegetable gardens to capture aphids, thrips, and whitefly, and painted wooden apples red, then coated them with glue and hung them in orchards to catch apple maggots, all of which work very well indeed even today.

For deer, Victorians who couldn’t afford brick or stone garden walls made wooden fences just as the Romans did, using a series of poles in 3 heights (5- 6- and 7-feet) set 6 inches apart. (Prince Charles has one at Highgate). Today, we have many kinds of deer fencing, from heavy duty netting to stockade wire as well as wood. Where fencing is impractical, we can try an ever-changing array of tricks to keep deer away. They quickly habituate to whatever we use, so it’s most effective to rotate several different techniques. Some folks swear by smelly repellants, from soap to human hair to stinky clothing dryer sheets and rotting salmon.

He Could Pee On That

Male predator urine is generally very effective. Bottles of wolf or coyote urine are inhumanely collected from caged animals, but many of us keep male predators around the home. Teenaged boy pee works best, and they often think it’s hilarious to whizz around the garden. It turns to nitrogen, so that’s all good. Collected pee can be placed in plastic flower bud picks, with a piece of cotton rope for a wick, and set around the garden, a charmingly intimate touch.

Deer love strawberries and I have experimented with many ways to keep deer out of my berry beds. One of the more successful techniques I’ve used is to buy big bargain-sized packets of skinny bamboo kebab skewers and poke them thickly, pointy side up, in amongst the berries. It works even better if you thread some of the stinking dryer sheets on the skewers.

Salt Licks Or Bitrex?

Some folks place salt licks at property edges to entice deer away from their gardens. Other people keep aggressive male dogs, but I’ve found that a commercial Scarecrow (a racheting, water-spraying device) is very effective if you move its stake often. (Otherwise deer get used to it and chow down anyway.) Also Skydd, a spray made from blood meal (sourced from bound-for-steak-steer, not mad cows) really works. Finally, I’ve had excellent results using bittering agents which make plant foliage smell and taste bad to deer.

Bitrex spray is mixed with a clear latex carrier that coats stems and foliage. Repellex systemic tablets are placed in soil when planting, repel not only deer but rodents, gophers, rabbits and other herbivores, providing up to two years of protection for roses, lilies, and so forth, according to field studies performed at Rutgers and other testing institutes. As an added bonus, the best antidote to the bitter taste (which transfers readily to hand and mouth) is chocolate!

Chocolate Is Always A Plus

Con: It takes about a month for the bittering agents to enter the plant’s system fully. Thus, bulbs, roots, shoots, and foliage may need physical protection during that window of vulnerability. Also, if not used according to package directions (tablets inserted about 3 inches into the soil), the product may not be as effective. In addition, if this extremely bitter stuff gets on your hands, it inevitably reaches your mouth, where it can take a day or two to wear off, Chocolate! More chocolate!

In the meantime, you can try my deer-away recipe. I use lemon balm because I’ve got groves of it, but spearmint works too. The soap acts as a surfactant but the eucalyptus really is deer-offensive on its own (though you can use any kind; peppermint would be good too). Straining through cheesecloth stops the clogging, and the remains can be strewn around strawberries or other favored plants.

Deer Away Spray

10 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 cups fresh lemon balm, coarsely chopped
2 cups spearmint, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap
(any kind, though eucalyptus seems especially good)

In a food processor, grind garlic and herbs with a few tablespoons of water to a fine slurry. Add enough water to make it pourable and transfer to a gallon jug. Fill with water, add soap and let stand overnight. Strain through cheesecloth and spray around the edges of the garden and on deer-nibbled plants. Renew every few days or if it rains (if it ever does again).

Good luck!

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Early Heat Makes For Gardener’s Bliss

Early Blueberries, Tomatoes & Peppers & A Birthday Cake

In all my years of gardening, I’ve never picked ripe raspberries, strawberries, snap peas, blueberries, tomatoes and peppers on June 15th before! This June has been amazing, with sun and warmth almost every day; it’s like living in Oregon, Land of Real Summer. True, my plump and tender peas are fleeting fast thanks to the uncommon heat, but tomatoes already?

My first tomatoes came from the Ketchup ‘N Fries grafted combo. Both the plants in pots and those in the garden are flourishing equally and both are boasting a few ripe fruit already. My other ripe tomatoes came from a grafted Black Cherry, which is loving this sunny June. Bright and tangy, these little guys are blissful in salads or halved cut-side-up onto pizza. Later on, I’ll roast them with spears of Fioretto 60 stick cauliflower, skinny broccoli-like wands tipped with dainty little cauliflower-ettes. Stick cauliflower is also of course a natural for dipping into pesto, hummus, or baba ghanouj…

Bobcats and Soul Food

A big-guy slicer tomato called Bobcat also has lots of fruit set but they aren’t ready yet. Territorial calls this one the “prime rib” of the beefsteak crowd and I am excited to try it in salads and sandwiches. (BLTs made with heritage tomatoes, Morningstar fake-bacon, red Romaine, and some red onion are my all-time favorites.) Most years, big tomatoes are a big disappointment in my chilly garden, but this year, it looks like Bobcat has an excellent chance of taking first prize in the garden and in my kitchen.

My early peppers are from Alma, a dense little paprika that ripens from white to cream to butter to hot red. So far, I’ve tried them through the first three stages, sliced into salads and tucked into sandwiches, and they are awesome at every one. The flavor is lively and sweet with a hint of heat, increasing a bit as the peppers ripen. I’ll definitely let some go clear to red for drying and grinding into sweet paprika, which gives that bold, deep umami savor to vegetarian and vegan dishes. Alma means “soul” in Italian and this pepper’s got it for sure.

It’s not odd to have ripe strawberries in June, of course. My favorites are still my Marshalls, the most succulent of any I know. Their sweetness is tempered by a delicate floral spiciness that lifts them far above the saccharine to the sublime. I tossed some in a simple salad that was declared ‘heavenly’ by my guests; here it is:

Strawberry Sugar Snap Salad

2 teaspoons avocado oil
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
pinch of sea salt
2 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 cup chopped sugar snap peas in pods
2 cups young red Romaine lettuce, torn in bits
1/2 cup ripe strawberries, quartered if large

In a serving bowl, whisk together the oil, lime juice, maple syrup and salt. Add green onions and peas and toss gently to coat. Let stand 10 minutes, add lettuce and strawberries, toss gently and serve. Serves 2, maybe 3 (if the 2 are feeling generous).

A Good Raw Deal

I love raw asparagus salads, especially when they are given time to mellow a bit. This one is magical, a perfect side for an omelet and crunchy, buttery toast.

Raw Asparagus, Sugar Snap and Raspberry Salad

12 stalks asparagus, ends snapped
1 cup chopped sugar snap peas in pods
1 cup thinly sliced white button mushrooms
1/4 cup chopped WallaWalla sweet onion
1 tablespoon avocado or fruity olive oil
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (taste as you go)
pinch of sea salt (to taste)
few grinds of pepper
1 cup ripe raspberries
2 tablespoons toasted pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)

Slice asparagus very thinly on the diagonal and combine in a serving bowl with all remaining ingredients except raspberries and pepitas (add lemon juice a little at a time). Let stand 15-20 minutes, then add raspberries and pepitas, toss gently and serve. Serves 2-4.

A Summery Birthday Cake

My delicious grandson just turned two, and we had a little party together. I made him this luscious cake (which I adapted from Dory Greenspan’s recipe) and topped it with whipped cream and raspberries. He blew out his fat little ’2′ candle, and when I turned to get the plates, he promptly swiped a heaping handful of raspberries and cream and smeared it all over his face. Happy birthday indeed!

French Birthday Cake

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup finely ground toasted almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup coconut sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup avocado oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a heavy 9 x 2 inch round cake pan and set it on a baking sheet. In a bowl, combine flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt, set aside. In a smaller bowl, combine sugar and lemon zest, rubbing between your fingers until fragrant and well blended. In a large mixing bowl, combine yogurt, eggs, and vanilla and blend very well. Add dry ingredients, then gently fold in the oil with a rubber spatula (batter will be very thick). Scrape it into your buttered pan and smooth top lightly. Bake (still on that baking sheet) at 350 F until set and golden-edged (35-40 minutes). Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, invert onto a flat plate then flip back onto the rack to cool completely. When cool, slice cake in half horizontally and spread middle with whipped cream, lemon curd, or whatever. I used my last jar of raspberry jam in the middle, which tasted lovely. Serves at least one.

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Curing Diseases With Tailored Composts

The Art Of Bespoke Composts

Compost gets a lot of respect these days, and rightly so; good compost truly can be ‘garden gold’. In Victorian times, when head gardeners oversaw a flock of helpers, composts were carefully blended to suit specific plants. Their semi-scientific approach could involve a wide range of base materials, from wood ashes and local oak leaves to bird guano hand-dug from lonely island bird colonies half a world away. (Now there’s a job to contemplate.)

When cheap labor vanished in the wake of world wars, gardens and their care both simplified. The rise of chemical fertilizers (developed to use post-war munitions ingredients) left compost far behind. Once considered the realm of cranks and crackpots, today, the art and science of composting has gained more credence than ever. Organic growers certainly know its value, as does the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which has publicly recognized the power of constructed composts to assist in disease control or suppression for both plants and animals.

Composts That Cure

Recent research has developed in several directions, from farm and garden uses to native plant propagation to recycling dead chickens and other farm animals into disease-free, nutrient-rich composts. The ability of certain composts to destroy pathogens has also been explored, leading to what are called tailored or bespoke composts that can combat specific plant diseases. Root rots rank high among crop disorders, annually destroying over ten percent of American field crops. Add wilts, mildews, molds and blights to the list and that loss creeps higher still. These same issues vex home gardeners as well, so it’s good to know that mature compost can reduce or eliminate these pathogens as well or better than toxic chemical “fixes”.

How? A well constructed, complex compost offers a lively blend of beneficial soil biota that can out-compete the pathogens by capturing a the lion’s share of local nutrients. Some beneficial soil micro-organisms also create natural antibiotics that target pathogens, while others still simply eat them. As well, certain soil dwellers somehow trigger usually inactive disease-resistant plant genes so plants become better able to defend themselves. And that’s just the beginning.

Tailor Made Composts

Researchers have learned that these natural disease-fighting qualities can be boosted by adding specific micro-organisms and/or their preferred nutrients to compost blends. When these finessed composts are used on disease-prone crops, growers need little or no additional pesticides, fungicides, or nematicides to keep crops healthy. Compost also boosts the soil’s ability to retain water, reducing irrigation needs and costs. That keeps irrigation water cleaner, reduces worker exposure to nasty chemicals, and results in less contaminated food with higher nutrient quality. Since chemical soil treatments like methyl bromide are costly in many ways, eliminating their use with an annual application of compost is a win-win.

Ohio State University’s Dr. Harry Hoitink has led the tailored compost revolution for decades. His carefully created composts have defeated Pythium and other root rots while boosting crop yields dramatically. Hoitink often works with commercial growers on huge scales, but much of his work can be applied to our own backyards. For instance, Hoitink advocates composting field crop “waste” and reapplying it to keep the nutrient cycle as closed as possible. Similarly, we can glean and recycle as much garden and kitchen detritus as possible to increase soil health and quality.

Quality & Quantity Count

In some cases, Hoitink’s tailored composts have doubled crop yields, party through disease suppression and partly through soil enrichment. While farmers may spread 40-70+ tons of compost per acre, gardeners can get similar results by spreading 3-6 cubic yards per 1,000 square feet of bed. Where soils are depleted, sandy, rocky, or clay based, apply 3-6 inches of compost annually, preferably half in early spring and half in autumn.

Quality counts for a great deal, naturally enough. It is especially important that compost be mature when applied, neither elderly and inert nor still raw and hot enough to burn tender plants and roots. Mature, complex compost can heal soil, nurture plants, and significantly bolster plants’ disease resistance to root rots, nematodes, and foliar disorders. Indeed, in Florida field tests led by Dr. Tom Obreza, rootknot nematode damage stopped literally on the line between compost-treated and untreated plots.

Compost For Bioremediation

If your property has run-off issues, compost can be your new best friend. Compost bioremediation can capture and retain stormwater and even heal soils contaminated with agricultural or industrial residues, thanks to its ability to degrade VOCs (volatile organic compounds). That’s because mature and cured compost is packed with lively biota that can capture and degrade or digest soil and water contaminants in water. Tailored composts can even consume soil, water and air contaminants, from pesticides and petroleum products to solvents, chlorinated hydrocarbons, wood-preserving chemicals, heavy metals, and even certain explosives.

In our own backyards, spreading a thick (8-12 inch) layer of hog fuel (rough, pre-composted wood waste) can start the remediation work. A shallow ditch filled with hog fuel will halt most water flow, but if the runoff volume is high, deeper ditches or swales may be needed. To complete the cleanup, redirect excess runoff into a rain garden top-mulched with mature compost.

Why It Works

The basic science behind soil and water remediation with mature compost is fairly simple. Fresh or “raw” organic material is nutrient rich, so both beneficials and pathogens thrive. Well fed beneficials don’t release natural antibiotics until food resources dwindle, so plant pathogens can cause more diseases without that natural check. Mature, cured compost offers fewer nutrients, so the beneficials pump out the antibiotics to keep competition down, which in turn keeps plants healthy. When the compost gets old or is used up, the balance shifts back to helping pathogens prosper and plant are again under attack. To keep the balance steadily in that middle ground, we can apply compost once or twice a year, depending on our soil and plant needs.

Amazingly, this whole shifting process is managed by biotic backchat. “We are learning that during this process, microorganisms communicate with their environment and to some extent with each other,” Hoitink noted in an interview with Gene Logsden. “We call it ‘quorum sensing.’ Pathogens interact with biocontrol agents by signaling each other through molecules. The more stable the organic matter, as long as it has not been stabilized to the humic acid form, the greater the interaction, or perhaps, the better the communication.”

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A Plethora Of Peas

A Summer Shower Of Snow Peas And Sugar Snaps

When the first local peas appear (on my deck or at the Farmers’ Market), I prefer them raw. Sweet and crisp, their slight earthiness keeps them from tasting like candy. Extreme youth demands very simple treatments so the delicate pea flavor can shine through. As they get a little older, brief cooking enhances both flavor and texture, and it’s fun to embroider a bit. Right now I’ve got a boatload of peas, so here’s what I’ve been up:

Peas & Cherries, Please

This crisp, crunchy salad needs a little time to meld, so let it stand 20-30 minutes while you fix the rest of your meal. The sweet-tart cherries lift this combo past pleasant to hover near perfect. We enjoyed this salad today with whole grain sourdough toast and slices of young goat cheese made by a neighbor with a small herd of gentle critters. Stephen ages his cheeses about a month, when they are firm yet creamy in texture and mild in flavor. He coats them with red wax, which he saves for the fireplace kindling box as cheese get peeled and eaten. (I love that touch!)

Fresh Pea & Cherry Salad

16 snap peas in the pod, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/2 cup chopped pitted Rainier or any cherries
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced on the diagonal
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon avocado oil or olive oil
1 tablespoon minced mint
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated

Combine peas, cherries, celery, green onions, 1/4 teaspoon salt, the mint and oil with 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Let stand 10 minutes then adjust salt and lemon juice to taste. Let stand another 15-20 minutes and serve. Serves 2-3.

Make It Snappy

Ginger brings out the sweetness in young peas, as Indian cooks are well aware. This lovely salad leans more to the French, especially if you use long, elegantly tapered French Breakfast radishes instead of the handsome Watermelon type.

Snappy Pea Salad With Ginger Dressing

1 cup chopped snap peas in the pod
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped WallaWalla sweet onion
4 Watermelon radishes (or any), very thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley (include some stems)
2 tablespoons minced basil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Ginger Dressing (see below)
1/2 cup pea tendrils

Combine first 7 ingredients with 2-3 tablespoons Ginger Dressing and let stand 10 minutes. Adjust dressing to taste and serve, garnished with pea tendrils. Serves 2-3.

Ginger Dressing

1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger root
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1/4 cup avocado oil or fruity olive oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

In a food processor, combine vinegar, ginger and garlic and 1 teaspoon lemon zest and grind to a fine paste. Add oil slowly, then season to taste with lemon juice (start with 2 teaspoons), maple syrup, and salt. Makes about 1/3 cup.

Rice & Peas Makes Complete Vegan Protein

As South American meals often include rice and beans, Indian cooks combine rice with peas in all sorts of ways, including refreshing warm salads. This is a delightful way to use up leftover rice; aged Indian-grown basmati tastes best, but short grain brown rice is also pleasing here. Serve this hearty salad at room temperature, so the flavors can build even as you’re eating.

Curried Pea Salad With Basmati Rice

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups shelled peas
1 cup cooked basmati rice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (stems included)
1 lime, quartered

In a wide, shallow pan, melt oil with coriander and garam masala over medium heat until fragrance blooms (about 1 minute). Add garlic, onion, and salt and cook until barely soft (3-5 minutes). Add peas, cover pan and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in rice to coat well, cover pan and heat through. Stir in cilantro and serve with a lime wedge. Serves four.

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