Using alfalfa as a cover crop between garden plants has resulted not only in improved soil but also in hosting a variety of beneficial critters to control pests.

I love the insects1 in my garden! Each day I am excited to see the growth of the garden and who is playing in it. Last year I experimented with using alfalfa as a cover crop between my plants. Not only did this eliminate space for weeds, improve the soil, provide a wind brake, host a little shade from the Texas sun, but it provided cover for beneficial insects. I am impressed with the results, and continue to use it.

Some of the alfalfa made it through the winter, and some I replanted in early spring. Organic practices, such as abstaining from the use of chemical insecticides, is not always easy. Last year I had an infestation of the dreaded blister beetles and rather than spraying the garden with chemicals, I manually picked out what seemed like billions of these stinkers. If you have ever been hit with blister beetles you know how they can be a test of patience and resolve.

This spring I was really excited when I found a handsome crew of beneficial insects in my garden. The neighbors might have been surprised to see me with a big smile, yelling YES, bugs in the garden!” then doing a little victory dance. Maybe these critters overwintered 2, or maybe they just found the garden, whatever the case, I am grateful for their presence.

Here are some of the stars.

  • A Lady Beetle (Coccinellidae) larva. Fast moving and hard working.

Lady Beetle (Coccinellidae) larva

  • A Lady Beetle (Coccinellidae) pupa. Sessile (immobile) but still working hard, in this case working on becoming an adult.

Lady Beetle (Coccinellidae) pupa

  • An adult Lady Beetle (Coccinellidae).

Lady Beetle (Coccinellidae) adult

  • A spider taking care of a caterpillar pest. There is also another visible lady beetle larva.

Spider finds a meal

  • Here is what looks like a Robber Fly eating a Leafhopper.

A robber fly eating a leafhopper

  • These guys are ambitious. I was cutting the grass when this rather large spider came out to see if I was fit for a meal.

A large and ambitious spider

  • The invertebrates are not alone, I have other helpers too.

A toad at the buffet

I am so happy to have my Beneficial Bug Brigade. I hope they continue to enjoy their stay. :-)

What beneficials do you have?

  1. Arachnids too. 
  2. Coccinellidae adults can do this, and these specimens sure made an early appearance… 
 
 
 

Recently my home and property were targeted for aerial chemical spraying. I do not mean what many people call chemtrails. I mean the use of aircraft specially equipped to apply chemical aerosols to my home and property in order to kill things, and to do so without my consent. The aerial spaying was a violation of my liberty. We are talking about my body, my health, my family, my pets, my garden, my plants and my property. The state and county rather than protecting my rights, as it the purpose of government, acted to violate them. No government organization has a higher claim to my body and my property then I do, yet they acted as if they did. I would be upset if they had they decided to hire folks to ride flying unicorns and drop cotton candy on me simply for the violation of my liberty. There were no unicorns and what was sprayed was not cotton candy.

Not only did I not consent to the spraying but I found out about it with scarcely enough time to cover my organic garden plants, bring my in animals and shut down the A/C. Had I left the plants uncovered they would have been saturated with pesticides. Had I left the animals out they would likely have been injured or killed from the exposure. Had I left the A/C on, the unit would have drawn the chemicals into our home.

Here is a picture of one of the areas that I covered with plastic. I wrapped the sites each evening prior to the aerial spraying, and un-wrapped them the next morning.

Organic liberty garden wrapped in plastic
Even the aerial spray process strikes me as strange. I am sure that the following quotes from the Aerial-Application-FAQ2 were intended to make me feel good but it just makes me more suspicious.

These are very quiet, low noise aircraft by comparison to a commercial jet. As a result, they will fly virtually undetectable.

Why on earth would they feel it is important that the aircraft be undetectable? The document also has this comment:

Pilots for these craft fly with military spec night vision goggles.

I am sure that comment was intended to comfort me that the pilots will not crash into my home or each other, but it also seems a bit spooky. The same document mentions:

… planes will fly approximately 300 ft above the ground at 170 mph.

I am not a pilot but my understanding is that my airspace extends 500 feet from the tallest structure on my property. These aircraft do not have my permission to invade my airspace and 300 from the ground is clearly inside that range. I am not a lawyer, but I would not be surprised to find that because an “emergency” was declared these folks can do whatever they want. I am sure they were immune from prosecution if they had crashed into my property killing me, my family and my animals.

The aerial spraying was performed allegedly to reduce the mosquito population in response to an unusually high incidence of West Nile Virus. Jude Mary Horn of Denton county provided the legal lube to permit aerial spraying, against the will of the home-owners, by declaring a “West Nile Virus Health Emergency”3. According to the statistics4 there was an increase in West Nile Virus fatalities across the state in 2012, but the statistics also show there have been cases every year for several years. Clearly the pest management plan failed and continues to fail. Why not address the problem before it gets so bad that county and state leaders feel they need to declare an emergency? Did they simply want to see how people would react to having chemicals dumped on them?

If the chemicals sprayed were as described by Clarke, the company hired to perform both the surveillance of the mosquitoes and the pesticide application, then a pesticide mixture called Duet was used. Duet contains three primary components5 6. (Since there are three perhaps they should consider changing the name to trio?)

flask of chemicals7

The three components are:

Phenothrin8
Identified as being toxic to zooplankton, fish and insects including honeybees, and may be an endocrine disruptor in humans. So in addition to killing the mosquitoes, this kills other animal life that are not West Nile Virus disease vectors.
Prallethrin9
This one is identified as being highly toxic to fish and insects including honeybees. Again the toxin kills other organisms that are not West Nile Virus disease vectors.
Piperonyl butoxide10 11
This by its self seems to be only mildly toxic to the aquatic and insect life. It is used as a synergist, that is to say it is included because it prevents organisms from breaking down toxins such as Pralethrin and Phenothrin thus making the pesticide concoction more potent. It seems it may cause delayed mental development in children and perhaps other problems.12

Who knows what the full effects of the chemical combination are on humans13? In any case, the effects seem rather dire for fish and beneficial insects including honeybees.

We have established that legal measures were taken to force the spraying. We have also established that the chemicals are harmful. One must expect then, that the results of the risk-benefit analysis must have weighed heavily toward the benefit side… Sadly, no.

The aerial application of these chemicals for the identified West Nile Virus vector, Culex tarsalis and Culex quinquefasciatus mosquitoes, targets only the adult mosquitoes. I find the reported results of a 60% reduction to be highly suspect for three reasons.

  1. The company hired to perform the aerial spraying, was the same company that provided the pesticides, executed the surveillance, and analyzed the results. The results of the sampling and analysis could have far too much impact on this one company’s business for me to believe they could remain impartial.
  2. There was not proper use of control (non-spray) areas. Results should have been compared to the changes shown in control areas. Without such a comparison there is no way to know if changes in the target mosquito population were due to the aerial spraying or perhaps due to natural variations in the population.
  3. The population surveillance was far too short to take into account the mosquito life-cycle and natural variations in adult population. By sampling only right before aerial spraying and right after, one may get data only for mosquitoes that were adults during that time. There is no way to understand how the population of the target mosquitoes changed as new mosquitoes became adults especially in the absence of the mosquito predators killed by the aerial applications. Recall that the pesticides used, are known to harm fish, many of which eat mosquitoes, such as mosquito fish (Gambusia affinis) found throughout Texas15, as well as insects that eat mosquitoes16. It is important to note that surveillance was performed only for mosquitoes and not for other organisms that would be killed by the pesticide mixture. Perhaps, in the longer term, the spraying actually causes a increase in the target mosquitoes. In any case we can not know from this poor sampling.

According to the county health department report17, chemicals were dumped on my home and property for a meager 60% reduction in the target population for two days, September 2nd and September 3rd, with no examination of the collateral damage. They violated my liberties and usurped my decisions all for a pathetic 60% reduction? I can not imagine anybody would examine the issues and conclude that the aerial spraying was effective, safe or ethical. What was the real reason the this spraying was done?

What can we do?

We can do three things to prevent future harm.

  • The first is to educate our selves and our neighbors. There is a great site called www.stopwestnilesprayingnow.org. It does a fine job of exposing why this type of chemical assault should be stopped.
  • We can encourage a more effective and less harmful pest control plan.
  • Finally, we can take action to stop future spraying by working with local community leaders and petition local government. The following is a good example for North Texas. www.change.org/petitions/dallas-stop-the-spray-combat-mosquitoes-the-intelligent-way Please consider signing this petition to help support these efforts, even if you do not live in North Texas.

Please comment with your thoughts, links to other petitions, and other actions so we may all work together to fight for the our health and the health of our planet!

  1. Image used by Growing Liberty LLC with artist permission. Contact us here for more information. 
  2. Aerial-Application-FAQ.pdf Available at: http://dentoncounty.com/Heart/WNV/PDFs/Aerial-Application-FAQ.pdf [Accessed September 26, 2012].

     

  3. Denton County declares West Nile health emergency | wfaa.com Dallas - Fort Worth Available at: http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/Denton-County-wants-aerial-spraying-167107745.html [Accessed September 26, 2012].

     

  4. West Nile Virus Activity, by County and Year Available at: http://webds.dshs.state.tx.us/westnile/Default.aspx [Accessed October 11, 2012].

     

  5. duet-msds.pdf Available at: http://www.clarke.com/images/pdf/MSDS/2012MSDS/duet-msds.pdf [Accessed September 26, 2012].

     

  6. 22759Duet12pp.pdf Available at: http://www.clarke.com/images/pdf/brochures/22759Duet12pp.pdf [Accessed September 26, 2012].

     

  7. stock.xchng - science (stock photo by hberends) Available at: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/574983 [Accessed October 10, 2012].
     
  8. Phenothrin - toxicity, ecological toxicity and regulatory information Available at: http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Chemical.jsp?Rec_Id=PC34506 [Accessed September 26, 2012].
     
  9. Prallethrin - toxicity, ecological toxicity and regulatory information Available at: http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Chemical.jsp?Rec_Id=PC35755 [Accessed September 26, 2012].
     
  10. Piperonyl butoxide - toxicity, ecological toxicity and regulatory information Available at: http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Chemical.jsp?Rec_Id=PC33240 [Accessed September 26, 2012].
     
  11. Piperonyl butoxide - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piperonyl_butoxide [Accessed September 27, 2012].
     
  12. Common insecticide used in homes associated with delayed mental development of young children Available at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110210103715.htm [Accessed September 26, 2012].
     
  13. Topical Pyrethrin Toxicity Leading to Acute-Onset Stuttering… : American Journal of Therapeutics Available at: http://journals.lww.com/americantherapeutics/Abstract/2008/07000/Topical_Pyrethrin_Toxicity_Leading_to_Acute_Onset.6.aspx [Accessed September 28, 2012].

     

  14. stock.xchng - Bee2 (stock photo by rkpix) Available at: http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=606806 [Accessed October 2, 2012].
     
  15. western mosquitofish Gambusia affinis Available at: http://www.bio.txstate.edu/~tbonner/txfishes/gambusia%20affinis.htm [Accessed October 2, 2012].
     
  16. Laboratory studies on the predatory potential of dragon-fly nymphs on mosquito larvae. - Abstract - UK PubMed Central Available at: http://ukpmc.ac.uk/abstract/MED/15562955/reload=0;jsessionid=HYOhzG6BavQ9BTfnaikn.0 [Accessed October 11, 2012].
     
  17. Report-Results-from-Aerial-Spraying-in-Denton-County.pdf Available at: http://dentoncounty.com/Heart/WNV/PDFs/Report-Results-from-Aerial-Spraying-in-Denton-County.pdf [Accessed October 2, 2012].

     

 
 
 

Growing a garden is very rewarding and can help you gain personal liberty. This idea is explored in more detail in a prior article called liberty-garden. It is wonderful to experience fruits and vegetables ripened on the plant, picked moments before they are needed. It is also useful to have food available when needed and not when harvested. One great way to preserve some of our harvest is by jamming!

Here is a picture of our first real grape harvest of the year.


grapeharvest.jpg

We had smaller harvests, that could easily be consumed in one day, but this harvest is large enough that it would expire before it could be eaten by us and our neighbors1 unless we preserved some for later. The grape harvest shown above was perfect for one batch of grape jam. I used a variation on the recipe show here. The grapes were Flame grapes, a remarkably productive Vitis vinifera cultivar. Flame grapes are pipless (seedless). Jamming with them is simpler and much more fun without the pip related hassles. Without pips, it is simpler to control the cooking of the jam so it retains the greatest natural flavor.

I like things that reusable and robust. When making jam I use Luminarc jam jars. They are far simpler to use, do not need constant replacement parts and are more durable than other jam jars. I can not find them locally, but Amazon has them here. The following is a picture of three of the seven jars of jam made this batch.

jam_jars.jpg

While it is a true pleasure to eat these grapes now as jam as well as from the table, it will be especially nice this winter when the summer garden is only a memory. I also enjoy sharing the jam with friends and neighbors. I hope there is never a time when I must survive a winter eating summer jam, but if that time comes the experience and skill will be especially valuable.

Please share your jamming stories and recipes by commenting on this article here, or by using the contact us link.

  1. The neighbors politely accept a few things here and there. 
 
 
 

I love me some green manure! Specifically, I love nitrogen fixing plants like alfalfa. Do you think your only choice is to grow plants for harvest, or cover crops? Why not both?

I built a new garden space this year to add to the Liberty Garden. I use the term Liberty Garden to refer to all the outdoor space devoted to growing useful plants at my home. The new garden zone is a small raised patch surrounded by a wooden frame. It is only about twelve by six feet1, so space is precious. The plan was to completely fill up the frame as is done with square foot gardening. Well, things do not always go according to plan. When it became time to plant, I was not ready with enough plants to fill the space. In fact as I write this I still have Amaranth2 and other babies in the windowsill nursery.

Since I did not have enough plants, and because I like to experiment with things like this, I planted what I could and filled the remaining space with alfalfa. Experiment is not the right word here as there was nothing scientific about this process, a gamble would be a better term. I selected alfalfa because it has deep, robust roots to really work the soil, it is a nitrogen fixer so a nice organic nitrogen source, is non-toxic (actually rather nutritious), has flowers that attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, and other nice qualities. The following is a picture showing part of the patch.


LibertyGardenAlfalfa1.jpg

The results have greatly exceeded my expectations. The alfalfa has crowed out weeds, improved the soil and attracted pollinators as I hoped, but it has also attracted other beneficial insects such as lady bugs. You may see one or two if you look closely in the following picture.


LibertyGardenAlfalfa2.jpg

What I did not expect was a beautiful herd/swarm/crowd/abundance of really impressive spiders. I do not have any pictures of them but they could be what is pictured at the following link. They must be a hunting spider of some kind as I have not seen any web. They are bigger than the wolf spiders I typically see; these measure about the size of a silver dollar. The garden patch has been nearly pest free with these babies patrolling. The spiders must need a little cover from birds as the population has been richer when the alfalfa is not trimmed lower than one foot.

Another pleasant surprise has been how the alfalfa has provided a wind brake for the tender young plants. Once the plants get to be about ten inches tall they are able to handle the sometimes brisk wind. Until that time, they have alfalfa to protect them. The following is a picture of some sage happily thriving surrounded by alfalfa.


LibertyGardenAlfalfaSage.jpg

The net is that I am really pleased with the alfalfa test. Filling the available space with alfalfa provided all the benefits I hoped for and more.

  1. That is about four by two meters 
  2. This is the second attempt at getting hardy Amaranth babies.