I enjoy nature and try to welcome it as much of it as I can into my garden. Sometimes, however, this leads to a bit of conflict when it comes to my vegetable garden. When the birds eat the bugs, I adore them. When they eat my strawberries, we have a bit of a falling out. I enjoy rabbits in the yard, as long as the yard belongs to someone else. And gophers, even though they look like the bucktoothed, squint-eyed cousin of the hamster, are never welcome. So it was with some personal interest that I picked up “The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature” by Tammi Hartung.
The first thing I noticed about the book were the illustrations. There is artwork throughout by Holly Ward Bimba that is primitive and warm. This definitely helps in getting over the “yuck” factor when looking at things like spiders and wasps. We already know they are good for the garden, but do we have to look at them? Well, yes, we do. It’s important to get over the bugs that creep us out because oftentimes, those are the ones that do us the most good. Ladybugs are not the only garden assassins after all. Hartung informs us that the lacewing, praying mantis, soldier bug and those creepy spiders and wasps, should be very welcome in our gardens because they help take care of the pests that damage our crops. By planting crops to attract them, she claims, we will need to use even organic pesticides only in extreme problem pest outbreaks. After viewing Bimba’s delightful illustration of wasps frolicking above thyme blossoms, I’m thinking I can invite a few more to my veggie patch.
The first portion of the book deals with inviting wildlife to the garden and observing it. Hartung explains how to be a good host to our wildlife friends. By offering them food, drink and sources of protection and shelter, we learn how to make just about any local species feel right at home. I enjoyed her suggestion about keeping a wildlife journal as I have been incorporating wildlife into my garden journal for years. Much can be learned about gardening by our local wildlife. For example, I know that when the pacific tree frogs start their mating season croaking, it’s safe to start my tomato seedlings. When I hear a noticeable increase in bird song, I’m only a few weeks away from being able to set those seedlings outside. Another benefit of journaling is again, decreasing the creepiness factor. Opossums do look like giant rats as adults but are pretty darn cute as babies. Watching them cling to their mother’s back like a bunch of needy toddlers as she wanders through the yard sort of explains her haggard, ratty appearance. One is much more willing to just give her some space when you realize she got a full day of her own.
The latter portion of the book deals with methods of controlling or repelling your wildlife population so that at the end of the season, you still have some vegetables to harvest. There really isn’t anything new here and some of the suggestions I have found to be only mildly effective or not effective at all. I’ve found her suggestion of using strong scented plants like lavender or thyme to stop deer from foraging only works if they aren’t all that hungry. Using mint to repel mosquitoes is only effective if it’s constantly crushed to release the oils and only for a little while. Barrier methods and trapping do work, but we already knew that. Then again, maybe some don’t. Not everyone has grown up living in a rural location so for those folks, some of the things that seem obvious to me will be useful.
I do recommend reading this aptly titled book “The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener.” It really is about changing us, the gardeners, and not trying to change nature. And if the first half about enjoying and encouraging wildlife seems a bit stronger than the second half with deterrents and repellents, it is because it needs to be. Animals and insects already know their part in all of this. It’s the gardener that needs to change in order to make this work. We need to become a bit more welcoming and a lot more forgiving. We can share our yards with our neighborhood critters and the combination of Hartung’s writing with Bimba’s illustrations can help us find a bit more balance with nature.