Tag Archives: permaculture

DIY Insect Hotel

Insect hotels are an easy way to create habitat for beneficial insects in or near your garden. It’s basically the same concept as a bird house but for bugs instead. You can make yours to help attract solitary bees, wasps, predatory beetles, lacewings, hoverflies and more. These insects play an important role in your garden’s ecosystem, pollinating plants, and feeding on pests. 

To get started I’ll discuss the insect hotel I made as an example. It is made entirely from scrap and natural materials. The outside is scrap plywood and tin and the compartments are filled with bamboo, a log with drilled holes, pine cones, sticks, bark, hay, and bricks. What you make yours from is up to you. You can utilize what you have to create something fairly rustic like I did or get real fancy.

Materials

The bamboo and logs with drilled holes were added with solitary bees and wasps in mind. They both use or create holes, frequently in woody material, to lay their eggs. Predatory beetles and hoverflies can find places to hide and over winter among the pine cones, sticks, and bark. The hay provides good habitat for lacewings and the bricks add larger holes for spiders and other insects to use.

The most important part is add a mix of materials. Think about all the crevices and spaces you normally find insects in and mimic these in your design. If you’d like to attract a specific insect to your garden you can also search for its habitat preferences. Does it like cool damp places close to the ground? Or sunny, dry places up high?

It’s okay if your insect hotel is completely different from the one I created. Just as there’s a wide variety of insects that could use a helping hand there’s a wide variety of habitats you can use your insect hotel to create. A quick Pinterest or Google image search will turn up hundreds of inspiring ideas to help you create something that fits your needs. People have made giant insect towers from stacked pallets and little painted boxes that hang on the wall or fence. You can use hollow logs, stacked cinder blocks, or old terra-cotta pots to stuff with material. 

Construction

To put mine together I measured and then cut the plywood using a circular saw. From there I screwed the plywood together to form a box using some screws leftover from another project. Then I decided to add more plywood to create small compartments or shelves so I could easily add different types of material. I found a perfect size scrap piece of tin that I hand for the roof and screwed that on as well. I haven’t yet, but I need to staple on some scrap chicken wire I have to hold in loose materials like the pine cones. This will also allow me to stuff the materials in tighter.

If you don’t have access to power tools think about ready made containers you could use rather than building a box like I did. Maybe you have an old wooden crate handy or could use an old pot, block, or hollow log like I mentioned above.

Tips

There are a few general ideas that can help you make the most of your insect hotel. First while some insects like damp conditions you might still consider putting something that sheds water on the top. That way your materials will last longer and even if it sits directly on the ground you can keep the upper layers dry for certain species. 

Secondly it’s best to use compostable or recyclable materials. Your insect hotel probably won’t last forever. Building one that can easily be recycled or returned to the earth at the end of it’s use is good planning. Just because straws and pvc pipe have the same shape as bamboo doesn’t mean that they’re good alternatives. 

Consider your hotel’s location carefully. If you have a small space you might have limited choices. However if possible it’s best to place your hotel where it’s sheltered from some of the prevailing winds. If you like bees you may also want to look for a sunny location as they rely heavily on the sun for warmth.  

Lastly don’t stop with just your insect hotel’s structure include some “landscaping” for it too. Insects are more likely to utilize your hotel if you add features around it they like. You can plant a flower mix around it, add a lot of mulch to that area of your garden, let the nearby grass grow tall, or add a place for them to access water.

Insect hotels are a great weekend project. They’re a quick and easy way to help your garden and the natural world. They’re also an excellent project to get kids involved with. Remember that you can make an insect hotel with anything you have on hand, there’s no right or wrong way to make one, and even if it comes out a little wonky it’s okay. The bugs don’t care if you measured everything perfectly!

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Adding Perennials to Your Vegetable Garden

When planning our gardens we often think of annual food crops. Plants like peppers, tomatoes, cabbages, and sweet corn come to mind first and are the powerhouses of most backyard gardens. However perennials are an excellent addition to any garden. There’s a lot more to perennials than just their longer lifespan.

Why Grow Perennials

You can increase your food production.

Perennials can increase the amount of food you produce and therefore decrease your environmental impact. They’re often some of the first foods up in the garden and sometimes the longest producing. Plants like rhubarb, chives, and salad burnet will help fill your plates with local food when most of your annuals are still just tender seedlings.

They require less work.

Growing more perennials means less time spent starting plants each year. Just keep the weeds back, provide basic care, and enjoy your harvest.

Many perennials require less water.

As they grow for more than just one season they are generally able to develop deeper, more extensive root systems than annuals so they’ll need less careful watering.

They’re better at gathering nutrients.

Another advantage of their well developed root systems, perennials are often able to access nutrients from deep in the soil that annuals cannot. Perennials help bring these to the surface for them and the plants around them.

They improve soil structure.

Their root systems even help improve soil structure which helps not only them but any annuals that you grow near them. The soil health also improves because it’s not being disturbed each year. Nutrients are added through a top down system as parts of the plant die back or you add mulch around them. This process is just like what happens in a natural ecosystem.

How to Get Perennials

Perennials don’t have to be expensive! Browsing catalogs and visiting your local garden store can lead you to the impression that a garden full of perennials is going to be an expensive one. It’s doesn’t have to be though. Many perennial plants are easy to start from seed or divisions from existing plants which can sometimes be acquired for free or cheaply from friends, neighbors, or your local garden club. Ask around!

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange offers many perennial plants and seeds that can get you started without a big investment. Below are just a few of the perennials SESE offers that are easy to add to your garden.

Chives

Adding a lot of flavor with little effort, chives are super hardy, beautiful, and easy to grow. Plus once yours get established it’s easy to divide your plants and they make a great gift.

Rhubarb

Though not a true fruit, rhubarb is the first fruit like food you’ll be able to get locally each spring. While many garden centers only sell rhubarb plants they’re actually quite easy to grow from seed. You can find a great post on growing rhubarb here.

Perennial Onions

For some, growing a patch of perennial onions is enough to supply all their onion needs without having to start tons of onions from seed each year.

Thyme

Thyme makes and excellent perennial ground cover with the added benefit of smelling nice and being edible.

Salad Burnet

Often said to taste like cucumber, salad burnet will come up early and feed you long before any actual cucumbers will be available.

Ginseng

A highly sought after medicinal, ginseng takes awhile to grow but is well worth the wait!

Sage

Sage is both edible and medicinal and simple to grow from seed.

Oregano

On top of being a commonly used culinary herb, oregano’s small white flowers also do a great job of attracting pollinators.

Garden Huckleberry

These dark blue berries are one of the few berries that are easy to grow from seed and they make excellent jam. You can read more about them here.

Echinacea

This flower has a lot going for it. Echinacea is not only beautiful but a great species for attracting pollinators and it’s highly medicinal.

Lemon Balm

As a member of the mint family, lemon balm gets established and spreads so easily you may actually want to make an effort to keep it contained.

Don’t be afraid to add a few perennials to your garden this year. They’re quite affordable and have many benefits. Even if you decide you need to change your garden layout most can be transplanted without harm later on.

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Property Planning with Permaculture Zones

Many permaculture enthusiasts choose to design their garden and property based on a zone system. The premise of this system is to layout your property in as efficiently as possible. Using this method to plan ahead can help ensure your property is easily accessible and productive. Even if you live on a tiny, already established property you can still utilize permaculture zones to help organize your garden or farm.

Typically there are 6 different zones with zone 0 being the home. While there is certainly variations based on personal needs and property characteristics often zones 1-5 go from outward from the house 1 being the closest and 5 being the farthest. Areas in a zone 1 require the most frequent care while zone 5 requires no maintenance.

Zone 1

Zone 1 is typically the closest to the home or areas you visit most frequently. For this reason features in zone 1 should be those that you use most frequently or need the most care. Good examples include small greenhouses or cold frames which house tender seedlings or have to be carefully monitored, culinary herb gardens, worm farms for processing kitchen scraps, etc.

In this example zone 1 is a small area around the southern side of the home containing a worm farm, small hoop house, and an herb and salad garden.

Zone 2

While it may not be accessed quite as frequently as zone 1, zone 2 is probably where you’ll grow the last majority of your food. Zone 2 areas typically include things like perennial plants, annual vegetable plantings, and food forests with a combination of plants, shrubs, and trees. Other items often located in a zone 2 include compost bins, chickens coops, beehives, ponds, and potting sheds.

In the example zone 2 has a food forest with smaller sized fruit trees, annual plants, and perrenials all intermingled. It also features a duck coop and small pond.

Zone 3

Zone 3 can still be productive agricultural land but needs less tending than zones 1 and 2. These areas may include livestock pastures, orchards of larger fruit and nut trees, and possibly large areas of staple crops.

In the example there’s and large fruit and nut orchard that partially extends around the southern side of the home to offer shade in the summer as well as a wheat field.

Zone 4

This area is a lightly managed piece of the property. It can be used for foraging, encouraging or growing woodland medicinals and mushrooms, harvesting timber or firewood, and even occasional grazing.

For this is example zone 4 is used to harvest wild mushrooms and firewood as well as cultivate a woodland medicinal herb patch.

Zone 5

This is your wilderness area. It’s typically left untouched and pristine for the benefit of wildlife, nature, and your enjoyment and recreation. For many zone 5 will be the farthest away from your home, a place to take relaxing walks but not necessarily visited as frequently as areas that require management. On the other hand some may choose to have a section of zone 5 extend right to their house to offer more frequent opportunities to observe and enjoy nature.

 

If you have a property of any size you can utilize some of the permaculture zones planning method. Breaking your property into sections can help ensure you create a space that’s productive, functional, beautiful, and good for wildlife.

 

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