To all our garden allies we say Mi casa es tu casa – My home is your home or to be more precise, Mi Jardin es Tu Jardin – My garden is your garden. Terra Nova has been building and maintaining homes for ‘beneficials’ for many years. Here is our garden casa story.
As beekeepers we have installed and maintained bee hives for Terra Nova clients. The honey bee is one of the most fascinating creatures on earth and an essential member of the garden community. They provide an impressive array of services from pollination to honey making and wax production. Observing a bee hive is simply some of the best entertainment in the garden.
The honey bee is one of the better known celebrities of the bee world but we must not forget native bees. Native bees are some of the forgotten pollinators. There are around 1,500 native bee species in California. You can invite them to your garden with a native bee hotel. I gave one to my Grandaughter. She is now inviting these beneficial friends to her backyard.
As ‘Vermicomposters’ Terra Nova has built and maintained worm bins for our clients for many years. Red worms – (Eisenia fetida ) are one of the best composters. Turning kitchen waste into garden fertilizer par excellence. Every kitchen and garden should have one in our opinion.
This is a challenge to raise more worms than I have in my worm bin. There are millions in my bin and they all have names. The first 100,000 are named Sally Ann, Sally Ann the 2nd etc. the second 100,000 are named Billy Bob, Billy Bob the 2nd and so on. My secret? Giving them plenty of kitchen scraps and covering them inside their bin with moistened recycled burlap coffee bags.
We have built a few chicken coops over the years. We built one for our own chicks recently. Like honey bees chickens perform numerous chores in the garden that help to close the loop. For this reason we call our chicken casa the ‘Closed-Loop Chicken-Coop’.
We dream of a world where a chickens motives are not questioned, it’s simple, they just want to scratch for weed seeds, peck for bugs and lay eggs. Watching chickens in the garden rivals the entertainment of the bee hive.
Owl boxes for both Barn and Screech owls are a recent addition to the list of homes we have built in client’s gardens. Now that is a fine way to control gophers! Building these owl boxes was the seed that germinate into this Mi casa es tu casa story in Jillian Steinberger’s brilliant mind. Thanks for the idea Jillian!
Then there’s mosquito control. How about inviting bats (Cleopatra) to your garden with a bat house? Bat’s are skilled pest control agents catching and eating up to a thousand mosquitos per hour. If that wasn’t enough this incredible flying mammal produces guano (yup, bat poop), one of the best high nitrogen fertilizers you can buy. Most bats species are endangered due to habitat loss and pesticides. Invite them in with a bat casa and a pesticide-free garden. A perfect win / win for the garden and the bat.
Blue bird boxes are next. Another opportunity to house an at-risk species that provides excellent pest control in the deal. Since Western bluebirds also have to compete with the more aggressive, introduced species like house sparrows and European starlings, for food and nesting sites. Blue bird nest boxes are a welcome haven for these blue feathered beauties.
The science of maximizing beneficial relationships
During the Permaculture class I teach at Cabrillo College we have a whole day dedicated to ‘Building Bonds with Allies’. Including these homes for beneficials is a key part of this lesson.
My iconic and beloved horticulture professor at Cabrillo, Richard Merrill always said that the study of horticulture is the study of everything. I now tell my students at Cabrillo that the study of Permaculture is the study of how everything is connected.
Bill Mollison, the co-founder of the design science known as ‘Permaculture’ once wrote,
“Design is a connection between things… Education takes everything and pulls it apart and makes no connections at all. Permaculture makes the connection, because as soon as you’ve got the connection, you can feed the chicken from the tree.” This is why Permaculture is called, ‘The science of maximizing beneficial relationships.’ Making these connections and building these relationships is what the sentiment Mi Jardin es Tu Jardin is all about.
There is a Permaculture principle that ‘Everything Gardens’. What this means is that nothing in nature works in isolation, including us humans. Everyone of us affects our environment. The challenge is to design specifically for beneficial affects. Instead of controlling everything in our gardens we can get better results if we sit back and let our allies do some of that beneficial work for us.
The trick here is to invite creatures (garden allies) whose intrinsic behavior benefits other creatures or elements in the garden ecosystem. Intrinsic = in·trin·sic is the basic characteristic of a person or thing. There is a synergy that happens when we design these intrinsic characteristics into the system.
Final notes about designing and building a garden that is inclusive.
Water and Soil
Water is important for all species of beneficial allies. They need water like that rest of us. Including a water feature (like a flow-form fountain) helps keep everyone hydrated. This is a good first welcome sign for our garden friends.
Building your garden soil is also part of building the garden casa. The life in the soil (the-soil-food-web) depends on available organic matter. Some of our most important allies are the smallest ones: the microbes! We need the cooperation of soil bacteria and fungi. Making compost to use in the garden and spraying your vegetable garden regularly with aerated compost tea and effective microorganisms, inoculating mycorrhizal fungus and adding plenty of mulch keeps your microbes fat and happy. The mulch provides homes for all the denizens of the soil (tierra). Thus we can say to the Soil-Food-Web … Mi tierra es Tu casa – My Soil is your Home.
Designing in plants that will provide forage and habitat for beneficials is a key strategy. The importance of including trees and shrubs, perennial and annual plants that offer pollen and nectar (forage) for birds, butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects should not be underestimated. Include plants that provide nesting materials and cover (habitat) for birds. You might say the garden as a whole is essentially a casa, that is, Mi Jardin es Tu casa- My Garden is your Home.
What other homes can you think of to welcome in garden allies?
To recap, our garden casa and the garden ally list looks like this…
- Bee hive for honey bees
- Native bee hotel to welcome in native bees
- Worm bin to house Red worms
- Chicken Coop for our favorite egg layers
- Owl box for both Barn and Screech owls
- Bat house for nature’s pest control agents
- Blue bird box for Blue birds
- Healthy soil for the Soil-Food-Web
- Diverse plant species for diverse life in the garden
Let us call our allies to join us as we create and tend the Garden so all may benefit from its abundance, nourishment, beauty and joy.
– Ken Foster