During this time of great change on our planet, it is more important than ever to be out in nature. Did you know if you spend just 20 minutes in nature each day, your emotional and physical health and well-being will be improved? To help you get through this period of increased challenges, Earth Walkers has created a free publication: Restore Yourself through Nature. This guide offers 6 simple practices that can help you rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit. It is our hope that these exercises will assist you in reconnecting to yourself and to nature. Take care and enjoy your time in nature!
By Amy Melissa Witt
Gardening and mindfulness forge a connection to the world around us (nature, wildlife and people), which can bring us pleasure and peace. The exercise of tending to plants and the earth release endorphins (happy chemicals) in our brain. The National Health Service, in the United Kingdom, has defined five steps you can take to improve your mental health and well-being: connection with others; being more active; on-going learning; giving to others; and paying attention to the present moment. Gardening fulfills all five of these criteria.
Like creating a garden from a muddy field, mindfulness takes time and persistence. One answer is to incorporate mindfulness practice into everyday life and the garden is an ideal place to do this. The focus on the breath is replaced with the task on hand and the experience of the senses. Every time the attention wanders, there is a sight, smell, sound, touch or taste in the garden to bring the mind back to the present.
It is important to ground yourself before you start gardening. Pause a moment, as rushing out will not enhance a mindful state. How we look at our garden creates our garden, and our state of mind affects our gardening.
Nature will do things in its own time. Attempting to force change on the natural order of things is possible (i.e. forcing bulbs, season extension), but is it desirable? Nature is a universal language showing how suitable gardening is for mindfulness:
- First and foremost we must care for ourselves as we do our plants (space, light, food, water)
- We must look after the soil (our surroundings) so we can flourish
- We need time to rest (as do plants)
If we tended our bodies and minds like we do our gardens, we would be in great shape!
With all that is going on in the world right now, you might not realize that we are being provided with an opportunity to spend quality time getting intimately familiar with our yards and all that transpires in them.
If this opportunity to get close to your garden is something that you are interested in exploring, but might need some advice, Earth Walkers is here to assist you. For the month of April 2020, Earth Walkers is offering a limited number of 20-minute virtual garden consultations at no charge. You might be entertaining thoughts of planting a new vegetable garden, adding native plants to benefit pollinators and birds, or just enhancing your current landscape. While you are dreaming, plotting and planning, questions might arise. If so, contact me to schedule your complimentary virtual consultation today! Whether you are out in your garden or at your dining room table, I’ll be happy to answer your questions, assist you with any garden-related issues, or provide tips and resources.
I look forward to helping you grow your garden!
By Amy Melissa Witt
Did you know that an average garden could hold 2000 insect species, most of which are beneficial? Unfortunately, the numbers of insects are declining primarily due to habitat loss and pesticides.
Insets have very important roles:
- They eat pests.
- They are pollinators (beetles pollinate 88% of all flowering plants, more than any other animal).
- They contribute to the ecosystem.
- They are a critical food source for birds. According to a recent study done at the University of Basel in Switzerland, the world’s birds eat 450 to 550 million tons of insects each year.
One way to help protect insects and preserve their habitat is to create insect hotels. Insect hotels provide safe areas for insects to hibernate during the winter. They are created with found or upcycled materials and consist of rooms designed to meet a variety of insect habitats. Rooms are filled with natural, non-toxic and stable recycled items (pieces of clay plant pots, large pine cones, wood, bricks, straw, bamboo stakes, etc.). Many materials can be found in your own backyard, gardening shed, and local transfer or recycling centers.
Benefits of insect hotels:
- Encourage beneficial insects to help control pests.
- Stimulate biodiversity and ecological balance in the landscape.
- Structures replicate natural habitats, provide space to create nests over the summer (including beetles, May flies, hover flies, spiders, and green lacewings) and hibernate in winter (including bees, moths, butterflies, and ladybugs). Some insects will live 9 months in a hotel.
Creating an Insect Hotel
- Container needs to be open at one end closed on the other in order to hold filler (baskets, wooden boxes, small galvanized buckets, clay pots all work great).
- Pre-roll leaves and paper, glue one tube in place as cornerstone, add glue to other materials as needed.
- Put smaller containers inside large ones.
- Create curves, circles and layers.
- Pack materials in tight enough to stay in place, but not too tight that insects can’t get in.
- Sand the front as splinters can catch on bodies and injure insects.
- Bamboo, hollow plant stems, rolled newspaper (different diameters attract different species). Keep in mind that narrow tubes are more popular than wide ones.
- Cardboard – use to make or hold small tubes, corrugated cardboard has the extra advantage of small holes. (Lacewings are huge consumers of aphids and like rolled up cardboard.)
- Pine cones attract ladybugs.
- Bark and dry leaves are used by many insects.
- Straw/hay is a great insulator for hibernating insects; hollow with different lengths & widths bundled together is best. Straw can also be used as filler.
- Ornamental grass creates tunnels, provides texture, and different sizes can accommodate many insects.
- Hang the structure 5’ off ground and secure it so doesn’t shake in wind.
- Place in a sheltered, warm space, with dappled shade, surrounded by variety of flowering plants.
- Protect from birds. Some birds, like woodpeckers, attack blocked up holes looking for larvae to eat. Cover the front with chicken wire/hardware cloth if birds are around the hotel.
Hotels for Native Bees
- There are over 270 native bees in Maine.
- 30% of native bees make nests in old beetle tunnels in tree snags or similar locations.
- Most native bees need a hollow tube to a make nest.
- Need different hole sizes for different bees (leafcutter bees – ¼” wide and 2 ½ to 4” deep; mason bees – 6” deep 5/16” wide)
- Use pieces of branches or lumber to make hotels.
- Mix diameters, drill in on a slightly upwards angle so holes don’t fill with rain water, being careful not to drill all the way through (will create a wind tunnel). Be creative and drill holes in patterns.
- Vary hole sizes from ¼ – ½” in diameter, space holes at least ¾” apart.
- Holes less than ¼” diameter should be 3-4” deep; holes larger than ¼” should be 5-6” deep.
- Bee hotels need to be placed high enough (3-6’)
off the ground to keep away larvae eating ants.
- Hang in sheltered, sunny spot (not direct sun), and make sure it is level.
By Amy Melissa Witt
Best inflorescence types for beneficial insects:
Umbels – umbrella-like clusters (Dill, Queen Anne’s Lace, Angelica, Fennel, Yarrow)
Composites – tiny center flowers, surrounded by rays (Sunflowers, Daisies, Coneflowers, Cosmos)
Spikes – group of flowers arising from main stem (Lavender, Goldenrod, Hyssop)
Cups – (Evening Primrose, Buttercup)
Below is a list of some of the best plants for beneficial insects. Include as many of these plants as possible in your garden to attract, encourage, and support a broad diversity of beneficial insects. In addition to planting these plants, always allow your garden to stand through the winter months so beneficial insects have a place to overwinter.
Black-eyed Susan – Rudbeckia species
Boltonia – Boltonia asteroides
Common Boneset – Eupatorium perfoliatum
Cosmos – Cosmos bipinnatus
Culver’s root – Veronicastrum virginicum
Dill – Anethum graveolens
Goldenrod – Solidago species
Hardy Aster – Symphyotrichum species
Meadowsweet – Spirea alba
Mountain Mint – Pycnanthemum species
Shasta Daisy – Leucanthemum x superbum
Sunflower – Helianthus annuus
Sweet Alyssum – Labularia maritima
Tickseed – Coreopsis species
Yarrow – Achillea millefolium