#21 Tongues in Trees
Insect-based Pest Control, Invasive Plants, Madagascan Periwinkle, Australian Native Pepperberries, Children in Nature, Nature Journals
It’s our 21st!
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Good NewsIt Starts with a Trickle: Insect-based Pest Control
Permaculture Tip: Observing and Interacting with Invasive Plants
Plant Profile: Madagascan Periwinkle
Wonder: Australian Native Pepperberries
Children in Nature
Free Read: Nature Journalling
It Starts with a Trickle: exciting news for our future
Pesticides. Love them or hate them, they are mainstays for many agricultural industries. Thankfully with more and more scientific evidence supporting claims that they are more harmful than beneficial, people are looking for alternative solutions.
Harmful effects include damage to the soil biome, unintended negative impacts on insect populations and possibly poisoning our food. One of the most serious impacts is on bees. Many pesticides appear to have effects that stop bees from foraging and eventually destroy populations. This is dire news for agriculture and for us. Without these important pollinators, many of our food crops won’t produce yields that can feed us.
Here's the good news. Here you can see a Green Ant nest. These guys have a nasty sting, but their also voracious predators of their fellow insects and could present an alternative to pesticides. A recent study of more than 26 species of ant across countries such as the United States, Australia and Brazil has yielded evidence that ants are, in fact, more effective than pesticides for controlling pest insects in crops.
This isn’t a new idea. Citrus farmers in China have been using ants as pest control for centuries.
It’s really exciting to see environmentally friendly solutions like this being explored and publicised. After finding the initial article I did a google search and found that the story had been picked up by various media organisations.
But what about aphids and other honeydew-producing pests? It’s a good question. Ants farm them rather than control them. The scientists found that if alternative sources of sugar were supplied, the ants ignored these pests while still attacking other crop-damaging insects. Of course, there’s no reason why, in addition to the sugar, farmers couldn’t cultivate natural aphid predators like Lacewings to improve the efficacy of insect-based pest control.
It starts with a trickle and let’s hope that the flood of insect-based pest control leaves theory and becomes practice soon!
This week’s permaculture tip relates to Principle One: Observe and Interact
In my quest to rehabilitate the bushland on my block, I have been trying to remove non-native invasive species. One of these is the Scarlet Passionflower (Passiflora miniata). Based on that first principle I’ve decided not to put significant effort into attempting to remove it entirely.
Let me explain.
It is growing in some areas that are very difficult to access.
It is providing ecosystem services, such as feeding the birds, that would usually be provided by native species that are missing from the bushland.
It produces edible fruit.
The drier weather we are about to experience will reduce the range of this plant without me spending time.
After observing and researching I decided that my interactions with this vine will be minimal. I want it to keep providing ecosystem services and I’m hoping that we will enjoy the fruit. There’s nothing better than eating straight from the garden!
I will clear the vine in select areas where I can replace it with the native vines, many of which are host plants for butterflies. In the YouTube version of this newsletter, I explain this further so if you’re interested you might want to click here and in the description you will find the chapter on this permaculture tip.
Plant Profile: Madagascan Periwinkle
This plant is a weed in my garden, but in the tradition of the permaculture tip this week I thought it was worth showcasing. My first instinct was to remove it but my partner wrinkled his brow and suggested leaving it until we could cover the soil with something else.
I’m glad he did. For a few months it was one of only a few flowers to feed the pollinators and boy does it feed the pollinators! I rarely see the Periwinkles without a butterfly fluttering past and landing on the colourful blooms.
In its native environment this plant is a perennial and it can be kept as a perennial in tropical and subtropical zones around the world. Be warned though. It is a prolific self-seeder and can escape cultivation as it has in my garden. Gardeners in more temperate zones need not do without it though, as it can be cultivated in Spring and Summer as an annual splash of colour supported by rich green foliage.
Madagascan Periwinkle doesn’t like wet feet so be sure to plant it in well-draining soil. Flowers are more prolific in a poorer soil, so one can reap the benefits of the pretty blooms without fertilising or giving up more fertile plots.
Apart from its ecosystem services Madagascan Periwinkle has medicinal properties and has been used to treat various ailments from diabetes to cancer. It should be used with caution as there are concerns about toxicity in the unrefined components.
This week’s wonder wasn’t in the garden but the kitchen!
I decided to try experimenting with Australia’s Native Pepperberry and I was thrilled with the results.
The flavour is amazing, a true treat for the palate! It’s vibrant and alive and changes as you consume it. I simply crushed the dried berries with a mortar and pestle and started using it instead of black pepper.
I purchased this jar of dried berries by mail order as unfortunately this plant won’t grow in my climate. At this point, I’d like to assure you that I have no affiliation with the Kakadu Plum Company and I receive no benefit from using this product in this newsletter. I also receive no benefit from recommending them. I do recommend them. I’ve been ordering from them for years and I’ve always been happy with their products and services. They also ship internationally.
The flavour is much like a black peppercorn but with notes of berry and a kick of spicy chilli. It goes beautifully with camembert, fresh tomato and crackers and is lovely in homemade guacamole. I also tried it as a dry rub on slow roasted lamb but the flavour was too subtle. Perhaps because of the long cooking time, perhaps I wasn’t generous enough with the rub. I’ll try it on Roast Beef and let you know!
My recommendation? If you like camembert, try it! I’m drooling just thinking about it!
This month’s feature is Children in Nature.
My children get a lot of exposure to nature and gardening so they have developed some reluctance as they get older. Familiarity breeds contempt as the saying goes! I regularly set myself the challenge of finding new ways to get them involved and renew their enthusiasm.
A few weeks ago, I had to fill some large pots for a temporary vegetable garden while we work on the garden rooms. I didn’t have enough soil, but I did have lots of plant matter and empty moving boxes. I decided to fill each pot with vines that we had cut back before covering the plant matter with cardboard to prevent them regrowing. After filling I realised that I needed to compact the material in the pots to speed up decomposition and to give room for soil.
I called the children.
They had a glorious half hour jumping in the pots and compacting the plant matter underneath the cardboard. This was a gardening job that was novel and interesting and burned some energy! It’s also a great way to get nutrients and compost into big pots without purchasing it or waiting for heaps to mature.
Another way to get children connecting with nature is to introduce them to Nature Journalling. This week’s free read details my experience with Nature Journalling which has been very positive. It’s also something that I can share with my children and it involves the Arts! Win! Win! Win!