I always allow calendulas to self-seed each year throughout my garden. Their cheery blooms brighten up my days. Also known to be a great companion plant for many vegetables, the yellow and orange calendula flowers are highly attractive to pollinating insects so plant them amongst your tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and squash to ensure a bountiful crop.calendula

Weeds, weeds, weeds!

Warm sunny days and heavy summer showers make everything grow, especially the weeds.  But don't be too quick to curse them and pull them all out, there are lots of reasons to leave some of them standing.

Rather than stress over untidy vegetable beds, I leave some of the weeds to help attract the beneficial insects and shade the soil.  Queen Anne's Lace, dandelions, daisies, and yarrow, all provide shelter for lacewings, hoverflies, ladybugs, and parasitic wasps, so named because they lay their eggs in or on the caterpillars of other insect species.

I've been pleasantly surprised with the low number of potato bugs this year. In fact, I can probably count the number that I've picked off my potato plants with my two hands, well, maybe four if I had them. Normally I would be on 'bug patrol' daily to remove the intruders.

Earlier in the year, I was pondering on the reason that they hadn't returned this summer when I spotted a parasitic wasp laying its eggs in the larva of a Colorado Beetle, commonly called a potato bug. Something I'd never witnessed before, I stopped and watched for a while. It sounds gross to watch such a thing, but not as gross as squashing the caterpillar between my fingers so I stood and cheered the little garden helper on!

Queen Anne's Lace and potato plants
Let the Queen Anne's Lace grow close to your potato plants to attract the parasitic wasps.

I'm not sure if I can give him all the credit for keeping the plants clear of bugs, but I'll take all the help I can get. I wish I could say the same about my cucumber plants which are always plagued with armies of cucumber beetle, causing them to wilt earlier than I would like. If anyone has any suggestions on how to eliminate the stripy yellow menace, please comment below...I would appreciate any tips on getting rid of them.

Calendula and bee
The calendulas are a beacon to the many bees that are around at this time of year.

These are the two books that I use frequently to identify the bad insects and attract the good ones to my garden.

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The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control: A Complete Guide to Maintaining a Healthy Garden and Yard the Earth-Friendly Way

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Great Garden Companions: A Companion-Planting System for a Beautiful, Chemical-Free Vegetable Garden

 

Many so-called weeds are edible and often have great health benefits to boot. I've written before about nettles and dandelions, two 'weeds' that I'm happy to accommodate in my garden.

plantain
Plantain is a common plant that grows just about anywhere.. meadows, pastures, lawns, roadsides, gardens, and waste places.

Plantain in the first aid kit.

I've also learnt that plantain is a useful 'weed' to add to the first aid kit. I use the leaves of plantain to soothe insect bites and stings. Its natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties make it great for minor cuts and scrapes, and for skin problems such as eczema. Steeping the leaves in apple cider vinegar makes an effective spray to ease the irritating itch of a mosquito bite or the sting of a bee. For an easier solution, simply chew the leaves to make a poultice.

For many years I've made calendula and comfrey hand cream, but this year I'm using plantain leaves to make a healing salve that acts as a natural antibiotic ointment for cuts and bruises as well as a soothing cream for the skin of hardworking hands.

To make a salve, you first need herbal-infused oil. This will take a few weeks, but once finished, the rest of the process is very quick!

Since I first posted about making calendula and comfrey cream, I have learnt that it is best to use only dried herbs in infusions, as the lack of moisture content in the plant material helps to prevent spoilage.

Plantain oil is made from the leaves so pick a few handfuls, wash them gently and leave them to dry on a sunny windowsill for a day. To make calendula oil, use the petals from flowers that are fully opened, but still looking good.

Once dry, place the leaves or flower petals in a mason jar. I prefer to make separate infusions, but you can mix them if you wish. Crush or grind the plantain leaves to release the nutrients but leave the delicate calendula petals whole. Place in a glass jar and cover with organic olive oil.  Put the lid on and place the jar away from direct sunlight. Shake the jar once or twice per day, or as often as you remember. If the herbs absorb the oil, then add more so that the herbs are always submerged. Allow to infuse for 2-3 weeks, or until the oil takes on the colour and aroma of the herbs.

Once the oil is ready, strain through cheesecloth, and pour into sterilized glass bottles for storage. Make sure to squeeze as much oil as possible from the herbs so that you don't waste any precious liquid! Herbal oils will keep for about a year if stored properly in a cool, dark place.

Here's the recipe that I will be using this year:

Healing Salve with Plantain and Calendula.

Ingredients:
• 8 oz herbal infused oil(s)
• 1 oz beeswax
• 10 - 20 drops essential oils (optional). Some essential oils commonly used are lavender and tea tree.

Instructions:
Place herbal oils and beeswax in a glass bowl over a pan of water, and gently warm until the beeswax melts. Remove from the heat and add the essential oil(s). Quickly pour into glass jars and allow to cool completely. Salves should be stored in a cool location.

I adjust the consistency of the salve by adjusting the amount of beeswax or infused oil. I always test the consistency by pouring some melted salve onto a cold spoon and placing it in the freezer for 1-2 minutes. This will simulate what the final consistency will be like. You can make adjustments by adding more oil (for a softer salve) or more beeswax (for a firmer salve).


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