In Season: July—Cucumbers

Cucumbers are in season, and even though our vines are running amok with new fruit, we can’t seem to get enough of these nutritious, delicious, and aromatic gifts from the garden. We’re eating and drinking them in every way we can think of—for flavor in ice water, run through the juicer, juiced for martinis, sliced for sandwiches, and more sandwiches, in salads, as salads, made into pickles, and a now new summer favorite—Cucumber Mint Pops. There are countless ways to prepare cucumbers, and about as many reasons to consume them.

Although they aren’t widely known for it, cucumbers are among the world’s healthiest foods. They are high in vitamins A, B1, B6, C, D and K, and minerals such as calcium, folate, magnesium, and potassium. They’re also known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. At 95 percent water, they’re super hydrating, high in fiber, with compounds known to help lower blood pressure, relieve joint pain, improve the skin, elevate mood, improve digestion, and a whole lot of other good juju to be experienced from enjoying cucumbers.

Summer won’t be around for long, so indulge in these gods and goddesses of goodness while they’re in season. You’ll look and feel noticeably better, and if you love them like I do, you’ll feel happier too.

 

 

 

Create a Bird and Lizard Haven for Organic Pest Control

A lot people discourage birds from entering their gardens, but in ours, we roll out the red carpet and throw a party for any bug eating bird that will attend. Birds not only provide awe inspiring entertainment and beauty while they splash and drink from the birdbath,  but also are a sustainable solution to garden pests—certain birds can consume up to 1000 insects per day! Sure, we have to cover crops like strawberries and lettuces in mesh but for organic pest control, it’s a small price to pay.

Lizards also get an all access pass in the garden. Living under containers, rocks, and other places where destructive bugs often hide and reproduce—our reptile friends ensure that those insects never crawl out from under the rock where they live (and if they do, lizards will get them out in the open too!). Lizards eat mostly insects, and pose little danger to garden plants.

Under the right circumstances, building a bird and lizard habitat is a great thing to do for your garden. Attracting birds and lizards to the garden is as easy as providing them with food, water, shade, and cover. For example, we have bamboo plants as a backdrop to one of our birdbaths—yellow finches hide in and light on the branches before dropping in for a drink or splash in the water. Almost any plant or shrub that blooms attracts hummingbirds that also enjoy perching on the water bowl to drink. This is important in hot climates like ours where temperatures can linger in the 90s and 100s for weeks and even months at a time, making food and water scarce and putting wildlife under great duress.

Our lizard habitat consists of an old wooden pallet placed on top of cardboard (to keep weeds from growing) with pots of herbs and a water feature resting on top to provide shade. The lizards hide and cool down in the interior of the pallet and feast on bugs breeding there. We’ve also got a few rocks and hay bales lying around, but lizards are adept at finding cover just about anywhere.

Back when our garden began, we were searching for a bird bath and couldn’t find any that fit our preferences or budget and wanted to hold out for the right one rather than buy a cheapie from one of the big box stores. We searched and searched, only to find baths far out of the desired price range. In a pinch, we threw together a little DIY bath that does double duty in providing birds AND lizards a place to drink and cool off.

For the bath, you’ll need a large and preferably deep (1 to 2 inches) pottery drainage dish, a small to medium terracotta or ceramic pot, and another medium to large drainage dish.

Place the larger drainage dish in the desired spot in your garden and place the pot upside down in the center of the dish. Place the other tray on the top of the upside-down pot, fill both dishes with water, and voila—a bird bath on the top and a lizard watering hole on the bottom. (Try to find trays with an interior glaze, because they’re better at holding water.)

This little DIY project is so cheap and easy to make, and even though I have a real bird bath now, the finches and lizards still love congregating here. Assemble this in minutes, pull up a chair, and get ready for a spectacular show in a fabulous venue—your thriving garden.

Tell me it doesn’t make you happy all over as you watch your bird and lizard friends splash and play at your garden pool party—it’s a happy day!

Winning the War on Harlequin Bugs

Recently, I came home from a two-week long trip and eagerly headed out to the vegetable garden to see how things had fared under my husband’s care. Predictably, he’d done a great job keeping up a watering schedule through an unusual heatwave, with temperatures regularly reaching the mid and high nineties for several weeks. For the most part, everything looked great, despite a bit of slowed growth on peppers and tomatoes because of the heat. I found leaning garlic stems ready for pulling, artichokes ripe for cooking, onions thriving despite the heat, butternut squash dangling from vines, zucchinis and flying saucer squash hiding in the leaves—I could hardly contain my excitement over what I deem our most successful garden to date. “The only things not doing well are the radishes,” my husband said, almost as an afterthought. “They’re crawling with bugs.”

I went to investigate and found my husband wasn’t kidding. The radish bed was infested, and I do mean infested, with Harlequin bugs, a shield shaped black and orange bug that’s part of the stink bug family. The bugs live with quite a reputation for their destructiveness—I had been warned of them during the last summer season from a friend’s post on Facebook, but thankfully, they’d never made it to my garden. Harlequin bugs are attracted to cabbage, kale, mustard, broccoli, and other members of the brassica family, and when pressed for food, will eat tomatoes, squash, beans, corn, and other vegetable plants.

My joy immediately turned to fear for my thriving and beautiful garden—the heat wave showed no signs of diminishing (Harlequin bugs thrive in heat) and they were mating all over the radish plants. I immediately turned to Google to look for a sustainable solution, but for the most part, organic gardeners were pessimistic when it came to Harlequin bugs. They don’t have many predators—chickens, birds, and other bugs won’t eat them because they put off an offensive smell, and the bugs reproduce at an alarming rate—five times a year! I searched and searched, but the most effective solutions required chemical products that would kill beneficial bugs as well—products we don’t use at En Saison Paradise! So, we went to work testing the various organic techniques suggested and it turns out that a combination of methods is the way to win the war on Harlequin bugs.

Method One – Trap crop

If you’ve got Harlequin bugs, chances are you already have a trap crop—ours turned out to be the radishes. The downside of this method is that you must give up the crop—you pull the infested plants and discard them into the trash. We were able to harvest our healthiest radishes, but all of the plants, ready-or-not, were plucked from the garden.

Method Two – Hand pick the bugs

As soon as we discarded the infected plants, the remaining bugs flew to our beloved squash plants. I zeroed in and began squishing them with a gloved hand, but they put out an odor and soon, any time I came near the frightened bugs, they quickly hid, smelling the remnants of bug death on my glove. The little guys seemed to get the message though and fled my squash plants, and overall things were looking better for the garden. Or so I thought.

While watering, I discovered that a nearby Butterfly Bush was also infested—there they were again, making love all over the stems and leaves! Back to the internet. Now I tried the method of hand catching the bugs and throwing them into in a pail of soapy water. I killed about 40 bugs this way  but most of the bugs escaped my hands and flew away. The ones thrown in the soapy water died within minutes though—apparently the soap damages their shells and they fall apart. Still, it was difficult to catch them, and I kept thinking there had to be a better way.

Meanwhile, my husband sat at the computer researching organic home-made insecticide . . .

Method Three – The War is Won!

After researching numerous home-made organic insecticide recipes we settled on a recipe we found on TreeHugger.com. That called for 2 quarts of water, one large onion, two bulbs of garlic, 2 tablespoons of cayenne pepper, and 2 tablespoon dish soap. We blended the ingredients listed in a food processor (except for the soap) and then transferred the mixture to a bowl where we added two quarts of water. We let it soak for an hour or two before transferring into two one-quart spray bottles and then added a tablespoon of Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Hemp-Peppermint liquid soap to each bottle.

The finish off required a few days of diligence and was a bit like hunting. We spot checked and searched for remaining bugs each morning and evening, and every time we saw the bugs, we hit them directly with the mixture (being careful not to spray bees). The combination of the soap, garlic, onion, and cayenne pepper was too much for the little critters to bear. Now I’m hard pressed to find one of the little buggers for a photograph.

I’m a softy who really takes no pleasure in killing bugs, but I must say, I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief at ridding my garden of Harlequin bugs. You can get them out of your garden too – and sleep well knowing that no birds, bees, beneficial bugs, or earthworms will be harmed in the process.

Buh-bye Harlequin bugs!

Welcome!

En Saison Paradise is a small organic gardening operation created by urban transplants (yep, we’re those people) that moved our family to the country to live clean, simple, sustainable and community driven lives.

Our focus is on growing pesticide and GMO free food crops for our family and friends, local chefs, home cooks, and other food enthusiasts who recognize the value of local, seasonal, nutritional and sustainable foods.

We’re also dedicated to the dissemination of information about sustainable living and the support of organic products that are proving to be revolutionary in the sustainable and organic foods movement.

Our mission is to bring people together around community, good food and beverages, best sustainable and organic gardening practices, and simple living – and to become a gathering place for individuals committed to growing and consuming foods that can be safely enjoyed.