By Diane Kennedy, Finch Frolic Garden Permaculture, for Let’s Talk Plants! August 2023.
1. Mesh Netting Instead of Bird Netting
This is a very finely woven white mesh that you can hardly see through, not the netting with larger holes. If you can buy cotton or other natural netting rather than plastic, please do. Drape over trees after fruit set to keep away birds and insects without the use of chemicals. You can completely tie it around a small tree or bush to keep off squirrels and rats, too. The larger plastic bird netting is difficult to remove from trees without tearing off leaves and small twigs, often snags onto birds’ feet and they die slowly, and if on the ground snakes and lizards get caught in it and also die slowly. It is difficult to reuse and leaves bits of plastic everywhere. Fine mesh netting can also be used as a frost cover, as shade over plants to keep the sun off, and stapled between stakes around fruit trees to discourage squirrels (they want to see where they are going so if there is a barrier they won’t. Old plastic works best for this because they can’t climb it, but anything opaque works too). When the mesh is well used, drape it over a child for a Halloween costume!
2. Hori-Hori Knife
Wow do I love mine. Not only does it make me feel like a boss while I have it strapped on, but it is invaluable for cutting weeds below the soil surface, digging out small plants, carving out small planting holes, slicing through tape on cardboard boxes to be used for sheet mulching, and so much more. The serrated edge can be used for pruning small branches. Keep it clean!
3. Good Quality Pruners
Don’t buy cheap. Decide if you want side-pass, where the blades work like scissors, or anvil-style where the top blade presses against the wider bottom blade. Anvils are for heavier pruning but also make very clean cuts. Side-pass pruners are for soft wood cutting and can twist out of alignment if used for heavier things. Buy a brand where you can replace the blades and the little spring that draws the handles together. Keep them sharp with a small metal file and you will keep yours for years. If they don’t have bright handles, then paint them so that you can find the tool when it falls out of your back pocket!
Mesh wire for gopher baskets and bunny protection, and for making climbing trellises for plants, as well as thin rolls of wire for repairs and temporary construction. I keep a small piece of fine gauge wire with me for cleaning out sprinkler heads. Use the heavier hardware cloth for the bottoms of raised beds and for small-rooted woody perennials, because it will last longer. Use ½” chicken wire for young trees so that the roots can break through them as the tree gets older. Wire can be scratchy to work with, so wear protective clothing when handling the large rolls of mesh. Best of all, it will decompose over time, which plastic will not do, so it isn’t as harmful to the earth.
5. Food-grade Diatomaceous Earth (FGDE)
NOT the very toxic kind used for pool filters, this grade is edible. This is used responsibly for killing segmented insects such as Argentine ants. Remember that only 1% of all insects are considered a ‘pest’ to humans, so use any insect control no matter how ‘natural’ it is very responsibly. Ladybugs, lacewings, butterflies and all of the pollinators and predatory insects are also segmented and can die from FGDE as well as any other insecticide. (Just because it is from a plant source, such as Neem oil, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t as deadly as manufactured pesticides!) You need insects in your yard, so specifically target those invaders who are doing the most harm. Argentine ants are one of our worst pests, farming scale insects at the base of trees under the ground, and then farming aphids on the stressed leaves. They are usually the ones that come into your house as well. We use FGDE in our chicken coop for mite and flea protection, and along our windowsills when it’s ant season. It will not work when it is wet, so swallowing it doesn’t help with internal parasites. Just because people use it doesn’t mean that it works. We also use a mixture of the very toxic Borax (which is used for laundry whitening but is very toxic to all creatures in waterways) with sugar and water in a small container at the base of trees for ant control. (Dissolve 1 teaspoon boric acid (borax) and 6 tablespoons sugar in two cups of warm water. Put into an old spice bottle and place at the base of trees. Refresh daily.)