Friday, February 23, 2018

bugs on the flowers

I don't know where I should start this blog post: With the flowers - the larger, metaphorical picture, or with me - the smaller personal one?

Okay let's begin with the flowers.

If you've been following along here for a while, you'll know that sometime last year, after about 16 years of organic farming, something inside of me felt very strongly that we had to start growing flowers. I think it was the romantic picture in my head of row after row of beautiful blossoms that initially drew me to them, but it also had a lot to do with the colours, the shapes and the need to grow something completely new and different.

So we prepared a patch and planted a green manure crop to nurture the soil, then we spaded it in, planted seeds, set up the irrigation, weeded them, visited them several times a day and gave them our energy, fertilised the soil and their leaves, staked them to help them stand upright in the weather and then we started to marvel as bud after bud began opening and our garden of green stems and leaves became filled with flowers.

Of course we were overjoyed and in love! We picked them and made posies, we gave big bunches away, we took loads of photographs of them and we even sold some.

But then, as is so often the case in farming, as soon as you think you've got something, Mother Nature comes along with her own ideas.

One day we woke up to find a cloud of tiny bugs in the flowers. We tried to shake them off, but they flew right back and landed. A few days later we noticed that some of the leaves of the plants looked eaten and in fact some of the flower petals did too.

Not the flowers!!

After 17 years of farming apples and vegetables, we've come in contact with most of the problems that can crop up and mostly know the reasons why they do, but flowers are a new and completely different story. We were starting from scratch.

So we took pictures of the bugs, we looked at them under magnifying glasses, we googled to identify them, and then we tried to find out all we could about why they'd come and how we could get rid of them.

Around the same time I discovered a bunch of people on an online flower grower forum were dealing with the same issue.

To start with we changed the irrigation from overhead to drip to get rid of the tropical atmosphere we had created. Then we waited and watched, and I worried. The online people were buying 'organic insecticide' to kill the bugs and were starting to see results, but still we waited and watched, and I worried.

After a while the joy that had filled me up whenever I'd spent time in the garden turned to dread as I encountered misshapen buds and asymmetrical flowers and more signs of the bugs making the flowers their homes.

After a week or so of expressing my anguish at our inaction, a courier turned up one day to deliver a bottle of the 'organic insecticide'. For a second my heart lifted at the thought of the imminent solution and then I looked over at my farmer boy's face and saw that it wasn't that simple: what I thought was going to be the solution was filling him up with dread. The insecticide went into the shed and we went back to watching and waiting.

The next day I noticed that the weather had changed, the humidity had gone and the insects had reduced in number. Some time after that some of the most magnificent dahlias I had ever seen opened up their great big, perfect faces. And then a whole bunch more. And I was delighted.

But then you guessed it: the weather changed, the bugs returned, I went back to the online flower farmers and saw that they were still spraying and I started hassling my farmer boy with 'when can we spray?' all over again.

Time after time I brought it up and it didn't happen. I threw at him that when there were issues with the apples we did everything we could to try to fix them - we sprayed potassium bicarbonate in humid weather against black spot, we fertilised them to make them healthy and strong, we netted them against the birds and hail, and we tried to keep the kangaroos out. But he drew the line at insecticide and the bottle of oil sat in the shed.

Looking back I'm not sure why I didn't mix it and spray it myself. I guess I must have known deep down that that's not how we do things here. It's reactive and panicky. I've also heard enough stories of farmers getting the maths wrong and killing whole crops by mixing the wrong quantities.

A few weeks into this bug story I finally understood what was going on. We were sitting in the car one day and he told me that in our recent organic inspection the inspector had asked him what our weed management plan is. 'I don't believe in weeds', he replied. 'I think that answer should automatically guarantee your organic certification', she replied. And then I understood.

Panicking and using insecticide to kill the bugs, even if it is organic, upsets the natural balance. The insects are there for a reason and we can't possibly understand what impact eradicating them will have on our environment. It feels arrogant to think that we know what effect killing some bugs will do to the bigger garden picture. Ladybugs, frogs and hover-flies predate on aphids and thrip; what happens to their populations without them? Once we start on these interventionist paths it can change our mindset and the whole way we garden. Once we believe we can control things, the quick fix becomes expensive and we get addicted to it.

Let alone the fact that the spray we bought is certified organic for use on flowers but not on food.

So like the cabbage moth caterpillars on the cabbages, the slugs on the lettuces and the slater-bugs in the strawberries, I've come back around to plucking off those I can, researching gentle, kind, natural methods of control and trying to be patient and accept. To trust Mother Nature and hope that this crazy wind blows them away.

Which in a very long winded way brings me back to me. Despite continuing with the meditation and starting on Valerian tablets I'm still not sleeping well. The past few days have also found me feeling overly sensitive and weepy. But instead of heading down the path of prescription sleeping tablets which I have been tempted by so many times, I've decided to trust my farmer boy's theory and be patient, look for the kind and natural solutions, remember that the four other women in my family also suffer from sleep issues, and hope that this crazy wind that's going to blow away all the thrip, takes my grumpiness and sleep issues with it.

Oh my goodness, I did not intend to write an essay. Are you still with me? Does the metaphor work? 

I think I need to end this by stating very clearly that I'm DEFINITELY not judging farmers who deal with their weed issues as problems or their bug issues by spraying; or people who respond to their sleep issues with medication. We are all about balance here and believe that it's okay for everyone to draw their own line in the dirt.

Just quickly to end this off because it's fun -
I'm reading The Language of Flowers, my dear and thoughtful friend Delia sent me and so far it's beautiful.
I'm still knitting the back of my Mirehouse sweater.
We've just finished watching and loving Better Things (thanks for the recommendation Abby x).
I'm listening to This Is Criminal podcast.
And I'm hoping that our girls come home from school happy and calm for the weekend.

What about you?
How are you feeling? What are you hoping for? Dreaming of? Sleeping remedies?

Sending love and a bunch of imperfectly perfect dahlias.

See you next week.

Love, Kate xx


  1. Why do we need perfect, symmetrical flowers? Is it for the same reason we need straight lady finger bananas? Maybe I'm just a bit naive, but why can't we appreciate the imperfection the natural world brings? Thank you for sharing your thinking xx J


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  2. 'I don't believe in weeds' might just be the most beautiful sentiment anyone has shared with me. Thank you :)

  3. I went through a really bad time with sleep issues a few years ago, to the point where I would not drive my car at all, I was too scared I would microsleep and have an accident. I also began to see things that were not actually there.

    I too was worried about unnatural solutions but there came a time when I realised I had to seek medical advice.

    I found out that there are other options than just prescription sleeping tablets. My doctor suggested an over the counter solution named Restavit which is an anti-histamine that makes me drowsy. But my doctor also said that sometimes all we need is one good night of sleep to kinda reset the circuits - and he was right.

    I took two of those Restavit things, slept incredibly well, and I have rarely needed them again. That same anti-histamine appears in cold and flu medication as well in the night tablets.

    I still have them in the house and very occasionally I will take one if I need to. There was 20 in the pack and I have used 11. They are excellent as an anti-histamine if one does not have to go anywhere, 3 of the tablets were taken for that purpose when my regular anti-histamines just would not sort out my allergies. I probably should check the use-by date!

    I struggle most to sleep when I have somewhere I need to be at a very early time the next day. That is where most of the remaining tablets have been used. I'll let myself toss and turn for an hour and then I decide it is time to bring in the big guns and take one tablet.

  4. Hi gorgeous! I've been loving the flower pics and have just actually started a cert 3 in floristry! questions were raised in my first class by students asking about the availabiliry of 'non sprayed' flowers and the teacher was dismissive. It got me thinking about organic growing and you ... and your flowers. I havent stopped by your blog for an age, the convenience of instagram woos me. So heres a little serendipity at play that I pop by here and you have written so much in line with my wonderings. I'm hearing you on the dleep issues too but mine are absolutely related to hormonal issues. xx

  5. Loved hearing about your flower story and how it all started...I think they look so pretty in your garden. As with all the sleep issues (without being rude)....let me just say one word menopause....all those things you mentioned Dr Libby (look her up) described this exact thing this week. Even if you still have your monthly friend your body can be changing. Some experience this early 40's some in early 50's everyone is different. Look up her book "Women's Wellness Wisdom". Also in the last 1-2 (can't remember when) she created "Bio Blends" by Dr Libby all natural remedies to support women's health. She has heaps of degrees and is a Nutritionist and Bio-Chemist. Check out her FB post dated the 20th Feb. I was waking at 2am every morning and couldn't go back to sleep...hormones....the Library should have all of her books. I've heard her speak on 4 different occasions. You might be interested in the Sleep Restore...she lists all the ingredients in full details and all the symptoms you may have that it will assist. Not being able to sleep is torture.

  6. You know, I struggle with sleep too. I sometimes wonder if it isn't all part of being 46. Recently I have found that a really good Magnesium powder has helped a lot. It relaxes me and more often than not I sleep through after taking it. I think it might also help with the neck related headaches I seem to be prone to of late. I so love all the pretty pictures on your blog, they encourage me and remind me to see the beauty in my own life. Stephanie xx

  7. It's -14C in Helsinki, Finland, and feels good to read about your warmer weather. I'm hoping to ski and skate in the weekend, if it's not too cold. I'm knitting a sweater for myself and next I'm going to read Robert Galbraith's Career of evil, after my husband has finished it first. I hope your beautiful flowers will survive! Have a good weekend! Sleep well - or at least rest well!

  8. Aw Kate, you're talking all permaculture-y now, and I love it. Hope the bugs go and you find sleep. Have you tried magnesium before bed? It's usually a fab helper. I'm off to take some now. xx

  9. Our flower gardens are perennial and periodically we do get bug infestations and the plants generally survive them. Our choice not to spray isn't as much a philosophical commitment to organic farming, although I can admire that as it is having dogs that spend more time closely connected to the plants then we humans do, thus taking a bigger risk with chemical interactions. I've had several landscaping companies shake their heads when we won't use chemicals to protect the dogs, but they are family.

  10. This was a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing <3 I don't know what your problem is precisely with sleep but i'm a naturopathic doctor in Canada and I often find that when stress is contributing and making it hard to fall asleep or achieve deep sleep, sometimes because we can't let go of thoughts about the day or tomorrow or next week/month/year/etc., it's a case of cortisol not following it's diurnal rhythm. When we go to bed at night, it should be at the lowest point of the day but if we've been dealing with a lot of stress or have things on our mind through the day, our bodies maybe get the message that we need more cortisol than normal to cope - and this unfortunately disrupts sleep. It's one of the reasons that over time, meditation and mindfulness tends to be helpful for sleep as it gives us the tools to better be able to turn off our thoughts when we need to (e.g. before bed!), and in turn lower cortisol. I think of herbs and natural remedies as sort of step-stools to getting ourselves to the place where the lifestyle interventions we've made, like meditation, can start to take effect. The herbs I love most for sleep associated with stress are ashwagandha and magnoila, alongside some l-theanine. These aren't sedatives, they won't put you to sleep, and they don't start to have their full effect until upwards of 6 weeks of taking them before bed, but in a couple of days people start noticing the difference and sleep becomes easier and more restful - without needing to take something that literally puts you to sleep. Here we have a product called Cortisol Manager or Sleep Tonight that puts them all together in one tablet, I'm sure you can find something similar, it might be what you need! xo

  11. A gorgeous post as usual Kate-thanks for sharing. I can't recommend Headspace meditation with Andy Puddicombe highly enough. I have been using his guided meditations for almost 4 years(over 270 hours worth) and one of the unexpected consequences has been sleeping through the night! After 15 years of insomnia, this is a revelation to me. There are a number of themes you can choose from and work you way through-including one for sleep. I have learnt so much-I used to do TM on an off, but never really took to a mantra. This is so much more, I have learned there is no wrong way to meditate. I recommend not doing it at night tho, as you do get more energy after it-I do it around 4pm lying down (yes you are allowed to). I love this for its body, mind, emotion awareness techniques. Good luck-I hope you try it xx
    ps I do note that if I stop meditating for a few days I stop sleeping through the night-so its very much a doing have to keep practising to get the benefit.

  12. The Language of Flowers is one of my favourite novels, there is also a companion non fiction guide actually explaining all the meanings. I've had aphid type things all over my tamarillo tree, I don't spray my plants, so was delighted to see the ants have just about cleaned everyone up, eggs, bugs and all. Hope you sleep well, have you tried magnesium sleep cream?

  13. Thank you for sharing this very real story of growing organically, both in the garden and in yourself.
    I wish my husband wasn't so quick to take the easiest path and had more passion for the wholistic/organic path.
    I sure hope you can find a way to get the quality sleep you need. Everything seems so much easier when you are well rested.
    Cheers Kate.

  14. Hi Kate. All your symptoms sounds like the early signs of menopause. X j

  15. I've heard that Valerian tablets can not be used for too long or it will create in you the opposit effect... I hope it all comes well!

  16. Hi Kate, So many lovely replies to you about your sleep may not need any more, but for what it is worth I would like to add a suggestion because this is not the first post of yours that I have wondered about Vitamin B. The way you describe your weepiness always makes me wonder, as I too have suffered from this especially since having children. After a lot of searching, my naturopath suggested some blood tests which revealed that I do not absorb Vitamin B efficiently. This is due to a genetic mutation or some such thing. Since taking a methylated Vitamin B I have felt a lot better. Blessings with the flowers...your stories and pictures over the last months have made my heart sing!

  17. Hi Kate, Early Sunday morning, my time! Catching up on blogs, a couple of people have suggested taking magnesium to help with your sleep (my husband does this, that's why I read through the comments). Long story short...after reading yours I then read this one
    Why not soak it in? with some of those gorgeous flowers you are growing xx Sleep tight xx

  18. After a prolonged bout of insomnia, I've just started taking Remifemin, a herbal menopause remedy that I got at the chemist. It says to take it morning and night but I'm only taking one before bed. The first night I was aware that I wasn't quite asleep all night but I was much more rested than usual. Last night I slept all the way through the night and feel so much better!
    Another thing might be to get your vitamin D levels checked, as low D can affect sleep too. Good luck. I hope you get some good sleep soon.

  19. I just loved this. Thank you for sharing. And sheesh, I hear you on the not-sleeping thing. At the moment son takes hours to get to sleep and then I do the same only to wake in the middle of the night and then super early. Exhausting. And trying to be patient with it all. You know!

  20. ohhhhhh....i absolutely love your blog. LOVE. And thank you for sharing that about the "better things"...I had never heard of it but totally going to check it out. :)

  21. I hand pick the bugs when the plants start showing signs of fatigue, something I learned from my grandmother, it's not a quick fix for sure, but better for all concerned, including nature (and my honeybees). My roses had a bad infestation of Japanese beetles (invasive here)last year, I kept a small bucket of soapy water nearby and went out early each morning and picked them off and dropped them into that, not an easy or fun fix but I know the honeybees are safer for it. I hope you find a safe fix for your sleep issue.x

  22. I have sleep issues too and found taking 2 magnesium tablets before bed helped. Also, if your brain is going round and round in circles, write down what's bothering you, then with those thoughts/worries/problems safely consigned to paper your brain may calm and help you sleep. Hope you find a solution soon, cos it's horrible not sleeping. Hugs xx

  23. Something came through this year and ate several rounds of vegies. I got none. My partner told me to use slug pellets but then what would be the point of growing my own healthy veg if i added the same chemicles the stores do? Next year ill try a few more strategies!

  24. Thank for providing good information for site,Thanks for your sharing.



Thanks so much for stopping by...

I do read every single comment you leave and appreciate it very much, but I should let you know that I can be a wee bit on the useless side when replying to comments, that's just me, everyday life sometimes gets in the I'll apologise now, just in case.

Kate XX

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