Saturday, June 6, 2009

Gardening with Your Pets in Mind

By Ruthie Bently

Now that the snow has theoretically left Minnesota it is time to get our garden started. I have been told it has actually snowed somewhere in Minnesota every month of the year, which is a statement I can well understand after living here for over 10 years. We have a garden every year, but with all the animals we have to be careful how and when we use machinery, fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides.

So how do you have a garden and animals at the same time? It is relatively easy; it just takes a bit of planning. Skye has a dog yard that is fenced in so she can go outside and enjoy the sunshine while we are outside to watch her. We don’t use commercial pesticides or insecticides on our plants, as the animals are in and out of our garden all day. They may not always be as careful as we are to walk between the rows. If we were to use pesticides or insecticides they could get whatever was sprayed on their feet. Both Skye and the cats are cleaning themselves all the time and they could ingest the chemicals they might walk through, which would make them sick. Some chemicals used on lawns have been linked to canine cancer, and I had a client in Illinois who lost a German Shepard for just that reason.

We are lucky to have chickens, which make great walking insecticides. You don’t need a rooster for hens to lay eggs, so if your city allows you to have chickens, you may want to consider investing in a few. They are relatively easy to take care of and you get fresh eggs too. If chickens aren’t your thing, look into companion planting. Certain plants will drive away bugs; marigolds or chrysanthemums for example, which is where natural pyrethrums come from. While we didn’t use this method last year, we have used it in the past with rousing success.

One of my favorite pastimes is weeding, which relieves my stress and makes my garden look better. My favorite time is right after a good rain because then the weeds are easier to pull. I even have one of those rotary human powered tools with discs on it to help cut up the weeds. After that, out comes the rototiller to get rid of weeds that are too stubborn to pull or dig up. Did you know that the definition of a weed is a plant that is growing where you don’t want it to?

I am happy to say that the cats avoid anything in our yard that makes noise (i.e., the rototiller, lawnmower, weed whacker). When we have to mow Skye’s dog yard she stays in the house, unless she has to go potty and we have a separate gate so she can’t get into the larger part of the dog yard. I unfortunately have personal experience with a dog and a lawn mower, and am very careful that Skye will not have an issue like that.

For fertilizer we use aged chicken manure. In the spring we clean out the chicken house and put all the pine shavings from the floor into a compost bin. We also compost whatever kitchen scraps and weeds cannot be fed to the chickens, as well as the weeds we pull. You can buy organic fertilizer at most home garden stores, just make sure it is aged, as fresh manure is too strong to put right on the plants. Last year was the first year we used chicken manure, and we put up about 60 quarts of tomatoes from just half a dozen plants.

Watering is easy too, as I have barrels and tubs around the house under all the downspouts to catch the overflow that the gutters cannot handle. If you decide to collect rain water, make sure you keep your water mosquito free by using “Mosquito Dunks®” or something like them. They are made from a larvicide that won’t hurt birds, fish or any other animals that drink the water. They short circuit the life cycle of the larva, and the larva die. They have been on the market for over 15 years and have been used in many applications. There are also other insecticide products made with beneficial nematodes (Steinernema feltiae) that will kill almost all pests. They are a worm-like parasite that prey on and eat other bugs in the soil of your yard. They can be used in most applications, and are not harmful to earthworms, pets, people or plants.

For dealing with the flies in the yard we use a wonderful dome-shaped fly trap that you put attractant in and toss when it is full. We have used these for many years, and have re-used them for more than one season, though you have to bring them inside after they have been emptied for the year. This year I was stung by a wasp and as my dad is very allergic I could become that way too. So we began to use a wasp trap. While I am normally a “live and let live” kind of gal, this bothers me a bit. Since the wasps are primarily in the vicinity of where we sit in the yard and exercise Skye, the safety of my pets and my family are more important. The wasp traps also use an attractant (the one we have uses 3) to attract the wasps to the trap; they go in and can’t get back out.

Some of the things we do may seem time consuming to you, but we feel the need to make sure that all the animals and people we love are able to live a safe and happy life together, and this system seems to be working well for us. My last American Staffordshire Terrier, Smokey Bear, was almost 20 when he died of old age. This is just one more way to live as peacefully as we can without making any big changes that may do more harm than good.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

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