Solve your tomato problems

Gardening is not the easiest hobby in the world – there are so many variables that can affect your level of success and many of these are outside your control. It is thus really important that we all share our knowledge so that we can each help one another to overcome the challenges we face. For this reason, I have written a number of books about various gardening topics.
Now however, I am exploring a different method of sharing information. I’ve decided to turn my attention to sharing knowledge about plant diseases and other problems and instead of writing a series of books, I have started a new website: www.plantprobs.net.
On this website I provide descriptions of a variety of plant problems, potential solutions and useful preventative measures. I have started with tomato problems because they are a popular garden crop that is susceptible to a wide range of diseases but I plan to gradually expand the website.
If you grow tomatoes or would like to grow tomatoes, why not take a look and see what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts and any suggestions for improvements. And if there are any plant problems that you would like me to address, please contact me by any of the usual means: Facebook, Twitter or email.

Be Bee Friendly

Most of you probably know that bees are under threat for a variety of reasons. You can help them though by providing safe food and shelter in a bee friendly garden. If you want to have a bee friendly garden, there are many things you can do including:

  • Stop using pesticides – including organic pesticides (yes they can harm bees and other beneficial insects too)
  • Buy organic seeds and plants
  • Save your own seed
  • Aim to have plants in flower all year round – this might be difficult in really cold climates but luckily most bees don’t really like the cold anyway
  • Provide water and habitat for bees, especially native bees which often need mud or hole riddled wood for their nests

Why build a bee friendly garden?

Some of you may look at the list above and think that it’s a lot of work. You may then wonder why you should go to all that effort. Well, apart from altruism, there is one very simple reason – we need bees. Much of the food we eat can only be produced if bees or other pollinators fertilise flowers. Without bees, humans will largely have to pollinate flowers themselves – and that takes an awful lot of effort, just ask the farmers in China and Brazil who already have to do that because bee populations in their area have been decimated.
Honey bee on a green leaf

How do the above measures help?

By now you probably agree that building a bee friendly garden is a good idea but the above measures may still seem onerous so you wonder how they help.

Not using pesticides

Growing evidence shows that many pesticides can kill bees. This probably isn’t that surprising though. Pesticides that target insects (insecticides) usually affect a broad range of insects so it makes sense that they would kill bees too. But even herbicides, which are designed to kill weeds, can harm bees too! And pesticides don’t just harm bees directly; they can cause harm by making bees more susceptible to viruses and they help varroa mites (a bee killing insect) to hatch and thrive. This page has more information about the effects of pesticides on bees.
And it’s not just synthetic chemicals that you can buy at a nursery. Pyrethrum is a good example of an organic insecticide (it’s made from the pyrethrum daisy) that harms bees and other pollinators. Check out http://beyondpesticides.org/pollinators/chemicals.php for a list of common pesticides to avoid or better still, don’t use any at all.
‘But what do I do about pests and weeds if I can’t use pesticides?’ I hear you ask. Well, companion planting and crop rotation are both good ways of controlling pests (including weeds) so why not give them ago.

Buying organic seeds and plants

Non organic plants may be sprayed with pesticides that will harm bees if you put them in your garden. More than that though, non organic seeds can be sprayed with harmful pesticides that will travel to all parts of the plant as it grows! So if you don’t buy organic seeds and plants for your own health, do it to protect bees. It’s also a good idea to buy organic food at the supermarket if you’re not growing all your own food. That way you’re encouraging organic farming practices. And if you need convincing on that front, check out this website about pesticides on food to see US department of agriculture data on pesticide levels on non organic food.

Save your own seed

This is really an extension of the previous two ideas. Once you’re growing organic plants, saving the seeds they produce provides you with a fairly reliable source of organic seeds for future plants. It’s also cheaper!

Flowers all year

Apart from looking great, if you have at least a few plants flowering at all times, bees and other pollinators will always have a source of food. If your area doesn’t have any plants flowering at certain times of the year, the bees and pollinators will either die or go somewhere else (if they can find food elsewhere). This list of bee attracting plants may be useful if you need examples of good plants to choose if you want to attract and feed bees.

A photo of a honey bee collecting pollen from pink flowers
The small pink flowers on this bush provide lots of pollen for honey bees

Provide water and habit

Believe it or not bees need water and lots of it! So scatter some saucers of water around your garden and keep them topped up. They also need places to shelter and build their nests. Some bees build their nests from mud and others build theirs in cracks in branches and tree trunks. You can replicate such conditions by building mud bricks (mix mud and straw together, scoop the mixture into the bottom half of a milk bottle or other mould, let it dry in the sun, remove the finished brick and position near a pollen source) or drilling holes into sticks and old branches or tree stumps. Your standard honey bees will need a tree to build their nest.

Summary

We need bees. It’s a simple as that. So modify your garden and gardening techniques to ensure that you are not harming your local bees. Be bee friendly!