15 Jul 2018
Victorinox and The Lazy Gardener – Remo Vetter
The warmest weeks of the year await us. There’s no better reason for getting out and about. It’s definitely the time to be outdoors as much as possible. Our friends and acquaintances all know we’ll hardly ever be in the house, since we’ll be relaxing in the garden until darkness comes. Weather permitting, we will be living “al fresco”, or out in the open air, as much as possible. This is one of the most special seasons for us – the “outdoor lifestyle feeling” is truly hard to beat. If you are able to spend the whole day outdoors, you feel an even closer bond with nature. Moments like these are when we recapture that sense of how little it really takes for us to feel true happiness. What could be more inspiring than enjoying mild summer evenings with friends and doing just as you please as you savor the rich delights from the garden? What a delightful, luxurious feeling that is!
For us, summer is the time when you can have the most fun and enjoyment working outdoors. It makes gardening a little more laid-back, especially when the strenuous activities like preparing the garden beds and sowing and planting are all done. But it’s also important that we don’t neglect routine chores at this time. That means keeping the weeds at bay, watering, and always staying on the lookout for pests. It rains quite often here in Appenzell, so we don’t need to do much watering.
In summer, the garden is bursting with the rich colors, shapes, and scents of annual flowers and herbs. Most plants have edible flowers, leaves, and seeds. Nasturtiums, for example, will grow in any garden, with any problems. The leaves have a spicy, peppery flavor and contain vitamin C, while the vibrant flowers add a decorative, exotic touch to any salad. The seeds can also be used as “poor man’s capers”.
2 handfuls of nasturtium seeds
120 ml water
70 ml white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. salt
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp. peppercorns (for adding later)
How to prepare: Rinse the seeds well in a sieve, add all the above ingredients to a cooking pot, bring to the boil, then let it sit for 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaves. Pour the mixture into clean, sterilized preserving jars. Sprinkle the peppercorns equally into the jars. The broth should cover the capers. Seal the jars tightly and leave them for 3–4 weeks before using the capers. Perfect for pizza and Mediterranean dishes.
A berry good time
Since we can eat strawberries almost all year round nowadays, it’s sometimes easy to just take their unique flavor for granted. Let’s think back to the time when we could only eat strawberries for a short window in early summer – the first berries of the year, in many cases nurtured with tender loving care, sometimes even protected by a glass dome to ripen the fruit one or two weeks earlier than usual. There were countless varieties with beautiful, exotic names like Mara des Bois, Florence, Symphony, and Apricot Chinoise.
Delicious wild strawberry preserves These delicate preserves are quick and easy to make and ready to eat immediately. Pick and then wash two or three handfuls of wild strawberries, add a spoonful of honey and puree with a hand blender – job done. Prep time is roughly two to three minutes.
What do flowers taste like?
In recent years, people living in New York, London, Tokyo, and Zurich have added flowers to their kitchen repertoires. Many are packed full of vitamins, beta-carotene, and minerals, yet low in calories. One of the big advantages is that you don’t even need a garden because you can find many flowers, blossoms, and fruits growing in the wild. What is critical, though, is being able to tell the difference between edible and poisonous plants. But what do flowers taste like anyway? Chive and nasturtium flowers have an aromatic spicy flavor, sunflowers are slightly bitter, marigold and chamomile have a more earthy taste. Lilac can have a distinctly floral taste, while roses tend to feature a slightly sweet aroma with a hint of spice, mint, or apple. Scented geraniums can have a rich medley of aromas, from lime or rose to orange, mint, apple, and lemon. When added to any dish, flowers not only impart delicate nuances in flavor, but also add a burst of color and a certain magical spirit that captivates all our guests!
Marigolds stand out with their large flowers and orange corollas. In the Middle Ages, they were very important medicinal plants and added a dash of color and aroma to otherwise dull meals. It’s no coincidence that marigolds are also known as the “Sacred Healer in the Garden”. The orange petals of the garden marigold can easily be dried and are easily stored. In the past, they were often used as a low-cost replacement for saffron. You can use fresh or dried marigolds for cooking; the vibrant color is preserved even after they are dried, if you store them in a dry, dark place. As a final flourish after cooking, add a handful of fresh marigold flowers to a risotto dish... and see your guests’ eyes light up.
Build a “tepee trellis” – the perfect vacation activity!
Fresh willow branches can quite easily be woven together to make “tepee trellises” for the garden. These small tepee-shaped frames are like a flowering green tent for kids to play in and they also create the perfect support for vegetables like squash and pumpkin to climb. Not only that, but building it together can be a magical father-son or father-daughter bonding experience. How do kids spell love? T – I – M – E! So, why not spend some of the summer vacation building a green tepee with the kids?
This is how we build it:
First off, we need to organize the building materials. We do this by cutting willow branches about 2–3 cm thick and 2–3 meters long. The freshly cut branches should be planted immediately so they don’t dry out. Using a stake and a string, we mark out a circle with a diameter of 150 to 200 centimeters, depending on the space available. With a shovel and spade, we dig a trench that follows the outline of the circle, around 20 cm deep and the width of the blade of the spade. One helper then holds the willow branches in the trench at a 45-degree angle, while another helper fills the trench around the willow branches with compost. The branches should be spaced 5–10 centimeters apart, depending on how dense you want your tepee to be and how many willow branches are available. Using thinner branches, the sides of the tepee can be interwoven and strengthened horizontally. In spring, squash or pumpkins can be planted next to the branches as described above, so they can grow upwards, with the branches as a support. This gives the kids a great tepee to hang out in and the whole family has squash and pumpkins for garden feasts all summer and fall. The wow factor is a done deal!
Policing pests with beneficial insects – my tips
- Once the ground has warmed up, that’s when the snails get up to no good. That’s why it is vital to keep gathering up the snail eggs and the snails themselves to keep the population under control.
- Vine weevil larva live in the soil and eat away at the roots. It’s advisable to use biological methods, with roundworms, known as nematodes. They live and move around in damp soil, actively seeking out insect larva. They invade the larva and release bacteria which are completely harmless to mammals and humans. The bacteria kill off the pests within a few days. The nematodes feed on the cadavers of the larvae and reproduce rapidly. After around two weeks, as many as 300,000 of these beneficial insects leave the cadaver in search of other insect larva. This fascinating cycle, driven by nature itself, enables the nematodes to keep the pests in check.
- Fine-mesh nets are used to protect vegetable crops from carrot, cabbage, and onion flies. Right after sowing, or planting seedlings, the nets are set up to protect the plants from the egg-laying insects.
- Wild bees, lacewing flies, ladybirds, and parasitic wasps are among the hardest-working assistants we have in the garden. They find ideal hiding places in hollow trees, reed stems, and insect nest boxes. Wherever possible, this is the time to provide nesting places in the garden.
- On sultry summer days, large colonies of aphids can appear. It’s important to have some nesting places set up for our beneficial insect friends, like sacks for hatching, or upside-down plant pots filled with wood wool, which earwigs love.
- We use flowering plants such as narcissus, grape hyacinths, blackthorn, and hawthorn to attract beneficial insects. Herbs such as caraway, lovage, fennel, and also marigolds are another great way to do this.
Biological garden helpers such as nematodes and ladybirds, as well as practical aids such as earwig sacks, hedgehog houses, bat boxes, and insect nesting boxes are available at specialist retailers. In Switzerland at www.biogarten.ch
Bats, voracious insect eaters
Bats are welcome additions to the garden pest police. Dusk on summer evenings is a good time to see their acrobatic flying skills as they go to work. The various nocturnal bat species native to our part of the world feed exclusively on insects, which they normally catch in mid-air. Bats have poor eyesight, but make up for it with a keen sense of smell. They navigate using an echo system which enables them to precisely locate even the smallest insects or potential hazards such as branches, walls, or fences and thus fly around them. The way we construct buildings today offers very few nesting options for bats. If we want to give bats a helping hand, we need to incorporate native trees and other hiding places around our houses. Bats need considerable amounts of food, such as mosquitoes, aphids, and other unwanted pests in the garden, and this makes them a much appreciated and welcome guest. It is especially important to strictly avoid all chemical pesticides, which can wreak havoc on these hard-working garden helpers. One bat can devour up to one kilo of insects over the summer. That is equivalent to between a quarter and half a million mosquitoes and moths.
Tips on how to encourage bats to nest in your area
To get bats to move into your house or garden, having these hiding places or structures can help: undisturbed and non-insulated attics, hollow areas under roofs or behind facades, gaps under roof tiles, hanging up bat boxes and other hideaways in quiet and sheltered parts of the house mostly away from the sun, or in outbuildings or sheds, gazebos, and barns. Bats feel at home in environments rich in food, with hedges, patches of woodland, eco-compensation areas, and places free from insecticides and pesticides. If we want to help our native bats find a rich variety of the insects they need, here are some of the things we ought to try out in our own garden:
- Design the garden as a natural, varied environment
- Do not use toxic substances
- Use native shrubs and plants
- Offer a variety of structures
- Set up a garden pond or pool, or a swimming hole if space is available
Insect nesting boxes
Europe is home to more than 500 bee species. In recent years, records have shown a dramatic decline in this diversity. The main reason is the environmental damage caused by chemicals and pesticides and the decline of biodiversity in favor of monocultures. In addition, the lack of suitable nesting places is now a major issue. Old fences and barns with rotten wood, walls with porous stone, old-growth forest, and abandoned quarries are increasingly vanishing from our countryside. An insect nesting box (also known as an “insect hotel”) made of wooden blocks, reed mats, and adobe bricks, is an ideal substitute for many different species of these solitary flying insects. Mason bees, scissor bees, cavity bees, leaf-cutter bees and masked bees, as well as potter wasps, aphid wasps, digger wasps, mud wasps, and cuckoo wasps use the cavities in the nesting box as a breeding place after laying their eggs there. Then, to nourish the larva after hatching, nectar, pollen, or animal foodstuffs are delivered to the nesting cavities as food. For these reasons, the insect groups listed above play an important role. They help to prevent the mass reproduction of pests like aphids and codling moths. This uses nature’s own methods to regulate the pest population. An insect nesting box, or “insect hotel,” which is available in garden accessory stores, is a must-have item for all fans of gardens and nature itself. The recommended location is in a sunny area sheltered from the wind. The insect nesting box has to stay outside during the winter, otherwise the insect larva may hatch prematurely, which is fatal for them. All of the insects that call this nesting box home are completely harmless for people and pets alike.
Scare those aphids away
We like to plant lavender, nasturtiums, and garlic underneath our fruit trees. That keeps the aphids away. And if we should suffer an aphid infestation on these hot, damp summer days, we put down overturned plant pots. The pots are stuffed with wood wool and offer the perfect hiding place for earwigs. Just like the ladybugs, these tireless garden assistants are world champion aphid eaters. Fennel, dill, and cilantro attract hoverflies and parasitic wasps who take no prisoners when it comes to the pieris rapae butterfly and aphids.
Summer chores at a glance
- An important midsummer chore is giving your garden and balcony plants as much water as they need.
- Plant strawberries so you can enjoy the fruit next year.
- Plant radish seeds for fall and winter harvest.
- Another planting of string beans is an option; they will be ready to harvest in around eight weeks.
- If we plan to have fresh herbs available well into the fall, we need to keep replanting regularly.
- Plant beets, red radishes, white radishes, spinach, and turnips.
- Sugar beets, Swiss chard, and leaf beets can all be planted up to the end of July.
- Plant fall and winter lettuce, peas, fennel, and Chinese cabbage.
- Winter leeks should be planted after the end of July/beginning of August.
- Endive can still be planted directly in the outside beds until mid-July.
- Radicchio can be planted directly in the bed during the whole month of July.
- To make sure our peony flowers just as magnificently again next season, we fertilize them with compost and well-seasoned manure after they have flowered.
- Carefully remove the old rhododendron flowers and treat the shrubs with bio-fertilizer for rhododendrons.
- Treat the roses with organic rose fertilizer
- In spring, trim back freshly planted ground-cover plants and cushion plants. Why? The shoots intertwine better with each other and form a thick carpet more quickly, which makes it very difficult for weeds to penetrate.
- Water the lawn and plant more grass
- Properly compost the grass cuttings regularly. Since the lawn is mowed regularly around this time, there are a lot more grass cuttings, which often emit an unpleasant smell of silage. That’s why we mix the grass cuttings with branches and twigs which we have chopped into small pieces in the garden shredder, or we mix the material well and use it to prepare new mounded and raised beds.
- Divide and replant narcissus
- Cut sweet peas for the vase
- Plant irises
- Take cuttings to propagate climbing plants like clematis or wisteria
- Clean up the garden pond. Remove the algae
- Cut bamboo poles to use as shrub supports, if you have bamboo in the garden
- Fertilize gladioli, dahlias, and other summer-blooming bulb and tuber plants with a mineral-based universal fertilizer
- Plant hollyhocks, so the new plants will flower next year
What to expect in August:
- The luxury of life in the slow lane
- Gardening with nature
- A touch of Provence in the garden
- Getting experience
- Giving the soil a beauty treatment
- Making instant fertilizer
- August work
- Tips & Tricks
A brief biography of Remo Vetter “The Lazy Gardener”
Born in Basel in 1956, Remo ran an international company selling natural products for over 35 years. He’s now in demand as a garden designer, consultant and author and has created many successful garden projects in Switzerland, England and Ireland.
- Self-employed since 2018.
- Lectures in Switzerland and abroad exploring sustainability, our interconnected natural world, and finding meaning in life.
- Numerous appearances in radio, TV and print media in Switzerland and abroad.
- Monthly columns in various magazines.
His book “The Lazy Gardener und seine Gartengeheimnisse” Achieving Better Results in Your Organic Garden with Little Effort is available from atVerlag ISBN 978-3-03800-941-2
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