Our gardens in many lights

samedi 20 août 2011

Cat squad, safe berries

Cet article en français. 
Este artículo en español.

Freya is an accomplished gardener; she unearthed
a good number of the leek seedlings
that I took so much time to transplant.

Hélène : 
Despite the comment under this photo of my Freya, cats can represent a real asset in the garden. Their presence is even contributing to a typical permaculture synergy in both my garden and Louise's. So, here are our gardening cats' stories.

Louise : Among the delightful succession of berries and fruit crops, blueberries are ripe at the beginning of July (at least the northern type, short variety in my backyard). It's just in time for the end of strawberries and well before the first raspberries.
Alas, the gardener is not alone to look greedily at the promise of this blue gem : birds will swallow them to the last one as soon as they discover where they are !

Imagine a net over these blueberries... It wouldn't be as poetic, would it ?
Hence the necessity to protect our crop. Some gardeners will tend nets over their plants, others will go as far as caging them. To make the challenge even more interesting, the highest the varieties are, the more likely they will be spotted by every neighbouring bird. And perched on a high bush, they will feel a lot more secure than on shorter, ground hugging varieties.
Specimen of catmint, not yet
trampled by the "lionesses"
of the house.
In my garden, this burglary problem never occured, mainly due to a coincidental association between my blueberry patch and... catnip, aka catmint (herbe à chats or cataire in French, Nepeta cataria in Latin). Many species of felines react to this aromatic plant emiting a peculiar odor reminiscent of mint. This smell has an effect on their brain, and they react weirdely (take a look on YouTube, just for the fun of it).

This year, I harvested 6,5 litres of blueberries, over a
period of a month. My patch is only 25 square feet
large (a little more than 2 square metres).

This vegetal "family" attained balance just south of a huge Norwegian spruce tree that produces acidic soil (which is perfect for the blueberries).
From the left, Virginia Raspberry (Rubus Odoratus), a bush tree producing pink flowers followed by red berries, capable of adapting to difficult, acidic, poor and dry conditions. Catnip, also a tough perennial, is in the center, in full bloom with its blue spikes. At its right, you see about half of the blueberry patch. At the back are standing the smallest blueberry plants (30cm - 1 foot high). They're small because of their proximity to the huge Norwegian Spruce that is limiting their growth. The other bueberries, standing further away from the spruce (look at the bottom right in the photo),
are taller and more productive. The biggest ones are 75cm (2,5 foot) high. We don't see them on this photo.

The relationship between catnip and kitties :

Your most aristocratic cat, providing the necessary genetic proclivity, will lose its dignity at once as soon as it will smell it. It will experience a dramatic change in mood, generally becoming good humored and easy going, sensual and all of a sudden, very demonstrative, a kind of behavior you would rather expect from a dog. The essential oils produced by the plant are responsible for this reaction. The cat will rub against it, taste it, roll over it, and purr passionately. Some will even start to drool. After a while, Kitty will start to feel sleepy. Best of all : your cat will want to visit this aphrodisiac plant very frequently and stay close for long moments. This is where th lazy gardener can really bank on the cat's presence.

Here, we see the cats' favorite spot to take a nap,
comfortably lined with dried leaves, right under the
blueberries and very close to one of the two
catmints. And the first cat to come is the
lucky one !

I have the chance to own four female cats that, luckily, are all susceptible to catmint's charms.

Therefore, they incidentally took to themselves to guard the blueberry patch, since two big catmint plants are also planted right at the edge of the patch. The fact that my bluberry plants are of a short variety doesn't do any arm either. As a result, birds are avoiding carefully this small area of the garden and I never lost even a single blueberry to them !

Pinotte and Calimero just arrive to inspect the catnip
 after a big rainfall. The plants' perfume has been
revived by all this water, but they are really
much too wet to sprawl over them.
On the other paw, it doesn't  hurt to taste a little bit
of those fresh, juicy, fragrant leaves...

Catmint has a natural tendancy to flop over. But it withstands the abuse done by the cats and won't mind a cutback, once in a while. I saw my huge tomcat continually taking a nap right over the plants when they were still only young seedlings. They would simply disappear under him. And despite all my expectations, not only did they survive an entire summer of this treatment, but they thrived to become the big healthy things they are today.

If you can't stand the idea of a cat walking on your property, catmint is not for you. But if you think of their eventual visits in a benevolent set of mind, you will have 80% chances to lure them wherever you want them to stand guard for you.

By the way, herborists use catmint leaves. You can make herbal tea, and also dry them up for your own cat, to stuff one of its toys, for instance.

Hélène :
Floraison de l'amélanchier
The idea, here, is to use various relationships between plants and animals and to put them to everybody's profit. You see, according to Permaculture principles, gardeners are looking for ways to multiply relationships as much as possible, making the mini ecosystem of a garden much stronger because of its greater complexity.

This same principle is also applied in my garden, but with my Juneberry (Amelanchier Canadensis, also known as saskatoon or serviceberry). It's a bush or a tree - depending on the cultivar - part of the  Rosaceaes, like roses, evidently, but also like apples and peaches, among others.

It's an amazing tree : very nice small white flowers covering it in springtime, beautiful red berries ressembling blueberries, only a bit bigger in June, and at fall, a fiery red-orange foliage.

But it's a birds' favorite and since mine is a tree (and not a bush), even with a catmint plant  at its foot, the bird would come and feast on it without any hesitation. It's understandable : juneberries are the most delicious little gems you can imagine, like a cross between cranberries and blueberries, but much sweeter.

A net would have done the job, but I'm much too lazy for that. Therefore, I decided to use a little ingenuity to convince birds to go somewhere else.

So, I too, enrolled my cats, but my plan didn't include the association of a couple of different plants and the cats, like in Louise's garden. How did I do it, since it's a tree (a little difficult to guard efficiently, even for a cat) ? Well, a big portion of my small backyard is occupied by a big, elevated deck. Wisely, I positioned my Juneberry tree very close to it, near a corner. That way, the lowest branches touch the deck's railing and my three cats love to rest nearby. No bird dare to come close, even if the cats don't represent a real danger to them. It seems that my cats' greedy looks at them is neatly cutting their appetites for my delicious berries!

Naturally, my cats' presence in my small backyard deter most birds, which is a little sad, but when my tree will grow to be large enough, I bet that the birds will come back and then, everybody will share the adondance. I won't mind letting them harvest the highest branches. This arrangement will be even better, from a Permaculture point of vue, since every party (birds, cats, tree and humans) will find its profit. But until that day, the berries are mine !

Be weary of  Buttercup, the ferocious kitty!

1 commentaire:

  1. I'm looking for a photo of rubus species in a polyculture. I found the one above and would like your permission to use it in a short paper on raspberries. We are assigned a project in the King County Washington, USA, Master Gardener training. This is a non-commercial educational project, likely to be distributed only to a few course students. We would of course give credit to the photographer. Please let me know if this is possible. Thank you. darien (at)

    Following is the caption under the photo I am requesting permission to use:
    "This vegetal "family" attained balance just south of a huge Norwegian spruce tree that produces acidic soil"