Jay's interest in gardening began during childhood while eating his way through the family berry patch and vegetable garden. He’s been gardening organically since starting his first garden in 1970 in Maryland, where he sold vegetables at a farmers’ market. For the past nine years he’s split his work time between doing seed trials and sales for Renee’s Garden and advising the students at the Middlebury College Organic Garden. Jay and his wife live in Middlebury, VT
|Zinnias attract pollinators|
"Every spot has a voice, a particular taste, a breath of wind unique to itself, a shadow, a presence. The best gardeners I know slow way down in order to receive the tidings of the land they are bound to work.”
The particular voice I’ve listened to for the past eight summers is that of the Middlebury College Organic Garden, where I have been teaching students how to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers organically. Because of my work at that spot I’ve listened to many voices and been connected to many wonderful people. In slowing down, looking and listening closer, I have come to a new and expanded relationship with the garden, and in particular, with the insects that visit.
When I started my first garden 40 years ago, the insects I knew the best were those that damaged crops. From cucumber beetles to squash bugs, I identified and battled these competitors for my crops with organic pesticides, protective row covers and hand picking. Then a series of events came together to expand my relationship with the insect world. A student doing research on companion planting at the garden observed that a row of yellow crookneck summer squash interplanted with catnip out-produced a control group of the same variety grown without catnip by two to one! We didn’t know why, but we hoped we could recruit some students to do more research the following spring.
|Bees love sunflowers|
That fall another serendipitous connection occurred. Some Middlebury College students and I attended a seed-saving conference in Brattleboro, where we met Frank Morton, a master plant breeder from Oregon who works with open-pollinated varieties of vegetables and herbs without using pesticides of any type. Instead, he searches for traits like disease resistance, productivity and good taste. A big part of his program to improve pollination and control of destructive insects in his seed crops is to plant what he calls “insectaries.” These are groupings of plants that provide food, pollen or shelter for beneficial insects (pollinators or insects that prey on other insects that eat our food crops).
|Pollinators are both beneficial and beautiful|
|Cilantro is also great for cooking|
The relationship of the insects to our flowers is so much more complex and rich than I ever imagined. Perhaps for me the tidings of the garden are seeing connection and wholeness where I once saw unrelated parts. It is something I try to take with me as I leave the garden each day.
For a list Renee's Garden varieties that attract pollinators and beneficial insects, click here