Organic Living - June 02

  Praying Mantis - Friend or Foe?
Grow Your Own Broom
Growing Plants Vertically
Sesame Snow Peas

Praying Mantis - Friend or Foe?

by Arzeena Hamir
Not many gardeners come into contact with a praying mantis but few can deny that they've heard of the infamous way in which the insects mate. While the female can indeed feed on its mate's head during copulation, praying mantis also have other amazing features. The mantid is the only predator which is fast enough to catch mosquitoes and flies. It is also the only insect that can turn its head all the way around (180 degrees).

Praying mantis have voracious appetites and will eat a variety of insects including aphids, grasshoppers, fruit flies, house flies, moths and crickets. However, in addition to these insects, praying mantis will also eat beneficial insects like hover flies and lacewings. If you're a gardener who is contemplating using praying mantis for pest control, do keep this in mind.

Most praying mantis are sold as egg cases; each egg case will hatch between 50-200 young nymphs. For the best pest control, use 3 egg cases for a garden under 5,000 sq. ft. We recommend that you use your egg cases immediately although they can be refrigerated for up to a week after receiving them. You can either hang the egg case outside and allow the young nymphs to escape, or you can set up a terrarium.

Indoor Care of Praying Mantis

Set up a terrarium with in a fish tank, gold fish bowl, yogurt container, or even a jam jar. Whatever type of container is used, a stick or branch should be provided for the insects to hang from as well as a small dish of water in the bottom to add humidity to the enclosure. Place mesh over the top of the container to prevent the young from escaping but still allow air and food to be put in. The temperature should be kept at approximately 25-28 C (75-80 F). The easiest way of maintaining the temperature is by using an under tank heating mat. Keep the container out of direct sunlight and maintain a humid atmosphere by misting everyday.

Feeding Praying Mantis

The young nymphs will wiggle out of their egg case in about 3 weeks. As they grow bigger, move them into a larger container so they have enough room to feed and move. Upon hatching, the mantids must have live food every 2-3 days. If not, they will devour each other.

Living insects, such as fruit flies, aphids, cockroaches, crickets, beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, caterpillars, moths, and houseflies are a favourite food of the mantis. The smaller, softer-bodied insects are a better food source for the young nymphs. After having completed their early stages, they may be fed insects larger than aphids and vinegar flies such as mosquitoes, flies, and roaches.

If they are not released, each adult will need its own cage. One mantis may be kept on its own as a pet and fed throughout the year.

Resources - Purchase egg cases on-line February-July - Ohio State University FactSheet - Praying mantis life cycle

Arzeena is an agronomist and freelance gardenwriter. When she's not working on her garden, she runs Terra Viva Organics.

Grow Your Own Broom

by Pearl Sanborn
Many years ago, I purchased a beautiful natural colored wreath for my bathroom. Because I've enjoyed it so much, recently I decided that I needed to replace it with a new one. You see, after washing the old one so many times, I think it has seen better days ;) The problem? I wasn't able to find the same type of wreath anywhere!

After searching at several craft stores and doing some research online, I finally had success with the mystery material! It was a plant that Ben Franklin first brought to the United States after discovering its beauty in the late 1700's called "Broom Corn." He found a small seed on a whisk broom that his friend had brought him from France, used for dusting his beaver hat. He planted it the next spring, and continued growing it from the harvested seeds.

The humble broom......

In today's society, we have what seems like a never ending choice of cleaning supplies made from every type of material imaginable. There are even brooms that are supposed to be able to pick up dirt magnetically! However, the pioneers before us did not have the luxury of going down to the corner market to spend an hour or two picking out their favorite broom! Actually, they had to plan their cleaning day at least year in advance ;) Why so far ahead? Because they had to grow their brooms!

They grew what was called "Broom Corn" or Sorghum Vulgare - also known as Millet or Guinea Corn. The seeds are small, white, and round in shape. They are grown much the same as grains such as barley or oats. The stalk of the plant resembles a cane in appearance, and the heads are quite large and full of small grain - not actual ears of corn. Not only are these plants used for making brooms, but they are also grown for other uses as well.

The grain is milled into a very fine white flour which is wonderful for making bread, used to feed horses cattle and poultry, and is also said to be a diuretic. The fiber of the plant is used to make brushes, paper, newsprint, and fiberboard.

Although first thought to be cultivated in Italy, broom corn is still widely cultivated in the United States today - so you can plant & grow your own broom! And because broom corn is generally resistant to insect pests and mold, it is quite easy to grow!


Plant seeds approx. 1/2" - 3/4" deep in moist soil. The rows should be 3 ft. apart so the large seed heads have enough room to fully develop, but not so far apart that the stalks have room to bend over. You can expect seedlings to appear in 3-5 days. These plants will grow up to 10 ft., and be mature approx. 105 days from planting.

It is time to harvest when the seed heads are approx. 20-36 inches long. Flowering should be finished by this time, but the heads should still be green in color. This will ensure that the branches will not be to brittle for crafting. Remember to always cut your stalks in dry sunny weather.


Because you are actually growing a type of grain, you will need to thresh the seed (or remove seed) before you make the seed heads into brooms, wreaths, or other items.

To remove seeds; take several stalks in one hand, and hit them carefully against a large flat area. After you see that the seeds are mostly gone, lay tops on a dry flat surface to dry for 2 weeks. Don't forget to collect the seed after threshing! The birds will enjoy it in their feeders!

A wonderful picture of some folks harvesting broom corn many years ago:

An article on making your own broom:

Broom how-tos from 1936:

Rich in warm autumn colors including brown, mahogany, and amber, I know you'll find yourself, as I have, in love with this 7-10 ft tall ornamental beauty. You'll want to be sure to reserve a special place for broom corn in your cottage garden this year.

Copyright of Pearl Sanborn
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    Growing Plants Vertically

    from The Big Book of Gardening Skills by the Editors of Garden Way Publishing
    If your garden feels cramped and crowded, take advantage of vertical space. It is healthier for vining plants to climb upward into the air and sunlight than to sprawl on the damp earth.

    Reasons to garden vertically:

    • Fruit is cleaner and less susceptible to damage from rotting, insects, and slugs.
    • More air and sunlight reach the plants.
    • Cultivating and harvesting are easier.
    • Requires less space.
    • Yields are generally higher.
    • Creates a shady garden spot.
    • Provides a framework for plant coverings.
    • Allows more efficient watering.
    • Makes monitoring and managing pests easier.
    • Earliest, cleanest, and longest-lasting harvests

    The simplest of all plant supports are stakes or poles. Drive them into the soil near the base of a plant and the vines instinctively latch onto them. Tie tall or heavy plants to the stakes to support them. Then prune the excess growth at the top.

    Garden centers offer a variety of wooden, bamboo, and manufactured stakes, or you can make your own from scrap lumber, pieces of metal or PVC pipe, or other rigid materials.

    Tepee Trellises

    Tepees make excellent supports for beans, peas, and tomatoes, and for heavily fruited crops such as melon and squash. To build one, you will need three to six poles -- thin ones for flowers or lightweight plants,stouter ones for heavily fruited crops. Cut the poles 10 to 12 feet long so you can sink them 1 to 2 feet into the ground. Use twine, raffia, or strips of rawhide or cloth to lash poles together near the top. Pull the poles into a tight bundle, wrap the twine around the bundle a few times, and tie it snugly. Prop the bundles over the planting area, positioning the bottom ends so each pole will support one or two vines. Thicker poles are heavy enough to be freestanding.

    Fence Trellises

    Drive a post at each end of a row and place other posts in between where needed. String with twine, wire, netting, or wire mesh and you have a fence-type trellis. Fences over 20 feet long should have an extra post installed every 10 to 12 feet. By attaching cross arms to the end posts and running wires between them, you can convert the simple fence trellis into a double fence or clothesline trellis that can support two or four lines instead of just one.


    Another simple and efficient method of containing sprawlers is with a cage. Cages can be nailed together from scrap 1 x 2 lumber or made with sturdy wire mesh. Bend the mesh into shape and arrange it over transplants such as tomatoes and cucumbers. Round or square cages, 2 to 3 feet in diameter and 3 to 4 feet high, will both contain and support a variety of vines.


    Construct an A-frame trellis of lightweight lumber -- 1 x 2s or 2 x 4s. Wire mesh fencing, garden netting, or vertically or horizontally strung wire or twine will serve as the plant support. You can design an A-frame in any dimensions, but it must be of manageable size if it is to be portable. Both sides of this versatile trellis are used, and it can be made sturdy enough to support heavy crops such as gourds and pumpkins.

    from The Big Book of Gardening Skills by the Editors of Garden Way Publishing illustrations by Ann Poole and Elayne Sears

    Sesame Snow Peas

    The vegetables in this dish should be served crisp-tender.

    • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
    • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted lightly
    • 1/2 pound snow peas, trimmed and strings discarded
    • 1 green onion, sliced thinly on diagonal
    • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
    • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    1. Heat peanut oil in wok or large heavy skillet; add sesame seeds and stir-fry for a few seconds until golden. Add snow peas and green onion; stir-fry for 1 minute.
    2. Remove from heat and toss with sesame oil and soy sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

    Serves 4.

    Organic Living ISSN 1492-5451.

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