Bald Faced Hornets

Bald Faced Hornets

For the first time in 16 years, hornets moved into my garden and built a nest in my pear tree.   I’ve always had wasps, but their nests are tiny, and I can tolerate them as long as they stay out of my way.  I applied the same philosophy to the Bald Faced Hornets when they built this humongous paper nest in my Bartlett pear tree near the south side fence.   As long as they didn’t interfere with my activities I was fine.  Then a few days ago I bent down to throw some kitchen scraps onto the compost pile about three feet from the tree and…  Zap! One of those critters stung me on the back!  Not fun!

My reaction surprised me.  In seconds, my previous attitude of tolerance changed to an attitude of anger and a primal urge to exterminate.   I immediately made a declaration of war and went on the offensive.  I decided to find someone who could get rid of the nest for me.  My friend Alicia knew a bee keeper that could help.  I got a hold of him the following morning, and he was able to come out immediately to remove the nest.  What a relief!  His name is Philip Smith and he can be reached at 541-968-8431.  He lives in Vida.

It was odd not feeling safe in my garden for the first time ever in 16 years.   All it took was a hornet stinging me to bring out this fear and take away my sense of garden happiness and peace.   Unlike barking dogs and screaming neighbors, noises that you can tune out with practice, an actual sting from a hornet is unavoidably painful and something one cannot “tune out”.  It put me on edge, and I was afraid to even walk down the center pathway for fear of exposing myself to attack again.

In any case, the lesson learned is that bees, wasps, and all the other pollinators are welcome in my garden of diversity and beauty, but hornets are never, ever again going to find refuge here.  In the future, I will be more careful to examine what is going on in the higher levels of my garden in the early spring.  If I see a hornet nest being constructed, if I catch it in the early stages, then I will spray it with some killer spray before it gets any bigger and I have to call in a professional.

It feels good to be able to walk out in my garden again and feel safe and at peace.
If you ever need to call a bee man to come out and remove bees, swarms or hornet,
give Philip Smith a call at 541-968-8431.  He lives in Vida.

Here are a few informative links and a video on how to remove Bald Faced hornets nests.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bald-faced_hornet

http://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/baldfaced-hornet

http://www.clemson.edu/cafls/departments/esps/factsheets/medvet/baldfaced_hornets_mv15.html

http://www.lawn-care-academy.com/bald-faced-hornet.html

You Tube Video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UTF1HVEyds

Capturing Critters in the Garden

Capturing Critters in the Garden

We’ve had all kinds of critters visiting and exploring our yard over the years; some of them welcome and some of them not so welcome. Of course the raccoons are the least desirable of all the creatures that pass through here because they kill chickens, but most recently it was the neighbor’s dog that gave us the biggest scare.  He got loose and attacked Applesauce, my Americauna hen.   I thought she was a gonner at first because she ran under the deck and just lay there not moving for a good half hour.  Then when my roommate, Brenda, and I were sitting in the house grieving her loss, Brenda looks up surprised and says “Isn’t that Applesauce?”  Sure enough, there she was just meandering up the walkway towards the house as if nothing had happened.   The dog managed to pull out a few feathers from her back area, but other than that she seemed fine and healed up pretty quickly.  My neighbor, Jim, who has taken a liking to her, was so upset that he called the police to complain about the dog.  I thought that was a little extreme, but I appreciated the concern.  The neighbor never let that dog run loose again, so it must have had an impact.

The animals I dislike the most right now are the neighborhood cats.  I miss the days when my cat Zipper used to defend our territory and keep other cats at bay.  She was such a good kitty.  Now if the cats were friendly and sociable I might feel more welcoming towards them, but they are all anti-social and sneaky.  I am sure they can feel the energy of my anger towards them, because whenever they see me coming towards them they high tail it out of there in fear.  Cats poop everywhere in my garden, and that is just simply not an endearing quality.  If I could make the cats disappear, I would!  When they are new to the neighborhood they like to stalk my hens too, which of course makes my hens nervous.  Eventually the cats all learn that it’s better to just coexist, especially since the hens are usually bigger than they are anyway.   Recently, two of the neighbor’s cats discovered how comfortable the hen house was, so they started to hang out there and take cat naps.   I could smell cat pee in the hen house so I knew they were taking up residency there.   No wonder Applesauce has been avoiding her hen house.  She didn’t want to roost in her nesting box when the damn cats had taken it over.  I’ve since scared them out of there so she is safe again.

In addition to the raccoons, cats, dogs, the neighbor’s rabbit, and the nutria I saw a few years ago (first photo), the next most annoying critters to take up residency on my property are the possums.   They are the strangest looking creatures the way they resemble rats and rodents, yet are as big as a small raccoon.  They hiss and have very sharp teeth.  They slither around like lizards yet can run really fast when they want to.   A few weeks ago, Applesauce was on the front porch again around 10:00 at night while I was watching TV.  I heard a big crash outside and Applesauce was screeching.  I ran outside, expecting the worst, and there was Applesauce running out towards the street and that possum slinking away around the corner of the porch.  On the porch was a soft egg.  I think she scared it out of my poor hen!  That’s when I knew that I needed to get rid of that possum or she’d get Applesauce and my new chicks if she got hungry enough.  I borrowed the trap from some friends and it took about two weeks but I finally trapped her.  Hurray!  All I’m going to say now is that she is in a better place, and it’s not possum heaven.  I would just call it a relocation resort.

Unfortunately, as I had suspected, she left behind a couple babies; both about the size of a big rat.  I am not sure if they were fully weaned yet, but apparently they didn’t have all the skills they needed to be on their own yet because we found one dead, and the other one still alive and scurrying around the garden a couple days later seeming somewhat disoriented.  We tried various maneuvers to catch it but it evaded our attempts at first.  Then about 20 minutes later we saw it in the strawberry patch sitting next to the little angel cherub.  I took the top mesh cover of the fire pit and slowly set it down over the critter and kind of scooped it onto the grass.  It seemed either very exhausted, or perhaps it was dying.  I put some water and milk and a big banana inside the makeshift cage, and covered it with plastic to keep moisture off.  I figured if it was okay the next day we could relocate her also but she didn’t make it to the next morning.

Anyway, I fully understand that all these critters are just being as nature intended, and they have just as much right to spend time in my yard as I do.   Humans have taken over the habitats of so many wild creatures, and they have to have some place to go.  Now the domestic critters are a different issue.  I do hold my neighbors responsible for keeping their domestic animals on their own property, but we all know that isn’t possible with cats, let’s face it.  Dogs yes, cats no.

After my experience with the possums I felt I needed to find out more about these critters too.  Here is one informative website I found.

http://www.wildliferescuerehab.com/all-about-opossums.html

Spring Garden 2016

Spring Garden 2016

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything in my garden journal, and that’s because I’ve been very preoccupied  with a lot of other activities and changes that have occurred in my life these last  9 months.  My son moved out, my old childhood friend, Brenda, moved in, I’ve remodeled the back bedroom for her, finished all my other indoor home improvement projects, started caregiving and taking classes,  and I’ve also been spending more time on my social and spiritual life.  It’s been quite a productive time full of  life lessons, and although I’ve neglected to journal, I haven’t been neglecting my garden.  What needed to get done over the winter got done, and by some miracle I am actually on time with the springtime garden prep and planting.  Brenda’s been helping me quite a bit, and I have to say that it is quite nice having someone else in my life again who enjoys gardening and is such a help.

I had originally planned to let my growing areas go fallow again for a second year, but then I changed my mind when Brenda became my roommate. She wants to learn how to garden and grow vegetables, and I told her I would go ahead and grow a garden this year if she promised to help, especially with the weeding and watering this summer.   So thanks to Brenda and her help, I’ve been cleaning up, prepping, planning and getting the garden going again for 2016.

I have to say that this is the best year ever in terms of abundant growth and healthy looking fruits, trees and roses, except for the dying Arborvitae from the damn spider mites.  I have lost four more of these precious barriers, so now I am spraying with water to try to drench the spider mites instead.  My advice to anyone thinking that a spray company can help save your Arborvitae – don’t bother!  Just spray the heck out of them with water and keep doing it all summer.  Especially since we’re having such dry weather which is what spider mites love.

As for the soil this year, I can tell that the soil benefited greatly by resting for a year.  I’ve got lots of worms in the soil, and although I didn’t take any soil samples as I had planned on doing previously, I just went ahead and added some general nutrients, minerals and organic fertilizers to the growing areas along with cow manure and even some nitrogen rich planting mix from Lane Forest mixed into the individual plants.  I am not tilling this year in order to not mess with the microbial and fungal organisms in the soil.   We’ll see if that helps with the healthy growth of my vegetables this year and hopefully my veggies will be more nutrient dense.   I’ve used quite a bit of Down to Earth’s Bio-Live fertilizer on individual vegetable plants.  It supposedly contains a diverse mixture of beneficial microorganisms like mycorrhizal fungi and bacterial species that “rapidly colonize the rhizosphere and surrounding soil to improve resource utilization and enhance nutrient uptake.”  We’ll see.  The proof is in the pudding.

The butterfly flowers I planted last year are also bulging with healthy foliage, and the milk weed is doing great too.  I didn’t get a single butterfly in my garden last year other than cabbage moths and a few smaller varieties, but maybe this year they will be more enticed to come and check out my garden now that the flowers are even larger.   Monarchs might be too much to hope for, but who knows – it could happen.  “ If you build it they will come.”  That’s what I’m hoping for.

Most surprising of all is how huge my medicinal plants are this year.  The burdock, marshmallow, Valerian and Echinacea are humongous.  I hope I can do something useful with the roots later.  I could go on and on about how great the garden is growing, but I’ll just post some photos instead, starting with a couple photos of Brenda, my new roommate and garden helper, not that Joshua isn’t still helping Mom out with the heavy stuff.  He’s still indispensable and I am very grateful for his help always.

Saving Kale Seed

Saving Kale Seed

 

 

Last year I grew two varieties of kale that overwintered and later grew into massive seed stalks this summer; the dinosaur kale and the curly leaf kale.  The curly leaf kale is my favorite, both in texture and taste.  The dinosaur kale is too tough and bitter for my pallet.  Two years ago I grew the Russian kale, and it was also too tough and bitter.   I’ll probably not fuss with any other kale variety when I grow more kale in the future other than the curly leaf.   Stick to what you like and don’t use up precious growing areas for something you won’t end up eating.

 

 

The kale kept growing well into the late summer, and I was still able to use whatever kale leaves I needed for cooking.  I especially like to add kale to soups and of course there are many ways to sauté kale.  One of my favorite recipes is Kale Yam Stir Fry.  You’ll find it and a couple other favorite recipes on my recipes page.

 

The seed pods didn’t dry out until late July.  When it was time to harvest the seed by releasing them from the pods, I used tarps which make it really easy.  I just bang on the plant and the seeds release onto the tarp making it very easy to gather up.

 

 

For the smaller curly leaf kale I just put the bush down in one of the large buckets and wacked them to release the seeds from the pods.  The large bin type buckets are indispensable to me in my garden.  They are good for so many uses.   I just wish they were of more durable plastic so they will last longer.  It’s not very sustainable when they crack and break and then have to end up in the landfill.

 

 

Saving seed is very gratifying.

Sunflower Pavilion

Sunflower Pavilion

 

I got the idea for creating a sunflower pavilion from my sister, Pam.  I thought it seemed like a fun idea so I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t going to grow any vegetables this year anyway, so I had the extra space.  Since I wanted to grow even more flowers for the pollinators, and sunflowers are favorites for the bees and birds, that was even more motivation.  Maybe I could have a tea party inside or at the very least lay down inside and stare up at the sunflowers as they decked the glorious sky.

 

 

It was really easy to get the project going.  I tilled the soil around the perimeter of the bed where I usually plant tomatoes and peppers.  Then I fertilized a bit with manure and sowed several varieties of seed from last year.  As they grew up I thinned them to a good 6 inches apart. Later when some of them grew really tall I had to put up a fence around the perimeter to keep them from caving in.  I allowed one doorway for the entrance.

 

 

I later set up a little table inside and then bought a hammock on sale at Fred Meyer.  I have to admit I never did have the tea party I wanted. It was just too unbearably hot all summer, so I wasn’t able to be outside in the garden much during the daytime.  But I did use the hammock a few times.  It was quite pleasurable to lie down on the hammock and gaze up at the cloud adorned blue sky with the sunflowers framing the view.

 

 

The best thing about the sunflower pavilion was that it supplied so much nectar for the bees and lots of good seed for the birds all the way into November.  I probably won’t ever do it again, but it was a fun experience.

 

Mason Bees 2016

Mason Bees 2016

 

2015 was a great year for mason bee activity.  To begin with I actually built my own mason bee house utilizing a design that I came up with myself.  I thought I needed something that would make it easier to place the tubes inside the house and then remove them later.  I also wanted a house that would offer more protection from the rain and sun, and this design accomplishes that purpose.  It was also very easy to make.   The house could be painted or stained, and if I used nicer wood like maple or pine instead of leftover plywood it could be quite stunning. I’ll consider this first house the prototype and then maybe I can build and decorate more houses later if I ever get the time.  One could put a larger can on the inside, but I only had so many tubes left so I used the smaller one.  On top of the tubes I place a lid with the cocoons.  To keep out larger birds I placed the chicken wire on the outside, and the twig is there for looks.

 

I realized this year that I didn’t have to mess around with sand or anything else to clean the cocoons.  It worked fine to use a sill with mesh that wasn’t quite as tight as my regular one I use in the kitchen.  I just shook and churned the cocoons around in the sill with a Q-tip, and most of the dirt, dried mud and debris loosened easily.  Then I brushed each cocoon softly with a soft tooth brush.

 

The mason bees produced 210 cocoons this year, so that is quite an improvement in numbers.  The first year I started with 17 cocoons.  They produced 35 for the next season.  Those 35 produced 150 cocoons that I put out this last spring 2015.  From those 150 I got 210 cocoons.  Not bad!

 

Now the little dormant mason bees will lay for several months safely encased in their little cocoons inside the humidifier in my fridge.  In April, when the fruit trees start to bloom and the temperatures reach 70 degrees I will once again put them outside in their little houses to hatch a begin another season of pollinating.

Saving Kale Seed

Saving Kale Seed

As usual, when the long summer days arrive it’s a challenge to sit down and read or write because I only want to be outdoors.  When I finally go indoors around 9:00 p.m. and get other essentials done it’s time for bed…  after a relaxing Netflix movie, or course.  With this uncomfortably hot and worrisome drought we’ve been having, the only time it’s cool enough to be outside is early morning and in the evenings after 7:00.  Never-the-less, despite time limitations and lack of motivation, I wanted to get up this post about saving kale seed since I recently pulled up the dinosaur and curly leaf kale that overwintered this year and went to seed.  Kale is such an easy seed to save, and it doesn’t have any problem reseeding itself if you leave it in the ground too long, which is what I did and I got hundreds of small kale shoots coming up that I had to pull out since they were competing with my freshly sown sunflowers and cosmos out near the back arbor.

When the kale pods have turned yellow and are dry, pull out the bush and lay it out on a tarp.  Cut off all the stems into the tarp with the gazillions of pods and sweep off the dirt.  When that is done, threshing and pounding on the stems and pods will release the seeds.  Scoop up the seeds and filter out the debris. You can use any kind of screen or even a colander with really small holes to filter out the pods and debris.  I usually just pour the seeds and debris into the sill and shake it into a bowl.  It’s not important to remove every single bit of debris for home use.

Another method that is really easy is to cut off the stems and place them into a big bucket.  Beat them around and the seeds will easily release from the pods and stay nice and contained.  I love these big garden buckets in the last photo.  I’ve used them forever.  Some last several years while others are not of the best quality and can break after barely a year’s use.  It’s not good that they end up in the landfill eventually, but what to do?  Maybe patch them up with Super Mend to extend their life?

This same method can apply to all kinds of vegetables and flowers that produce seeds in pods.  Other kinds of seeds like chard, have to be picked of the stems.  Now I have all this seed and will probably sow a little curly leaf kale in some far corner of the garden where I’m not letting the beds go fallow, then I can harvest it later during the fall and winter.

The only kale I really like that has a more neutral flavor and goes well in soups and stir fries is the green curly leaf.  I’ve learned that the Russian kale is too bitter and tough, and the dinosaur kale is also too tough and pungent for my pallet.  The curly leaf really suits me, and considering how expensive organic kale is in at the grocery store, it is one vegetable I will grow myself this year if I can find a spot.

I don’t know if anyone is noticing, but inflation is driving up food prices big time right now, not to mention the drought in California and elsewhere that is driving up costs for produce.  All the more reason to have your own garden and grow your own vegetables and fruit.

Ode to my Hen

Ode to my Hen

May you rest in peace my dearest hen.  I never gave you a name, but you were my favorite.  You reminded me of my mother because you were always so interested in what I was doing in my garden.  Whether I was outside walking around with a cup of coffee in my hand, or crouched down digging in the dirt, you would always come and check me out and talk to me.  I should have named you Curiosity.  You had such a calm disposition and an intelligence about you that made you seem almost human to me.  Until you, I really didn’t have any excessive fondness for any of my hens.  You showed me that it was actually possible to feel deep affection for a chicken.  You were a sweetie, and I will miss you.

I don’t know why my New Hampshire died.  She was just fine the day before and when I found her she had just keeled over and still had straw in her mouth.  Maybe it was a heart attack.  In any case, sometimes there are no clues.  Here is a poem I found by a man named  Jack Prelutsky that is a sweet chicken poem.  One of these days I will try to write one myself.

Last Night I Dreamed of Chickens

Last night I dreamed of chickens,
There were chickens everywhere,
they were standing on my stomach,
they were nesting in my hair,
they were pecking at my pillow,
they were hopping on my head,
they were ruffling up their feathers
as they raced about my bed.

They were on the chairs and tables,
they were on the chandeliers,
they were roosting in the corners,
they were clucking in my ears,
there were chickens, chickens, chickens
for as far as I could see…
when I woke today, I noticed
there were eggs on top of me.

Jack Prelutsky, 1940

Plum Canker and Blossom Blast

Plum Canker and Blossom Blast

Trees need a lot of care.  Had I known then what I know now about fruit trees, I would never have been so negligent in the care that I gave them, and I would have put a lot more research and planning into where I was planting the trees and what kind of trees grow best in the Willamette Valley.  When you learn by trial and error, you just waste a lot of time, money and effort.   An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.   And in this day and age with the internet there is no lack of information about how to do it right in your garden.   Or at least how to do it better.

In the last few years I’ve lost two arborvitae and three fruit trees to disease or other factors.  I will surely lose more if I don’t commit to a better care program, and that is what I am currently focused on.  The most recent disaster that I have had to deal with is the canker problem that devastated my Toka plum tree.  The photos provide a very ugly and clear example of what canker on a plum tree can look like.   In this case, it probably doesn’t get much worse than this, and the tree was so diseased with these cankers everywhere, that it didn’t bear any fruit last year, and once again after blossoming this year everything just dried up and only a few new limbs were able to produce a glimmer of hopeful green shoots.   I believe this is referred to as “blossom blast” which is described well in the first link below. Once the canker spreads to the degree it did with the Toka plum, there was nothing I could do to save it.  I could have possibly cut it back to almost nothing, sprayed intensively, cut out some of the remaining canker and then hoped for the best, but why bother?  It would have mutilated the tree and made it look awful.   Since it was only three years old, I figured it was best and safest to cut it down to prevent any spreading of the disease to my other fruit trees.   Hopefully it’s not too late.

Strangely enough, the fungus that caused the canker on the Toka plum didn’t spread to my other plum that is barely 10 feet away.   It is a dwarf Satsuma plum and doesn’t have a speck of disease on it.  What does this tell me?  That it is a much more disease resistant variety to this particular type of canker, possibly a good choice for the Willamette Valley, and that I was lucky to have chosen it?  Sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw.  This year the Satsuma is producing prodigious amount of plums too.  Probably because I sprayed, pruned appropriately, and I fertilized with 16-16-16 fertilizer and topped it all off with compost around the base.  Well, the warm weather probably helped a lot too.   Most likely it’s just a resistant variety for this type of canker.  Fortunately, I do not see any canker on my apple or pear trees either, thank goodness!  A preventative care program that maintains a tree’s good health is the best guard against canker, and when cankers do appear despite good care, you must cut them out and treat the wounds as soon as possible in June or July.   A good You Tube video of the surgery process is here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pg7G7Cuox7E

I have another canker problem on all my cherry trees, but I may have time to save them if I put in the effort to cut out the canker, dress the wounds, and spray and prune appropriately in the future.   One dormant spray each year is just not enough.

There are different strains of fungi that cause different kinds of bacterial cankers, and from what I understand the disease changes names depending on the spores and the stage of the disease.   Below are some good links that explain it all very well.

Most interesting information on Bacterial Canker in Prunus Species that cause blossom blast and canker. This description seems the most relevant to my problem:

http://groworganicapples.com/phorum/read.php?14,311,311

Perennial Canker Fact Sheet:

http://nysipm.cornell.edu/factsheets/treefruit/diseases/pc/pc.asp

How to Cure Canker in Apple Trees:

http://homeguides.sfgate.com/cure-canker-fungus-apple-tree-60121.html

Extensive PDF on tree diseases with great photos:

http://www.thousandcankers.com/media/docs/NCSU_Id_Tree_disease.pdf

Interesting forum comments on using a blowtorch to cauterize canker on cherry trees.   Sounds like it might help, but may not stop it completely:

http://forums.gardenweb.com/discussions/1493330/cauterizing-canker-on-cherry-tree

 

Conclusion:

I will attempt to cut out and dress the wounds on the cherry tree canker this summer.  I think it’s too late for my big cherry tree, even though it doesn’t seem to be that bothered by its canker, but I will try to do some work on my three younger cherry trees.  I may also experiment with a blow torch to cauterize the wounds.  If I do, then I will take photos and try to get a post up.  Wish me luck!

The Courage of the Seed

The Courage of the Seed
by Mark Nepo

All the buried seeds crack open in the dark
the instant they surrender to a process they can’t see.

What a powerful lesson is the beginning of spring.  All around us, everything small and buried surrenders to a process that none of the buried parts can see.  And this innate surrender allows everything edible and fragrant to break ground into a life of light we call spring.

In nature, we are quietly given countless models of how to give ourselves over to what appears dark and hopeless, but which ultimately is an awakening that is beyond all imagining.  This moving through the dark into blossom is the threshold to God.

As a seed buried in the earth cannot imagine itself as an orchid or hyacinth, neither can a heart packed with hurt imagine itself loved or at peace.  The courage of the seed is, that once cracking, it cracks open all the way.