email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Day In the Yard

Well, the past 2 days were near 100 degrees F, so I basically stayed inside.  But we have more hot weather coming up, so I took advantage of the "comfortable" 90 degrees and spent most of the day outside.  Actually, it wasn't too bad because the humidity was low and most of my backyard is shaded in the afternoon.

I had 3 goals for the day:
1.  Replant my pole beans and cucumbers (they simply did not grow the first time).
2.  Deeply water the veggie garden and flowerbeds (we have had a rain deficit every month since November and especially this month).
3.  Apply parasitic nematodes to combat grubs (mole food, and mole tunnels are vole highways).

First, the beans and cukes...  I am accustomed to presoaking my large seeds.  It usually works so well.  Unfortunately, I left the seeds soaking too long before the 1st planting, and only 2 plants came up.  Then I did the same thing 2 more times and didn't even bother to plant them because they were mushy.  There are times when you can really get annoyed at yourself!

Today, I took the last of my seeds, planted them in the cracked dry soil, and watered them deeply.  How dry was the soil?  Well. I watered it 3 days ago and today the soil was in dry clumps that I had to break up by hand in fine powder after I used a trowel to dig a row!  I watered the new seeds (and my existing small crops alongside) until it was damp 4" deep...  That ought to be good for a day.  I'll check again tomorrow.  That took a half hour.

Second, the garden and flowerbeds...  I spent 2 hours at that.  The flowerbeds are too narrow (generally 8' wide) to water with an oscillating sprinkler, and I didn't want to waste water on the lawn (which is in fine shape so far).  So I watered by hand so I could get the water right where it was needed. 

Now, watering by hand to get enough water into the ground is REALLY boring, so I have developed a liberating technique:

A.  Set up a stand for a radio, a timer, and a beer. 
B.  Set a chair next to the stand (in the shade of course).
C.  Plant a spading fork with a D handle in the ground 8' in front of the flowerbed.
D.  Place the sprayer nozzle (set on "shower") in the D handle.
E.  Set timer for 5 minutes.
F.  Turn on hose.
G.  Sit in chair, listen to radio, drink beer.
H.  When timer goes off, move spade 6' to the left, reset timer, sit in chair.
I.   Repeat until done.

Here is a pic of the sprayer I like to use for this.  It spreads large droplets in a wide cone, so there is little loss to wind and there is good coverage.  The nozzle gives control from a jet to wide cone, but no misting.

Here it is in the D handle of the spading fork.  The wide nozzle front helps it stay in the handle.

I use a spading fork because it is easiest to push into the lawn soil when dry, but any shovel with a D handle would work.  I am designing a better tool for the job.  If I am successful, I'll sell it.

Works great!  Of course, you can do other minor chores each 5 minutes, but I seldom do.  You can't weed ahead of the watering because the soil is too hard.  You can't weed behind it because the grass and soil is too wet.  And you can't do anything complicated because 5 minutes isn't enough time.  Yo can only sit and listen to the radio while drinking a beer.  Is that a perfect system or what?

Third, I had to apply the second batch of parasitic nematodes...  These little critters are great!  The wriggle through wet soil looking for grubs.  When they find one, they crawl inside it, lay eggs and die.  The grub producing thousands of new nematodes who go off through the soil looking for more grubs.

I don't actually have much of a grub problem as far as the lawn grass is concerned.  But I apparently have enough to keep the moles well fed.  I don't even mind the moles all that much.  I tread down their tunnels in the lawn and they aren't eating the veggies or flowers.

It's the voles I am after!!!  The voles follow the mole tunnels and THEY eat plants.  I have lost so many bulbs and perennials to voles that I am at war with them.  But they are hard to get rid of.  Part 1 of the plan is to get rid of the moles that provide them safe passage all around the yard.  Part 2 is to find the holes out of the mole tunnels and set up traps under buckets (mustn't let the cats step on traps) to catch the survivors and babies...

Anyway, applying the nematodes takes 3 actions.  You have to soak the ground, then apply the nematodes in a water mixture, then resoak the ground.  The instructions don't explain why, but I think I have figured most of it out.  The nematodes are essentially aquatic.  So if you spray them lightly on dry soil, they just die.

And after you spray them, the water droplets tend to stick on foliage and the droplets evaporate.  So here is what I think is happening...

The soil is soaked first to give the nematodes and place to land safely and survive the first few minutes after they are sprayed around.  Then, the followup spraying waters them down off the foliage and onto the soil, surrounding them in moisture.  Once they are on wet soil, they can start to move around freely.

They are applied in 2 batches a week apart.  The soil is to be kept moist for a week after each application.  Fortunately, the first application was easy.  I had a rainstorm in the afternoon to soak the soil, then I applied the nematodes, then there was a later shower and showers each of the 2 days after that.  The soil stayed moist.

I wasn't as lucky the second application.  Dry as a bone for days!  I spent 2 hours soaking the soil with the spade and nozzle arrangement in batches all over the area where I most often see mole tunnels.  I applied the nematodes (half hour).  Then I re-soaked the soil where I applied them (another hour).

I normally find it easy and satisfying to water the gardens.  I am heartily tired of it at the moment.  LOL!  3 1/2 hours of that cured me of the "pleasure" of watering (for a few days).

Let's just hope that the nematodes have a good effect on killing soil grubs for a while.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rain Gutters and Covers

OK, The rain gutters are as old as the house, 24 years old.  They are drooping in 2 places and the gutter nails are falling out.    I need to repair the gutters and clean them, and the gutter covers I have suck!  I can't drive in the gutter nails anymore.  I have rain gutter screws to use.

Who has a rain gutter cover that they like?  I've researched this for months and can't decide.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Robin Nest

I discovered I have a robin nest in the saucer magnolia in front of the house!

I'm of two minds about this.

First, I do like birds in general, and I like to see young birds and nests.  I feed finches and cardinals and hummingbirds.  I was going to cut down a 5'  unwanted cedar sapling once, but stopped because I found a hummingbird nest in it.  That cedar is still unwanted and 15' high today, but if hummers like to nest in cedars, I will leave the cedar alone.

Second, I don't actually like robins.  They eat my worms and I really DO like worms.  They are good for the soil, do my garden nothing but good, and they don't bite.  I actually get annoyed watching a half dozen robins marching across the lawn in a row pulling up worms every few feet.

I LIKE my lawn worms.  I even go out after a rainstorm and pick them up off the driveway to toss back onto the lawn.  I rescue them from puddles.  When I am weeding the garden and they are frightened up to the surface by the disturbance, I toss them into shady spots under flowers so they can go back about their business.

I won't disturb the robin nest myself, but if something natural happened to it, I wouldn't mourn...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Poison Ivy Progress

Time for a progress report on the poison ivy.  I gave it all a good spray on May 28th.

It was thriving then...
It was looking a bit tired a week later...
It is looking REAL unhappy now...

Now I have to go around and find the ones I missed the first time or that need another shot...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Vole Wars

I apologize for providing no pictures.  I just couldn't think of any good ones to take.  Mole tunnels do not show up well and my cats didn't catch any voles today...  So, I'll just move along to narrative.

I'm trying to discourage moles.  Not because they cause me much trouble, but because their tunnels are used by voles.  And VOLES cause me a lot of grief.  Voles eat plant roots and I have a lot of flowers and veggies in my yard.

Just as an example, I planted tulip bulbs 5 years ago in my flowerbed.  And, in an attempt to kill off the winter weeds that plague me in the Spring, I covered the entire flowerbed in black plastic  When I removed the plastic in the Spring, I found the oddest thing.  There were circles of 8" deep holes all around the flowerbed.  I couldn't figure out what caused them.  That is, until I discovered a half-eaten tulip bulb in one of the holes!  They had thrived under the black plastic (safe from predators) all Winter and found nearly every single tulip bulb I planted.

And then I noticed that each spot was near a mole tunnel.  "Often, moles will serve as the "highway crew" and make tunnels in search of grubs and worms. Voles will often follow the mole tunnels and eat the plants which the moles ignore." (citation)

They can also be trapped, but you will never get most of them.  So I decided that I had to discourage the moles to reduce the voles.  First, I applied Milky Spore to reduce the mole's favorite food (chafer grubs) last year.  Today, I applied parasitic nematodes to the entire area where I have seen mole tunnels or vole damage.

The parasitic nematodes seek and feed on grubs.  My best friend and I both have grubs in our lawns.  He doesn't have moles or voles, but when I was helping him plant crocuses in his lawn last Fall, I discovered his lawn was infested with grubs (oddly little evidence in the health of his lawn though).  In my lawn, I surmise their presence by the activity of moles and the evidence of voles following the mole tunnels.

It was quite an interesting experience.  The parasitic nematodes come in a small envelope of dissolvable material.  You put it in a hose end sprayer, watering can, or pump sprayer to disperse them.  It sounds simple, and for most people, it would be. I, however, never have "normal" experiences...  *SIGH*

First, you have to soak the area.  I was clever (fortunate) enough to have a short rainshower this afternoon.  Yay!  So that step was free.  They I had to apply the nematodes.  I had a watercan full of rainwater and at outside temperature, so that was perfect.  I used it to fill the hose end sprayer I had.  The instructions were quite specific that the application device not have any chemicals in it.  Mine was unused (after 15 years, LOL!).  Just never used it before (I have two of them, the other has been used many times).

So I mixed some of the nemotode material into the hose end sprayed container and turned it on.  It not only leaked around the coupling, spray hit my face from the leaks.  I had to shut the water off fast and fuss with it a bit.  I finally found  some combination on tightenings and rotations that stopped the leaking.

I set about spraying the waterborne nematodes all around the yard and woods (the moles like the woods best here for some odd reason).

Oops, I should mention that the lawn grass is 6 inches high and was soaking wet from the rain.  That's because my mower is broken and has been at a repair place FOR A WEEK and they haven't even called with an estimate yet...  I never have simple problems.  I have to warn repairmen that whatever the problem is, it won't be what they expect.  Like if I have an electrical problem, it is never just a blown fuse.  Or if the cable signal goes bad, it is never just a cable box problem; the wire was burned by a lightening  strike...

So, back to the nematode spraying.  My hose end sprayer was leaking like a seive and I had to keep fighting with it to prevent the leaks (a mist really) getting all over me.  I sort of assume I didn't want to be inhaling parasitic nematodes.  But I eventually got that to stop.

I had 30 fun-packed minutes of spraying nematode water all over the yard in 90 degree heat and 90% humidity.  I made sure to soak all areas where I had ever seen mole/vole evidence heavily and all other areas lightly.

Then I had to hose down the entire area again with plain water per instructions (I imagine because lots of little nematodes were sprayed onto grass leaves and not the soil itself.  That took another 30 minutes (after fighting with a standard hose nozzle on a "quick-connect" coupling that was working perfectly well previously but now refused to connect THIS time).

Even having a towel with me was not enough to keep the sweat from dripping into my eyes and down my neck.  My shoes and socks were soaked through from the rain and hose water on the lawn grass.

By the time I was done at 6:30, I was soaked in water up to my knees and from sweat down to my waist.  Inside later, I found a tick on my head and one on an arm.  I sweated for 30 minutes (lost 2 pounds, which was nice), and my hand was cramped from holding the hose nozzle for 20 minutes (off and on).

At this time I can say that, happily, the dehydration justified drinking an entire bottle of wine (Old Vine Zinfandel by Twisted Wine Cellars - really good inexpensive wine)

So when I say I don't have "routine problems", this is what I mean.

My next step in the attack is do apply a 2nd round of Milky Spore Disease.  After that, I will spray cartor oil around the yard.  That doesn't kill ANYTHING, but it makes the grubs taste terrible to moles.  

So the moles will find less food and what the find will taste awful and they will leave my yard.  The voles won't have the mole tunnels to use to find plant roots, and they will be easier for cats and owls and raptors to find and eat.  Then, when I place mousetraps under boxes at vole exits, I will catch the last of them.

I don't have to kill all the voles, just keep the population in check.  But if I COULD kill the last one in my yard, I wouldn't mourn their absence.  LOL!

Iza the cat would though.  She likes catching them.  Unfortunately, she isn't very good at actually killing them...  I've watched her.  She leaves them after they stop trying to escape.  I'm more lethal.  When Iza leaves them, I go out and stomp them...

Friday, June 11, 2010

That Compost Tumbler

I thought I should explain about the compost tumbler I mentioned in the previous post.  There are large ones with a crank handle to rotate a large drum on a frame and there are smaller ones you just roll around on the ground to keep the materials mixed.

I have the large one on the stand.  It seems like a great idea.  The kitchen waste is safe from scavengers and the handle makes it easy to thoroughly mix the contents.  The frame holds the drum just above the height of a wheelbarrow, so it ought to be easy to unload the contents when "cooked".  There are vents for letting air circulate for aerobic microbial breakdown.

I don't know about the small portable ones, but the big ones don't work!

1.  The vents are too small for good air ventilation, so the breakdown occurs mostly anaerobically ("without oxygen").  Anaerobic decay is cold and slow, which means weed seeds aren't killed and it takes forever.  It also smells bad (anaerobic microbes produce ammonia).

2.  It is awkward and messy trying to get the material out when you want it.  The drum is too high to shovel the stuff out, and turning the opening to the bottom to let it fall into the wheelbarrow doesn't work well.  It doesn't want to fall out on its own, and rotating the drum back and forth over the wheelbarrow spills half of the "compost" on the ground.

3.  You would think a metal drum in the sun would heat up on its own.  Nope!  The vents are large enough to prevent that.  The door does get hot enough in Summer though to approach "painful to remove".

4.  The thing is a haven for insects.  Clouds of fruit flies come out each time I open it.  And there is some sort of black fly that loves the rotting (yes rotting, not composting) material as breeding grounds.  I've had to take the vents apart several times to empty out all the dead bodies because that's where they try to escape through.

Do yourself a favor if you are considering one of these things.  Build a normal compost bin instead!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Avoiding Last Year's Mistakes

I made 2 really silly mistakes last year and I am pleased to say that I remembered them well enough to avoid them this year.

The first mistake was my compost.   I have a tumbler compost bin.  I add all my kitchen scraps and shredded paper to it.  It doesn't work like they advertise.  It never heats up, but it breaks down eventually.  Most important to me, the fresh high-quality kitchen scraps are not available to scavengers like raccoons.  I use the tumbler only for that reason.  As soon as the stuff is beyond scavenging, I move it to my real (normal") compost bins which work very well.

Well, last Spring my real compost bins were all full of cornstalks, flower canes and other stuff which was slow to break down.  So I used the material directly from the compost tumbler and dug it into the soil in my long trellis bed.  I know about sheet-composting, where you just bury all the fresh scraps straight into the soil.  So, no problem, right?

The second mistake was my fertilizer.  I have 2 kinds of organic fertilizers.  One is "W.O.W." (8-2-4) which is a corn gluten product.  It is great for lawns because on the nitrogen and because the corn gluten inhibits seeds from growing the initial root.  That really cuts down on the dandelions and other weeds if you time the application properly.  The corn gluten doesn't harm established plants at all and it is a fine source of nitrogen.  The other is "N Lite" (2-5-6).  I like having the 2 of them because I can use either separately or blended (10-7-10), according to what the plants want.

OK, so here's what happened last year.  First, I got a 1,000 melon and cuke seedlings sprouting from the lousy compost tumbler material!  I couldn't distinguish MY melon and cuke seedlings from the ocean of hybrid melon and cuke seedlings.  I tried to guess which ones were mine for a month, but finally pulled them all out.  I replanted.

That's where the second mistake came into play.  After scuffle-hoeing the whole area several times to make sure all the scrap melon seeds were spent, I carefully added a blend of the fertilizers to the soil and planted all my regular small crops.  Most of my good crops are seedlings grown indoors and transplanted out.  But I also have all those radishes, carrots, beets etc that are direct-seeded.

The fertilizer included the corn gluten.  That stuff that inhibits seeds from sprouting...  It was a month before I realized why nothing was growing!  ARGGHH!

Things are growing better this year...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


ASPARAGUS!  I have an 8' by 3' asparagus bed.  I'm proud of it.  I harvested over 60 spears this year before letting the plants grow to replenish for next year.  It was great!  Last year I barely got a dozen (and they were late to emerge) and I thought they were dying.  I LOVE asparagus!  Fresh asparagus tastes better than grocery store ones!  And they are tenderer while still crisp when steamed...

I started with 10 crowns 15 years ago, but am down to 7.  I should replace the lost ones.  Or maybe I should just replace them all this Fall.  I haven't decided.  2 years ago, I covered the entire bed with black plastic to kill all the weeds.  That didn't work.  The weeds survived and the voles went crazy under the safety and warmth of the black plastic.  They killed several crowns entirely and damaged others.

But because I wasn't sure where the new spears were emerging (so I didn't want to chop them with the shovel) and didn't want to dig weeds out around the bed, the weeds are taking over.

Anyone want to come over and weed my asparagus bed?
I seem to have a lot of tree saplings and grass...  Yes, they grew THAT high just in this year!

Well, when I dig all the saplings and grass clumps up, I will do what I USED to do that helped.  Place folded up sheets of newspaper between the asparagus stalks.  It works great.  I just kind of overlooked it the past two years...