Thursday, July 13, 2017

Establishing Squash Bees in Your Garden

By the time honeybees get their lazy striped butts out of the hive and start their daily commute to my garden, squash bees have been at work for a couple of hours pollinating my squash.  There is so little pollen left that the honey bees seldom bother to visit the blossoms.
Squash Bee with pollen-covered legs

Squash Bee with distinctive narrow-striped abdomen
How do they do it?  Squash bees live where they work, and turn the blooms into a singles bar. The male bees hang around in the blossoms, waiting for unfertilized females to show up.  Towards noon the males and any unfertilized females enter a male blossom and let it close around them.  At dawn, when the next blossoms are opening, the bees chew through the walls of their overnight hostel and continue their search for a mate.
Withered male flowers are overnight refuges
Instead of a long commute back to a hive with the pollen, a fertilized female squash bee digs a nest close to the squash plants.  She stuffs one of the chambers with pollen, lays one egg on the pollen and seals that chamber.
Squash Bee with pollen-covered legs
The fertilized females spend the afternoons digging nest chambers to fill with pollen the next day. They live in a nest until the chambers are all complete, then make a new one.
Squash bee nest hole
So how do you attract these wonderful creatures to your garden?  Plant squash, of course, and have some bare, untilled dirt next to the squash for the nests.  Read more!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Watching Grass Grow: Buffalo 2.0 Is Now a Meadow

A meadow is grass with wildflowers ...and I have it!  At least in parts of the lawn, if you squint just right, I have fluffy clumps of grass with scattered flowers.
Jute mesh, new grass, and some wildflowers (Ratibida columnaris)
It's been slow to establish for several reasons:
  • We had a cooler spring than usual.
  • The summer rains have not come yet.
  • I did not till or amend the area before planting.
  • The seeds are not a select improved "turf" strain, it's just generic buffalo grass and blue grama grass. 
  • I fertilized very lightly and did not fertilize early.
  • Most of the wildflowers are perennials and will not bloom well this year. 
The erosion control mesh is doing exactly what I need it to do - when I water the mesh fills with water like waffles fill with syrup and it sinks in instead of running off.  I am watering daily to encourage the final grass seeds to sprout, with an occasional seep watering to get the roots to go deep.  I really need some rainstorms. Read more!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

DIY Sweat Bands for Sound Protection Ear Muffs

Sound protection while you are using power tools is important.  The whine of a power saw or the roar of a chipper-shredder can permanently damage your hearing, and almost always leaves you with a headache.

I wear earmuffs.  But the foam ear pads produce sweaty ears!  I hate sweaty ears!  So I made these washable, cheap sweat-soakers out of cotton socks. They work well on my wireless headphones too, and don't block the movie sound. They lower the efficiency of noise cancelling headphones a bit, but it's still better than sweaty ears.

White cotton crew sock or socks, men's multi-size or large. Look for the highest cotton content as you can find in cheap socks.
Socks and Scissors

Read more!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wasps for Caterpillar Control

Many people think the paper wasps and mud daubers are a dangerous garden pest that needs to be controlled.  In my view, they are excellent pest controllers, especially for caterpillars.  They catch insects and feed them to their larvae.
These cells will be filled with hungry baby wasps!
I was looking at my hollyhocks, looking for the insect that made web nests like this in leaves and ate the leaves.  Most of the webs were empty, because wasps were systematically locating the nests and eating the caterpillars. The wasps ignored me as they moved from leaf to leaf.
Caterpillars hiding in rolled leaf web.
One of the Painted Lady butterflies, Vanessa annabella West Coast lady
is the probably leaf muncher.  Mallows are one of their main host plants.

Wasps are also patrolling the Four O'Clocks, the tomatoes and the peppers, which have very little caterpillar damage this year.

When would I destroy a wasp nest? Nests in areas where they risk being bumped and bringing the wrath of the inhabitants on me are destroyed when I find them.  The first photo is of a nest that the wasp built in the garden shed, on my weed trimmer.  I destroyed it and hope she found a better place for her next effort. Read more!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Flowers! And Bugs!

Enough of construction and problem solving!  I have flowers to brag about ... Russian sage, hollyhocks, penstemons and gaillardia blooming between my patio and the fence in a gaudy mess.  
This is the traditional New Mexico style flower garden, where you plant a lot of things and let them fight for room. My long term plan is to extend this planting along the fence to the right, as time and available compost permit.

The Russian sage has dozens of bees, and an occasional butterfly.  These cream or white ones with spots are common.  An orange sherbet colored one taunts me and dodges the camera.

And on another wall, Zebra hollyhocks (Malva sylvestris) in a small planting area between patio and barbecue grill. There are also gaura and salvia for the hummingbirds.
Read more!

Monday, June 12, 2017

How to Grow your Own Ladybugs in 6 Easy Steps

A common question on gardening forums is "How do I attract ladybugs?".  It's easy. All you have to do is attract aphids.
  1. Have plants for the aphids. 
  2. Do nothing!
  3. Ladybugs will appear.
  4. Ladybugs lay eggs on the infested plants and eat aphids.
  5. Eggs hatch into aphid-eating larvae, grow up and make pupae.
  6. Adult ladybugs emerge from pupae and eat more aphids and lay more eggs.
Congratulations! You have grown ladybugs*.
Read more!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Climate, Micro-climates, and Nano-climates

This turned into an accidental demonstration of what micro-micro-climates are.  A micro-micro is a nano ... so maybe I'm showing nano-climates.  If you have a few plants that are unexpectedly struggling when the rest of the same variety are thriving, check for tiny differences in light and water.

EXAMPLE: Here are three young summer squash, looking quite water-stressed in the early afternoon.
Less than 6 feet to the north, at the same moment, another three squash looking perky.
They were started and planted out at the same time, the seeds came from the same packet, the growing medium is the same home-made compost and silty sand, and they have the same length of drip tubing from the same manufacturer coiled around them.

The difference? The three to the north get light shade from a branch about 20 feet above them in the early afternoon. The stressed ones do not.

The solution? I added more drip tubing for the stressed ones.

I've seen nano-climates like this come from a window or wall reflecting light and heat, a septic tank's microbiological action warming the soil, or a change to a neighbor's landscaping giving more or less sunlight. 

Read more!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Watching Grass Grow: Buffalo 2.0 Update

Just a quick update on establishing the buffalo and blue grama lawn. It looked like this in early February, right after I spread the jute mesh and scattered the seeds.
February 2, 2017
After way too much weeding and daily hand watering, by late May I had grass and an enthusiastic crop of native wildflowers.  Two annuals -  Tahoka daisy (Machaeranthera tanacetifolia) and sunflowers - are the main ones now. The perennial species are still very small.
May 27th
The daisies were not deliberately planted. They blew in from somewhere and I decided to keep them. They have a long bloom period, reseed easily, and attract a small white butterfly.
Tahoka Daisy
The native grasses don't grow very tall at first. They are establishing roots. When the summer rains come, I expect to see the buffalo grass sending out runners and the blue grama bunches get taller.
Tufts of grass
Read more!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Composting rules I break, and why I break them

There are lists of what could/should and should not be tossed into a compost pile. I disregard most of them, because they make no biological sense. However, local conditions and ingredients affect my decisions.

What I don't compost, and why:
  • Eggshells
    Our soil has plenty of calcium, and the grackles or ravens rummage through the compost for shells, then carry the shells a short distance and drop them. It's not worth the mess they cause.
  • Cactus pads
    The fleshy part decays quickly, but the spines last forever in the compost. It hurts.
  • Palm fronds
    They are too fibrous to run through a chipper shredder, and the fibers last a long time, making the compost hard to turn or sift. 
    If you want to prune your palm trees, do it in time for Palm Sunday in the spring or Sukkot in the fall.  People will love you for donating fronds to their ceremonies.
What I compost that I'm "not supposed" to:
  • Kitty litter
    We use locally produced pellet fuel - compressed sawdust - as litter. After removing the feces because ewww! the urine-soaked sawdust composts easily.  I'm not worried about pathogens because they are my cats. They live with me, sleep on my bed and wander through my house.
  • Meat and leftovers containing meat or grease
    If you can compost an entire dead elk by piling sawdust over it, a few scraps of stew meat aren't going to make your compost pile die. 
    If I lived where the meat could attract scavengers such as bears or raccoons, I would keep most food scraps out of the compost.
Read more!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Weed Control: Herbicides 101, What Plants They Kill

Herbicides are chemicals used to control unwanted plants. All conventional or "organic" herbicides work by somehow interfering with plant growth. They may block photosynthesis and protein production, dry out the leaves, or destroy or inhibit root formation. Because different plant groups have different biochemical pathways, some herbicides can kill only one group and leave other groups unaffected. Other herbicides will kill a wider range of plants.

This means that you might be able to get rid of some plants and not kill the plants you want to keep.  But it also means you have to take the time to find the right herbicide, read labels and apply the herbicide correctly.
WARNING: If something will kill "weeds", it might also kill "flowers", "lawns", "vegetables", "shrubs", "trees", "animals", and you.
Read the labels before you buy a product or open the container. Follow the instructions. What has been sprayed can't be unsprayed.

READ THE LABELS: Yes, that means YOU!

A typical herbicide label has several pages of cautions and warnings and instructions.  The label will tell you how to safely handle the product, what plants to use the product on, and just as important, what not to use it on. You can read the labels online while you are deciding which product you need.
Label from typical lawn weed killer.
They tell you what NOT to apply it to because it will kill those plants.

There is also a long list of weeds it has been tested against that it will kill
if you apply it according to the package directions.

What are you killing, and for how long do you want it dead?

Classified by results, herbicides can be thought of as soil sterilizers, broad spectrum herbicides, broad-leaf herbicides, grass herbicides, and pre-emergent herbicides.  So your first step is to decide what effects you need, and identify the plants you want to kill. Then you can select which product of that class will work best for you.

Soil Sterilizer
A soil sterilizer prevents seed sprouting and regrowth from roots for a long period, months to years.  It usually kills existing plants as well.  This is the equivalent of "nuke it from orbit" for a gardener, and should be very carefully researched.

This is not the product you want to apply to clear the weeds from where you plan to put a lawn or vegetable garden.

Broad Spectrum Herbicide
Affects almost every plant you spray, but will not prevent seeds from sprouting, or only has a short effect on seed sprouting. These are useful for killing off everything and replanting with the desired species. With care they can be used around established plants without harming them.

Glyphosate is in this class, as is horticultural (20%) vinegar, and that stupid mix of salt, vinegar and dish soap. 

Broad-Leaf Herbicide
Affects most plants with two seed leaves, also known as broad-leaf plants, but does not affect plants with one seed leaf, such as grass and corn. This is what you get in the herbicides to kill weeds in lawns.

TIP: Not all plants with grass-like leaves are immune to this class of herbicide.  Some are not botanically a "grass" and others are just delicate varieties of a grass.

Grass Herbicide

This affect plants with one seed leaf or thin leaves, such as grass and corn, but does not affect plants with two seed leaves. These are useful for killing grass in your shrubbery and rose beds or an orchard.

Pre-Emergent Herbicide
This is often sold as a "weed preventer" because it sounds more appealing than "pre-emergent herbicide".  However it is labelled, it will prevent most seeds from germinating, so don't try to use it to keep weeds from sprouting in the vegetable bed or lawn you just seeded.

TIP:Timing is everything with pre-emergents. Applied too early or if there is too much rain and the herbicide might be washed below the level where the seeds are germinating. Applied too late and the weeds can be too mature to be affected.

On-Line References  Read more!