Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Controlling Caterpillar Pests with Packing Tape

I was coming in from the laundry room before sunrise one June morning and in what little light there was, I saw something moving down a mesquite tree that shades the patio. It was a squirming army of caterpillars of some sort, moving down the trunk as fast as they could wiggle and vanishing into the pebbles around the tree.

The caterpillar infestation explained the tree's failure to thrive that spring - the bean crop was vanishing, and unlike the other mesquites, it had not put out many new shoots. It wasn't dying, just not thriving, and had never recovered from the usual ratty winter mesquite look.

A co-worker and I discussed the easiest way to get the pests under control and came up with a brilliant idea.

The brilliant plan:

  • Let the worms get up in the tree from their daytime hiding place in the pebble mulch.
  • Band the trunk with an adhesive material late that night.
  • Worms would get stuck on the adhesive on their way down at dawn.
  • Mockingbirds would arrive at daylight and eat the worms for breakfast.
  • The tree would be saved.
Caterpillars on and above the packing tape

What actually happened with the brilliant plan:

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Weed Control Methods: Flame Throwers and Weed Burners

Flame Throwers and Weed Burners

Weed burners or flamers are blowtorches adapted to deliver flames to ground level.  They do not have to burn the plants to ash as long as the heat cooks the leaves.  Flamers work best on small weeds with a high moisture content because the plant doesn't have the resources to regrow after the leaves are dead.
Too big for most of us, but a very striking photo from www.lpg-apps.org. 
Flaming the weeds on a large field before planting the crop.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Manual Weed Control Methods: Hand Pulling and V-Weeders


There is something deeply satisfying about grabbing a fistful of weeds and yanking them out, roots and all. However, you have to make sure you aren't just pulling the leaves off because the weeds will regrow.  The soil should be damp, either from a heavy rain or recent watering.  If it's too wet you will yank out huge clumps of dirt with the weeds, and if it's too dry the roots are locked into the dry dirt.

Best Technique:  Grasp the entire plant at the base, holding all the leaves in your hand and rotate it as you pull up.  If things go right, you should pull out an intact tap root.  If you are just breaking the tops off, water the area and try again in a couple of days, or use a V-weeder.

NOTE: Most annual plants have a growth point at the base of the leaves that can regenerate leaves. Slice below this point or the weed has a chance of growing again. 
Growth point: be sure to get this and the top inch of the roots.


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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Weed Control: Know the Enemy


It's not the weeds you see that are the problem, it's the ones hiding in the dirt, waiting to grow.

Weeds in Rye
By Agronom (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons

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Sunday, December 4, 2016

DIY No-Tool Shade Screens

Keeping sunshine out of the house during the summer keeps the utility bills lower, as does letting sunshine into the house during the winter.  The obvious answer is removable shade screens.

The problem: How to mount shade screens on windows that have no place to attach the screens because the windows are inset into old adobe and fragile stucco instead of wood or concrete.

The solution: Use tension rods to hold the shadecloth top and bottom as if it were a French door curtain.  No power tools required, 

Despite the non-standard construction materials and methods, the screens have just finished their fourth summer and survived several severe thunderstorms each summer.

Tension rods holding shadecloth

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dealing with Weed Seeds in Compost


This accidentally turned into a nice demonstration because the various leafy greens germinated in their soil blocks at different times and were planted out at intervals of a few days.

My compost method is known as "slow" or "cold" composting.  This pile it and forget it method doesn't produce enough heat to reliably kill weed seeds.  Some will die of old age before the compost is used, but others will survive.

That means my just-filled raised beds were filled with unsprouted weed seeds. They sprouted as soon as they got  light and moisture, leaving me with a weedy mess of a vegetable bed like this. 
 
Weedy mess and transplanted chard seedlings
It will get worse every day unless ...
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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Removing Landscape Spikes the Easy Way

The common method of securing landscape timbers is to pound a 12-inch chunk of 3/8 rebar through a hole drilled in the wood into the dirt underneath.  This is secure and cheap method.

However, when the timbers rot or you need to remove them, you are left with a short steel stub sticking out of the ground, firmly anchored by 11 inches of rusted metal.
Spike in Rotting Timber
It's just the right size to puncture tires and the right height to slice open someone's bare foot.

Dangerous Rebar Stub

The spike will be rusted in place and seem to be difficult to pry out, but there is an easy way of removing them.
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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fluid Seeding, aka Cornstarch Gel Germinating

Several sites recommend using a cornstarch gel for planting out delicate barely germinated  seeds, or as a medium for germinating them.  It's used because after a seed has germinated artificially it will continue to grow even though it's too cold for them to germinate in the ground.

In an area with a short growing season you can gain a couple weeks of growing time by pre-germinating. 

The claim is that the gel and sprouted seeds can be squeezed from a bag into the prepared seed bed without damaging the delicate new roots.  If you are germinating in a dish of gel, you can spoon a sprout and some gel and place it where you want it.  The gel cushions the roots during transfer and provides a small reservoir of moisture for the first few days.

I tried germinating seeds on a dish of gel because my success rate when planting directly is usually poor.  Keeping a garden plot damp during a seedling's delicate early days is not easy in the arid Southwest.
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Thursday, November 17, 2016

The New Raised Bed Corners

The nail-free raised beds I made have a minor flaw: they leak dirt at the corners because it's a simple right angle butt joint.  The cedar fence slats touch but they are not connected.


Corners touch, but do not connect. Dirt leaks out
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Monday, November 14, 2016

No-Tools Needed Tall Raised Beds

The garden used to be the bottom of an arroyo, so it's mostly sand, some silt and some big rocks.  Instead of a short barrier to keep mulch contained, I need serious soil amendments and a deeper vegetable bed to hold it all.
Two slats high, with ends butted together

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Shed Door Retainer - What Took So Long?

This is a simple solution to the problem of a tool shed door that would not stay open.  After a couple of years of propping it open with rocks and bricks, and getting trapped in the dark when the wind blew it shut, I found a solution.

DUH!  Put a hook on the fence rail and the eye on the door.  Latch it open!  What took me so long, I think, is that the solution was so simple. 

Yes, it's a hook and eye!
The other shed is further from the fence, so I bent skinny steel rod into an 18-inch hook.  Chain and a hook to connect between the shed door and the fence would also have worked, but I had the rod in the workshop and no chain. Read more!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Garden: Rebooting In a New Location

Oh wow, it's been over a year since I posted anything.   It's been a busy couple of years, with fixing up a house to resell, then fixing up the antique adobe house to move into, and moving from one state to another.

New garden, new challenges.  Look at this flower and I'll be back soon with projects and gardens in a different climate.

sunflower
Sunflower growing wild in my yard

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