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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