Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Frost Cover Failure: Did They Live?

It's Flat and It's Freezing. Are they Frozen?

First there was this. Snow I should have prepared for, but didn't, flattened my frost cover. Then there was a spell of unusually cold weather for here, with the days at or barely above freezing and the nights well below freezing.

Left: Before
Right: After
I abandoned the leafy greens to their fate in the frozen wasteland and hoped the snow would be enough insulation to keep them from dying. I sat inside, sipping hot tea and snuggled with my cats, and waited.

Finally, after more than a week, the daytime weather warmed up a bit. The arches began to spring back up as the snow melted. It was looking like a snow snake's spine and I could see greens, although I couldn't tell if they were frozen dead greens or live greens.

Starting to Thaw, 10 Days Later
To see the thrilling finale of this cliffhanger ...
Read more!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Jute Erosion Mesh: Lawn Upholstery Part 2

It Finally Begins to Biodegrade

Almost 2 years ago, I covered the front yard with jute mesh to keep the grass seeds from blowing away or drying out. It worked as intended, but it's taking longer than I expected to degrade.

The mesh in the dryer areas of the yard (where the grass is thinnest) is still quite strong. The mesh where the grass was thickest has almost completely vanished. In a wetter climate, or if I had watered the grass more, it would have all vanished by now.

Raking the leaves this spring was tricky because the mesh was still strong enough to snag the rake tines. This winter the mesh is there, but although it looks intact it has most of its strength. I raked up small shreds and an occasional tangle of strings as I raked the dead grass and leaves.
The last of the erosion control cloth
 I'm tossing leaves, mesh and dead grass into the compost bins. By this time next year they will be ready for adding to the vegetable garden’s raised beds.

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Monday, December 31, 2018

Snow Is Heavy, Frost Shelter is Flat!

Engineering Failure: Will the Plants Survive?

We had several inches of snow overnight in late December. Light fluffy powder snow that squashed my frost cover!  More snow and sub-freezing daytime temperatures are forecast so I am going to wait until that is over before I dig down to see if the plants are alive.

It's flat.
 It's clear that I need some vertical support for the arches. I wasn't even thinking of possible snow weight, because high winds were the immediate threat. 

This on-line snow load calculator says there were 50 to 60 pounds of snow being held up by slender wires and some frost cloth.

Will the Plants Survive?

I hope so. I'll post when I find out. Read more!

Monday, December 3, 2018

How Do Frost Cloth Covers Trap Heat?

Garden Science

The leafy greens in the raised bed are thriving under the frost cloth tent. They've been planted out about a month and I am harvesting leaves. Harvest one leaf per plant and I can decorate a sandwich. Salads will come later.
One Month's Growth of Bok Choi

I always assumed that frost cloth worked by trapping heat under it, with stored heat from the ground keeping the air temperature above freezing. But I got curious and when I had the plants uncovered to water and weed them, I put a wireless remote thermometer under the tent.

Temperature? I recorded the temperature under the cloth and from an online personal weather station a block away periodically from 2PM until about 1PM the next day.
Read more!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Frost Cover Support: Rev 3.0 "Ladder Mesh"

The best version yet!

My first version of a frost cover support for winter vegetables was cobbled together in a hurry from available material with a cold front roaring down from Canada.  It was fast and effective but not convenient. The so-called "improved version" was not much better. This winter I took the time to think through the requirements for the supports before the freezes get here. Planning!  It works!

Improved Frost Cloth Support

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Monday, June 18, 2018

Killing Trees That Sprout From the Roots

All It Takes Is Patience, Herbicide (optional) and a Shovel

Black locust, (Robinia pseudoacacia),  Tree of Heaven, (Ailanthus altissima), and a few other shrubs and trees are notorious for coming back from the roots if you cut the main plant. In the wild they make large thickets, in the landscape they make a mess.

We removed a cluster of volunteer Ailanthus trees because they were wrecking the fence, endangering the neighbor's power lines and providing too much shade on the flower bed.

The First Attempt: Because I had heard horror stories about how hard these are to kill, I went 100% forest service style for removing them.  It involves hacking into the trunks with a hatchet and promptly applying glyphosate to the cuts at the "right time of year" to translocate the herbicide for an efficient kill.

It worked, they died that summer, and I had someone remove the trees down to stump level.  They are currently hidden by flowers, quietly rotting away and sprouting many inedible mushrooms. 
Ailanthus Stumps

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Save the Bees the Lazy Way

Just a short post - proving that less is more. If you mow less often, you have more bees. The USDA Forest Service and some partner researchers tested and found that mowing your lawn less frequently can significantly improve pollinator habitat. As long as you have clover and dandelions and other lawn flowers - more of a "meadow" than a putting green.

Native Bee on Clover in Lawn
The research team found that while mowing every 3 weeks resulted in as much as 2.5 times more lawn flowers (aka dandelions and clover) and greater diversity of bee species, the abundance of bees was greatest when home owners mowed every 2 weeks.

Read more!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Faster fall bulb planting

Just a quick post. If you have a lot of fall bulbs to plant, use a drill with a "spade" bit that is about half an inch wider than the bulbs you are planting.

Spade bits
Photo by Luigi Zanasi from Wikimedia

I planted over 100 small bulbs in a couple of hours by drilling into the dirt, then poking the bulbs root-first into the loose dirt.

This will wreck the bit because you will hit rocks, so don't use a top-quality woodworking bit. Any cheap bit will do.

Read more!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Tarantula Hawks: Gentle Giants of the Wasp World

You have probably encountered tarantula hawks on click-bait websites in a list of "most painful stings", "most bad-ass", or "biggest jerks of the animal world".  It's just fake news and sensationalism, except for the part about the painful sting. That's true.

Unless you annoy tarantula hawks sufficiently by grabbing them for research purposes or just because you are stupid, they ignore you and go about their business of feeding on nectar, and hunting spiders for wasp babies to eat. They don't just hunt tarantulas, any large spider will do.  I have had them run over my bare feet (it tickles) while they were searching my patio for black widows.

There were a dozen or more feeding on the flowers of a Vitex bush in my front yard so I grabbed the camera. These pictures were taken with a macro lens, my camera only a few inches from the wasp.  A couple of them bumped into me or the camera as they flew from flower to flower but I was just an inedible obstacle.
Female Pepsis grossa
The males find a good nectar source like the Vitex and hang out there in early June, waiting for females to show up. They might get lucky. 

This species (Pepsis grossa) is amazing iridescent teal with rusty amber wings in New Mexico.  The Arizona variant is all black-teal iridescent, including the wings. The females have curled antennae, the antennae of the males are straight.

About that Sting

I have been stung once by a tarantula hawk, and yes it is intensely painful. It was a "could not move or talk" level of pain for the worst 5 minutes of my life, including the time I got a 600V jolt from a Nixie tube driver.  However painful, the sting didn't leave much of a trace once it was over. Compared to the hours of slightly less pain from a bark scorpion sting ... I'd take the wasp.

By briefly paralysing an attacker with pain, the wasp can often escape.  It's effective enough that very few insectivores are going to try to eat more than one.

See Also:

https://askentomologists.com/2015/09/27/please-stop-sharing-the-wasps-are-jerks-memes/   Read more!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Storm Damage, Mostly Hail

Along with three inches of rain in two weeks we had a few short hail showers.  The rain was welcome. The hail was not excessive, but the damage it caused might make a novice gardener think they had a mysterious disease or leaf-eating pests.

Here's the first example, a chile pepper with the typical irregular holes punched by hailstones.
Holes from Hailstones

And the second, which looks like some sort of a disease, but is just spots of freeze damage where a small hailstone landed on the tender tomatillo leaves, stayed there, and melted.
Freeze Damage from Hailstones
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