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    Tuesday
    Aug232011

    The Days are Flying By

    Promised update:  so far, so good using the Magic Potion (see the preceding article).  A Praying Mantis was accidentally sprayed while going over the Spider Flowers, and he just turned his big-eyed head and looked at me.  No more munching grasshoppers as far as I can tell.  All God’s insects have their purpose and their place around the home and garden (I grudgingly suppose), but managing them is the key.  Just like adopting the “live and let live” policy with the various wildlife that inhabits our immediate vicinity.  And now, we think we have a skunk living under the porch (the odor always gives them away - never mind that we’ve seen him visiting with the cats).  So, groundhog family, visiting raccoons (one year we had several generations living in the attic - cute little bandit babies and all), opossum poachers (they love the cat food), garden snakes, brown snakes (one of which I picked up while pulling weeds - THAT is another story), various garden pests, moles (who have had their share of the garden bounty from the roots up)…

    I say we try to “live and let live”; but that is more GB than me, really.  I have been known to holler loud enough for the various backyard varmints to hear me, that I want them “dead, all dead!”  They can be destructive to the property (especially raccoons, who have, more than once, destroyed screening and woodwork), make messes, eat huge holes in the just-about-to-be-picked cantaloupe, dig holes in the yard and garden, disrupt plantings, scare me to death, make my stomach turn (possums, you know who you are), smell up the place, and wreak general mayhem.  Raccoons are cute, so are the groundhogs (did you know groundhogs are just big ‘ol rodents?).  And their offspring.  (Raccoons have, over the past few years, placed themselves on my list of undesirables, though.  They can be very mean and are the most destructive of all our backyard visitors.)  I understand that ‘good’ insects have their place among my flowers, herbs, and vegetables.  I love honeybees.  Skunks and possums, well, they just cannot live in the backyard.  They really are not invited to visit anymore, either.  Skunks are prettier in person than they are in pictures, but fear of their noxious spray makes me antsy.  Snakes are the unmentionables, even though stories of their benefit to the gardens have been floating around since I was young.

    How do we manage?  Well, we trap those that are the most harmful and cart them off to the uninhabited locales around the lake.  Our wonderful, elderly neighbor told us once that we were just foisting off our problem onto someone else; and that comment still haunts me.  We called our city’s animal control office once to tell them we had captured a raccoon, but they said they would only take care of pests if they were trapped within their own live traps.  Hmmm, great management style.  If we ever see signs of marauding armadillos, well, I guess the war would be on.  Knowing that some of these creatures may carry disease makes them even less welcome.  Skunks can carry rabies, and armadillos, leprosy.

    Mostly, we try to deter.  We block up holes they’ve dug in the ground, shoo them away, use sprays, and find their dens and destroy them (to encourage them to move on).  GB hasn’t dispatched one in a long while.  He hates to kill any wildlife that we’re not going to eat.  I don’t always feel so lenient.  Maybe the mother part of me that wants to protect and take care of what we have worked so hard to achieve.  Management and stewardship sometimes means being a hard-liner.  Maybe?

    I guess we’ll just look at it this way:  we have a lovely, ‘wild’ property that is inviting.  Right in the middle of town.  Humans, as well as, animals love the yard and the proximity to flowing water.  We have horse pastures next door and a large Bed and Breakfast property across the creek.  We are fans of the wilderness and want parts of our property to exhibit that.  With a love of the wild comes — wildlife.  In addition, how can we begrudge them if they wander into a cultivated area with luscious fruits and vegetables?  Well, I may sometimes begrudge them; but they are only doing as their natures direct.  Therefore, we work to manage them, try not to curse them (sometimes unsuccessfully), and hope to adopt a happy coexistence attitude.

    With “try” being the operative word.

    Saturday
    Aug132011

    Pesky pests. . .

    .

    Do you see that?  In the picture.  Do you see that there are NO LEAVES on the upper half of those precious baby plants?  And how about the Echinacea bed - look at those poor, leafless stems.

    Doing my detective work, I have narrowed the suspect list down to two - the backyard groundhog or grasshoppers.  I’m leaning more toward grasshoppers, as they are hopping in abundance right now and there is no garden bed destruction.  We set out the live trap in hopes of catching the groundhog, but no luck.  (Before you PETA folks rise up in alarm, we release our destructive wildlife into the true wilderness…”no groundhogs were harmed in the building of the gardens.”  Hence the term live trap.)  The hot, dry days of middle summer usually see grasshopper populations skyrocket, so this invasion is not unusual.  However, the prolific chewing and decimating is not usual.  Lack of moisture is probably to blame - grasshoppers need a drink just as we do!  There are also high numbers of Praying Mantises in the gardens this year.  Hmmmm…

    The Purple Coneflower will survive - being a prairie plant it is used to abuse.  The Morning Glory plant, however, will need some tender loving care.  In our organic management quest, the yard and gardens never feel harsh chemicals or non-organic pest control methods.  Earlier this year, we defeated a flea beetle infestation on the eggplant by placing a live mint plant (growing in a container) right up next to it.  We also use diatomaceous earth to keep down other plant chewers; with insecticidal soap, deterrent interplanting, heavy mulch, and homemade plant sprays rounding out our arsenal of pest control.  Keeping your plants healthy and unattractive to pests is also accomplished with good soil - full of great organic compost, earthworms, and the right balance of nutrients.

    Anyway, I’ve had my fill of missing sections on the cantaloupe vine, bare flower stalks, and holey leaves.  Grasshoppers are hard to deter, but I’ve mixed a magic potion that I hope will do the trick.  After spraying down their favorite plants, maybe the grasshoppers will move on to the horse pasture next door.  I will keep you updated.  For now, here’s the Magic Potion recipe, which should be helpful in keeping all those munchers and crunchers at bay.

    What you will need:

    An inexpensive, plastic spray bottle (no qualms about using plastic in this case)
    Liquid dishwashing soap - Ivory is good
    Freshly peeled garlic, 1-2 cloves
    Fresh or dried hot peppers, 1-2 tablespoons dried or 2-4 fresh - cayenne is best, but any will work
    Peppermint essential oil or mint herb (fresh or dried, teabags are fine) to make a strong *tisane

    Pour 1-2 tablespoons dishwashing soap into the spray bottle, also adding the garlic and hot peppers (chunk them into smaller pieces first).  Use the larger ingredient amounts for a 24-32 oz bottle.  If using dried peppers (or ground hot peppers), add them at this time.  Fill the bottle with hot water and gently roll the bottle around to disperse the soap, garlic, and peppers.  Don’t shake it.  Leave the mixture to cool to room temperature, and then add 30 drops peppermint essential oil.  Gently shake before each use, as the essential oil will settle at the top of the bottle.  Mist the plants to lightly coat, reapplying after rain or heavy dew.  If there is no rain, it would still be a good idea to spray the plants twice a week.

    * If you don’t have the essential oil, then bring the water to a boil, add fresh mint, dried mint, or mint teabags, and steep until cool.  (Use 2 rounded teaspoons fresh mint, 1 rounded teaspoon dried mint, or one mint teabag per cup of water.)  This makes a tisane, which is an herbal concoction usually made to drink.  Herbal ‘tea’ is the common name, but tea is truly that - a beverage from leaves of the various tea bushes.

    Companion Article:

    Beginning Gardening

    Friday
    Aug122011

    Days To Remember

    How thankful we are…lots of great rain, cool, cool mornings…a break in the heat.  It’s been a good week.  Projects accomplished always make me happy, but time spent with family is even better.  Our niece, and her friends who were visiting, biked over to the house on Tuesday for a nice chat.  My sister came as well, she drove, and we roamed around, played in the creek, and took pictures.  While discussing area swimmin’ holes (they had already been swimming in an area river the day before), it was decided that they would try to find a place mentioned to me by one of the home school moms.  Blue Hole.  My niece took off work (a spur of the moment decision), they talked me into going, and we called for directions.

    This lovely, secret spot is a truly out-of-the-way place.  Interestingly, Arkansas has several areas called Blue Hole, and GB said he knows of one in Oklahoma.  I guess it’s a popular name for swimming nooks connected with streams and rivers.  After twists and turns, and travel down dirt roads (after passing a lovely, white country church building), we found it.  Or rather, drove right into it.  The creek traverses the road, and only pick-up trucks and SUV vehicles could safely cross.  It was a beautiful place.  And a ‘hole’ it truly was - a natural pond in the bend of flowing water.  Clear and cold, and deep enough to really swim.  There was even a rope tied to one of the trees on the bank.  The girls had a blast flinging themselves into the water and we were glad it was mostly sunny.  After collecting a few rocks, looking for crawdads, and playing with minnows, we dried off some and headed back home.  I’m very glad they talked me into going!

    As a last summer fling for some of our family (my sister starts work today and a niece begins college next week), we met for the weekly bowling game.  Earlier in the summer, my parents started bowling each week, and those who can meet them at the alley.  Several were able to make it this time—sister-in-law, niece, nephew, sister, and me.  Mother and daddy bowled on a league while we were growing up, and they haven’t lost their knack.  We laughed, moaned, and made more ruckus than most other groups there.  A family of cheerers, clappers, and advisors, we always have a great time.  After a lovely lunch at a local sandwich shop (with mother and daddy as our hosts), we went our separate ways.  My sister and I for a short excursion to Pier 1, mother and daddy to Sam’s Club, and the others to the house.

    We will all meet again on Monday evening to celebrate another birthday.  A nephew is driving home today, after a summer internship at the Los Alamos Nuclear Facility, and his birthday is next week.  He heads back to college later this month and we’ll all be glad to have him home for a while!

    Yes, yes, great days.  Wonderful days to remember and hold dear.  Respites from the heat and from our work.  They are fun days, important days.  Connections are made stronger and we make memories that will see us through trying times.

    Sunday
    Aug072011

    Dog Days of Summer

    We are indeed, experiencing those ‘dog days’ right now.  The history of the phrase is interesting, but our own hot, dry days are not.  We had a teensy bit of relief last night, with a surprise thunderstorm.  We first thought the lightning we were seeing through the windows was heat lightning (we didn’t hear any thunder until after the rain started), but the sound of rain soon had us running out the front door to see if it was true.  Yessiree Bob, there it was.  Water, falling from the sky.  It was dark, still hot, but what a wondrous sight.  There were two small showers, lasting 30 minutes, or so, each.  Four of my rain buckets were filled, and I know the vegetable garden was heaving a sigh of relief.  Unbelievably, as we pulled in the driveway after church this morning I noticed the front flowerbed looked wilty…hard to comprehend.  But, with the heat wave and dry days, I guess even the evening rains were not enough to quench the thirst of our dry soil.  I watered a little and promised to do more in the morning.

    We’ve been busy since returning from our lovely vacation.  We started a small remodel job on our den before we left, and finished it up last week.  The home school moms were over on Thursday evening for our monthly get-together.  Friday evening found us at my parents for Fish Taco Night and Birthday Celebrations.  We have several birthdays around the end of July-first of August.  Catfish and bass were the filling of choice, with spiced ground beef for the non-fish lovers.  (Nephew Ben of Arachnophobia fame caught the bass.)  Fresh pico de gallo, onions, cilantro, avocados, limes, lemons, chopped cayenne peppers, tortillas, taco shells, grated cheese, salsa, pinto beans, and cole slaw rounded out the meal.  We enjoyed homemade cheesecake for dessert with excellent toppings - fudge sauce, homemade strawberry jam, fresh blueberry sauce, and an interesting peach-habanera sauce.  Daddy had the fish seasoned when we all arrived, and the men-folk braved the 100+-degree heat to grill them nicely for us.  An excellent meal with our excellent family!

    Besides watering, watering, and watering the gardens, not much else going on around here.  It’s sad to see the dead and dying trees, shrubbery, and fields.  Cattle around our area are having their grazing supplemented with the precious winter hay stores.  The cotton farmers down in Texas are delighted with the dry weather, but produce farmers are certainly suffering.  We had a short family discussion on the history of the dust bowl of the 1920’s and 30’s, and we wondered if we could almost imagine the devastation and sorrow of those days.  No, we really cannot imagine.  I can’t anyway.  Running water, air conditioning, refrigeration, supermarkets, easy travel and transportation, and employment make it hard to rationalize our frustration with this summer weather pattern.  Record-breaking temperatures or no.

    The beginning of another week…one son on two-week holiday in England, another son and his wife enjoying time in TN.  A nephew continuing his work in Los Alamos, NM and another home for a visit over the weekend.  Several of the family preparing to return to their college studies, with one beginning college for the first time.  GB is out in the driveway as I write; working on the air conditioner in his car (he’s so very handy!).  A niece is enjoying friends who came to town for a visit.

    Wet, dry, hot, or cold, life is full of opportunities.  Time to visit, time to rest.  Family, friends, neighbors - there will always be something to occupy our minds and our hands.  Don’t complain, count your blessings.  If you get too hot, stop and cool down.  Enjoy the evening breezes (even the blazing ones) and pray for rain.

    For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
    a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

    Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

    No, the above was not written by Pete Seeger, nor made famous by The Byrds…