Archive for June, 2015

Our Back Yard Paradise

June 27, 2015

We have an ancient crab apple tree in our back yard and a huge old Canadian maple tree in our front yard. Here is a picture of our crab apple on April 27 – in full bloom!

Crab Apple in full bloom!

Crab Apple in full bloom!

Uh, not exactly. The crab apple looked 3/4 dead this year before it even leafed out. Took a branch to the local greenhouse – they diagnosed it with an iron deficiency plus infestation of aphids – (tiny disgusting sap-sucking insects or ‘plant lice’) and then recommended about 60 bucks worth of iron and chemical spray to save the tree. What to do? (We had already done the ‘iron deficiency’ treatment last year.) We didn’t want to spray chemicals all over the tree. Turns out, lady bugs eat aphids, and you could also purchase containers of 500 ladybugs for 10 bucks. Couldn’t we just invest in, say, 3000 lady bugs?

Meanwhile the front maple tree started looking sick. We called an arborist to come look at it.

“Aphids.” he said. (Surprise, surprise.)

“We were thinking of buying lady bugs to eat the aphids.”

“Yeah, well, you let the lady bugs loose and they fly off – you can’t keep them around, and aphids will kill your tree.”

(Darned lady bugs)

“We don’t want to spray chemicals.”

“No problem.” He said. “We can apply a systemic chemical in the grass around your tree that is absorbed through the roots – kills anything that eats the leaves.”

“Do it!’ we said, because that meant we could make the disgusting tree lice go away without doing anything ourselves and we wanted to save the tree (and throwing money at problems somehow makes me feel better).

Meanwhile the crab apple in the back looked so sick we just decided not to worry about the aphids and just hire the arborist to cut it down. (Uh, plus did I mention how much we hate the mess in the fall raking up mounds of rotten crab apples?)


Except, the arborist’s schedule was a month out. That was three weeks ago. We’ve ignored the crab apple tree but now it looks a bit better, albeit, not exactly up to neighborhood standards, but we’re now thinking it could survive the aphid infestation and iron deficiency, or whatever it is, through the summer.

Gluttonous aphids!

We didn’t buy the lady bugs initially for fear they’d die from eating the poisoned aphids on our front maple tree. (Is this situtation getting easier, or more complicated?)

At this juncture I’m thinking of buying the ladybugs anyway, because (1) It couldn’t hurt, since they can devour aphids no matter where they fly off to – but they just might be smart enough to recognize a back yard feast large enough to sustain them through the rest of their lives (2) throwing more money at the problem usually makes me feel better and (3) lady bugs are pretty cute, albeit a bug of any sort terrifies Megan, like the other day, when she about wet her pants, frozen in a panic, while I calmly captured a lady bug off the side of our downstairs bathroom toilet and escorted it out the front door.

So that’s where we’re at. The back yard crab apple tree is still alive and we’ve decided we might not cut it down this year – although it does look pretty ratty:

June 21 - the tree's a 'keeper?'

June 21 – the tree’s a ‘keeper?’

It might just make it through the summer. Especially with the help of a lady bug brigade.

The front maple is doing fine, thank you very much,

Bugless and stunning

Bugless and stunning

and is definitely up to neighborhood standards, even if the leaves are poisonous to insects (is something wrong with this picture?).

Can’t wait for our next battle with grubs. You know. Those critters in larvae form with large front legs for digging and huge jaws that chew on the roots of your grass, killing off entire lawns. I know this because we went through it last year. Our neighbors across the street dashed over here to alert us to the infestation right away. Because the next thing, every lawn on both sides of the street and down the block is infested.

This morning I was out looking at our hollyhocks. Ah, yes….


Rust, I believe it’s called. Puccinia malvacearum.
Yep. Our back yard is a fungus Paradise, as well.

Organic Gardening ‘a-la-Jody’

June 21, 2015

I’ve become worried about the state of the soil on planet Earth and hesitant about even walking barefoot on our own lawn anymore with all the chemicals we use to keep our lawns and flower beds looking nice.

Last summer our marigolds and salvia were chewed down to nubs two weeks out of the greenhouse. I did this online search for organic treatments to control bugs and came up with the idea of Borax. You know, the 20-mule-team Borax at the grocery store. Borax has one ingredient, and it’s a mineral. Super! After I got home with it I thought I should go back and research the uses for Borax again. Except this time, I couldn’t find the same site I read the first time – or thought I had read and understood. This time I read that Borax is toxic to pets, and is used to control ants in the house. You mix it with granulated sugar and spread it where the ants are marching – they carry the contaminated sugar back to their nest, that is, if they make it back to the nest before the borax burns their legs off. I dunno. Borax is good for laundry, I guess.

So this year I planted the marigolds and salvia again. AND got rid of the slugs with chemical granules you spread around plants that is supposed to be safe for birds and pets. (Sorry, Earth). I did this because I have already learned that slugs are capable of devouring entire flower beds, and besides, they’re gross:

"Oh joy."

“Oh joy.”

We scooped a bunch of slugs off of our front walk into a dish. And I took a picture. I don’t know why. I guess so we could scrape them off the dish several days later – dried up and dead. “Thanks for sharing, Jody.” You’re welcome.

So, this year, with the help of our slug bait, our salvia and marigolds started out just fine. Uh, until I stopped paying attention while the salvia leaves were being devoured:


Ahhhhhh. It’s gotta be earwigs!! (I surmised, after spotting an earwig crawling in the garden just inches away.) And like the good Earth-loving citizen I have vowed to be, I marched right down to our local greenhouse and purchased this nifty Earth-friendly way to rid your garden of earwigs:

What a bargain!

What a bargain!

For six bucks! Uh, seven bucks. Plus tax. A package of four petri dishes with lids. The lids have small holes in them. You put soapy water in the bottom of the dish, flavor with vanilla. Place by the affected plants. Voila! The earwigs smell the vanilla, crawl in the holes on top and drown in the soapy liquid! Perfect! (I hate earwigs.)

So I set all four of them up this past Friday evening, next to the eaten plants, imagining, what if I caught say, 50 earwigs?

You're gonna die, earwigs!

You’re gonna die, earwigs!

First thing Saturday morning – I thought of those traps! Check them out. I walked out in our garden with my jammies on, still half awake. Peered down to look at the first trap. OMG! I’ve caught a Godzilla earwig! (Creepy, huh?)

That nasty sucker has had his last feast!

That nasty sucker has had his last feast!

He’s HUGE! Smart too. Onto the trick! He had crawled in a hole on top, and was clinging to the underside of the lid to avoid drowning. Of course he’s huge. He’s been feasting on the salvia for days.

I checked another trap. Wow! Another gargantuan earwig clinging to the underside of the lid!

Gotcha Big Guy! Ha!

Gotcha Big Guy! Ha!

But wait a minute. This is getting scary. If I remove the lids the monster earwigs will spring out and scurry right up my arm or something. I just can’t deal with this.

I went to find David. “Honey, I have a favor to ask. There are some creepy gigantic earwigs clinging to the lids on those traps. Looks like a manly-man job to me. Could you please, please be a darling and dispose of them for me?”

I watched from the upstairs bathroom as David went out to deal with those traps. A few minutes later I casually approached him in the kitchen. “Honey, how’d it go?”

“Jody, those earwigs were painted on the lids! How could you not notice when you put the traps together in the first place?”

Huh? I dunno. Maybe I did notice, but I forgot! I was just too creeped out.”

Well, turns out, all four traps had caught nothing. And if you think about it, if you were a hungry earwig, which would you gravitate to? A fat juicy salvia leaf or a vanilla scented soapy petri dish? Well, maybe the petri dish after you’ve devoured all the salvia.

I checked the traps again today. Had caught three (innocent?) black beetles. Awwwww. Dang! I like beetles. Don’t see many these days.

One of my friends suggested baking soda as a pest deterrent.

David’s suggestion: Take a Zen approach to gardening. Be the bug. Think of what a bug’s Paradise our gardens are…

And there you go. My personal organic gardening advice?

Uh … Don’t plant salvia?

(Oh, and have you checked out my previous gardening blogs written over the past few summers? Treasure trove of gardening tips, there, let me tell you…)