Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween - blame the Irish!

Here in California, I get asked often at this time of year if we have Halloween in Ireland. I love telling people we sure do, in fact we started the whole thing. The Druids, native to Ireland (and Britain) began the festival to honor the Lord of the Dead, Samhein, on October 31st. I came across an interesting web article about it on (Holy Bible! It must be true...) that said the Irish started trick-or-treating too.

But regardless of who started it, and even if you don't believe in ghosts or witches, I can provide proof today that zombies do exist...

On Sunday 20th of October downtown San Jose was swarmed by zombies...

I know because I was on my way to prom and I was attacked and... well... see for yourself!

A photographer just happened by and his photos of the entire event can be viewed on his website.

One of the funniest most gruesome moments was when a Bride and Groom were getting their wedding photos taken (for real) and they invited us to swarm them for a photo opt. (After making us promise not to dirty the wedding dress!)

Zombies also exist in nature too - really! Check this out...

And ants are susceptible too - I enjoyed the Irish guy in the Guinness tee shirt. Who's worried about cliches!

And gardeners beware, for in your very own gardens there are MUMMIES! I've seen them with my own two eyes...

And I welcome them too, because they signal the demise of aphids - hurray!

You get a good picture of what these mummies look like at 1.20 on the video. These are a sign that beneficials are hard at work in your garden, predating on Aphids.

Hope you all have a better Halloween than these beasties!

Happy Halloween

Byddi Lee

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Watershed Awareness

I'm attending a course at the moment that is run by the Santa Clara Valley Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program, or the acronym of SCVURPPP, which when pronounced sounds like someone trying to stifle a sneeze.

Personally, the purpose of this endeavor is to earn a place as the first gardening coach on the Green Gardener list featured on their Watershed Watch website.

The Watershed Watch website aims to educate the public about urban runoff pollution prevention in general and SCVURPPP in particular, and to train gardening professionals how to do their jobs with the least impact to our creeks and ultimately the bay.
It is a good refresher of the Master Gardener Initial Training from nearly two years ago. The course begins, as all good gardening courses should, with a look at soils and explains how the soil texture dictates how we should water. Basically, clay soils hold on to water more than sandy soils do. In the Santa Clara Valley we have predominantly clay soils and so we should water less frequently but for a longer time. For lawns that cannot absorb all the water delivered in a prolonged time, multiple start times are recommended to prevent surface run-off.

It showed us how to measure sprinkler output and based on this we can more accurately determine how  long to water each week based on charts found in this document. This means that less water is wasted to begin with and that water applied to our lawns and gardens is used by plants and simply not left as surface run-off - therefore, reducing pollutants washed into our natural waterways.
An important part of being a Green Gardener is to stop using toxic chemicals in our landscapes beginning with the gas used to power equipment like blowers and mowers. Very often gasoline is spilled while filling these machines. This too is washed into our rivers and eventually to the sea. The EPA estimates that each year 17 million gallons of gasoline are spilled. I assume in the USA though I couldn't find the source EPA data just references to it here and here  

That's more gallons of gas than the amount of oil spilled by the Exon Valdez, every year!

Last week we covered pest management, the take-home message being use chemicals ONLY as a LAST RESORT.

I pride myself on gardening organically. However, in our class there is a lady who is so hard-core Eco-friendly that she makes the rest of us look like oil slugging, smog vomiting, chemical spewing, baby-polar-bear hunters.

A discussion arose between us about the use of Sluggo.  Sluggo is organic and I use it freely in my yard. I've finally  managed to get my mollusc problem under control and most of my seedlings survive at least long enough to be eaten by something else now. So it would be fair to say, I am a fan of Sluggo.

But this lady pointed out that it is a chemical and I'm putting it on my garden. I felt churlish and petty to  point out that water is also a chemical we use on our yard. But I, not understanding how a fellow gardener could not hate slugs and snails as much as I do, must have been in shock, because no witty comeback was forthcoming.

Bewildered, I simply asked, "So what do you do about your snails?"

"Nothing," she told me. "I don't have any."

"How can you not have any snails?" If truth be told, I didn't believe her. Nor did I judge her for that - who hasn't spun a wee white lie to win a tiny wee argument once in a while?

"I just plant stuff that attracts birds to my yard and they eat the slugs," She said, very pleased with herself. (Well, if I had no slimy critter problems, I'd be equally as smug.)

But I have birds. They eat what the snails don't. I even have lizards, sometimes snakes and regular visits from raccoons (the buggers pooped on top of my compost bin last week). In fact, I even had a visit from a duckling once, and they love slugs and snails.

"But what about your seedlings?" I asked, sure that I'd get some kind of agreement."All my newly germinated stuff gets eaten by the slugs and snails."

"What are you planting?" she asked.

"Everything. Lettuce. They eat all my brassicas, peas, beans, beets, chard."

"So just plant something else."

"I can't," I said, feeling completely defeated. "I need to eat. I eat from my garden."

I knew that buried in there I had a really good point but tongue-tied and flustered I missed my moment. I felt tainted because I used a chemical in my garden, albeit an organic one, one that actually added iron to the soil and only harmed the target species, but this amazing Eco-warrior had accomplished the same effect without Sluggo. By comparison, I was a failure.

But was I? Two days later, (sitting in the bathtub ironically, wallowing in water) I thought of a great comeback. Oh ye of witty repartee!

Basically my counter argument was this. While I'm using Sluggo to grow my veggies I don't invoke a huge carbon footprint for that lettuce or broccoli. It doesn't get packaged and carted across the country. No storage in an air-conditioned store room for my sugar snap peas. No mist and thunder sound effect in the grocery isle for my zucchini. Nor do I have to get in my car and drive to get them. In fairness, I do go to the store for other stuff so I could pick up veggies, but the extra weight in the car would use up more gas - right?

Of course, all this sounded great echoing around the bathroom tiles with no-one but myself to hear it!

But it just made me think that as gardeners, and people, just struggling to make it on this planet, we all have to make compromises and concessions that steer us off the path to perfection.  However, with good education we can make more informed and ultimately better choices, not to mention great debates with ourselves in the bathroom.

It's a beautiful bay and Sluggo or no Sluggo, I want to help keep it that way.

Byddi Lee

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Busted and subsequent catch-up

I've been very excited about my Mum's foray into the cyber world. She's come a long way since that day when I asked her to use the mouse to point at an icon on the screen. She literally picked up the mouse and held it up to the screen opposite the icon. Several years and one very patient computer class teacher (who ought to be canonized) later, and my Mum now has the internet in her own home, which she accesses using a laptop that sporadically cooperates with her.

At least, I was excited about her connecting to the internet, until she got on the phone and asked me had I stopped writing my blog. When I told her no, she informed me that it had been a while since I wrote "in it."

I felt like I hadn't done my homework, or worse, failed some sort of exam.  So Mum, this one's for you!

I have been kind of busy lately, and I've been posting more to my business page, Eco Gardening Coach, on facebook.

I've been getting great satisfaction from seeing my clients newly seeded plants grow. And nearly as much enjoyment out of seeing the likes for my page creep up too. Please feel free to nip over and like the Eco Gardening Coach page.

When I'm not coaching or writing, I get a chance to tend to my own garden. As always, at this time of year in California, Autumn can feel nearly like Spring. The plants are certainly confused.

I've got my spring bulbs starting to come up,
 and sweetpea germinating.
Meanwhile, the slugs are revving up for the start of the rainy season and ready to munch those tender seedlings. I found these slugs eggs under a bale of straw I'd been experimenting with growing tomatoes in. Let's just say the slugs grew better than the tomatoes.

I caught a huge big one about 3 inches long and several inch long "adolescents". Then I found the eggs. They are about half a centimeter long.
The artichoke is still flowering anytime we miss harvesting one.
The Birds of Paradise have begun to blossom having had a brief rest over the hottest part of the summer.
The pomegranate tree is promising big things this year, but none of the fruit trees have yet had any significant color change in their leaves.
The true signs of Autumn coming are the winter squashes. These are three volunteers.
The pumpkins are looking good too.
At the weekends I've been doing some cool things too. We went hiking to Halfmoon Bay and were lucky enough to photograph a juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk eating a newly caught mouse. Imagine telling him to use the mouse to point at anything!

Technically, this is actually a vole, sometimes called a meadow mouse.

This slide show shows him eating the entire thing - it only took a few minutes.

Hawk eating vole - Online Slideshow Creator

When he was finished he wiped his beak clean ready for the next time!

Hawk wiping mouth - Online Slideshow Creator

Last weekend my husband and I took to the trees ourselves. Mt Hermon Redwood Canopy Tours is an excellent way to spend a couple of hours and get a totally new perspective on the Redwoods. The guides are great and soon had this height-fearing gal comfortable whizzing through the tree tops.
That's the problem with California. There's just so much to do, it's hard to get it all done. Another great reason to take out your lawn and replace it with drought tolerant natives. Life's too short for mowing lawn!

Byddi Lee