AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Post-apocalyptic gardening DATE: 8:04 AM ----- BODY:
I just discovered a great interview with the sometimes curmudgeonly social critic James Howard Kunstler, best known as the author of the nonfiction tracts The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency. His latest book is World Made By Hand, a novel about life after a societal collapse.
I see it differently from many commentators, who just assume that cities are going to get bigger and that people will flee the suburbs for the cities. I think we're going to see something completely different - I think we'll see a reversal of the 200-year-long trend of people leaving rural places and small towns for big cities and metroplexes. I think that the big cities of America - Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Boston - these places have attained a scale that is simply not suited for the energy diet of the future, and in my opinion they are going to contract substantially, even while they densify at their centers and around their waterfronts, if they have them.

If there is a huge demographic movement - and I think there will be - out of suburbia, eventually it will resolve into people moving into smaller towns, smaller cities, that are scaled appropriately to our energy diet - and to places that exist in a meaningful relationship with productive land. We're simply going to have to do agriculture differently, no question about it, and the places where this is impossible, like Tucson and Las Vegas, are really going to dry up and blow away.
You can read the full interview here.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: The Circle of Life DATE: 1:53 PM ----- BODY:
Bad news about the squash.

We went to the beach for a couple of days, and when we got back, they had gone from a little sickly-looking to, well, dead. It looked like the stems had split at their bases, which from what I've read means they were probably victims of a squash vine borer.

Man, was I mad! Even the blossoms were too dried-out to eat. I didn't pay much for the starts, but the ones I had raised from seed - I was attached to those little guys.

Meanwhile, however, a most interesting development on the other side of the house:

I had puzzled over this for some time, and let it continue growing mostly out of curiosity. It looked like a vine of some sort, maybe grapes. When my friend Megan came over last week, she said, "I think it's a squash vine."

"That's impossible," I said. "How would it get there?"

She laughed. "Did you throw a squash off your porch in a blind rage one night?"

No, I said, but I had a ton of squash and gourds out here all winter as decorations, and some of them didn't make it to the compost pile before the squirrels attacked...

There are blossoms now, so I guess we'll find out in a few weeks! And if the borers come knocking here, I'll be ready with a syringe of Bacillus thuringiensis. Bring it on.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Granite countertops: Hotter than you think DATE: 6:53 AM ----- BODY:
Add this to the list of potential health risks once declared "ludicrous" that may actually have merit. From the New York Times:
The EPA recommends taking action if radon gas levels in the home exceeds 4 picocuries per liter of air (a measure of radioactive emission); about the same risk for cancer as smoking a half a pack of cigarettes per day. In Dr. Sugarman's kitchen, the readings were 100 picocuries per liter. In her basement, where radon readings are expected to be higher because the gas usually seeps into homes from decaying uranium underground, the readings were 6 picocuries per liter. [Link]
The source? Granite countertops, which contain uranium at varying levels depending on where it was quarried.
A granite countertop that emits an extremely high level of radiation, as a small number of commercially available samples have in recent tests, could conceivably expose body parts that were in close proximity to it for two hours a day to a localized dose of 100 millirem over just a few months.
That's about the amount someone living near a nuclear reactor might get in a full year.
William J. Llope, a professor of physics at Rice [University], said his preliminary results show that of the 55 samples he has collected from nearby fabricators and wholesalers, all of which emit radiation at higher-than-background levels, a handful have tested at levels 100 times or more above background [radiation levels].
Home radon testing typically runs from $100 to $300. Industry reps continue to dispute the findings, noting the proximity and duration of exposure required for such levels of exposure. The article doesn't address the way your garden-fresh produce would be irradiated by sitting on those gorgeous granite counters, however, which you then ingest.

Our fantasy kitchen redesign would use countertops made of recycled glass, which has great color options and is a more sustainable option than granite.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Monoculture no more: German vineyards love weeds DATE: 6:12 AM ----- BODY:
A shot of a vineyard in the beautiful village of Weyher showcases Germany's abandonment of monoculture in wine grape cultivation.

I really do have my own garden, but it's been a rather chaotic summer. First, I was gone for a business trip to Germany, then my wife departed for five weeks to lead a summer student group to Germany as well. I've been up to my ears in kid care and domesticity, and have just tried to keep things alive. Not all is lost, so more on that in a later post.

While in Germany, I had a chance to visit what one could call the Napa Valley of Germany, the Pfalz, which goes by the inelegant name of the Palatinate in English. It's in far western Germany, near the French border, and is literally covered with vineyards and farms. According to a German friend of mine who hails from the area, it sits in a weather hole and tends to have milder winter than surrounding regions. Given that I saw figs (figs!) growing there, his account seems plausible.

One thing I observed was that Germany is in the throes of transitioning away from the curse of monoculture. No more vineyards devoid of any vegetation but grape vines. There are vineyards with flowers, rose bushes, and lots and lots of weeds. They are trying to reduce the use of noxious chemicals in agriculture, and one of the best ways to do this is to avoid monocultures. Inspired by what I saw, I'm thinking more about how I combine plants in my own yard, not just aesthetically or in a companion plant sense, but in terms of helping them fend off pests on their own.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Looking for deals on great plants? Try a horticultural sale DATE: 4:43 AM ----- BODY:

I went to a plant sale hosted by our local university's horticulture department a while back and got some great finds. The plants are grown by students for their classes and then sold to keep the lab running.

If you live in a community with any institution that does plant sales (universities, public gardens, etc.) I highly recommend checking one out. Each sale I go to I find some old standby plants to add to my collection and tempting new plants to experiment with. The most expensive plant I bought at this particular sale was the $6 verbana above. The fig trees were $5 each (a steal!) and the rest of the plants were $1-$2, and all were in excellent health. I may never buy droopy, overpriced plants at a big box store or "garden center" again!

My personal favorite discovery was this "pumpkin tree" (Solanum integrifolium), an ornamental member of the eggplant family. It's an experiment but my three-year-old daughter I just about flipped when we saw it. She's desperate to eat one of the little guys so I'll have to figure out how they are typically used (apparently they are used in Asian food but are quite bitter).

There was a beautiful Devil's Trumpet that I couldn't resist. Ours is poisonous in large quantities so I'll plant it with other ornamentals instead of in our food garden.

Our deal of the day were the large fig trees we purchased for $5 apiece. We have one that has thrived on our property for 30 years, and are eagerly adding new ones, watering them when we remember to, and hoping they survive the blistering summer heat. These three are sitting out the summer in the shade of the porch, where we notice the slightest signs of wilt and can be counted on to keep them alive until cooler fall weather arrives.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: In the heat of the summer DATE: 8:02 AM ----- BODY:
The heat that started in early June has settled in. We can expect it to break sometime in October, which is generally when our first cool front hits. While others are experiencing bounty in their gardens, we are trying to nurse our plants through the rash of 100 degree days we continue to have.

Making my garden a little more challenging/out of my control this summer was a trip to Virginia. My family all lives out of town, mostly in the Shenandoah Valley. Due to shoulder surgery and wanting my kids to spend quality time with their grandparents, we were gone for an entire month. I left the garden in the hands of my husband and some friends who were housesitting.

My husband kindly weeded and mulched the garden. The mulching was essential to help retain the precious little water the plants get over the summer months. His other garden project was to tie into our irrigation system for the front yard and bury a pipe to the garden (about a 25 yard or so distance). My husband is a plumber by trade, so installing a faucet right next the garden proved to be no problem. This project was mostly inspired by convenience. He was tired of having to move the hose every time he mowed. This time of year, it isn't much of a problem, because he is not mowing the backyard at all.

However, we did suffer one plant casualty in the weeding and mulching. My husband's time in the garden is generally very limited, so he doesn't know the plants so well. He carefully left my dying nasturiums intact (they don't like our heat) and diligently pulled our struggling butternut squash plants. After being initially saddened by the loss of the squash, I recovered and was able to see the humor in it.

Our heirloom tomatoes are just barely managing to hang on and produce. The tomatoes are not examples of perfection. The stress of the heat makes it difficult for them to fight diseases and pests. I will need to cut bad spots off of these tomatoes, but I'm pleased that they are still producing despite the heat we've been having and the limited water. I have tried hard to stick to our city's mandatory watering schedule which limits watering to 2 days a week.

I will try to nurse my tomato plants through to the cooler weather. I talked to an owner of a nursery at our farmer's market on Saturday and he recommended keeping them alive so they will produce again in the fall. I can't plant heirlooms for the fall growing season because they are indeterminates. I need to stick to the determinates. Hopefully, at least my Good Germans and Cherokee Purples (my favorite of all the heirlooms) will make it!

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: More Volunteers DATE: 3:00 AM ----- BODY:
I admire the experts who seem to know everything about plants and can identify them in all stages. But I do enjoy the sleuthing required when I find mystery plants in my yard. Like Z's weed, I've enjoyed the bounty of volunteers that crop up in the middle of nowhere.

Last year I transplanted anything that looked a little different, hoping that I might get lucky. I was rewarded for my kindness this year with a sea of blue forget-me-nots complemented by cheery yellow poppies. (We won't dwell on the saga of the yellow hawkweed I nurtured to unforgettable heights before its ultimate identification!)

Forget-me-nots and poppies spread quickly one year after transplanting volunteers from the lawn

This year I found a chocolate lily (which was unfortunately squashed before I could try the transplant and official identification). I also found some low-bush cranberry and dwarf dogwood that are quite happy right where they are.

Another mystery plant that multiplied by itself this year is the dogberry, or timberberry. I was quite curious about the difference in color between individual plants before I read that the variegated specimens are likely taking over roots of other plants, as it is semi-parasitic. Since the berry is reportedly not very tasty, this may be one volunteer I'll send packing!

Low-bush cranberry

Dwarf dogwood

These are both timberberry:


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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Fake Naturalists DATE: 11:00 AM ----- BODY:
A craft project, today on Z Recommends. When we make a "real" one, we'll post it here on Gardenaut. [Link]

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Tomato damage, from an unlikely quarter DATE: 3:00 AM ----- BODY:
As I looked down on the garden from my second-floor bedroom window the morning of father's day I had a bit of a rude awakening in the form of damage to several tomato plants. We've experienced the damage done by hornworms, aphids, and other critters and creatures, but this was something new.

Sometime in the night or early morning hours the top of a sweetgum tree had come crashing down across our fence and landed on top of several beefsteak tomato plants. I let out a small sigh and thought, Now here's a garden chore I hadn't anticipated.

Here's what they looked like once I had cut up and removed the tree and straightened out the cages:
Fortunately the fence broke the tree's fall enough that the plants underneath were salvageable. The tomato cages also helped absorb some of the impact. Some of the plants did lose a few stalks and some small fruits but a month later they're all making a comeback and doing just fine. We're finally starting to get a few ripe tomatoes.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Volunteers of America DATE: 8:00 AM ----- BODY:
One of the wonderful things about having an explosively healthy garden is that we always have plenty of free plants if we want to make a new bed. We've just about run out of room, but we did get around to planting this last corner about a month ago with the offshoots of our established plants.

For anyone who's even more amateur than I, you have a volunteer on your hands when you see a smaller, separate plant of the same type, next to the one you planted. Dig it up and find it a new home, and it will grow just as large as your original! It will probably be even hardier, too.

The largest plant in the photo is maiden grass, which might look half dead, but it's impossible to kill. In fact, we pried this one out of the ground after several neighbors complained that they couldn't see around it when they were trying to turn the corner around our lot. It's easily 8 feet tall by the end of the summer, crowned with gorgeous red plumes.

The others, which are also looking pretty sad right about now, are dwarf fountain grass, yarrow, Russian sage, sedum and echinacea. I especially recommend this last one; it has gorgeous flowers, which are in full bloom right now. A friend of ours makes a tincture from the dried plants, which he swears keeps him healthy through the winter. But if you let them dry in your garden, you'll get some wonderful visitors in the late summer - goldfinches love them. In fact, those visitors are probably the reason we have so many plants: they're very efficient at spreading seeds!

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Living Small DATE: 3:30 AM ----- BODY:
I've loved the idea of "tiny homes" for years, so hearing fellow Gardenaut contributor Joshua McNichols' story on NPR about Oregon resident Dee Williams' decision to scale down drastically to realign her priorities resonated with me. Listen to Joshua's great piece on American Public Media's Weekend America show here, and if you haven't seen them, make sure to drop by the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company's website to poke around.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Getting rid of poison ivy DATE: 6:00 AM ----- BODY:
The New York Times has an interesting article today about natural and unnatural methods of removing poison ivy, treating the rashes it causes, and a note that "optimum conditions" lead to the highest exposures: overcast skies and high humidity.
Instead of using poison, organic gardeners pull up the vines and roots (wearing gloves, of course), and immediately dispose of them in garbage bags headed for the landfill. Mike McGrath, the voluble host of "You Bet Your Garden," broadcast weekly on WHYY in Philadelphia, puts plastic shopping bags (the heavy kind from upscale department stores) over his gloved hands, and pulls the vines in such a way that even his gloves don?t touch any part of them. He also wears protective clothing, and washes everything - tools, gloves, clothes, body - with cold water, as soon as the job is done.
And an important note that bears repeating:
One thing everyone agrees on is that however poison ivy is controlled, it should not be burned - not even the dead leaves and vines - because the resin-filled smoke can irritate the skin and damage eyes and lungs.
Read the article here.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Arctic light DATE: 4:00 AM ----- BODY:
Sun setting on ferns in Anchorage

There's something about the quality of light up north that's difficult to describe. Ethereal might be a good adjective. Constant is another. I especially love the summer light at dusk - say, around 11: 30 p.m.

Watching the sun cast the mountains in a shade of pink, called alpenglow, is an amazing sight. The garden loves the light too, and there's nothing like the sun setting on your ferns and flowers at that peaceful time. Very hard to capture with a camera. I took the photos shown here in early June, a few weeks before solstice (when we had over 19 hours of daylight).

Some people here start their descent into depression right on June 21, knowing that we are getting less and less light each day. I prefer to enjoy what we have and appreciate the quality, as much as the quantity, of light.

Tulips at 4 p.m.

Tulips at 10:15 p.m.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Gardening in public: Boulder man tangling with city over potential $2k/day fine DATE: 5:00 AM ----- BODY:

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: The omnivorous gardener: Taking out Paolo DATE: 6:15 AM ----- BODY:
As chicken keepers, we have what I like to say is an omnivorous garden. Not only do we get to eat delicious veggies and the occasional accidentally ingested caterpillar, we also eat eggs. Up until recently, the "chicken gardening" has been part of the cycle in a very warm and fuzzy kind of way; we feed the chickens our weeds, kitchen scraps, and thinnings, and they in turn produce eggs. Everyone is happy, nobody gets hurt.

We average 5 eggs a day in summertime

But about two months ago something happened that I think will forever change the system. Our friends that live in downtown Missoula discovered that one of their chicks that was supposed to mature into a laying hen was actually a rooster. This is a big problem in the city- it is illegal to own a rooster in the city limits. My friends wanted to find a new home for him, so I told them he could seek political asylum at our house, which is just out of the city limits. They said we could eat him if he pissed us off.

When he arrived, we promptly renamed him Paolo (he was a Brazilian breed mix) and stuck him in a separate enclosure to keep our adult hens from attacking the newcomer. He promptly escaped, so we reluctantly dumped him in with the big girls. He got the tar kicked out of him for a few days by our large, dominant hens, but then they left him alone. As an added bonus, he stopped crowing, presumably because the big hens were bossing him around something fierce.

Paolo as a handsome young rooster

For a while he lived in harmony with the hens, and he was fun to look at, and so we let him live peacefully with us. But it didn't last.

Paolo started pooping in the nest box. This is ultra gross. A fresh egg is a spotless, gorgeous creation. Our hens instinctively keep the nest box fresh and beautiful, not pooping in it or sleeping in it. Roosters, we came to find out, are not fastidious. Heck, they don't lay eggs, why should they care?

The last straw came on Wednesday when my husband was feeling overwhelmed with home improvement, baby care, and gardening all at once. He stomped into the kitchen as I was cooking dinner and holding the baby. In his hand were several poop-covered chicken eggs.

"I can't take this anymore. We need to kill the rooster."

My response shocked even me. "OK dear, next time the baby takes a long nap I'll do it," I said.

This stopped my spouse dead in his tracks. But I meant it. Let's face it: Organic chicken feed ain't getting any cheaper lately, and he was plenty big. I wanted to eat him. So after dinner, while my husband was on a bike ride and the baby was sleeping very soundly, I made a plan that started with finding a sharp knife, and then proceeded to catching the rooster, and ended with Thursday's chicken dinner.

I eventually caught him, but not without some serious effort

But of course, we didn't raise Paolo, so he didn't trust me one bit. I didn't take a video of my 15 minutes of trying to catch him, but for your amusement here is a video of me this past winter, six months pregnant, showing how 6 of our hens are cute, obedient and trusting, and the seventh is totally insane.



After I caught the darn rooster, it was easy. I immobilized him with a tightly wrapped bath towel and killed him very quickly. I've killed many animals in the past - for my job, not for fun - and I have to say that killing a rooster was relatively simple.

As I was settling in to skin and gut the bird, my husband rolled up on his bike. His first words were, "You didn't let the ladies see you do that, did you?"

"No dear, I killed him out of view of the hens. But remember, they are just chickens."

After getting over his initial shock that I had followed through on this, my husband looked up a nice slow-cooker recipe on the internet for Paolo, and we feasted on him the next night. Lots of fresh herbs from our herb garden were tossed in, to delectable effect. All the photos I took of the bird in a nicely roasted and cooked state came out horribly out-of-focus for some reason, so here is a shot of some of what ended up in the broth pot.

Paolo, you were very tasty. Thanks, feathery little dude.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Cicada shell jewelry DATE: 5:00 AM ----- BODY:
We've found some cicada shells in our yard this year - they are really stunning. I was wondering if there was something to be done with them, but discarded them when I didn't have any clever ideas. Earrings... who knew?
----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Z's Weed DATE: 4:12 AM ----- BODY:
Gardenaut bloggers and readers discussed weeds recently - what constitutes one, and why. We've seen a new twist on this at our home this season as Z insistently watched and watered a plant we were quite confident was a weed that appeared in a disused planter on our porch. It slowly grew for weeks before, to Jenni's and my surprise but not our nearly four-year-old daughter's, a bud appeared.

A week later...

What's particularly strange about this development is that this is not a flower I can remember us growing, not just in that particular pot, but anywhere.

The situation reminds me of the Ruth Krauss/Clement Hurd collaboration The Carrot Seed. That book has always bothered me a bit because the protagonist gets nothing but discouragement from his whole family. We, of course, were never explicitly discouraging. But maybe it reflects the "me against the world" perception that toddlers and young children inevitably develop at some point as their closed-minded elders ignore their dreams, callously but perhaps entirely unintentionally.

At any rate, we were all thrilled to see this new friend, which Z crows about every day on our way to the car. We have made a special point of noting to her that she was the one who grew that flower, and she was the one who knew it was not a weed.

Anyone know what this lovely flower is?

Update: It's a zinnia! Thanks, MissoulaChick!

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Caging the Beast DATE: 6:07 AM ----- BODY:
It's a good thing that once everything is well-established in a vegetable garden, there's not much more to do besides sit back and enjoy the harvests. However, I still had one major task to tackle today, thanks to my own hardheadedness.

Besides the squirrel thievery, the only problem I had with our first crop of tomatoes three years ago was the cages. They were ugly. So when I put the sweet new seedlings in the ground six weeks ago, I refused to add depressing steel-gray cones to the mix, figuring that if the cages were never there, the plants would grow strongly and be self-supporting.

Boy, am I dumb!

The plants were a tangled, sprawling mess. Many of the branches had grown completely perpendicular to the stem and were 4 feet long. I was loath to cut off the branches with blossoms, since I know how yummy those blossoms will be in a few short weeks. However, many of them broke off on their own as I was coaxing them into the cages. They were reluctant, to say the least. But I managed to get 4 out of 7 (the cherry tomatoes, which were much more unwieldy and disorganized) into cages. Then I ran out of cages. But the others (larger variety) will be all right, I think. I hope.

As an aside, some of the leaves on my squash plants, which are next to the tomatoes, have been turning a powdery yellow and wilting. Although Rob has pointed out that tomatoes are technically poisonous (this helpful website can elaborate) I can't find any warnings online about companion planting with these two. Has anyone else had a similar experience?

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Weathering the weather DATE: 10:06 AM ----- BODY:
As early summers go, this one has been a doozy. It is blazing hot outside - about 98 degrees according to the thermometer on the chicken coop wall. It has been just about three weeks since our last snowfall in town. That is correct, during the second week of June we had some unusual weather.

June 11th, 2008: Wet, snowy, and soggy flannel sheets on the tomato cages

All around town people were in a frenzy to protect their plantings. I saw bedsheets on tomato cages everywhere I looked, including my own backyard. Thank goodness we did not have a hard frost, but accumulations were visible just barely off the valley floor. Snow collected in cold spots in my yard- you can see it in the photo ringing the tops of the cages, and on the sheet in the bottom left that was protecting zucchini plants. My tomatoes, squash and most other frost-intolerants did just fine with basic precautions, but much of my basil did not survive. A few days after the snow fell, I accepted their death and went to the farmer's market to buy some new starts.

I know the laws of supply and demand could have warned me that getting to the market almost at noon, after an unseasonable snowfall had killed basil starts all over the valley, wouldn't be a wise economic choice. I was still dumbfounded to see six seedlings, barely three inches tall, being sold for four dollars. FOUR DOLLARS! That is 66 cents per basil plant! I bought plants that were twice as big, for half the price, only three weeks ago! Aaaaargggh. I know that the farmers were hit just as hard by the frost as me, but I was still shocked. And I bought them anyway. Because a mature basil plant in August will cost me at least two dollars, which is far more than 66 cents. Besides, I like growing it myself.

July 2nd, 2008: Hot, hazy, and blossoms on the tomato plants

Armed with the world's most valuable basil starts, I replenished the garden. It is now looking extremely good. My squash is finally big enough to transplant, I'm harvesting and eating lettuce and broccoli nearly every day, and my tomato plants are in full bloom. My neat idea to alternate broccoli and lettuce to save space has proven quite effective; the broccoli makes a cool microclimate for the lettuce, which slows its growth and delays the lettuce from bolting, while the broccoli gets a moister soil and no loss of sunlight. I think I'll do that again next year for sure.

Red lettuce, broccoli, red lettuce, broccoli, repeat!

Last but not least, the strawberries have ripened up and we are harvesting more than a dozen every day. So delicious! Good thing I froze ten pounds of rhubarb chunks!

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: A DIY garden path: Take a walk on the lazy side DATE: 6:44 AM ----- BODY:
My mother-in-law made a great garden path and offered to write about it for Gardenaut. Take it away, Karen:

Gardeners are not what you would usually term a lazy bunch. But even the most energetic of us have a slothful streak every now and then. I tend to look for shortcuts that perfectionists wouldn't think of.

The design and construction of our garden walk was a shortcut of major proportions. Previously in this area was a dreadful path made from pine bark mulch. Weeds cropped up in the mulch on a regular basis and the mulch washed out with every rain. But putting in a standard professional looking paver walkway with the leveled sand base was just too much for me to even consider. So my husband and I came up with this idea. We did have to rake the old mulch out and haul bags of gravel in, but all in all it was a project that we could handle in a few hours each day spaced over a couple of weekends.

We worked in small sections for several reasons. One we could design as we went, a major plus since we were too lazy to draw out plans. Also we did not want to tear the whole yard up at once, just in case we never finished it. Finishing a section at a time gave us more instant gratification, and it was easier to haul smaller loads of gravel from the supply store that way (it was too much trouble to rent a truck).

After raking out the mulch we placed a 4' wide barrier cloth on the ground in 4' x 4' sections. The 4' square section was then bordered with landscaping pavers and a 4" x 4" piece of treated lumber. A square paver placed in the center turned on a diagonal for the visual effect provides a stable walking base. We filled the area around the paver and lumber with sand. To top off the area we used two sizes of gravel, a small pea gravel then a larger river rock on top. Sand was then sprinkled over the top surface several times to fill in the gaps.

The photo shows the walk after a year of use, no weeds, the gravel firmly in place, and it still looks nice. The only problems we have encountered is that the lumber pieces are a little shifty, but we have resolved that by staking the wood with crude wood stakes driven in below the level of the gravel. A few of the pavers have drifted a little too. Maybe someday we will fix those. For now, we're feeling a little lazy.

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----- -------- AUTHOR: Jeremiah McNichols TITLE: Pests and a predator DATE: 8:00 AM ----- BODY:
Despite possible appearances to the contrary things are not always rosy on our suburban North Carolina homestead. Just when we think the garden looks great and all the plants seem healthy and happy along come the pests.

Aphids are always an issue with our tomato plants and this year has been no different. How they find us and how they manage to get to the plants I do not know but they always appear, multiply, and suck the juice out of our plants. A couple seasons ago they were so bad that we had to try something more extreme than the normal dousing in insecticidal soap, which seemed to have no effect on the creatures other than to make them slippery. After some web searching we decided to give lacewing larvae a shot so we ordered some from Planet Natural. They arrived as eggs that we set out in the garden just before a week-long beach trip. When we got back the aphids were gone. These dainty insects are of course harmless to humans but they spell doom for aphids.

This year I have seen several adult lacewings flitting about the garden so I'm hopeful that our initial planting of eggs has resulted in a thriving colony of these aphid munchers.

Another encouraging sign of aphid control is the increased number of ladybugs we're seeing on our tomatoes this year. We're trying to teach our three-year old son that ladybugs are a beneficial insect so any that we find in other parts of the yard get transported to the garden.

Unfortunately the aphids aren't the only things that have harrassed the tomatoes. A few weeks back I was finding small caterpillars - maybe 3/8" to 3/4" long - on several of the plants. I'm not sure what these were but they had almost black bodies with two parallel yellow/green lines running the length of the body. They weren't doing extensive damage but were eating some leaves. We collected these caterpillars by hand and offered them to the chickens who eagerly scarfed them up.

Of course we've also had a few hornworms but thankfully these were found, plucked, and also turned into chicken food before they destroyed an entire plant. It's amazing what these things can do to a tomato plant in no time. The best way I've found to spot these guys is to look for their droppings, which are also apparently called, "frass". Their droppings are dark brown to black and have a sort of kernel-like texture. The dark color helps the frass show up easily against the green of tomato leaves. Once you see the droppings look for the hornworm to be somewhere close by - usually a few inches higher up on the plant.

Here's a shot of a new pest that I think might be a strawberry leaf roller. Anyone have any experience with these? This is our first year with strawberries so I'm not as familiar with their pest species.

While these pests are certainly doing no good to their host plants our chickens have benefitted from their presence in the form of tasty snacks. However, the chickens have invited a pest of their own, a predator really, in the form of a black rat snake who has been stealing eggs. This is gardening related because the chickens eat scrap produce and turn it into droppings that get mixed with their bedding and turned into compost that goes in the garden where the whole process starts over.

Here's the snake making his getaway after an egg run:

I trapped him once and released him deep in our woods. No good. He came back the next day and ate everything laid that day. The next time I found him he was actually camped out inside the chicken coop digesting the day's eggs. I trapped him again and this time drove him to a natural area next to a county park about three miles from our house and released him. We've had no egg stealing since.

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