May 312014
Garden Security Officer

Garden Security Officer

I’m glad I’m not in this gardening thing for the money. I might get discouraged by the lineup of pests and pestilence  we gardeners face each season. There’s slugs, of course. There’s this years ubiquitous tent caterpillar. There’s the new girl in town—the saw fly, voracious in the larval stage. There were rabbits but our garden security officer has disappeared them along with the voles and rats. Later, the raccoon families appear to feast on cherries, plums and corn. A radio tuned to 24 hour talk helps save the corn crop. Last, but certainly not least, are the herds of deer who roam the island looking for treats.

Deer can do a tremendous amount of damage and do it quickly. They can jump fences, scooch under them if there’s space and even push them in. They get up on their hind legs to eat apples and other treats.

fencepostLast year a friend showed me a possible solution and I’m nearly ready to conclude that it might be working. Behold the Wireless Deer Fence, a step short of a full electric fence which would no doubt do the job. The trouble with an electric fence is that it will also shock the grandkids and is in the way for mowing and weed whacking, checking for caterpillars, etc.

The Wireless Deer Fence, on the other hand, is a rather elegant solution. I was intrigued after watching this video:

The website for this product claims it is a deer training system. There are two AA batteries, four metal probes sticking up and surrounding a scent tube. The scent tube is supposed to attract the deer and when they try to sniff it and make contact they get a shock.

Animal advocates might think this cruel. I can attest to the shock of the shock, which feels kind of like a bee sting without the lingering pain caused by the injection of venom. It shocks you, you react, you don’t want to get shocked again. You watch out.

To be clear, I didn’t intentionally test this on myself. My shock was accidental but confirmed what the manufacture had to say.

They are a bit pricey but will last a long time. You do have to change the scent tube about once a month and change the batteries each season.

May 242014

“Step up, lad,” cried (Long John)Silver. “I won’t eat you. Hand it over, lubber. I know the rules, I do; I won’t hurt a depytation.”

Thus encouraged, the buccaneer stepped forth more briskly, and having passed something to Silver, from hand to hand, slipped yet more smartly back again to his companions.

The sea-cook looked at what had been given him.

“The black spot! I thought so,” he observed.”

The black spot from Treasure Island is an image that remains from my youth. It was a wonderful literary device that pronounced a final verdict on the individual who received it.

TentLarvaWparEggLogoAs I write this, life sort of imitates art as tent caterpillars all over the island are receiving the “white spot.” It is also a final verdict and judgement for these fuzzy creatures who have redefined the word “ubiquitous.” At our place, they are everywhere. Because they are into the raspberries and blueberries we have to spend a significant amount of time hand picking them. They ride into the house on our clothing. Linda found one in her hair late one night.

But they have been given the white spot which you will, if you look closely, find appearing on the heads of more and more caterpillars. This is the egg of a parasitic fly. The larva hatches and crawls inside the caterpillar and begins to eat the caterpillar from the inside out; a gory death which should, hopefully, put the clampers on the tent caterpillar for the next few years.

I think the egg sac must give the caterpillar a terrible headache. Here’s a video I made of a caterpillar trying to shake off and rub off an egg sac (at least that appears to be what it’s doing).

IMG_7318 (Click link to view)

Enjoy the white spot of doom.

May 222014

IMG_4470It all started last summer when Dorothy called and said, “Come over here and get these two boxes of apples. You can make juice. You can borrow my steam juicer.”

I was over there in a minute because we pretty much do whatever Dorothy tells us to do. We’re not the only ones. I was a bit crestfallen when I saw the apples, some kind of yellow transparents that a hungry dumpster diver might pass on. Yet, I carried them home and went back and got the steam juicer, a contraption that might look at home in a meth lab.

The thing was tall. There were three parts or sections. There was a tube and there was a clamp. Dorothy told me how to use it. “Don’t burn yourself,” she instructed.

It sounded simple enough. Besides, I knew there would be Youtubes:

Those apples looked kind of nasty, though. We pressed on, following the instructions and ended up with juice. Several quart jars full. We also ended up with a lot of pulp. That called for the the Roma Food Strainer and Sauce Maker which we happened to have handy.

Wasn’t too long before apple butter was piling up in the pantry. We liked the juice and apple butter so much we bought a steamer, a Finnish model made of stainless, not aluminum. IMG_4477

I will be quick to point out that I don’t consider steamed juice or apple butter, or jam or jelly of any type to be healthy foods. By the time you steam ’em and sterilize them and water bath can them you have cooked out all the nutrition that might have been there in the first place. What you are making is a dessert item or condiment to make future meals more enjoyable. Heating/steaming/canning kills the enzymes in food and probably obliterates the vitamins. All you are left with is flavor.

For nutritious juice you need fresh juice made with one of these  or a green smoothy whipped up in a Vitamix.

People often ask me how we are able to afford such an array of wonderful appliances. The answer is that we only have one car. But that’s a story for another blog.

May 172014

imagesFor a couple of years I’ve had Sandor Katz The Art of Fermentation sitting next to my chair. I’d skimmed it. It’s a thick book—maybe three pounds of information and a lot to take in. I am not unfamiliar with the arguments in favor of eating fermented food. When my brother Bart learned I could not cook and began a series of forced nightly cooking lessons many years ago, he started me on macrobiotics. It’s actually a simple way to eat.

Without going into excruciating detail macrobiotics, as a dietary regimen, emphasizes grain, especially brown rice, local vegetables in season (except for the nightshade family), fermented soy products, minimal amounts of meat and condiments such as ume plum and pickled veggies. I discovered it was pretty easy to become a macrobiotic chef. You need a pressure cooker, a wok, a pickle press and a grinder (to make gomashio—a tasty mix of roasted sesame and celtic salt).

Not strictly macrobiotic, we learned to enjoy pickled veggies. You slice cabbage, radish, carrot or whatever hard veggies were on hand, salt them a bit, pour in some ume vinegar and crank the lid down on your pickle press. In the morning, pour the pickle off and they are ready to eat. It’s a good, quick salad. It sits easy on the stomach.

But what we really hankered for was sauerkraut, a truly fermented food. So, last year, after studying Sandor Katz and doing some internet research, we invested in a water seal crock.  Sandor is an evangelist for fermented foods and the many health benefits. Fermented foods aid in digestion, they provide more of the B vitamins, create micronutrients and help prevent cancer. Sandor goes on and on. Fermentation is also a good way to preserve food which has appeal on the self-sufficiency level.

But back to the water seal crock. You can ferment in jars and open crocks but there are problems. Explosion is the one I don’t want to deal with. The water seal crock allows gases to escape and allows for anaerobic fermentation of your veggies.

Last year we made two batches of sauerkraut. It was the best we had ever eaten. We went through it in short order. So, this year we decided to make as much as we could. A batch takes 5-6 weeks in the crock. I have planted so many cabbage that I will probably have to buy a second crock.

Sauerkraut is ripe with probiotic power. It is an excellent source of vitamin C. Finnish researchers reported that fermenting cabbage produces compounds known as isothiocyanates, shown in laboratory studies to prevent the growth of cancer.”   And, sauerkraut is a source of Vitamin U which is used to fight peptic ulcers.

Mainly, though, we just like sauerkraut in the same way that we enjoy pickled beets and would like to have it with every meal.

I’m a bit embarrassed to report that I have about fifty cabbage plants growing in the garden. It will be, hopefully, the year of the cabbage.

May 142014

I feel compelled to make an annual plea to not use Roundup. In spring the temptation is great but, “Get thee behind me Satan.” Roundup is evil stuff.

All the latest studies indicate that Roundup, manufactured by Monsanto, is dangerous to human health and to the eco system at large. A summary of the evidence can be found at the Biosaf Information Centre or at Wikipedia.

Roundup is important to Monsanto in production of Genetically Modified Seed. As a result Roundup has entered the food chain with Roundup Ready Seed, plants that can be sprayed with Roundup and not affected.
On a more personal level, Roundup is dangerous for children and pets.

Prevention Magazine recently printed this article on Roundup:

“America’s favorite weed killer could be the driving force behind some of modern society’s most common health ailments, according to new researchexamining more than 300 studies. The new review looked at research investigating glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular herbicide Roundup.

Once called “safer than aspirin,” glyphosate’s reputation for safety isn’t holding up to the scrutiny of independent research. More and more non-industry-funded scientists are finding links between the chemical and all sorts of problems, including cell death, birth defects, miscarriage, low sperm counts, DNA damage, and more recently, destruction of gut bacteria.

Here’s the quick backstory: Since chemical companies invented genetically engineered seeds designed to withstand heavy sprayings of glyphosate, global use of Roundup and related weed killers has jumped to nearly 900 million pounds applied annually. Glyphosate is a systemic chemical, meaning once sprayed, it travels up inside of the plants that people and animals eat. As more farm fields converted to GMO crops, federal regulators quietly increased the levels of Roundup allowed in your food, something that could be particularly tragic for your gut.

Citing recent studies, review coauthor Stephanie Seneff, PhD, senior research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, explains how glyphosate acts as a potent bacteria-killer in the gut, wiping out delicate beneficial microflora that help protect us from disease.

Harmful pathogens like Clostridium botulinum, Salmonella, and E. coli are able to survive glyphosate in the gut, but the “good guys” in your digestive tract, protective microorganisms, bacillus and lactobacillus, for instance, are killed off.

Even the developer of Roundup—Monsanto—seems to know this. About 10 years ago, the company registered a patent for glyphosate’s use as an antimicrobial agent.

Eating food laced with Roundup could be setting us up for some major health problems, some researchers suggest, citing that power to kill gut flora. “When you disturb something in nature, there aren’t any voids,” explains retired pathologist and veteran glyphosate researcher Don Huber, PhD, professor emeritus at Purdue University. “You take the good guys out and the bad guys rule. And that’s what’s happening.”

This nightmare in your digestive tract can spark other problems, including “leaky gut,” where the protective lining of the gut is compromised, allowing for toxins and bacteria to enter the bloodstream. This causes the body to send off an immune response to attack the wayward bacteria, potentially sparking autoimmune diseases.

But there’s more to the glyphosate-gut conundrum “The most important piece of the story is the disruption of serotonin in the gut,” says Seneff. She says glyphosate can disrupt the gut’s ability to create tryptophan, the building block of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter linked to happiness and well-being. Low serotonin levels have been linked to suicide, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other ailments.

Not only is glyphosate hampering tryptophan production in your gut, but it’s also lowering levels in plants, causing even more deficiency, Seneff says.

Other scientists say the latest research could help frame new studies. “It is a very broad, comprehensive, thoroughly researched paper, and is an important paper in many respects because it suggests many testable hypotheses,” says Warren Porter, PhD, professor of environmental toxicology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “It is also consistent with some new state-of-the-art work we have been doing on domestic animals.”

While the latest review study is valid, it also makes big leaps in terms of connecting the dots, according to some researchers who say the new ideas presented in the analysis will need to be tested in future studies. “As a thought piece to stimulate thinking, it serves a useful function, but should not be used as ‘proof’ of problem,” explains Charles Benbrook, research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.”

May 112014

imgresWe were blithely enjoying the fact that our gooseberries were tropically lush this spring when, yesterday, we noticed they were disappearing before our eyes. A closer inspection than we had done up to that point revealed hundreds of larva of the greedy, voracious, orc-like sawfly. These little bastards can do an amazing amount of damage seemingly in a matter of hours. Apparently, the sawfly lays her eggs on the bottom of the leaf stem. When the larva hatch they spread out and line of on the perimeter of the leaf and with impressive teamwork begin to eat their way to the center of the leaf. It doesn’t take long for the leaf to disappear.

So now, in addition, to my daily caterpillar check, I will be inspecting for sawfly. This can go on all summer according to my internet research to wit:

  • The common gooseberry sawfly is the most troublesome pest of gooseberries. It can have three generations a year, with the larvae active in late April to June, July, and August to September
  • The female sawflies lay eggs on the underside of leaves low down in the centre of the bush, so the young larvae go unnoticed until they have eaten their way upwards and outwards, devouring the leaves as they go. (My observation is that they eat from the outside in).
  • Defoliated plants are weakened and may produce a poor crop the following year
  • When the larvae are fully fed, they go into the soil, where they spin silk cocoons and pupate
  • The pale spotted gooseberry sawfly only has one generation a year with larvae present in May and June.
  • The small gooseberry sawfly has up to four generations a year with larvae present from late April.

My solution to the problem is to locate them and squish them. I have done much squishing of crawly critters this spring. I have to admit that on one level, it’s disturbing to kill so many little things. However, if I want to eat an apple or a gooseberry, it must be done. Yet, the swath of destruction I have left in my wake is nearly biblical.

“And there came great swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh and the houses of his servants and the land was laid waste because of the swarms of flies in all the land of Egypt.” 

I must go outside now and stand guard against the next plague that is to come.

May 092014

We don’t have many dangerous plants in this area. No poison oak, for which I am particularly grateful, and no poison ivy. Some folks disparage the stinging nettle but, in reality, it is a beneficial, nutrition-packed vegetable and it’s so-called sting is rather benign when compared to a case of poison oak.

We do have poison hemlock and poison hemlock is sneaky, often showing up in your veggie garden disguised as a carrot. Our family had a run in with poison hemlock a couple of years ago when our grandson ate a bite from their backyard garden and ended up in the emergency room. He’s now quite the expert at identifying poison hemlock as is his mom who recently found a plant growing in our front yard garden in amongst some over-wintered carrots.

It’s pretty easy to identify from the characteristic purple mottling on the stem.

When it matures the poison hemlock can be mistaken for Queen Anne Lace, a common roadside plant.

The chart at the bottom of this article provides a good comparison between Queen Anne Lace and poison hemlock.

All parts of the poison hemlock plant can be poisonous so you should wear gloves when handling it. Best to dig it, bag it and put it in the garbage.

We have lots of wonderful, wild foods available for free on the island. Poison hemlock ain’t one of them.

This video linked below also has excellent identification tips for the fall version of poison hemlock.

May 062014

It’s rare to come across a tool that revolutionizes a 400,000 year old design. Almost unbelievable, really, that a planet full of inventors would have taken so long to improve on the axe.

The axe has a long and distinguished history as a mandatory tool for work and war. It is, in the language of high school physics, an inclined plane (two sided) attached to a level (handle) that allows one to deliver terrific force to a point. In the case of a round of wood this force causes the wood to split. In the case of a Viking holding an axe, heads split even more easily. The axe is what my physics teacher called a “simple machine.” The fact that its basic design has stayed constant for generation on generation attests to its usefulness and efficiency.

A wood burning home depends on the axe and variations of the theme. Our personal collection includes a standard axe, a maul, a hand maul, two hatchets, a collection of wedges and a thing called a “wood grenade.

Recently I took the plunge and purchased a Finnish Vipukirve, a surprising new variation on the axe which increases the ease of splitting wood by a factor of at least two. That is, I think it is twice as easy to split wood with the Vipukirve.

It’s kind of amazing that it took 400,000 years or so for someone to come up with a completely new twist, an axe with a counter weight, that torques hard to the right as the blade makes contact with wood so that you get downward and sideways force at the same time. For someone who enjoys splitting a winter’s worth of wood it’s the equivalent of going from a wooden tennis racket to a one of those Prince oversize rackets that appeared in the 80’s.

The Vipukirve (or Leveraxe) is safer too. It has a longer handle which makes it more difficult to whack yourself in the leg. But what really makes it a safer tool is that you don’t have to swing so hard. Because of the design the Leveraxe never penetrates completely through the wood. In addition it doesn’t get stuck like a conventional axe which often means using wedges to extricate the blade.

Almost as valuable as the Vipukirve itself is the idea of putting your round inside a tire. This is magic. Check the video.

May 022014

Transition Lummi Island has been quiet of late mainly because I get bored with myself and really don’t feel there is much to add to the discussion.

However, I will summarize my four hundred blog posts to date: it’s probable that something bad will happen sometime and because of that we ought to do a few things to prepare for whatever that something might be. These preps might include but aren’t limited to: learning how to grow food, stockpiling stuff, catching water, learning other new skills besides gardening, etc. etc.

We’ve personally done a bunch of things that put us in good shape to last out a natural disaster assuming our home isn’t crushed or destroyed. And, we might be in decent condition to ride out a longer crisis such as an economic calamity and perhaps even be of help to others. And, the community has made strides as well with an active disaster preparedness program, community gardens, community orchards and other team building activities.
I used to spend hours trying to keep up with what’s really going on.  But in a kind of microcosmic epiphany I’ve decided that with what time I have left I might as well just relax and enjoy myself and focus on what very little I can control.
Take caterpillars, for example. Wiggly little bastards. They are everywhere. But, given time and a few good tools I have been able to keep them under control. I told one friend that I’d slain approximately 50,000 of the creatures and he replied that he can kill 50,000 in a  half hour. It’s all relative, I guess. They say karma is a bitch and the gurus of the East will allege that we will pay for taking their fuzzy lives. But one must draw the line somewhere and I have drawn it around the tent caterpillar. This year they are like the sign of the apocalypse. Yet. the natural history of the Western Tent Caterpillar says that they will eat amongst us for two months only then metamorphose into a rather ugly moth, lay eggs on our favorite trees and start the cycle all over again. This cycle gets broken by a certain kind of wasp which lays its eggs on the caterpillar causing it distress, a headache perhaps, and breaks the cycle of having so many caterpillars.
One can spend a lot of time chasing caterpillars. First, going after the egg sacs, then after the caterpillars themselves. The more egg sacs you get early on the easier it is.
But they are hard to see and if your trees are big you will miss most of them. Once they start to hatch you see patches of caterpillars that are easy to squish with your fingers. Still you will miss them and later on as they start to spin their tents they are easy to spot. There is something aesthetically not pleasing about a caterpillar tent. At this point it seems best to cut them off and roast them on the ground unless you can reach the tent with your flame thrower.
This war will continue through May and June but come July peanut sized cocoons will appear. After ten days or so a fairly ugly moth will appear. As one writer so aptly put it, “We don’t even get a butterfly out of this deal.”
I can marvel at its design and actual beauty when seen in closeup.
For some reason little kids like them.
Next horde of invaders to deal with—Arion ater—the black garden slug).