Friday, October 28, 2011

Occupy ... My house!

I do love having so much wildlife on my front door step, but this week I had a little more wildlife than I bargained for inside my front door - literally right inside the front door - A tiny dark brown mouse!

In the madcap dash/chase that ensued, (the mouse dashing and me chasing - not the other way round, I hasten to add!) I never got a chance to grab the camera. Black Widow spiders are much better at posing for shots! However, I managed to trap the wee mouse (let's call him Mickey for want of a more imaginative name) behind the paper shredder in the study, until my Husband came home. I thought that he might help me get Mickey into a shoe box, and then we could remove him outside - much the same way as we do with spiders.

Mickey proved way too fast for us. His tiny pea sized brain outwitted our combined efforts, and he took off, a brown streak across the floor and under the door to the hallway. How I wished we'd replaced those doors when we took out the carpet and put in the wooden floor. Now all the doors have a carpet-clearance gap perfect for a mouse to free-range though the house!

My worry was that if I'd seen one, how many more where there? I wondered what percentage of mice you saw, as opposed to how many there really were? And how long would it be before we were overrun?
So we decided to get a trap down. I don't have anything against mice - in fact I think they are really cute, and I used to have them as pets at University until the residential Warden evicted them (and nearly evicted me too).  But I have far too many relatives who hate mice and who come to stay with me - I knew it was ultimately a case of choosing between the mouse and my Sister (or my Godmother).

I loaded the trap with peanut butter and left it where we last saw Mickey. The following day the trap was still untouched, so I added some ham. It seems we have a very discerning mouse - to date the ham and peanut butter are still there. Yes, the obvious thing to do would be to put down cheese, but we don't eat much cheese and I refuse to buy cheese just for a squatter mouse! 

My friend has offered the services of her cat who is reported to be an excellent mouser. I wonder what Mickey would say about that?
Byddi Lee

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Little insect - big problem!

They got past immigration. They got got past customs. Heck, they even got past Hawkeye. These miniature invaders sound innocent enough, related as they are to the relatively harmless though annoying common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. That four-chromosomed little critter, much favored by geneticists, now has it's nasty cousin visiting it from Asia. They look very similar, except for those unmistakable spots at the tips of the males wings. Unfortunately it looks like the Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD), Drosophila suzukii, is here to stay.

Because I like to use my own photos and I don't have any photos of SWD I've set up a link on it's name that takes you to google images so you can get an idea of what the little terror looks like. For some light relief I've interspersed photographs of current blooms in my garden. So if you don't want to read the sorry tale of the possible demise of cherry growing in home gardens, you can at least purse the pictures. They do not relate to the text at all!
The first Bird of Paradise of the rainy season have begun to bloom.
So buckle up - it's time to fly!

Spotted Wing Drosophila was first noted in Hawaii in 1980. In August 2008 it was discovered in strawberries in California. By May 2009 it was infecting Cherries in Gilroy, California. Two years later it has spread as far afield as Florida.
California fuchsia brightens up a grey day.
Alternate names for the SWD is the cherry vinegar fly and the cherry drosophila. It differs from the common fruit fly, sometimes called vinegar fly, in two very subtle ways. First, the males have distinctive dark spots at the tip of each wing. The females do not have spots but are slightly larger than their common (D. Melanogaster) counterparts.
Angel wing begonia blossom.
It is the second difference which causes the most devasting problem. The ovipositor (the thing the female fly lays her eggs with - you can see it in the second page of the link) has saw-like teeth which can penetrate good fruit, as opposed to damaged or rotten fruit, like the common fruit fly. This means that the healthiest of fruit is at risk, and the SWD actually prefers good fruit rather than dinged or rotten fruit.
Desert Willow
The egg is deposited beneath the skin of the fruit where a small hole can be seen. As it grows into a larva, the fruit around the hole becomes mushy and secondary fungal infections may also occur. Also, once SWD had damaged the fruit, its more benign cousin, the fruit fly, will jump in. It grows best at 80F i.e. cherry harvest climate. Santa Clara county has the highest numbers of infestation in California. Doubly devasting as we grow the best and most cherries here.
Mono lavender
The generation time for SWD is 12 days - that's the time it takes from the egg is laid until it is a mature adult ready to lay it's own. There are up to 13 generations in a season and the female can lay 300 eggs. It doesn't take a mathematician to work out that that's an awful lot of eggs! In fact, at a recent Master Gardener talk on the subject a time line was laid out as follows:

June 1st 1 egg laid  - gives rise in 2 weeks to :-
June 14th 100 eggs
June 30th 10,000 eggs
July 1st 100,000, 000 (happy 4th of July, hey?)
July 30th 10,000,000,000,000,000
Coyote bush about to burst into fluffy bloom.
Cherries are not the only crop at risk. Berries of all kinds and some stone fruit are also under attack.  In Oregan there are reports of SWD in grapes and tomatoes - Tomatoes- Yikes! As if there wasn't enough critter out to get them. But so far these fruits have not had any confirmed infestations in California.
Trumpet flower (I think - Please leave a comment to correct me if I'm wrong.)
So is there any good news? Not really. There are no biological controls. Mass trapping is ineffective. The egg laying does stop at temperatures below 54F and above 91F. They prefer high humidity and moderate temperatures (70F). The egg and larvae do not survive freezing weather.
Fuchsia - like little ballerinas.
So what does it all mean for the organic home grower?

Spinosyn: Spinosad such as Montery Garden Insect spray can be used, though is not as effective as the non-organic organophosphate insecticide malathion, which is highly toxic to bees and other beneficial insects. For more information on integrated pest management checkout the UC Davis IPM site.
My first Hollyhocks grown from seed.
The best (and saddest) recommendation to home growers is, "Do not grow cherries in home gardens."

Bear in mind that as pests go, this one is really new and lots of research into possible natural enemies is still ongoing. It's only been here 2 years so far. That's even less time than I've been here and I still feel new! Let's hope that we find some other bug, fungicide or other beastie that will show the SWD some manners. Then we can get back to only having to pray for enough chill hours for our cherries and then only fight with our feathered friends for the fruit that follows!

Byddi Lee

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bird brained

♫ Here comes the rain again, falling on my head like a memory♫

And thus, it is time for planting those native plants you've been dying to add to your collection and that cool season garden again. I'm amazed at how many Californians ask, "You can garden in the winter?"

The answer is a resounding, "YES!"

In fact, the winter garden here is pretty much like the summer garden in Ireland. I'm looking forward to sugar snap peas, lettuce, beets, Brassicas like arugula, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts - did you know that most of the Brussels sprouts sold in the USA come from California? Now that's winter crops for ya! And the list of yummy things to plant right now goes on. See the Master Garden website for it warm and cool season charts.

What I have learned over the past couple of years here is to try to get the winter garden sewn in September  - before the rain comes and the slugs can have at it with the seedlings. The next major pests are the birds. You just have to be smarter than them. Though they have brains the size of peas, outwitting them is harder than it seems, but it can be done.

But be careful - I heard an account recently of how crows can memorize peoples faces and retaliate when they've been shooed out of someone's yard. Apparently they dive bomb the person and can even "tell their mates" by conveying this information somehow to other crows. Bottom line - be nice to the crows!

Better still be nice to your humming birds - these aggressive little monsters can actually chase other birds many times bigger than themselves from their territories. 

I was standing, minding my  own business, at my own back door when a humming bird hovered over me - it kind of "buzzed" me. Then it flew to the empty feeder and then flew to within a foot of my face and "buzzed" me again! I just had to drop everything and feed it. It makes you realize just how risky it is to feed the wildlife when a 2 inch long bird can bully you into feeding it.

Birds love to eat newly germinated beet. They may seem smart, but they are not quite smart enough to know that if they let seedlings grow a bit there'll be more food for everyone!  A mocking bird managed to get under the netting and took out all the seedlings in the middle of my beet patch with the result that I had to reseed that area (after having carefully extracted a very frightened wee bird from the net).

This time I secured the netting better and kept it to the middle so that the established beet leaves don't get all caught up in it.
What was particularly annoying was that I have been experimenting with spacing, trying to plant my seedlings at the Master Gardener recommend planting distance from each other. This totally screwed up my spacing. I had even cut out a little cardboard gismo that had 4 inches notched in it to help me get it right.

The carrots were even more fun with their 2 inch spacing. I got a piece of card about 1 square foot and  punched a hole every 2 inches. Out in the garden, I placed the card on the soil and then poured the seed packet into my left hand. I carefully picked out each seed and painstakingly put one in each hole. That done, I moved the card for the next section, but as I shuffled up I knocked my left elbow off my knee. Bam! The seeds from my hand lifted up into the air and fell on my carefully plotted area. I broad cast the rest of the carrot patch. Can you tell where the majority of the seeds fell?

It is so much easier to space seedlings than seeds. The lettuce patch looks very promising.

 And the bok choi are already nearly edible after only a week. In the middle of the bed are some arugula (rocket). I have peas in the corner. I'm happy to have them established now, after losing so many last year to the slugs, snails and then birds.
Beet seeds are usually clumped together and so two or even three plants can come up from what seems like one seed. The nice thing about thinning out beets is that you can eat the thinnings.

Byddi Lee