Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Appearing on windows on sunny days. Lots of them. They aren’t quite as red as those I remember from childhood and have varying numbers of spots. Some have no spots at all and are just orange. They make a noxious smell and can leave a yellow stain when disturbed.
According to entomologists at the University of Kentucky, large areas of the country have been invaded by the Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis. It began to appear in the 1990s. It was brought here then for use against agricultural pests by the US Department of Agriculture. Releases were made in a number of states in the east as well as in California.
It hibernates in masses inside the walls of houses in the fall. During the winter it appears in our homes when ever the temperature starts to rise and the sun shines. They are attempting to find their way back outside to begin a new season and have taken a wrong turn. They are drawn to light and are quite confused by windows. Fortunately they are completely harmless and they do like to eat the aphids in the vegetable garden!
Sunday, February 25, 2007
This is quite a big deal this year. Can I use a shovel? Four months since I broke my back in a car crash. Three months solid in a huge plastic brace. One month weaning myself from the brace and the narcotics. Slowly strengthening my chest and back muscles. Lots of naps. Still pain in my back: a sharp knuckle shoved in right next to my back bone. Ouch. But it is time to garden! I MUST garden. And I must slowly and carefully bring my body back into shape. Digging and turning soil with all of its bending and lifting is not going to work. I choose a well-worked bed – not long ago it was the floor of one of the chicken houses. I slowly and vigorously rake off the dead weeds and grass. Then I plant the shovel in the soil and using the handle as a lever pry the soil up to loosen it. After loosening a five-foot row of turves, I use the shovel like a digging bar, letting it fall of its own weight to chop the turves into clods. This works well. No pain! I rake and smooth until I have a nice bed for this year’s spinach. Out pops an early earthworm to check on the commotion. The soil and I, we are ready.
Walking through the garden last week I noticed how badly the espaliered fruit trees are being nibbled on by mice. They stand on their hind legs and gnaw away at the bark which must be sweet and tasty. Now, I have never seen them, but all the orchard books warn about mice damage on young trees and suggest wrapping the base of their trunks with tree wrap. When I look closely, though, the damage seems to be created by little mouse-like teeth! Having no treewrap I use paper grocery bags cut into strips. Instead of tying the paper on which might girdle the tree itself if I forgot to loosen the string, I use small bits of plastic tape. I know eventually the paper will rot away and be absorbed into the soil. And the bits of plastic tape will probably be with us indefinitely. More bits of 21st century plastic detritus adding substance to the soil. It is interesting to note that the only trees affected are the pears and apples. For some reason the two cherry trees are ignored. Perhaps their bark is bitter?
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Spring tapped us quietly on the shoulder this morning. After weeks of below freezing weather, we have a day in the 50s. The air is filled with the blessed smell of mud!
On my morning walk with Zippy I carefully examine the roadside ditches looking for signs of amphibian eggs in the water. Eggs usually show up in the spring wet areas around here among the thick strands of algae. I have yet to determine whether they are frogs, toads, or salamanders. The biologists call these tiny temporary bodies of water vernal pools and have identified them as a critical part of the life cycle of our local amphibians.
I share the fine weather with the chickens by giving their laying boxes a good cleaning. In one chicken house I find a distraught Mille Fleur rooster just standing in the the box. All of his mates are down on the ground picking at grit and visiting the feeder and waterer. This little rooster stands quietly in the dark in this attic area of the chicken house. I carefully take him out of the house to look him over, I can’t find his eyes. They are literally missing! I have a bucket of warm water for refilling the chicken waterers so I gently wash his head. There is a lot of dried material – poop, blood, and puss – caked around his head feathers and comb. Quite suddenly one eye just pops right open out of what had looked like raw flesh. It rolls its red lizardlike gaze up at me in suprise and, I like to imagine, gratitude. The opposite eye soon appears. The jauntly little guy – completely unfazed by the experience rejoins his fellows, happy to be able to find the feeder and waterer. None of the other chickens seem to be having any eye problems so I imagine this fellow has simply been suffering life at the bottom of the pecking order.