Vacation in Colorado and Washington

Wow, election week.  Maybe your candidate(s) won, maybe not.  To be perfectly honest I’m not really sure that we know whether we’ve won or not until they actually take office and start doing things.  Along with the candidates, you probably also had the opportunity to vote for other things, like whether your state constitution should include an amendment saying that a marriage should be between a man and a woman or whether IDs should be required for voters to vote (those were the two on the Minnesota ballots).

For us horticulture types there was one vote that really made us happy.  In Colorado and Washington they voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use.  OK, I should come clean – I’ve never smoked marijuana.  Been around it, sure, but I have never actually partaken.  At this point in my life I don’t think I’d bother with it regardless of whether it was legal or not.  So why am I, and other horticulturists, so excited about it?  If things work out this is a new crop to work on, and new crops are fun.  Breeding, growing techniques, maximizing productivity, etc.  Shoot, maybe there will even be new grants for this stuff to fund the work.  And imagine the fun that we extension types will have writing about it!  I can’t wait.  

Up in smoke

If you read my postings the last few weeks, you know that I’m doing a webinar on Wednesday on searching academic databases for information of interest and use to gardeners.  While researching one of the suggested topics (should we mow leaves into the lawn or bag and dump them?) I found a 2012 article* entitled “Biomass yield from an urban landscape” in the journal Biomass and Bioenergy.  My blood ran cold when I read this part of the abstract:

“It was estimated that the City of Woodward could generate about 3750 Mg of biomass dry matter in a normal rainfall year and about 6100 Mg in a high rainfall year if every homeowner collected their lawn thatch and clippings, and tree leaves, twigs, and limbs for bioenergy production.”

My first thought was that is a botanical version of The Matrix.  My second thought was how misguided such a proposal would be.  Rather than using the organic material in our landscapes and gardens to replenish soil nutrients naturally, or greencycle it, we’d gather every shred and give it away to be burnt for energy production. Then we’d spend money on fertilizers (organic or otherwise, it doesn’t matter), many if not all of which require energy to manufacture, package, and/or distribute.

Does anyone else see something wrong with this picture?

I can tell you who wins with this approach, and it sure isn’t us or our gardens.

(*Springer, T.L. 2012. Biomass yield from an urban landscape. Biomass and Bioenergy 37: 82-87.)

Superstorm Sandy aftermath: A modest proposal

Initial estimates from insurers indicate that Superstorm Sandy may be the second costliest storm in US history.  A large portion of the damage attributable to Sandy and several of the deaths associated with the storm were due to falling trees.   In many cases the winds were severe enough to topple healthy trees, but I’m sure many GP blog readers share my frustration in looking at storm-related tree damage photos and seeing obvious defects that a professional arborist would have readily spotted.

This brings me to a modest proposal: I propose insurance companies provide discounts for homeowners to have a hazard evaluation of trees on their property.  I did a quick search on the major insurance companies and they currently offer homeowners discounts of up to 15% for, among other things:

Smoke alarms

Burglar alarms

Fire extinguishers

            Security systems

Roofing materials

Sprinkler systems

The rational is self-evident; the cost of the discounts is more than off-set by damage and subsequent claims that are prevented.  How much of a discount should homeowners get for a hazard assessment?  I dunno, but I’m sure there are actuaries somewhere that could figure out cost-benefit breakdown of identifying hazards and removing them on a calm, clear day versus waiting until they come down in a major storm and destroy a car or a house or worse.

Webinar update – yes, YOU can attend!

A few days ago I posted about a webinar I’m doing on using academic databases for gardening myth-busting.  At the time I wasn’t sure what the rules were for viewing the webinar, but happily I’ve found out we can have outside viewers!  So here’s the information about when and how to log on to Adobe Connect (keep in mind this is Pacific Standard Time here).

Speaker: Linda Chalker-Scott

Date: Wednesday, November 7

Time: 10:30-11:30 a.m.

Address: http://breeze.wsu.edu/ext_skills/

We have 99 slots for people, so there should be plenty of room.  And if you can’t make it, no worries.  The presentation will be archived so you can watch it over and over and over…

I’ve gotten some great ideas from you – thanks!  Hope to see some of you there. 

Aphids Marching

Was out enjoying the last of the SW Virginia fall color from our deck, the day before we got our dose of Sandy…the wind was picking up and the barometer and temperature were dropping

Twenty-four hours later, we had an inch of snow and 40 mph winds. No more fall color.
Looked down at the railing and the ENTIRE length of it – 45′ – had aphids streaming back and forth.  They were absolutely pouring off a Clematis terniflora vine (the same species that attracted all the blister beetles this summer – what a prize) that had clambered up over the deck. It was like two lanes of traffic, going in each direction, and at a (relatively) high rate of speed.  I’ve never seen aphids move so fast. But to where??



I believe it’s time to re-stain the deck.

We also had the interesting phenomenon of congregating swarms of lady beetles (the Asian species – Harmonia axyridis) a couple of weeks ago. The south side of the house and my Jeep were covered.  At least there’s an upside to that infestation – I’ve noticed lots of larvae around.

As you know, lady beetle larvae are very effective predators of aphids, and were out in full force amongst the aphids…I counted 30. But they couldn’t make a dent in the thousands of aphids streaming along the rail. Upon closer inspection, they were actually trying to avoid the aphids.  They had obviously had their fill and could barely move. I swear they looked nauseous.

“No thanks, we’re full.”
So – any thoughts on why the aphids were so active?