Around my home I have gravel and hostas. Just perfect, as you might imagine, for lots of slug damage. This is where I do my work on slug remedies. And there are lots of remedies for slugs! One of the oldest of these remedies is beer. Almost any beer will be adequate (including alcohol free), but generally the darker the beer the better. When I first started testing different cures for slugs about five years ago one of the first ones that I looked at was beer. And when I first tried it…..well, see for yourself.
This is the way that I set up my first beer trap (for this test). There’s fine sand all the way around the trap and the trap is filled with Moose Drool (a nice beer — Suzanne, my wife — was actually a little irritated that I wasted a good Moose Drool when we had a Bud Light in the fridge — But I was only thirsty for half a beer when I set it out….and I don’t like Bud Light)
I set this trap up around 8 o’clock on a nice warm summer evening, the idea being that the next morning I could go out and see how many slugs approached the beer (by looking at the sand) and then see how many slugs the beer actually caught.
As you can see below we had quite a few slugs approach the beer (By my count about twenty). And guess how many dead slugs were in that beer?
If you guessed 20…you’d be wrong! There were no slugs in that beer. Why? Because this is a poorly designed slug trap! slug traps are best when they are made with something like a mason jar and that jar is buried up to the lip of the jar in soil. Then the jar should be filled up to within about an inch of the top with beer. If you fill it higher the slug will be able to just reach his head in and drink. In fact, after I set this trap out, I spent much of the evening watching slugs do just that — it was actually a little like watching old episodes of Cheers! I had names for the slugs and everything (like Norm and Frazier and that mailman guy whose name I can’t remember now…).
So slug traps are good — but only if they’re set up right!
It’s a nice sunny September day in Seattle and I’m in my happy place. What better topic to match my mood than mulch?
For those of you not familiar with my fixation on woody mulches, I’ll refer you to an article in MasterGardener Magazine here. Briefly, I am a fan of coarse, chunky organic mulch, particularly arborist wood chips or other chipped material from trees and shrubs.
Rather than send this material off to the landfill, it’s so much better to use it as a protective layer on top of your landscape soil. It’s a cheap, natural way to protect and nourish your plants, and provides a great habitat for beneficial insects and microorganisms.
Practically speaking, how does one move a mountain of mulch? Shovels don’t work well, and compost forks have too much space between tines. My favorite tool is the mulching fork. It’s relatively lightweight, well balanced, and makes quick work of wood chips.
Sometimes you’ll find twigs in your mulch pile, or might have your own woody prunings that you’d like to use as mulch. My second favorite tool is my electric chipper/shredder. It’s powerful enough to deal with small branches and twigs and helps me create a more uniform mulch. Plus, I reuse my yard waste and keep the nutrients on site rather than throwing them away.
I don’t own stock in either of these products (my faculty salary doesn’t exactly allow me to be an investment tycoon). They’re just a few of my favorite things…
Sometimes I feel guilty because I always seem to be putting down the products that people sell to make their living. But not today! Today I’ve got something that actually works! No, it isn’t pretty, and it does have some irritating problems, but I can honestly say that it does what the company that manufactures it says it does. And that product is the Aqua Globe.
This is a very simple contraption (which is part of the reason that it works). It’s just a glass ball with a hollow tube connecting to it. At the base of the tube there’s a hole where water can be poured it to fill the globe. When you push this into a container it will release the water in the globe slowly and give an extra day or two between waterings. This contraption doesn’t affect the drainage of the media that you put it into, and it works with most types of media.
The down side to this thing is that….well….it’s kind of nasty looking. The other problem with it is that, after you push it into the potting soil, it’s hollow tip will fill up with media, so when you fill it with water the next time you need to dig that media out with a fine-bladed knife or a thick piece of wire. But hey, if you’re going on a short vacation and you’re feuding with your neighbors, then this little contraption will do the trick.
There was an article published recently that traced the melting of glaciers in the US over the last 50 years. This study showed, pretty convincingly, that the glaciers are, indeed, melting, and melting rapidly. Meanwhile, in our atmosphere, levels of carbon dioxide from humans burning fossil fuel are increasing in a manner roughly correlated to the increase in temperature that’s melting the glaciers. But is the carbon dioxide actually causing the warming? Believe it or not this is still an area of discussion among scientist, and the answer isn’t as simple as many newspapers make it out to be. Almost all of the scientists that you care to talk to, even those skeptical of the role of carbon dioxide in global warming, admit that increasing carbon dioxide is going to cause a net increase in global temperature. But there is a decent amount of research out there showing that solar and geothermal activity (in other words things that we can’t control) may cause anywhere from 15 to 75% of the warming that we’re seeing. To be honest, based on what I’ve read (and I’m no climate scientist), I tend to side with those who believe that global warming is mostly caused by human releases of carbon dioxide, but I also think that to accept that theory as proven is a mistake.
In my humble opinion we’re missing the more compelling reason to reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide (besides the fact that we’re running out of fossil fuels of course). Plants. Most people simply assume that, temperature increases aside, increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is going to be good for plants, and that’s just not the case. True, some plants, like Canadian thistle and many other weeds, love the increase in carbon dioxide, but other plants, such as many grasses, just don’t respond to it that well. The ironic thing is that, for those plants that respond strongly to CO2, nutrients like nitrogen and potassium are taken up quickly from the soil (as you’d expect with a rapidly growing plant) and then, as the nutrients in the soil run out, the growth of the plant is drastically reduced. In other words, CO2 causes unfertilized soils to become more rapidly depleted. So what does this all mean? It means that as we increase CO2 levels in the atmosphere we’re changing the world’s ecosystem, including the fields that grow our crops. Indeed, we’re actually adjusting the atmosphere to alter which plants are most appropriate for certain situations. There are even those who argue that, because of our CO2 emissions, we’re encouraging invasive plants to take over our native forests because these plants tend to be able to handle high CO2 (and high temperatures) better than the plants that are already there.
To me this is the more important reason to reduce our carbon footprint.
Part of the problem with being a professor is that companies assume that I have a bottomless supply of funds to test their products and that it is, in fact, my duty to do so. And of course they assume that this testing will ultimately find their product useful.
The truth is that I do love to test things, but I don’t have the funds to do the comprehensive tests that these companies usually want, at least not without them helping out at least a little – and most of them don’t want to spend money on tests! But many times, even if I tell them on the phone that I’m not likely to test what they’re selling they’ll send along a sample anyway, hoping that I’ll be curious enough to give the stuff a shot. And I usually let them because, well, why not?
Anyway, that brings me to this pile of ash that is currently sitting on my floor. A guy from a company (which I will decline to name) called me on the phone and convinced me to accept about 25 pounds of rice hulls that had been burned to ash while being used to fuel something or another (I can’t remember what and there was no note in the box). This ash is supposedly the cat’s meow for helping the media in containers to retain water and this guy wants me to test it. I told this guy that I was unlikely to have time for it, but he was insistent. I guess he thought that if the stuff sat on my floor long enough eventually I’d get curious, open the box, and try it out.
Turns out he was right.
So I get this box full of ash, open it up and am immediately hit in the face with black dust which I wisely (and accidentally) inhale. Lovely. Then I take out the MSDS sheet (Material Safety Data Sheet – required for most chemicals) and read about the problems with this product. It turns out this stuff contains crystalline silica (no surprise there, rice hulls are full on silicon), which can cause a rapid onset of silicoses as well as being a cancer hazard (crystalline silica is a known carcinogen if it’s inhaled).
Now I don’t want to blow the danger of this stuff out of proportion. I have little doubt that my exposure to it wasn’t enough to do anything terrible to me (just as I’m pretty sure that the two packs of cigarettes or so that I smoked during college aren’t going to eventually lead to lung cancer). And I’m all in favor of using industrial byproducts for other purposes whenever possible. But my goodness, this stuff is ash! It just flies into the air! I just can’t see how, even with the recommended protection, nursery workers could avoid inhaling this stuff on a daily basis if they were using it to pot up plants (perlite is pretty bad – but this stuff is worse) — which just seems like a heck of a bad idea. In terms of the ability of this stuff to hold water….well, I put some into a plastic container with some water which the ash absorbed none of. All that said, it might be possible that this stuff helps container media to hold more water, but for an unintended reason. This ash is extremely fine. When we mixed it with container media it quickly found its way into all of the pore spaces between the media particles making the media more like clay than media. This did potentially increase the media’s ability to retain water, but decreased its ability to hold air – which is not a good thing for young roots. So the quick and easy summary is that rice hull ash is not the best idea for containers.