Die! Larvae, Die!


I know everybody is tired of people complaining about the cold- it is February, it’s supposed to be cold. So, I am going to turn it around, as I sit at my desk, gazing out the window at…hey, what is that squirrel eating? Avocado pit? Stupid squirrel, get out of the compost pile!

Where were we? Ah, yes, gazing out the window at the frosty back yard, I am both gleeful, and hopeful.

Gleeful, knowing that here on the flat it is -2 Fahrenheit, but up in the mountains, it is colder. Maybe cold enough in the woods to freeze the pine beetle larvae that are eating up our trees. Maybe it will be cold enough, long enough, to destroy a large percentage of the larvae, and we can get our woods back.

I say our woods, knowing that foresters and naturalists and others who take the long view see that pine trees falling to pine beetles doesn’t kill the forest, it just changes the forest. I’d like to be one of those people who take the long view, but I can’t. I love the woods, and I hate to see the trees go brown and topple over.

Pine beetles have always been here, but typically young trees can survive the attacks, and bitter cold kills many of the larvae, so there has been a balance in the past. Recently, winters haven’t been cold enough for long enough to kill them. So the forest changes.

Now the new larval threat is Emerald Ash Borer- they haven’t always been here- they came over from their native China around ten years ago, and are spreading. Native ash trees have no resistance. Signs of the insects have been found in Boulder County, (Boulder! Dang hippies!) and they are under quarantine. No products made from ash trees are supposed to leave the county, no mulch, no firewood, no nursery trees. Knowing that we are right next door, though, and that beetles don’t respect county lines, makes me wonder if they are soon to be discovered here in Larimer county.

They attack…well, not attack really. I mean the bugs are just living their lives, right, having sex, making babies, but it feels like an attack. So, the adult female ash borer lays her eggs in bark crevices of branches of ash trees. The larvae develop in the space between the bark and the wood, the cambium. The thin green layer of cambium is where sap flows, where water and nutrients flow out to the leaves from the soil. If enough larvae develop and destroy the cambium, that branch dies. If enough branches die, the tree dies.

The long view of the forester or the naturalist is hard here, too. Even harder, actually, because as much as I love the woods, I don’t live there. I have 2 big ash trees in my yard, and there are many more in my neighborhood. Losing these big old shade trees would will break my heart. Sigh. They will die eventually.

The city of Minneapolis has set up a system of proactively chopping down ash trees, and replacing them with different varieties of trees. Yep, chopping down trees that are fine, because in a few years they won’t be fine.

How does this connect to the weather? (Remember, 600 words ago I started out by saying I wouldn’t complain about the cold?) My hope is that the trees that are currently infected will be so cold during this cold snap that the overwintering larvae, curled up in their little serpentine tunnels under the bark, will freeze and die. Mwahahahahaha. Die, little larvae! Die!

For more info, and some alarming photos, check out http://www.americanforests.org/magazine/article/will-we-kiss-our-ash-goodbye/

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First, we ditch the swingset…


IMG_0530There are about 8 inches of snow out my back window right now, and it is still coming down. Fortunately, I dumped the compost bucket before the storm started, so I don’t have to wade through it for a couple more days. I’ll go out for groceries, later, but mostly, this is a day for looking out the window and daydreaming. About peaches.
I have been reading “The Holistic Orchard” by Michael Phillips- I keep dipping into it, then re-reading, then thinking about how to blog it, and about how to apply it in real life. It is a lot to think about. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in having fruit trees.
I already have a couple of apples- an ancient tree of unknown variety, and a dwarf golden delicious. My hope is that with pruning advice from this book, I can get the ancient tree under control, and get some delicious, golden apples from the other.
I am also interested in adding peaches to the menagerie, in the corner of the yard that has been the home to our swing set. The swing set is set into the ground with concrete, which was thrilling when the kids were little, they could swing breathtakingly high, without tipping the whole thing over.  Cousins would cry. Little brothers would cry, too, come to think of it.  Nobody really got hurt, though.  BIMG_0529eing rooted into the ground made it really hard to mow around, and in the last couple of summers, wasps have made their nests in the tubes, which is thrilling and breathtaking in its own right.

So, the first big step to putting peaches there will be to get rid of the swingset- not today, though. It’s snowing.

This is not optimal!


Yeah, I can see why you would say that it was not optimal to have a tree right there.

Yeah, I can see why you would say that it was not optimal to have a tree right there.

Our friend Grif and I were touring the perimeter in the dark cold of the winter solstice, mostly checking to see if his theory that the previous owners had covered up a brick façade with vinyl siding was correct. Hey, it was the 70’s- people did crazy things. We went around to the south side of the house, and Grif said “Whose canoe?”
“Oh, it’s ours. We don’t take it out very much, and usually it is tipped over on its side by the side of the house.“ It had fallen over, and filled with snow and ice.
Grif was shining the flashlight on the tree growing out of the foundation. He wasn’t really listening to me. “This is not optimal.” He said. “Did you all know you have a tree growing out of your foundation?”
“Umm, yeah.”
“You really have to get this out of there.”
“Yeah, I know, we chop it down every year, but it keeps coming back from the roots.” Although, now that I think about it, did we chop it down this year? Because, it is like up to the peak of the roof, and we may not have taken it down last summer. I don’t go over to the side yard very much, and when I do, I think, yeah, I should probably take out that tree that is growing in the foundation of the house, but then I do something else instead. Like drink tea. Or read the paper. Or eat potato chips.
I don’t love the Sisyphean task of cutting it down, only to have it grow back from dormant buds. Or maybe it is more like a herculean task, where the tree is like the hydra, where you cut off the head and two more grow back. Now, how did Hercules solve that one? Flaming swords, I think, and help from his cousin. That is probably the one tool I haven’t considered.
So, how does one get a tree out of a foundation? Here’s the plan:
Step 1:chop it down before it leafs out. Plants store carbohydrates in their root systems in the fall so they have energy to grow again in spring. If I chop it back to ground level now, the energy from the underground carbs will be directed into dormant buds on what is left of the trunk. Every time I go to that side of the house, I can cut off any green leaves that sprout, and eventually, the energy stores will be depleted, and the tree will die.
Step two: with a sharp spade, dig around the tree on the sides that are accessible, and cut off as much of the root mass as I can reach.
Step 3: poison and shade I don’t like the official poisons that are sold to us as weed killer. It is partly that I am cheap. However, there are things that are not poisonous to me that may prevent the tree from coming back. Salt. Vinegar. Wood chips. MMMMMM…. Salt and vinegar chips.
Wait, focus- we need to get the non-optimal tree out of the foundation. Trying it this weekend. I’ll keep you posted.

Is it Spring yet?


Melt, snow! Sigh...

Melt, snow! Sigh…

There’s this guy I work with, who starting with the very first day of school, will ask: Is it Summer yet?

It makes me wonder about his career choice- if he is so miserable working at a school, maybe he should try something else? Maybe he would be just as miserable elsewhere, some people are like that.

I try not to be like that, carpe diem, and be here now and all that, but since the solstice, and the days getting incrementally longer, I keep thinking about plans for spring.

We are going to get rid of the old swing set that people never swing on anymore, and for years I had thought about having a little seating area back there-but now I think plants instead.  A peach tree, or two. I have been reading up on “holistic orchards”  which advocate the middle road of preventive care, rather than chemical sprays at one extreme, or laissez faire at the other. (Guess which extreme I am at?) I wonder if the preventative maintenance would get me more fruit for a little more work?

On sunny afternoons this winter I’ll go out and putter- mostly just sweeping leaves off the patio and looking up at the trees. I also do a lot of staring out the window by my desk.

Garden design is hard work.

 

Why did I put my compost pile so far away?


That black bin...way over there...that's the compost bin.

That black bin…way over there…that’s the compost bin.

It has been really flipping cold. Pardon my language. I keep my orange peels and coffee grounds in a big plastic cup on the back of the sink. If I have to put on boots and a scarf and assorted warm woolies to dump that cup, it just isn’t going to happen that often. The next time the temperature gets above 50, I’ll move the bin closer to the house. Like, right by the back door.

 

Rematch!


For two years now, Kate has been lording it over her brother that she came in first in the gingerbread house building contest, kids division,, and he lost.  Now, technically, he came in second, and she won, because there were only two entries in their division.

I am one of those modern parents who thinks it was great that they even entered, and used their creativity and all that. I would give out ribbons and trophies to everybody!

Last year, we were sick for the contest- I actually had made dough, figuring we could roll it out, but that just didn’t happen. It has been in the freezer for a year- I figure since we don’t eat the houses (mmmm! stale gingerbread!) it doesn’t really matter that the dough is old.

So, this year, we are healthy, and ready to go.  The houses have to be at the library at 9:30 Saturday morning.

Image My design is a cabin on a glass candy lake, with an ice-fishing hole.

Kate wants to have a Valentine Post Office, with heart shaped windows made of hard candy.

Will (previously known as “the boy” but it seems reasonable to refer to him by his name now,) is making a gingerbread Jurassic Park…with dismembered gingerbread people who have been ripped apart by the gingerbread T-Rex.

In order to prevent tears on Friday, we have been doing a little bit of mixing and baking and building every night this week. There still may be tears on Friday. We’ll let you know how it goes.

Rosemary- You can grow that!


At the farmer’s market last spring, I was chatting with this charming German woman who sells pastries (wait, is that offensive? like saying “nice smelling eighth grader” implies that most of them stink? am I saying that I don’t expect Germans to be charming? Maybe she’s Austrian?)Anyway, I had bought a rosemary plant at another stall, and she mentioned she had seen a lemon rosemary cookie recipe, and wouldn’t it be great to have lots of rosemary for recipes like that.

The hardiest rosemary I have heard of is a variety called Arp, and it is hardy to zone 6.  We are technically zone 5, which means we get colder in the winter than it can survive. I say technically, because the zones are changing, with global weirding and all. Zones are determined by the coldest expected temperatures in the winter, and for several years, we have not reached those coldest temps.

I have a two pronged approach to growing my rosemary over the winter, so I have enough for those lemon rosemary cookies (you knew it had to be about the cookies, right?) The first prong was to plant the rosemary in a raised bed right by the house which has a frame over it. The bed is sheltered from the wind, and easy to water, but free draining. If the weather gets really bitter, I can put a plastic cover over the frame. Since rosemary is a Mediterranean plant, it wants soil that drains well, cool temperatures in the winter, but not super cold.  We have just started a cold snap, with the radio weather people predicting lows “well below zero” for tonight. I put a plastic milk jug hat over the plant before it started snowing.

are you okay in there, lil buddy?

are you okay in there, lil buddy?

In case that plan doesn’t work, and I wind up with a skeleton of a plant in the spring, I have also taken cuttings and rooted them on the kitchen window sill.  They are alive now, although I am not sure how they will take the lack of sun as December stretches into January, February, March and April…

Squeee! they are like tiny little evergreens...

Squeee! they are like tiny little evergreens…

Most windowsill herb kits don’t work well, because most windowsills don’t get enough light.  You may see rosemary plants cut into topiaries this time of year, as indoor herbal christmas trees. I would say, if you buy one, cut into it, and make cookies and roast and stuff with it- having fewer leaves will make it more likely to survive the winter in the house. And let me know how the cookies come out.

You can grow that is the fantastic idea of C.L. Fornari, who urges garden bloggers to recommend what to grow to people on the 4th of every month.

 

Saffron- you can grow that. No, really!


Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world- the stigmas of the autumn crocus flower must be picked by hand, and each blossom has only three tiny strands. $1500 per pound was the quote I found on the internet, and the story said that often the spice is adulterated with the flavorless anthers of the flower- only the red strands have the classic flavor used in paella, and ummm… yeah, pretty much paella…
Confession, I planted saffron crocus several years ago, and then I dutifully harvested some, and then it sat in an envelope in my cabinet for a while. I think when I ordered the bulbs, I was like “Most expensive spice in the world? Challenge accepted.” (Actually, I probably bought the bulbs before the “Challenge accepted” meme started, and now here I am, using the meme well after its expiration date.)

Autumn crocus

Autumn crocus

I do have to say, it is very easy to grow, just like a regular crocus, plant the bulbs in fall- the biggest difference is that it sends up leaves in the spring, but only flowers in the fall. Then pick out the stigmas, place in an envelope, and forget about…oh, I mean, make paella.
Anybody have a good paella recipe?

So, when am I going to get homegrown vanilla?


The vine is halfway up the two-foot tall trellis- I keep bending it to the side so it will wrap around the trellis, but vines want to grow upward.

The vine is halfway up the two-foot tall trellis- I keep bending it to the side so it will wrap around the trellis, but vines want to grow upward.

I bought thread at the craft store the other day, and the checker herself was shocked at how much it cost. She said something about it being cheaper to just buy a shirt than to make one. Never mind that I wasn’t making a shirt- you would think working at a craft store would accustom you to the idea that people do crazy things for hobbies.
A great example of this is my vanilla orchid.
I have had it for several years,  it is slowly creeping along the trellis I built for it, causing me to panic when it tipped over in the wind and most of the chunky orchid mix spilled out of the pot. I water it with buckets dipped out of the goldfish pond- weak organic fertilizer. The trellis is supposed to act as a humidifier, as well as a support. I baby it.
I moved it inside before it got cold. Vanilla is native to Mexico, warmer and moister by far than my back yard. It could never survive the winter here. The boy’s room has a south window, so all my tropical plants make his room into the jungle room in the winter.
The vanilla isn’t likely to bloom until it gets to ceiling height, and it is about 1 foot tall now.  No matter how big it gets, it won’t survive the winter outside. Once it blooms, I will have to pollinate the blossoms by hand, with a small paintbrush, then wait for the seedpods to develop, then ferment and dry them. Then make cupcakes.
Maybe someday, we’ll get a greenhouse. Just think how expensive that would make the vanilla pods- amortizing the cost of glass and construction into each little pod…
But for now,  I have a happy little vine in a very portable pot, which goes outside in summer, and inside in the winter, and gives me something to look forward to.

You’re going to want waffles in 12 hours, right?


I ate a Liege Waffle from a food truck at a festival a few weeks ago. Oh my gosh! Rich, and sweet, with little nuggets of pearled sugar. I only had enough tickets to get a plain one (By the way, I hate the tickets at a festival thing- you have to stand in line for tickets, then stand in line for food, then you have either too many, or not enough.) But even the plain one was delicious.
It made me want to research the whole Belgian Yeast-raised waffle deal. I went to Smitten Kitchen  and the scary thing was just how much fat these things have. I’m not against fat, if you can take it, but we’ve got some health issues around here. Pancreas don’t care if it’s butter, or coconut oil, or crude oil, too much is too much. These recipes call for (full stick?) of butter. Ummmm…that winds up being more than Kate’s allotment for the whole day in one waffle.

mmmm...waffles

mmmm…waffles

Now, I have played with fat reduction and replacements in baked goods- apple sauce makes waffles a bit too sticky, so I decided to try pumpkin. And as long as the waffles are orange…why not add pumpkin pie spice? The pumpkin adds moisture and replaces some of the fat- notice that these are low fat, not non. You could use egg whites, and no butter at all. We tried one batch that way with apple sauce, and they were disappointing. I mean, we still ate them, but if you are standing over a waffle iron, you want something worth your time.
The ingredient that has me stumped in these recipes is the pearled sugar- it was in the festival waffles from the waffle truck, but it is not a pantry staple for me. Maybe it should be… anyone know where to get it?
So, the set up the night before, is to make a sour dough, essentially. I have done sourdough before, with a jar on the counter, then in the fridge, then you periodically make a loaf of bread…I have gotten off the sourdough treadmill, honestly. My kids don’t like sourdough bread much, and I don’t like it enough to have a loaf every week. But a facebook comment from a friend who makes sourdough waffles made me think about getting back on the treadmill- I wouldn’t have to make bread every week, I could do waffles, or pancakes… that’s another blog post.

Lowfat Pumpkin Waffles
1/4 cup warm water
packet yeast
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted, then cooled
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
1/4 cup canned pumpkin ( I used the kind with pie spice mixed in already)
2 teaspoons baking powder
Bloom the yeast in the warm water, stir in the milk, butter and the flour. Let rise overnight (or during the day- brinner, am I right?)  When ready to make waffles, beat an egg, add the baking powder, egg and pumpkin to the flour, yeast and milk mixture. The batter will be pretty runny. Cook according to your waffle iron directions. I love these topped with peanut butter and apricot preserves, the kids eat with syrup, obviously.

(does anyone know where to get the pearled sugar? the interwebs tell me Ikea has it, but I really don’t want to go all the way to Ikea for sugar?)

Edited to add: scouts report (no, really, actual scouts, like they have uniforms and everything) that the Ikea south of Denver (is it technically the town of Superior?) does not have pearled sugar. Any ideas?

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