Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Aphids and the Bees

Every year I battle aphids. Aphids feed on the roses. They feed on the flowering maples. This year they're feeding on the azaleas. I launched my assault on them. Since aphids only feed on the tender, new growth, I simply ran my fingers up the shoots, crushing all the aphids on each stem. It's a messy business, but within a couple of weeks, I've wiped out the majority of the aphids. (Aphids are born pregnant, so killing the first generation wipes out the subsequent ones. I've never found that insecticidal soap did much good, unless I used so much that I drowned the little beasties. And a strong spray of water with the garden hose, which is recommended by many garden mavens, would wipe out the aphids and the plants on which they were feasting. A few aphids probably survived Operation Aphid Storm, but the ladybugs do need something to eat.)

I have four cape mallows and the bees love them. We get all kinds--carpenter bees, bumble bees, little black and white bees, blue bees, and even European honey bees. And given the bee crisis, we have encouraged the bees to feed in the yard. The warm weather a couple of weeks ago brought them all out. I don't know whether bees are competitive, but the mallows provide so much food that there's plenty for everyone there. Then suddenly they all disappeared. All of them. I fretted. Bees are in bad trouble in North America and I've tried to provide them plenty of food. But they'd all disappeared. Then on Saturday they returned. Not in the numbers of a couple of weeks ago, but enough so that some had survived whatever happened to them.

Bees have been killed off by aerial pesticide spraying, but so far as I know, the county hasn't started spraying for West Nile virus yet. If they do spray again this year, it will kill off most of the insect life in the spray area. When they've sprayed here in the past, every insect in the yard was killed. It killed the bees, the flies, the beetles, everything--even the spiders (which aren't technically insects) died. And the first to come back--the mosquitoes, of course.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

On the Agriculture Crisis

Yesterday was my 53rd birthday. J allowed me to play in the garden all day and then took me out to dinner at Hawk's in Granite Bay. Granite Bay is Sacramento's excuse for a rich suburb, but like all things in Sacramento, it's not all that rich. We're not talking Atherton on Beverly Hills here. Anyway we had the tasting menu and it was delicious, particularly the vegies and fish. J didn't expect to like the dessert, an ice cream sandwich with olive oil, but the combination really works and he scarfed the whole thing down. Today we're cleaning the carpets and tomorrow he'll be taking me to the Bay Area to shop for plants and clothes.

However, even with the week-long celebration of my birthday, I have been following the news, specifically the food shortages in some Third World countries. And I'm wondering whether this crisis hasn't been brought about by the food movers (Cargill, Castle and Cook etc.). You will recall that a scant two years ago farmers in Oaxaca and India were going out of business (and some in India were killing themselves) because food imports from the developed world were undercutting them. The food from the developed world was so much cheaper that the farmers could not actually stay in business at the prices consumers were paying for the cheap stuff from the US.

But now it turns out that we're facing shortages of rice, wheat and corn. Hmmm. Could these folks have been selling at below-market prices to drive the competition out of business? And just been remarkably successful, so successful that they drove enough farmers off the land to create shortages?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Oh, the Wonder of the Mainstream Media

Much has been written on the appalling debate last week between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, so I will be relatively brief. First, I will admit that there is a problem in structuring a debate between the two of them, since the differences in their positions are so minute as to be undetectable in most cases. And those minor differences have been done to death. But does that mean that the "moderators" should move on to examine such weighty topics as Jeremiah Wright, Clinton's sniper moment and Obama's failure to feature a flag pin? These weren't even interesting. I mean, I'd much rather hear about how the candidates choose their clothing for various public events, what colors each thinks the other should wear, and the respective costs of tailoring off-the-rack versus custom-made.

Now I do wish that the press would get off the Jeremiah Wright issue, which seems to have been entirely created by Fox News. What entity other than Fox News would actually suggest that the United Church of Christ is a cult? The Congregationalists are about as far from a cult as a religion can get--Congregationalists are one step up from Unitarians ferhevensake. Don't these people ready anything? Oops. Fox News. Reading. Sorry.

(What's most interesting about Trinity, in fact, is that the church actively embraces African and African-American religious practice. Traditionally African-American Congregationalists have been middle class with a vengeance, distinguishing themselves from Baptist and AME congregations, for instance, by sedate and proper religious observance. While the Trinity congregation does look very middle class, its practices would be at home in any African-American religious service. Now that would be an interesting topic and Barack Obama's comments on that topic would tell us a lot more about him than interrogating him about flag pins.)

But probably the most useful debate would have been one centered on the extent to which their proposals are identical to the proposals made by Republicans. While there are some differences--health care comes to mind--on many issues they agree with the Republican consensus, a consensus that does little for the majority of the American population.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

More Pictures!

Thanks to J, I have now mastered rotating, and so can put up pictures in a format that does not require that you turn your head sideways to see it properly. I must admit that I could have figured it out myself, as it involves a right-click on the picture, scrolling down to "rotate clockwise" and a double-click. Magic happens, and the picture is rotated! My eldest Japanese maple, a laceleaf, is pictured at the left. I've had it for four years, so it's not the tiny stick I purchased. It's a bigger stick--with leaves!

Here is one of my many geraniums (not the plants commonly called geraniums, which are actually pelargoniums, but true geraniums, or cranesbill). I had great success with these in Oakland--they bloomed for months and kept their leaves through the winter--but have more trouble with them here. Their bloom period is shorter here, and they don't like the colder winters and look half-dead in January. I avert my eyes then, and they come back in the spring. A couple of them, however, will not survive here, no matter what I do. Geranium incanum allegedly likes heat. Ha! I've killed two of them and refuse to try again.

I have several azaleas. This is my L.L. Bobbink, one of my favorites. It has large flowers and its flushed purple petals fade to white as they age. I have several of the Rutherfordias, azaleas that were originally developed for greenhouses, but survive outdoors in moderate climates. Unlike most azaleas, these can't survive hard freezes. Their flowers resemble those of many rhododendrons, so I have some small consolation, as I can't grow rhododendrons here at all.

The best aspect of my patio is that it's not a blank square. It's actually two patios, connected by a curved path. Many gardeners spend time and money to achieve the element of surprise

that I get without having to do a lick of work. This picture looks from the shady side of the patio (outside the living room) and gives a glimpse of the sunny patio next to the bedroom. Because this side gets almost no sun, I grow the few plants that can survive both shade and the intense heat of Sacramento summers. That means that I grow lots of ferns. But I've also found that Labrador violets and hellebores do well here too. As with any rental, though, there are plantings I have to look past. The grapefruit tree at the right is entirely too close to the house, and the junipers on the left are more than moderately unhappy. As you get to the sunny patio, you will see the three Italian cypress that were planted (probably in the 1960s) for a purpose I have yet to determine. But I also have a wonderful old oak tree that shades the sunny patio in the afternoon.

The sun shining through this Japanese maple is the first thing I see when I wake up. It's red and gold and green, all at the same time, and it glows. Next to the maple is the pink jasmine that I threaten to get rid of every year. While the front is green and lush, the back, which I can see through the window, looks quite dead. But it blooms and the scent of jasmine on the breeze convinces me not to kill it, at least not yet.

At this time of year, we leave the living room and bedroom doors open all day. The cats love it. Emma and Dash have mastered chasing one another in one door and out the other, but have also determined that they should begin their naps in the dirt and then, on impulse, remove themselves to continue their naps on the bed.

And finally, cistus to the left and dicentra (bleeding heart) below. I'll do a serious post tomorrow. Promise.