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Showing posts from May, 2011

Hunters and Prey

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... There's a pair of Western Scrub Jays, hunting in our yard. Earlier this spring, they had started construction on a nest in one of our trees, but we think they ended up nesting in the neighbors' yard. The two birds are currently hard at work, feeding a little family. The jays are particularly keen on the bees in our backyard apiary. They grab up as many bees as they can hold in their crop , sometimes stopping to rub the stingers off on a branch or fence-top. We can hear their babies shrieking with excitement when the parents approach the nest. (Interestingly, Robb has noticed that the resident mockingbird has learned this cry, and now starts his cycle of vocalizations with the sound of hungry baby jays.) Jays are very attentive parents, usually raising only one brood a season. The parents form long-term bonds, and the young may associate with their family for an entire year. Also, jays are smart, damn smart . Western Scrub Jays are opportunistic omnivor

A Hop, Skip and a Jump

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... Back in the spring of 2010, we planted three twiggy rooty sticks that we ordered from a company called The Thyme Garden in Oregon. This is how they looked in July of 2010. We were (and are) growing Sterling on the left, Kent Golding to the right of the garage door, and Nugget on the far right. Unfortunately, we did not dry last year's harvest correctly, and weren't able to use them for beer-making. (We also screwed up drying our black beans , which just goes to show how humbling the act of gardening can be. While there are many miracles, there's also always more to learn.) The hop vines (or more accurately "bines") are cut back to the ground every year, and re-grow in the spring. Here's how things looked two weeks ago. As of this week, the Sterling has crested the roof, and Robb has installed horizontal support lines. The Nugget already has flowers on it. And the Kent Golding, which is always our slowest growing variety, is about six

Saving Water

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... greywater system, complete with monorail cat (we can't afford mag-lev , just yet) The source of our water here in the Bay Area is the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It can rain all it likes here, but if it doesn't snow in Lake Tahoe we're all in trouble. This past week's snowfall up there was likely the last of the season and brings the total depth of snow to 55 feet (!) This is about twice the average. Water conservation has been a pretty big deal around here for a while now. In fact, we in the East Bay did such a good job of using less water, that the local water district needs to raise our rates because we failed to reach expected demand. So, now with the rates rising, we are ironically thinking about water conservation even in the face of an almost unprecedented surplus. When we moved in, we had ideas about greywater systems to divert waste water from the sinks and shower for use on the lawn and garden. These systems can be expensive and ar

Got Unwanted Saplings?

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... The only advantage that I can find in having a tenacious energy-sapping sinus infection is the vast amount of internet-trawling I've been doing. My latest obsession, thanks to the fascinating blog about a gamekeeping family and their life on an estate in Dorset, England, is the building of hurdles. These are traditional fences, woven out of hazel or willow. They were used to enclose animals on farms, and were often used in a modular fashion, meaning that they could be moved around as needed. It's times like this that I wish I lived deep in the country (or in England ) and had access to slender trees. I pride myself on being a creative thinker, but living as I do, in the middle of urban Oakland, I can't figure out where I'd get slim young saplings. I've contacted the arborist who worked for us last spring, but I'm not particularly optimistic. He never returns my messages these days. I know that there's a willow farm in Pescadero , about

Raising Butterflies

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... Last spring, I wrote about the Anise Swallowtail caterpillars that we discovered on our fennel plants. ( Click here for the link to that article. ) Unfortunately for the caterpillars, and for blog readers who like tidily completed narratives, something came along and ate the caterpillars. This year, with some advice from my imaginary friend Alli (wife of decorative painter Patrick , and not to be confused with real-life friend, decorative painter Allie ), I collected a few of the caterpillars from our fennel plants, and made them a little home inside of a plastic box. In addition to writing one of the funniest blogs, ever , Alli is quite an expert in butterfly rearing. She advised me on all of the disgusting pitfalls of this endeavor. Caterpillars eating each other? Yep, she'd seen it. Parasitic wasps hatching out of the bodies of their caterpillar hosts? Horrifying, yet fascinating. Her kids are lucky to have such a cool mom! Hopefully, Robb and I won't be

Random This and That

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The little cat Smog is feeling much better. Robb and I realize that we have to be vigilant about his diet, because if he gets "off his feed" it could at best cost us a lot of money, and at worst kill him. The hair on his legs is growing back, from where they shaved him to give him an I.V. Smog has a beautiful coat, but with his scrawny shaved legs, and luxuriously furry feet and ankles, he looks like he is wearing Ugg boots. And Robb and I are still dragging around with the remnants of our tenacious colds. I went in for an MRI last week, to see if someone could pinpoint the weirdo health problems I've been having. While my brain is just fine (thank goodness) it turns out that I have a sinus infection. I've got a couple of thoughts about this: First, I'm betting that I've had this sinus infection for months, and that it is the reason I've been sick so much, and it may explain my general lack of energy. Maybe I'm moping around the house because

It's World Naked Gardening Day

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... Well, it's finally here, the day we've all been dreaming about. Today is World Naked Gardening Day. You think I'm kidding, don't you? Click here , if you must. In our garden, the kitties will continue in their nudist ways. Robb and I will be wearing clothes, because my baby fig trees cannot spare any leaves. While World Naked Gardening Day is pretty exciting, I think it can't rival World Naked Scrub-Your-Tile-Grout Day, or World Gawk-At-Your-Naked-Neighbors Day.

Some Vacation That Turned Out To Be

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... Kind of on the spur-of-the-moment, I decided to take a week of vacation this week. We're still in the thick of the warehouse move (my part is pretty much finished) and my shop is choked with a great deal of the contents of the old props warehouse. Moving all this antique knick-knackery is kind of killing me, because I'm so ridiculously allergic to dust. I've been taking allergy shots for about six months, so I can only imagine how bad things would been without the shots. As it is, my throat keeps closing up on itself, which isn't exactly fun. So, I had the idea to stay home, and do all sorts of projects. I'd get a lot of work done on the house, maybe carve some rubber stamps, maybe go to the beach with Robb. I'd even -- finally -- do a little bit of taking care of myself. I would get my first haircut since Robb broke his back. (I know it's crazy, but when he got hurt, I put my entire life on hold, and now, much later, I'm still unable to give my

Inspiring Wiring!

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... Last week, Robb called up Gill's Electric , to inquire about replacing the 1920s knob-and-tube wiring in our attic. And, astonishingly, the response he got from the gentleman on the other end of the phone was, "WHY?" We thought we'd have to totally replace all of our antique wiring, in order to safely and legally install attic insulation, but it turns out that this isn't true. Knob-and-tube is actually a very safe method of wiring, much safer than some of the wiring used later in the 20th Century. So, today, we had a nice man from Gill's come over to inspect our wiring and see if it could be certified safe for attic insulation. We got an almost-perfect assessment. There's some little question about one section of our attic's wiring being up to code, and as soon as the nice folks at Gill's can double-check the regulations, we're going to have them in to bring things up-to-code. A number of months back, Robb stuck a camera on the

Our Bratty Teenager

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... Our kitty Smog is clearly feeling much better. This morning, backyard feral cat Cardigan was perched on the rim of our half-barrel, drinking from the "watering hole" and Smog snuck up behind him, and starting thwapping him on the butt. Robb insists that I was the one who suggested this plan of attack. Boys are such a brats.

Jungle Cats

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... We share our yard with a pride of Fearsome Lawn Tigers. These wary creatures are elusive, and must be approached with caution. The Lawn Tigers have amazing camouflage. Smog is the exact color of our silty soil. He is still not feeling well, and hopefully will be going back to visit the vet today. Smog gets a little too much enjoyment out of hunting the garden plants. These mustard greens are past their prime, and need to be replaced. Robb and I will have to rig up an anti-cat-shield to protect the baby beets that I intend to plant. Why do we find cats' tongues so entertaining?

The Flowers of Love

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... Our neighborhood is decidedly modest. The houses, which date from the nineteen-teens and -twenties are tiny, the gardens are small. Just up the hill, everything changes. The homes are significantly more posh, and some of the gardens are downright gigantic. I participate in an online gardening forum that's centered in the hills of East Oakland, and when I sign my messages as "Lisa on 41st" nobody has any idea where I live. This past week, a message came across on the garden forum. A local gardening treasure was hosting its annual open house. Orchids Fiori D'Amore is one of those businesses that you might drive past a thousand times, and never even notice. On a quiet residential street, the owners have been collecting and growing orchids for a quarter of a century. Every year, on the week before Mother's Day, Nina and Paolo Di Candia open their home business up to the public. What a spectacular place it is! I stopped by the open house on Satu

Wash Your Mouth Out With Soap

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... Our poor plum trees! The aphids are really out-of-control this spring, sucking the life out of the plums' youngest, softest growth. Although these two were hard at work, combating aphids (larval ladybugs are some of the best predators of aphids), we didn't think that they could fight the entire battle. So, Robb and I sprayed the tree down with soapy water. A day later, most of the aphids were dead. Gross, huh?

Inside the QE2

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... I'm taking a few days off of work, and today I spent most of my time in the garden. It was a lovely day, the weeds were beckoning. It also seemed like a good day for a hive inspection. On March 27th, we split the Gloriana colony into two hives. Gloriana was going crazy, and we had lost the Elizabeth Taylor colony over the winter. Robb had read up on "bee math" and figured the following: If the egg that becomes a queen was laid on March 27th, she would emerge around April 8th, mate around April 18th and lay her first eggs around April 24th. The first new workers would emerge from their brood cells on May 13th. These bees would leave the hive for the first time after June 5th. If you look closely, you'll see that we found eggs, larvae of various sizes, and capped brood cells. Worryingly, we also noticed tiny holes in the wax covering the developing pupae. I interpret this as a sign that the colony is still infested with parasitic varroa mites.

Delightful!

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... This little green bee was spotted at the Berkeley Bee Garden this past weekend. (I highly recommend their website .) She's like a tiny jewel. I wonder what delightful little observation you made recently. Perhaps it was something that you'd looked at a thousand times, but never really noticed. Perhaps it was something that you always meant to do, and finally tried. Won't you share your new discoveries with us?