Friday, January 22, 2010

The Corporate Whore

Let's see, according to this week's Supreme Court ruling, Corporations cannot have their spending on political speech curtailed by us, the citizenry, because corporations are, under the law, "people," with many of the same rights as citizens.
  • That's funny. Despite a lifetime of service I have never seen Private Corporation carry a rifle into battle, ride a cripple down to avoid a neighborhood, or grieve over a son's cold medals. Private Corporation neither stands a lonely watch, nor maintains a family's vigil; Private Corporation's only duty is to rake the cash over the graves of our citizen sacrifice.

  • I am a poll worker, but I have never seen Corporation in the ballot box nor on the ballot, ever. But from this day forward I will feel Corporation's heavy hand on every election. And every elected representative will think first not of what is best for the nation, but what will best please or most displease Corporations.

  • I'm an American Citizen, carrying the rights, and the obligations, and the love of my nation where ever I go. But a Corporation is a gimlet-eyed jade, a promiscuous multinational citizen of the world, concerned only with increasing its market share, maintaining taxpayers subsidies while avoiding taxation, and answering only to its bottom line.
Corporations may indeed have the rights of an American Citizen, but they have none of the duties nor obligations of citizenship. And to think, we used to worry about liberal activism on the Supreme Court. The founding fathers never envisioned or intended this outcome.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

We Buried a Marine Today

We buried a Marine today
in the graveyard behind our house.

Umbrellas huddled around the awning,
His casket Covered in Glory.

Near the Carillon, seven Riflemen at parade rest
for His Service,
unflinching in Devotion to Duty.

Their woolen tunics weep at the hem,

their seven rifles fire three volleys each.

Torrents beat a Tattoo on the canvas as
Marines tri-fold his Glory to the intonations of Taps.

His Glory, His triumvirate:
Eagle, Globe, Anchor.

His Compass, tri-pointed:
Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.

His Creed, His Trinity:
Honor, Courage, Commitment.

We buried a Marine today
in the graveyard behind our house.

You've been relieved, Marine. You go get some rest.
The Marines have this Watch.

Semper Fi

On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to Country and Corps.

© Copyright 2009, RHKennerly. All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Gray Day Graves

Traffic in the graveyard today, lots. Gray, dreary days always bring them out. Mostly gray heads in cars, always alone. Too wet to get out, so they sit and stare at some spot--3 rows back and just to the left of the holly. And remember, I guess. Windshield wipers sweeping away God's tears.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Ivory Tower Lynching of Sgt. James Crowley

It's clear that academics just don't get cops and police work at all. And apparently neither does Gates or our President. Examine Gate's quote in the Washington Post:
"I'm glad that someone would care enough about my property to report what they thought was some untoward invasion," Gates said. "If she saw someone tomorrow that looked like they were breaking in, I would want her to call 911. I would want the police to come. What I would not want is to be presumed to be guilty. That's what the deal was. It didn't matter how I was dressed. It didn't matter how I talked. It didn't matter how I comported myself. That man was convinced that I was guilty." [Emphasis mine.]
--Washington Post

We'll drop, as Dr. Gates does, any racial bias concerns about the person reporting this apparent felony residential burglary in progress and give her the benefit of the doubt by assuming that she'd have substituted the equally descriptive: "two white boys with long hair and skate boards" in place of "two big Black men," if it had been appropriate. [note:
as reported 27 July a replaying of the 911 tape shows that the caller made no reference to race at all.]

What unnerves over-educated academics, however, more than anything else and what has precipitated this
Ivory Tower Lynching of Sgt. James Crowley in liberal media and academic circles, are the comments that I highlighted above by Dr. Gates and their unspoken implications:
  • I would want the police to come. What I would not want is to be presumed to be guilty [indeed, most burglars would prefer not to be thought of as guilty when caught inside a house, it impedes their chances of slipping away].
  • I'm dressed nice [so I'm above the law].
  • I'm well-spoken [so I couldn't possibly be a burglar].
  • I have fancy manners [so it's clear I belong in this neighborhood]
  • That man was convinced that I was guilty [Yes, Dr. Gates was apprehended at a burglary call--at a trial the courts must assume his innocence in its proceedings; the police at the scene, however, are not constrained by this assumption in the investigation of a crime].
By every report, it was Dr. Gates who brought up race in the confrontation between himself and Sgt. Crowley, not the police officer.

The first rule of policing Ritzy neighborhoods is this: the nicer the neighborhood, the more elegant the criminal. If you park an old beat up truck in a driveway in Harvard Square, you'd better have a lawn mower in the back.

In many regard I imagine that policing Harvard Square must be a lot like policing Beverly Hills: Ritzy neighborhoods rife with the self-important, over-indulgent and over-entitled to whom the rules of dealing with the police just don't apply [they think]. In the decade that I policed down in South Texas, I had occasion to police similar neighborhoods and police/citizen encounters like the one Sgt. Crowley and Professor Gates had were depressingly frequent. Most of mine went something like this:
"Burglar alarm has gone off, sir, let me see your ID."
"I live here." [so did ex-boy friends, ex-girl friends, ex-spouses, and, in the nicer neighborhoods, ex-maids.]
"I need to see some ID."
"I've got a key, see?" [statistically over 50% of houses have entrance door keys secreted somewhere around the door--flower pots, under the door mat, in those fake rocks, not to mention left over in the possession of that long line of exes mentioned above.]

This is where the test of will kicks in, the Law vs. Dr. Diamond Jim dealing with an educational and social inferior police officer.

"If you don't show me your ID or find some neighbor to vouch for you, I'm going to put you in handcuffs and book you."
"You wouldn't dare. This is my house."
"No, it's my crime scene."
"All right, here's my DL." [keeping in mind that in a mobile society a large percentage of DLs don't actually list the correct current address of the holder. So often a DL does little to clarify in a policeman's mind a person's right to be on the property.]
[I copy down the info for my report. This quiet moment is where 99% of these encounters go bad...usually for the citizen.]

"You're just doin' this because [I'm black, I'm rich, I can buy you, you don't like me, you don't like I'm with a white girl, you hate attorneys, you think I got drugs, I drive a better car than you, because I play poker with the your dig].

"Nope, I'm here because I was called. Here's your ID, have a pleasant day."
Dr. Gates and 99.9% of the people I arrested in similar circumstances screwed up at exactly this point: They just wouldn't let it go and they took their fight to the street [ie. outside the 4th Amendment protections of their homes].

By the way, in my decade of police work I have never encountered someone who got upset with me and who was black that didn't sling that "you're just doin' this to me because I'm black"-guilt thing at me...even when I was working in all black neighborhoods and where he was the one standing over the body with the gun in his hand. I can just about guarantee that race is not what earned Dr. Gate's his time in jail.

What Dr. Gates and the rest of your Born-With-a-Silver-Spoon-Up-Your-Asses-types missed in Police 101 is this: A good cop likes trouble.

If a cop didn't like trouble he'd never get out of his car to shake the doors of a closed building, or stop a carload of yahoos cruising without lights at 3 am, or write that ticket for speeding in a school zone, or check that car with a single guy in it parked on the far side of the playground. We like trouble.

I'm not saying that Sgt. Crowley was 100% right in this matter, but he wasn't all that wrong. I don't know about Massachusetts law but in most jurisdictions the crime scene belongs to the police until they're satisfied that they've got everything under control or that there is no crime at all. Dr. Gates should have appreciated the fact that the police officer was just doing his job and cooperate with him so that the matter could be cleared up quickly.

Imagined how things would have changed if Professor Gates could have just brought himself to say: "Thanks for checking, Officer. I appreciate your stopping by. That's why I moved into Harvard Square: fast response and superior police protection. Got time for a coffee or do you need to get back to work?"

This incident was not an example of racial profiling. It was an unfortunate incident, maybe a misunderstanding. What intense media scrutiny of this matter does, however, is dilute the true crimes and abuses of racial profiling, which is rampant in many communities and is perpetrated not against the well-to-do but the poorer, less educated members of society. However, what really is upsetting the Ivory Tower community is not concern for the victims of racial profiling as much as that sneaking, creeping, feeling that they may not be any better than any other suspect at a crime scene.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Obama - The Man in the Arena

When I look at all that is on President Obama's plate and listen to his critics, I am reminded of a speech President Theodore Roosevelt gave in 1910 that said in part:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Health Care - Where's the Value Added?

Where is the value added to the American consumer in a health insurance company run system? By my lights:

  • health insurance companies don't reduce costs (apparently),
  • health insurance companies routinely create roadblocks to care or outright denial of service despite their contract and then daring sick people to sue them,
  • health insurance companies drop coverage on sick people by retroactively scrutinizing applications to ferret out reasons the policy shouldn't have been issued in the first place
  • health insurance companies effectively exclude those who have been ill in the past from coverage
  • health insurance companies burden heath providers with paperwork to slow the payout and discourage appeals,
  • health insurance companies abuse and starve down the most basic health care providers--like family practice doctors, who are on a 10 minute treadmill (8 to see the patient and 2 to do the paperwork) to the point nobody wants to be a Family Practice doctor anymore and
  • health insurance companies suck all the profits from health care that could have been used to both reduce costs, expand coverage and pay primary care providers.

Where is the value added to our system by health insurance companies?

I'm not saying everybody should get free health care from the government. But for all the cash American citizens are pouring into this system, we should be getting much more for our money in terms of transparency, organization and management, not to mention health care.

Computer systems have advanced to the point where paying all the premiums American's are now paying to health insurance companies into a central fund and dispersing it electronically would cut out 90% of the need for insurance companies all together.

Build a Bee Condo

Norfolk city ordinance prohibits keeping bee hives inside city limits on less than 5 acres of land, yet we all know that bees are important pollinators of our favorite fruits and vegetables as well as some flowering plants. And, of course, we all heard the news reports that the most common hive bee, several varieties of European honey bees, are in deep trouble because of a little understood condition called Colony Collapse Disorder. So how does a Norfolk gardener get his plants pollinated?

The answer is native bees, of course. So while most of us don't have enough property to keep bee hives in Norfolk, we can encourage native bee habitat in our gardens, just like we do for birds and butterflies. (For you tomato growers, you should know that the common honey bee is virtually useless at pollinating tomatoes anyway. We know from experience and university studies that tomatoes varieties that are not self pollinating are pollinated best by native bees or other insects, not honey bees.)

Many varieties of native bees live in our area--bumble bees, sweat bees, digger bees, long-horned bees, carpenter bees, leaf-cutter bees, and mason bees are probably the most common--and each requires its own habitat. University studies show that the champion native bee pollinators is the long-horned bee, but all are highly useful. Most native bees are solitary or small community nesters and none are aggressive. In fact, native bees are quite docile--male bees don't have stingers--and most native females have to be severely threatened to be provoked into stinging you.

I mentioned that honey bees are not good tomato pollinators. This is not the fault of the honey bees but the tomato plant, which doesn't give up its pollen easily to just any bee. As I mentioned, most varieties of tomatoes are self pollinating, but certain popular varieties--like cherry tomatoes--require insect pollination and even self pollinators could use the help of a good bee. Bumble bees, in particular, have mastered the art of "buzz" or sonic pollination of tomato plants.

To buzz pollinate, a foraging bumbler will grab hold of the tomato flower with all six legs and flap her wings furiously, transmitting all her energy into shaking the flower. When you hear this going on in your garden, it sounds like the bee is angry. But that's just the sound of bumble bee working hard to help you get more tomatoes. This violent sonic vibration causes the tomato flower to spew out pollen, which covers the bee and floats to other tomato flowers. You can do this yourself using a tuning fork--about Middle 'C' works well--but a lazy gardener would just let the bees do it.

So how do you encourage native bee habitat? By providing the essentials--water, food, and shelter--and stopping or limiting your use of pesticides, particularly insecticidal dusts, which stick to the bees and then are ingested when the bees clean themselves. Garden plantings for native bees is for another article, but if you are butterfly gardening or fruit or vegetable gardening, then you're well on your way to having the right food habitat for bees, which need nectar for energy and pollen for protein (you didn't think they were doing all this work for free, did you?).

What native bees need most from you is a little home in a quiet corner. There are two good ways to create habitat for native bees. The easiest native bee home to build is a bundle of reeds or hollow stems of various diameter, such as bamboo, cut in 6-8 inch lengths. Be sure to cut bamboo at the node so that there is an open end and a closed end. Then bundle 15-20 tubes with closed ends grouped together. I wedge my bundle of bamboo at the 'Y' where the rain gutter down spout bends inward to meet the house. A rafter in a carport, open garage or the crotch of a tree would work just as well, too, someplace where the nest will stay relatively dry and out of the weather.

The second way to build a native bee habitat is to drill nesting holes into a block of UNTREATED wood. A scrap 6-inch long piece of 4X4 (drill into the cut end to get the proper depth) or a length of 4X4 screwed to a 2X6 mounting board works fine. Holes should be 3/32 to 3/8-inches in diameter on 3/4-inch centers. Holes larger than 1/4-inch should be 5 to 6-inches deep. Smaller diameter holes should be 3 to 4-inches deep. Do not drill through the board! The hole must be closed at one end and fairly smooth inside. Then mount your bee condo on a fence post, tree, or outbuilding 3 to 6-feet off of the ground. A slight downward slope will keep most rain out.

Here's a picture of a luxury native bee condo that combines both of these ideas and then adds a roof.

Bumble bees are ground dwellers, so a clear and undisturbed patch of garden is all they need. Often bumblers will set up a small brood in an abandoned mouse hole. Many beekeepers make nesting boxes for bumble bees--a small wooden box buried with all but a length of 3/4 inch PVC pipe exposed for an entrance --and later rent their bumble bees to commercial greenhouse operators who need reliable pollinators.

For more information, see the Xerces Society web site or pick up the may-June 2008 edition of Audubon magazine.

White Fly Trap

I love our gardenias, almost as much as the white flies. Every year we struggle for control of the bushes that remind us of paradise and remind the white flies of...well I don't know. Anyway, I've been assured it is a loosing battle. I've been told by one Extension Agent that I should Shovel Prune my gardenias and be done with it, but we love them too much to do that. So the struggle goes on year after year. Since we limit our use of insecticides to emergency infestations of house eating monsters, I'd like to share our more natural techniques to wrestling the white flies to a draw.

My white flies are attracted to a particular shade of yellow, specifically the yellow the color of the plastic in Preston Antifreeze jugs. Accept no substitutes; we've tested several other kinds of yellow product. The attraction is so strong that I've found white flies hanging around a jug of Preston I left next to the garage last week. Auto shop dumpsters are a good source for empty Preston jugs.

We wash out the jug and cut a number of 2X2-inch squares and then rig hangers from string or wire. Then we smear the yellow plastic squares with Vasoline or some other viscous oil from the kitchen to make them sticky. Hang the square in each infested bush near the infestation. Check weekly. Clean off the stuck flies and recharge with petroleum jelly if needed.

This and a light spraying with insecticidal soap solution keep white flies in check around here.


Worm Smoothie

Into the remainder of your morning's fruit smoothie add to the blender:
1-banana peel
green tops from strawberries
those moldy blueberry and strawberry's

2-apple cores from yesterday's lunch
morning coffee grounds
several used tea bags (remove string and staples)
bad spot from last night's potato
culled lettuce from last night's salad
slimy celery tops from the crisper
moldy half cucumber
carrot peelings
egg shells from last weekend's breakfast

Add water to liquefy to consistency of sludge. Serve your worms.

Instead of buying plant food, we've hired worms to eat our garbage. In return for the occasional contents of the kitchen bucket, our worms work day and night to produce pails full of rich, organic worm castings and friable compost each year. We have a small worm farm we bought on the internet which is composed of 5 stackable trays on top of a catchment basin with spigot in the bottom unit to catch that yummy worm tea our flowering plants drink all summer long. These trays take advantage of worms' natural instinct to migrate upward in search of food (through grid openings in the bottom of each tray) . Once they've finished all the food in the bottom tray, the wrigglers move up to the next tray in search of more eats. We then harvest the castings from the bottom tray, rescue the stragglers, and put that tray on top of the stack, ready to receive our fresh garbage. The new tray is charged with shredded newspaper--printed with soy inks anymore, but avoid slick color sections--a small spade full of soil, a handful of fresh worm castings or compost, and then wet until damp. Add a layer of leaf litter on top and you're set to start burying your kitchen waste.

You can also construct your own worm bins from stackable plastic trays from the store (like Rubbermaid), just drill lots of holes for the worms to wriggle through in the bottom of all but the bottom tray. Be sure to cover your worm condo to prevent a rain from drowning your worms as well as to discourage marauding Robins, who will turn your worm bin into a worm buffet in a heartbeat. Ensure ventilation with tiny holes high in the side of each tray. Plans for larger bins, constructed from plywood, some large enough to be patio benches, can be found on the Internet.

Does it smell? Not if you do it right. I had our bin in my home office all winter long to keep them from freezing and never noticed an odor. A bad odor indicates poor living conditions inside the worm bin, usually too wet, where anaerobic bacteria have taken over. Anaerobic conditions will kill your worms.

What do you do in winter? A small 25-watt light bulb under your bins, moved into the garage or basement & covered with an old quilt, will keep your worms toasty and eating your garbage all winter long. Worms do best above 59 degrees, but remember the bins generate a good deal of heat because of aerobic decomposition, so they can stay warm down to 45 degrees or so outside. Also, their home should be shaded during the summer. Mine are in a fence corner behind a stand of Camilla, in the shade of the Wild Cherry tree.

Where do you get composting worms? The best producing worms for composting are Eisenia fetida, but Eisnia andrei and Lumbricus rubellus are good, too. Searching the Internet for "compost worms buy" will turn up several dealers who will ship you a pound or two of good composting worms. Many people get their starter worms from fishing shops, but many times these worms, often Eudrilus eugeniae or Nightcrawlers, are not top composting worms, but acceptable if you think you may want to sell excess worms to fishermen.What should I do first? If you put your worms into "fresh" garbage, they will die. So set up your bin at least two weeks before you introduce your worms to your new home. In truth, worms do not eat the garbage. Instead, they eat the bacteria and fungus that break down the food. This is the reason you add a bit of soil and compost as well as bedding material after you've harvested a tray of worm castings, to introduce the real worm food: bacteria and fungi. Bacteria and fungi are also the reason you should have a rotation of multiple trays: one major processing tray--the one on the bottom--with the trays on top in different stages of "cooking" the food.

What should I not feed? Generally, you should not feed your worms meat scraps, fat, dairy products, or very much citrus fruit. Mostly because these will attract raccoons, not to mention your own dogs. Too much citrus will change the pH level of the tray and often hatch out fruit flies.

How Much Do I Feed? It is easy to overfeed your worms. We started off with about 1 lb of kitchen waste per week in a 2-lb starter herd of worms. We have increased this as the worms reproduce--when they're happy, they reproduce fast. The ratio should be about 2-lbs of worm to 1 lb of garbage. We can now feed about a pound a day.

What if I go on vacation? Bulk up your spare trays and forget it. Worms will work and rework trays looking for food for many weeks. They can survive 30 or 45-days without any care at all. If we are gone for more than a couple of weeks, we hire a neighbor girl to make an occasional worm smoothie.

Any warnings? Only two.

  1. You can do more damage by over feeding than by starving your worms.
  • Lots of fat, wiggly, worms and eggs (look like yellow pearls) is a good sign.
  • Sparse & skinny worms with few baby worms means feed more.
  • A wet smell mess means too wet and too much food.

2. Worm castings and worm tea are somewhat "hot" fertilizers. We cut our castings and tea with tempered compost or potting soil, 1/4 to 1/2, depending on how tender the plants are.
Resources? There is a lot of information on the Internet. I particularly like the WormBin group on Yahoo groups, which is great for beginners. Also the small book, Worms Eat My Garbage, by Mary Appelhof, is an indispensable guide.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Around our house we eat a lot of yogurt in small cups as well as from the larger containers, but the City of Norfolk guidelines for recycling state specifically: NO Wide-Mouth Plastic Containers (such as those for yogurt and butter). It seems a waste to just trash these nice cups, so we wash them and stack them in the garage. During the winter months we make seedling cups from the small ones. The larger ones we use for transplants. All you have to do is poke a few holes in the bottom for drainage.

Those cups we do not reuse, we collect and take to the Green Alternatives store down in in Ghent (1905 Colonial Avenue). The Green Alternatives folks collect these cups and ship them out for recycling as... [ta dah] seedling cups. If you don't want to bother making your own seedling cups from your used yogurt cups, then consider collecting your cleaned cups and dropping them off at the Green Alternatives store.

Also, from the Just So You Know department: the folks at Green Alternatives also accept all kinds of electronics for PROPER electronics recycling--computers, monitors, cellphones--as well as batteries. And the store carries compostable plastic tableware and paper plates made from 100% post consumer recycled paper for your parties, picnics, and barbecues. As a test I put used paper plates and compostable plasticware into both my compost pile and my worm bin. I'll report back on how they do.

Kids Gardens

Children do better when they garden with a purpose. Here's a good group project for those with kids to entertain and educate this summer: a Pizza Garden, followed by a pizza party!

Use your imagination, but my Pizza Garden would grow:
  • green Bell pepper
  • jalapeño pepper
  • a determinant tomato, maybe a cherry
  • red onion
  • some garlic
  • thyme
  • oregano and
  • basil
A pizza garden can be grown in the ground or in containers. The ingredients are easy for kids to tend and later harvest. And it's a wonderful way to connect children and what they like to eat--pizza--with where it all comes from, the garden. All you need to finish this meal off is get a store bought pizza dough, some tomato or pizza sauce, cheese, and whatever other topping the children can't grow.

Instead of trying to make tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes, I'd oven dry the tomatoes the day before the pizza party. Slice the tomatoes and place them on a cookie sheet cut side up. Season with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and some of the fresh thyme from the kids garden. Let rest one hour for the salt to draw out the liquid. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Bake (dry) the tomatoes for 5-6 hours. Then use the oven dried tomatoes like pepperoni slices on your Kids Pizza Garden Pizza. Tomatoes prepared like this are sweet and a bit chewy and kids love them.

Maybe finish up with an Ice Cream Garden:
  • strawberries
  • mint
  • chocolate mint
Or try a Taco Garden:
  • tomato
  • cilantro
  • onion
  • garlic
  • lettuce
  • peppers--both green and hot
In the winter, maybe a Pot Roast Garden would be in fun using root crops, or an Italian Dinner garden that included eggplant or an Asian-themed garden. You get the idea. The important point is to give children the skills they need to grow some simple foods and to help them make the connection that what is on their plate came from the ground and their hard work. If you come up with a Mac & Cheese Garden, let me know.

Bunny Deterrent

You know it's spring when you see bunnies in your garden. But bunnies also mean crop damage in your pea patch. If you're like me and don't have the time or heart to trap and kill the little fluff balls, do what our forefathers did: plant a sacrificial bunny garden. When you look at the plans of many old time gardens, you will see an outer ring of tender, sacrificial green vegetables, like lettuce or spinach.

Being prey animals, rabbits would prefer to creep along in good cover than to cross out into the open.
Nor do they like to be "trapped' inside enclosures, like a fenced garden. So if there is enough to eat on the outside of your garden, the bunnies will almost never go past that outer ring. If you don't want to plant that much around your garden and if you can figure out where the "bunny trail" runs, try offering up some greens along the trail.

Why Are Peppers Hot?

Hot on the trail of an answer to that burning question is botanist and researcher Joshua Tewksbury of the University of Washington. He's researching down in the jungles of Bolivia. An article about his research is in the April 2009 edition of Smithsonian Magazine. Researchers have known for years that birds are not bothered by capsicums, the active ingredient that puts the hot in hot peppers. That is actually beneficial to the peppers because the pepper seeds then pass through the birds to seed new plants. For some time researchers have also known that seed crunchers, like rodents, are deterred by hot peppers. That's obviously beneficial to the pepper plant as well, because a broken see will not germinate. But Tewksbury thought there was more to the story.

Why, for instance, could he find mild and spicy peppers of the same variety growing in the wild in close proximity to each other? His answer: fungus. A genius of the Fusarium fungus is specific to peppers. In the wild the higher the concentration of capsicum in the peppers, the lower the rate of fungal infection in the pepper plant. And mild peppers often carried heavy loads of the fungus.

The tendency toward high concentrations of capsicum is long lived in the gene pool of the peppers that develop it, which is why healthy plants still produce hot peppers. Then centuries ago spice loving humans came along and selected certain peppers for their heat index to pep up their food, perpetuating those hot genes.
Because of some antifungal properties in hot peppers, many cultures have used peppers to preserve food over the centuries.

Chemist Wilber Scoville invented the scale to measure the "heat" in peppers in 1912. The SCU or Scoville Heat Unit measures how hot a pepper is:

Bell Peppers - 0
Poblano - 1,000 - 2,500
Jalapeño - 2,500 - 8,000
Serrano - 7,000 - 25,000
Cayenne - 50,000
Chiltepins - 70,000
Habanero - 200,000 - 300,000
Scotch Bonnet - 200,000 - 300,000
Naga Jolokia - 855,000 - 1,041,427

Organic Pest Control

There are good bugs and there are bad bugs. We all know that. And in nature they're pretty evenly matched. Each is attracted to it's own kind of shelter, food, and nursery materials in the wild. The good and the bad tend to keep each other's population in check. Most gardens, though, are not much like nature. In nature plants are intermingled and mixed. In a garden we often have long rows or square plots of monoculture. So once a bad bug gets into a monoculture it thrives there. Then there are not enough good bugs to help keep them in check. When a gardener sprays to kill bad bugs, she'll kill the good bugs too. And it is axiomatic in organic circles that the bad bugs always rebound faster from a dose of chemicals than the good bugs do, usually making the problem much worse, not better. However, there are several organic techniques to help encourage good bugs and discourage bad one by keeping your garden in a natural balance:

Select Pest Hardy Plants--cultivars of corn that have good thick husks are seldom much bothered by corn earworms. And purple cabbage is seldom troubled by imported cabbageworms. Many varieties of tomatoes and other vegetables are bred for natural resistance to disease.

Concealing or Masking the crop from pests--light weight, translucent row covers are a good way to prevent many pests from getting into your young crops while still allowing sunlight, water, and air to circulate. This technique is particularly good for the young, tender salad crops--lettuces, cabbages, spinach, kale.

Producing odors that repel or confuse a bug--scientific experiments have demonstrated that many of the night-flying moths, including the one that delivers those vicious cut worms to your garden, track odors upwind to the plants they lay their eggs on. Marigolds (most nursery marigolds are unscented so look for Tagetes patula or Tagetes erecta -- if anybody runs across these spp. locally, let me know) mints, and sweet basil interplanted with flowers and vegetables helps to "mask" or repel unwanted pests.

Use a "Trap Crop" to lure unwanted insects away from your garden--growing collards well away from cabbage will help protect against diamondback moth larvae. Plant petunias well away from your roses to trap Japanese Beetles. And be sure to remove and replace any infested "trap" crops to keep the pests from multiplying and spreading to your more desirable plants.

Provide food for beneficial insects as they search for pests--beneficial insects tend to have short mouth parts. So small, open faced flowers will provide easy to reach pollen and nectar to give your little garden friends the strength to go after the pests. Dill, fennel, anise, and coriander (all members of the carrot family) produce small flowers suitable for beneficial insects. Longer blooming sunflowers, zinnias, and asters also attract and feed them. Other plants attractive to beneficial are yarrows, angelica, chamomile, candytufts, morning glory, baby blue eyes, evening primrose and goldenrod. You'll notice that many of these plantings are basic to a butterfly garden.

Companion Planting--There are some winning combinations for companion planting:
  • Basil and onions with tomatoes to control tomato hornworms.
  • Thyme or tomatoes with cabbage to take care of flea beetles, cabbage maggots, and white cabbage butterflies
  • Catnip with eggplant to deter flea beetles
  • Set Onions in rows with carrots to control rust flies and nematodes.
  • Horseradish with potatoes to repel the Colorado potato beetle
  • Add radishes or nasturtiums near your cucumber plants to control cucumber beetle
  • Interplant borage among your tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries to both repel some pests and attract many good ones
  • Cilantro among the spinach will repel aphids and attract the very beneficial tachinid flies
  • Summer Savory with your beans will repel bean beetles
  • grow tomatoes, parsley, or basil with your asparagus to help keep a check on asparagus beetles
  • and if you can, leave the paper wasps nests and spider webs alone. They are ferocious hunters.
Also, sphagnum moss has fairly powerful antifungal properties. Top dressing around your new plants is said to help prevent some fungus diseases from getting started in seedlings.

And don't forget the beneficial animals --Toads for instance, eat 3,000 grubs, slugs, cutworms, flies, wood lice, grasshoppers and beetles a month (make a toad house by placing an old clay pot upside down in a cool, moist, out-of-the-way place in your garden. Break out a door for Mr. Toad, about the size of a 50 cent piece, at the rim where the pot touches the earth). An added benefit of toads is they won't turn on your flowers and vegetables if there are no insects to eat. Most pests are actually night workers, so a single bat will eat 1,000 bugs a night, a family of bats thousands. If you're near some open spaces,consider erecting a purple martin house, each martin eats 1,000 insects in 12 hours. A single wren can gobble down 500 insect eggs, beetles and grubs an afternoon. 60% of a chickadees diet during the winter is comprised of aphid eggs.

All good reasons to make your yard as bird and animal friendly as possible.

Gardening for the Mobility Impaired

I never tell people when they need joint replacement, says my ortho doc.They'll tell me when it time because they can't stand the pain anymore.
Can you get me through one more summer?

So I'm scheduled to get two new knees right as Spring gardening gets underway, double bummer. Recover will be long and the rehab grueling, I'm told. And I'm definitely not going to get down on my knees to dig in the dirt this Spring--so no fresh tomatoes on my vines, no snappy homegrown peppers, no spicy salad greens from my little ol' pea patch, not this year--that's a thought more depressing than the surgery.

Then my wife Gayle had an idea. What if she unloaded the junk from some plastic storage shelving in the garage and set the shelves up on the back deck? We could buy some containers to put on top of the shelves and I'll be able to sit in a chair to tend my cukes at table level after the surgery. Because I'd been eying the magazine ads for the Grow Box from Garden Patch anyway, that's what we ordered.

The Grow Box has several advantages for the mobility impaired (or for those with limited space, like a balcony): these planters are large and deep; they are self watering, so I won't have to maneuver down the stairs to drag the hose up onto the deck to water them every day or so; and they have a plastic mulch cover that not only helps warm the soil but also limits the weeding I'll have to do. They're a bit pricey, but we ordered six.

Now I've got my kitchen garden at table height where I won't have to get down on my knees to plant and tend vegetables. And because the water reservoir is large, holding a couple of gallons, watering is infrequent and can wait until Gayle is home to help. I dropped some mosquito dunks (Bacillus thuringiensis) into each water tank to control the little pests. Now, between physical therapy sessions, I can tend my veggies without the risk of tearing stitches or of falling on stairs.

Unwanted grass in ornamental grasses / perennial beds

Toward the end of last summer I was plagued by unwanted grass growing up through ornamental grasses. It was in some of my perennial bedding plants, too. This grass--tall, narrow leafed, fast growing--wasn't just growing near my other plants, it was growing up inside them, so that pulling out the unwanted grass meant pulling out the ornamental as well. During winter clean-up I cut the grasses and border perennials back to the crown after they'd died off. And so this spring, when I noticed the unwanted grass greening out long before anything else, I decided to do something to get rid of it.

But what to do? I stewed about it a couple of days and decided, despite my organic leanings, I'd need to use a contact herbicide like Round-Up. But how to apply it without killing the "good" plants? I put a waterproof dish glove on one hand and then pulled an old cotton sock over the glove. I wetted the sock--the palm and fingers of the glove--with herbicide and then ran my gloved hand over the long grass, from stem to leaf, grasping it like I was going to pull it out and coating the leaves with the chemical. Because the herbicide was applied only to the grass leaves and didn't touch the "good" plants, it worked like a charm. This week the good plants are budding out, free of that unsightly grass.

Gardening Tip

Pray for miracles, but plant cabbages.
-- author Ken Follett in his novel Pillars of the Earth

Tuesday, October 7, 2008