Monday, August 18, 2008

Seeing Spots

[Editor's note: this is the second post I've posted on both my blogs - but this was appropriate for both, so I'm posting it in both places.]

Artillery Fungus (Sphaerobolus spp.). Ever hear of it? Well, if you have been getting small black spots on the side of your house, or on buckets left outdoors, etc., then you may very well have this fungus.

About, oh, three or four years ago I started to notice these tiny black dots on the side of my house. They were (are) raised - sort of like my siding was splattered with bits of braille. When I found these dots on some of my plants this year, I decided to send it in to our Cooperative Extension folks for ID. Emily, my "mystery stuff ID person", sent me back a print-out about artillery fungus from the plant clinic at Cornell. If you want to go to it, and see photos, visit

Here is a quick summary:

The dots are, as I suspected, spores. Or, more specifically, they are spore packets known as peridioles. These packets sit on top of little cup-like cells on the fungi which collect water. When the cups are "full," they turn inside out, popping open the cell and flinging the peridioles up to six meters away! These spore packets have a sticky goo on them that helps them stick to surfaces (like siding and buckets and cars) and makes them essentially impossible to remove. It seems they are very light sensitive, which means they "go to the light." In other words, if your house/car/bucket is light-colored, then they will seek it out.

Where are these fungi growing? And why did they "suddenly" appear a few years ago? Well, it seems they like wood chip mulch (as opposed to bark chip mulch) - exactly the stuff I used to mulch all the garden beds I put in around the back of the house. This also explains why I have these spots on the back of the house, but not on the front or sides (where I have no gardens).

What to do? Sadly, there doesn't seem to be a '"cure." Sometimes the spore packets can be scrubbed off, but you might actually do more damage to the house trying to remove them. Fungicides are not recommended. I guess the only solution is to remove the wood chips and thus the fungus, but this won't help with the spots already on your house/car/bucket. Maybe some clever artist in the family can create a dot-to-dot artwork on the siding...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mid-August Updates

It seems like the beans are sort of a one-shot-deal. I got one really good crop a couple weeks ago, and now I'm getting smaller and smaller crops. The plants are starting to look pretty sad, too. Could be the excessive rain has been too much for them, too.

The potatoes are great this year - good sized! Dug up a couple plants the other night, and pulled a handful of onions as well. Mmmm...yummy! Bought a potato ricer today, too, since I hear that is the best way to "mash" potatoes. We shall see.

Teeny tiny ears are starting to form on some of the corn! Hurray! I have at least eight pumpkins on the vines, but the squash are not doing an awful lot. I still have just one cuke about an inch long. Concerns are starting to appear: we could have frost any day now. So I'm hoping for a few days of sunshine and warmth to get things ripening!!! Like the hundreds of green tomatoes (all of significant size) that are hanging on the vines!

And (she writes with a heavy sigh), I hacked down the Indian Cup Plant, dug up one of the barberries, and yanked out all the blooming teasels the other night. Today I bought a bottle of RoundUp (concentrate) and a paint brush. I will paint the Cup Plant stalks and when I get the honeysuckles cut down, I will paint them, too.

Today I also had some allergy tests done, and it turns out I am allergic to a lot of stuff outside. The experts say that I should avoid being outside. Yeah. Tell a gardener she can't garden. Tell a naturalist she can't wander about the woods. Not gonna happen.

My folks sent me a disc of photos they took of my gardens in June, but for some reason the computer here rejects them - so I am still sans images for all you fine folks who read this. I shall persevere, though - I know there is some way to do this!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Warning! Warning!

Warning! Warning!

I have just read the article in "Adirondack Life" about the invasives that are moving their way into our neck of the woods, and was devastated to find that some of the plants I have intentionally put into my gardens at home are invasive!!!

Now, I take pride in keeping up-to-date on the invasives problem, but I was horrified to discover that some of the plants that I love, and/or thought were native, have turned out to be persona non grata.

>sigh<>TEASEL (Dipsacus sylvestris) - a bad character (and I thought it was native - I have so many great childhood memories of this plant). In some parts of the country it is naturalized, but really it is only considered acceptable in areas of shortgrass prairie. That doesn't include us. It produces prolific seeds and will spread and take over. No wildlife benefits. If you have it in your garden (like I do, because I planted it to relive childhood memories), then you need to get rid of it before it goes to seed!!!

INDIAN CUP PLANT (Silphium perfoliatum) - Highly invasive (although native to the Midwest)! Apparently up in the Keene area it is moving into and along riparian corridors. And here I was trying to grow it from seeds this year (they didn't grow) because I had one plant in the garden and loved it so much I wanted more. My specimen is wonderful this year - pushing eight feet tall, cupped leaves filled with water, providing drinks and baths for the birds, and the buds are ready to bloom. Well - now I have to go rip it out. If you have it planted on your property, get rid of it before it goes to seed.

JAPANESE BARBERRY (Berberis thunbergii) - I've heard tales of how it is invasive down below, but I thought we were safe here, and it was great to plant in areas where deer are because they won't eat it. Well, apparently it is starting to spread up here, too. Birds are spreading the berries. Sprouts are appearing in the understory of woods. I have two at home...after this weekend I will have none. (Or maybe next weekend...this weekend is pretty much booked already.)

What to do with them once you pull them up: I asked Hilary Oles, director at the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP), what I should do with them once they are ripped out of the ground, and she suggested the best thing is to take them to a burn site. Do not compost.

What about the invasive honeysuckle (Lonicera x bella, Lonicera tartarica, Lonicera morrowii)? I have these in my yard as well, and I've been planning for several years to get rid of them. The best method? According to Steve at APIPP I should cut them to the ground before the berries fully ripen (I still have time), and then paint the cross-section of stump (and suckers) with Round-up, straight from the bottle, undiluted. Use a 1" paint brush. If painted with the herbicide (as opposed to spraying), the ground is safe for replanting with native berry-producing shrubs (such as nannyberry and dogwood). And just in case you are thinking "but the birds love the berries," remember this: the non-native honeysuckles do not provide the nutrients that native ones do. Watch them - the birds will not eat the non-native berries until there is nothing else left as an option. Replace these shrubs with natives instead!!!

So, get out there, folks! Learn your invasives and start patrolling for them. I know that there are those out there who love their plants and will be reluctant to kill them, but it must be done. Our native vegetation (and the wildlife that depends on it) must be protected. Good luck!