Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Revenge on the Fruit Flies

The Saga Continues...

So, I went back home and found an old shower curtain upon which to dump the contents of the worm bin. It was a pretty soggy mess. Lots of worms, very happy worms, although I suspect being dumped outside where it was about 40 degrees curbed their happiness. Hopefully, it also did in some fruit flies.

The small, rice-like white things are the sub-adult fruit flies. Maybe you can't see them...just as well. Ugh!

I shredded some newspapers, a school newsletter, and any other regular paper I had on hand and filled the bottom of the box. The whole soggy contents were poured back into the box and more papers were added on top.

Idefix, making sure no worms, or fruit flies, escape.

And now we wait. I should probably leave the lid off, to let the contents dry out, but I just don't relish the idea of having all those fruit flies (and there are hundreds and hundreds of them) loose in the house. "They" might say you can vacuum them up, but I'd just as soon not have to do that! Die, Maggots!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Horror in the Household

I haven't been visiting my vermicomposting bin nearly enough for months, so I lifted the lid the other day to check on its status and not only did a swarm of fruit flies emerge, but the bin looked like it was full of rice. Hm. Were there any worms left at all?

So, today I went home sick (developed a sore throat last night, and today I have that with a runny nose and a low grade fever). So, of course, this was my chance to deal with the worm bin.

I hauled it outside (40 degrees Fahrenheit and overcast), grabbed a bucket and put some damp newspaper in it. Pulled on some gloves and opened the bin.

Now, my plan was to rescue any worms that might remain (I didn't have high hopes of finding many), rinse them off in warm water (the "rice" turned out to be immature fruit flies - really really gross in the numbers I have - kind of like a carcass loaded with fly maggots), and stick them temporarily in the bucket of newspapers.

After one handful, I realized this wasn't going to work. First, the bowl of water was floating with "rice," which dutifully recoated the worms as I scooped them back out. Still, I soldiered on, with handful after handful of worms. Which brings us to the second reason it wasn't going to work: it seems that the worms are not bothered by the infestation. In fact, I have more worms than I ever imagined!!!

I finally gave up...it was a classic case of tilting at windmills.

I needed a Plan B.

So, off I went to the library (a half hour drive). I looked up how to deal with fruit fly infestations in one's vermicompost. It seems that it is a common problem, although not nesssarily to the extremes mine had reached.

The solutions vary, but the overall theme seems to be that it can be dealth with! The worms are not bothered by the company, so I don't have to worry about a worm health problem.

First, the causes. In my case, the most likely culprits (well, let's face it, I am ultimately the only culprit) are an overly damp bin (I haven't added water for weeks, so it must just be decomposition juices), and the fact that I didn't (don't) really bury the food I add.

Next, the solution. I could continue trying to remove the worms, but seeing as how they've been on a breeding binge, this isn't a realistic option. So, I'm going to try the next best thing: adding dry bedding.

To add the dry bedding, I will have to dump out the entire contents of the bin (where did I put that box of black plastic I bought for the garden?). Afterwards, I will fill the bin with fresh, shredded, dry newspaper. Well, not fill-fill, but certainly add a good amount. Then I will return the whole mess to the bin. If I leave it inverted, the offending maggots will be buried (bwaa-haa-haa), or at least in theory they will. Frankly, I think there are so many that while some might be buried, others will now be closer to the surface.

And, finally, I will let the whole thing a) dry out and b) go hungry. Of course, I can't let it dry out completely, but it could benefit from a mild drought. And while worms can tolerate a few weeks without food (which I thought they already had), fruit flies cannot. My goal: starve out the @#*$&@^s.

Photos will be added anon to illustrate this article, since I am still in the library and my infested bin is half an hour away at home.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Favorite Fall Flower

Monkshood - aka: wolfsbane and aconite (any Harry Potter fans out there?). Scientific name: Aconitum napellus, in the Family Ranunculaceae, the buttercup family. This is one of my favorite fall flowers, mainly because it blossoms so late - usually after frost, sometimes after we get snow - but also because its blossoms are so unusual.

This year my monkshood has the most beautiful flowers - I've never seen them so huge! You should be able to click on the photo to see the blossoms up really close.

Many years ago I "got into" herbs. It started right out of college at my first nature center internship. The place had some herb books for sale in the gift shop, and I was hooked. At my second job, I really became an herb nut - lots of research into medicinals and their histories. At my third job, I put in my first herb gardens: Culinary, Medicinal, and Dyes & Fragrances. I was there for over four years, and invovled with the Society for Creative Anachronism, so herbs became a huge part of my life. Since returning to New York, however, herbs have taken a back seat (for many reasons), but my interest in them remains.

Which is why I have monkshood in my gardens!
One of the reasons I love herbs is that they have such a long and interesting history, and many myths and legends are associated with them. Monkshood is one of those with a fascinating history, which I shall share with you here.

Mythologically, monkshood was really big with the Greeks. One legend, in which the mighty Hercules was fighting with Cerberus (the three-headed dog who guarded the gateway into Hades), and the dog's saliva dripped on the monkshood plants growing on the hillside, thus making them poisonous. The Greek goddess Hecate is supposed to have killed off her father with a dose of aconite (she was a goddess of, among other things, the magical arts). Medea, who is also famous in Greek legends, apparently knocked off Theseus with it, too. And then there is this, which is enough to give some folks pause: it was believed that women who ate aconite daily from the time they were babies (and apparently didn't die from it) were able to poison others through sexual contact.

Monkshood, as you've no doubt acertained, is a rather lethal poison. In the Old World hunters would dip their arrow tips in a mixture made from the plant and use it in baits to kill wolves (hence the common name Wolfsbane), and apparently soldiers in Europe and Asia would drop it in the wells and other water sources of their enemies (and they say poison is a woman's murder weapon of choice).

Stories of witches flying, which come to us from the Middle Ages, have some basis in fact, but not literal fact. Apparently the "flight" these women took was more virtual, a result of the hallucinogenic properties of an ointment they made up with components from monkshood and belladona. These two herbs, when combined, create a flying sensation, thanks to the irregular heart rate caused by the former, and the delerium caused by the latter. As you can no doubt guess, these ointments had to be used with caution.

Many medicines are lethal if taken in large enough doses, and monkshood found its way into genuine medicines in the 18th century. The qualities it posseses that make it useful are its ability to reduce the heart rate, decrease blood pressure, induce sweating and reduce inflammation. If it is applied to the skin, say in an ointment, it causes localized tingling and numbness, making it a good treatment for rheumatism and other neurologic pains.

That said, this is a dangerous herb. Although many homeopaths and practitioners of Chinese medicine may still use it, it was pulled from the US and British Pharmacopeiae many years ago.

And just what makes it so deadly? The whole plant is infused with assorted toxic alkaloids (aconitine, picratonitine, aconine, benzoylamine, and neopelline), although the root is deemed to be the most toxic part of the plant. Aconitine is the most abundant of the alkaloids, but together they work to stimulate and then depress the central and peripheral nerves. And it doesn't take much to do you in: 5 ml is lethal. Ingestion is the cause of most deaths, but apparently external usage (like the ointments mentioned above) can lead to death if enough of the compounds are absorbed through the skin.

Still, it does make a lovely addition to the garden. Just be sure that you and your family know that it is not to be harvested for food or medicine. Look, but don't touch - that should be its motto.

Putting the Garden to Bed

It was a mild day yesterday, so I took advantage of the lack of rain to start putting the garden away for the winter. First I cleaned out a bed and planted the garlic - seven varieties, the larges bulbs from each (Inchelium, Chesnok, Kahzakstan, Germany White, Germany Red, German Extra Hardy (which seems to be a soft neck variety), Crysalis Purple and Purple Stripe. Planted 20-27 of each variety.

Then I attacked the rest of the garden. Pulled out stakes, pulled out weeds, dug out weeds, dug out beds. I only got six beds done - the weeds were out of control. I really should weed in the summer, but this summer it was just so wet...

Then each of the beds I cleaned out (six down, ten to go, plus the new patch to prep if I want to use it next summer), I added my soil ammendments. Since I am still manure-short, I used greensand, rock phsophate, and domomite lime. I targeted the five beds that have had a sour smell since the first year I put them in (three years ago). Admittedly the smell isn't as bad, which means the soil must be improving, but every so often I get a whiff of it - a sure indication of acidic and generally poor conditions. Which also explains why the buttercups and other noxious weeds do so darn well here.

My day started at 9:00 AM, with a walk for the dog, followed by cutting up fat to render into lard. It ended at 6:30 PM with me pounding in posts for snowfencing to protect the cedar hedge from the deer this winter. Needless to say, it was a long day.

But, it's a good thing I did what I did, for this is what it looked like this morning:

That's the garlic, under the snow.

Crabapple bent under the snow.

After taking the dog for a very short walk, I turned him loose in the yard so I could knock the heavy wet snow off the apple trees. They still have their leaves (as you can see by the crabapple), so their branches were bent way down; the new apples were actually bent to the ground, an easy feat since they are mostly just a single whip of a stem.

Snow Falling on Crabapples

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Soggy Days

There's been nothing new on the gardening front to blog about. I dug the carrots, and I've slowly been scrubbing, chopping, blanching and freezing them, but that's about as exciting as it has been. I don't even have any photos to post!

Every day that passes leaves me wondering if I'll ever get to "put the garden to bed" this year. We've had naught but rain and more rain for weeks now. I dug the carrots in the rain, took down the pea trellises in the rain, pulled down the pole beans in the rain. Late season weeds should be removed from the beds, but it's just too wet. Leaves should be raked into the beds, but again, it's just too wet.

Manure? Well, let's just say it hasn't happened yet (will it ever?).

It's time to really get the garlic planted. But, you guessed it, it's too wet (and the beds need to be weeded first).