Sunday, September 18, 2016

Learning from Failure


Weather: Some rain before dawn Saturday, but mostly sunny days with futile wind gusts and thunder in the afternoons.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, bouncing Bess, sweet peas, datura, morning glories, Sensation cosmos, zinnia, pampas grass.

Beyond the walls and fences: Yellow evening primroses, bindweed, scarlet creeper, green leaf five eyes, goat’s heads, alfalfa, leather leaf globe mallow, broom snakeweed, Tahoka daisies, áñil del muerto, native sunflowers, golden hairy and purple asters.

In my yard: large leafed soapwort, calamintha, hollyhocks, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, lead plant, Mönch asters, Mexican hats, Maximilian sunflowers, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, French marigolds, yellow cosmos, chrysanthemum.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, sweet alyssum, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums. Brought the moss roses inside to see if they could survive.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small birds, geckoes, small bees, hornets, ants, grasshoppers.


Weekly update: Gardeners face two kinds of failures. In one case, one should learn after so many attempts that the plants sold by a particular garden center will not survive. There comes a time, when one realizes its not one’s own fault, there really is something wrong. Of course, there are those who take the opposite view, and assume it is always the shop’s fault. We ultimately come to the same conclusion, but they run out of suppliers sooner.

The second type of the failures are the ones we ignore, for if we didn’t, we’d give up completely.

I have a bed I call the island, though it’s actually a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the runoff ditch. Most things I planted there didn’t grow, so when the pinks and snow-in-summer survived several seasons, I thought, "aha - an alpine bed."

Of course that’s not what it was. But those members of the carnation family exist somewhere on that elevation schematic that shows alpines blooming at the top and the dandelions dominating the bottom.

I thought some more, and said "aha - a scree bed." All they need is a little more water and some glacial till to trap it. I duly bought some small-sized shale gravel and covered the surface, then put a weeping hose on top.

Did they thrive?


They didn’t get a chance. The golden spur columbine, garlic chives, vinca, and winecup mallow all invaded, dropping themselves along the hose. The stones make it all but impossible to dig them out.

I learned one of the secrets of post-glacial succession. Those plants that live higher on the side of that mythical mountain side are the ones that have been driven there. They can’t compete with more vigorous species, and only survive at an altitude or temperature where they alone can breathe.

As I weed to protect them anyway, I look out over the yard where I tried to preserve the native grassland vegetation and see scrub advancing everywhere. One cause is my buildings which redirected the flow of water, and other reasons include the actions of neighbors who redirected water or scraped their land bare to create seed beds of disturbed soil.


There’s no point in cursing them - too much. They’re only aggravators who are accelerating changes that are happening anyway.

When I moved here the front yard was some winterfat and lots of ring muhly grass. Some dry summers, and the grass died. The winds stripped the bare surface, and dropped seeds that sometimes germinated. A few years ago it was Russian thistles.

This year in the heat of July the erosion accelerated and broom snakeweed nestled amongst the expanding copses of gray shrubs.


I don’t like it, but I know if I went out to pull them I’d leave loose soil where seeds would drop as I removed the plants. The mere act of helping would be destructive.

It wouldn’t matter what any gardener did. The dynamics of ecological competition will triumph. In the face of that massive indifference by the universe, I weed and cut the small scree bed several times a summer, and observe the rest.


Photographs:
1. Broom Snakeweed, Gutierrezia sarothrae, blooming with the winterfat, Krascheninnikovia lanata. 18 September 2016.

2. Island after it has been weeded. The gray leaves are snow-in-summer, Cerastium tomentosum. The gray-green leaves are Bath Pink, a Dianthus cultivar. There are also some coral bells and a taller chrysanthemum. 15 August 2015.

3. Blooming snow-in-summer with golden spur columbine invading in front. Garlic chives have hidden the pinks in back. 28 June 2016.

4. Snakeweed and winterfat along the property line, where the snakeweed continues into the dirt road. 18 September 2016.


5. Barren soil that’s created an erosion bath between the shrubs. 18 September 2016.

6. Garlic chives resprouted within a week of being removed from the shale gravel. 18 September 2016.

7. Blooming pinks invaded by vinca from the left and garlic chives from the year. 15 May 2016.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Walls and Birds


Weather: Last real rain was 8/27. Several times we had confrontations of hot and cold air that result in winds, clouds, and thunder. However, there wasn’t enough water in the atmosphere to get more that some splashes.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, bouncing Bess, sweet peas, datura, morning glories, Sensation cosmos, zinnia, pampas grass.

Beyond the walls and fences: Yellow evening primroses, bindweed, scarlet creeper, green leaf five eyes, goat’s heads, alfalfa, leather leaf globe mallow, broom snakeweed, gum weed, golden hairy and purple asters. Tahoka daisies are everywhere along the roadsides, áñil del muerto and native sunflowers are flourishing in favored places.

In my yard: Garlic chives, large leafed soapwort, larkspur, catmints, calamintha, hollyhocks, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, lead plant, Mönch asters, cutleaf coneflower, Mexican hats, Maximilian sunflowers, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, white yarrow, French marigolds, yellow cosmos, chrysanthemum.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, sweet alyssum, moss rose, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small birds, geckoes, small bees, hornets, ants, grasshoppers.


Weekly update: Whenever I hear someone trumpeting the merits of gated communities, I think of Poe’s "The Masque of the Red Death." I wonder, how safe is George Zimmerman from mosquitoes? The homeowner’s association for The Retreat at Twin Lakes may spray the grounds, but how high are those walls?

I’ve put up fences for all the usual reasons, and learned their limitations. I began with wide-mesh farm fence. The intent was to define a boundary so people would no longer consider my yard public land. So far as I know, it has kept out intruders. They simply park their cars as near to the fence as they can, and walk past the "no trespassing" signs to enter pueblo land.

Dogs are another matter. The ones who lived on the west would saunter along the fence to the gate, then walk through the rails. They knew what the fence was for, but that didn’t stop them.


Then, my neighbor on the north thought fresh eggs would be nice. Her chickens and turkey came through the mesh. They weren’t as smart as dogs. They couldn’t remember how to get out. They had to be directed.

So, I reinforced the northern fence and gate with vertical boards. That stopped the domestic animals, but rabbits and ground squirrels go under. I’ve watched cats go both under and over. Birds don’t even notice the barrier.

This past week I found three thriving Virginia creeper vines that had started from dropped pits. I also cut or otherwise tried to kill unwanted Russia olive trees.


Some insects are even worse. The ant queens join the mosquitoes, hornets and locust borers who fly over six-foot-high boards.

One unanticipated benefit of the fence was it stopped some weeds from invading from the north. That is, until we had a very dry year with stronger winds that usual. Then, the Russian thistles flew high enough to lodge above my head in the black locust.

People here have one problem that can’t be solved by walls. They use flood irrigation. By the time they get the water, it has traveled thirty miles through weedy banks. They can’t install filters without blocking the flow of water. I saw one lawn owner out this week standing in water with a rake. I’ve seen another in waders with a fish net trying to capture debris before it sank with the water. Their weed-and-feed chemicals can’t stop everything.


I’ve often wondered why anyone would plant anything as water-hungry as bamboo, or whatever that is in a ditch outside their wall. Then I realized, they probably didn’t. But someone, somewhere did.

As Donne might have said, no may can create an island.

Notes:
Donne, John. "Meditation XVII." Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. 1624

Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Masque of the Red Death." 1842.


Photographs:
1, 2 and 5. Tall plant growing in a ditch in the village, 8 September 2016. I doubt they planted it, and several times a year someone cuts it to the ground.

3. Buffalo gourd down the road, 8 September 2016. I don’t know if these people planted this or not. They cut it down in the fall. Right now Tahoka daisies and pigweed are with it.

4. Virginia creeper that I didn’t notice until it poked through the porch floor, 4 September 2016. The nearest plants are about a quarter mile away.

6. My neighbor’s Russian olive leaning over my fence, 8 September 2016. Every year he cuts it down, but so far hasn’t found a way to kill it. There are some along the near arroyo with is less than a quarter mile away.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Show Places


Weather: Clouds have occasionally dropped a little water, but the last real rain was 8/27.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, rose of Sharon, bouncing Bess, sweet peas, datura, morning glories, Sensation cosmos, zinnia, pampas grass; red on Virginia creeper stems.

Buddleia and silver lace vine flowers are more noticeable. Both have tiny florets that only show in masses from a distance. Apparently the water and cooler temperatures encouraged the individual florets to grow larger.

Produce stands back are back along the roads. They disappeared in mid-July. A friend tells me tomatoes have produced leaves but been slow to set fruit this year. In my yard, the tomatillos have grown into long, dense vines, but fortunately few that I’ve broken off had pods.

Beyond the walls and fences: Scarlet bee blossom, yellow evening primroses, velvet weed, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, goat’s heads, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, leather leaf globe mallow, broom snakeweed, horseweed, goldenrod, native sunflower, áñil del muerto, Tahoka daisies, gum weed, golden and purple hairy asters.

Brome snakeweed is taking over the dry areas this year instead of Russian thistles.

In my yard: Garlic chives, large leafed soapwort, larkspur, catmints, calamintha, hollyhocks, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Mönch asters, cutleaf coneflower, Mexican hats, Maximilian sunflowers, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, white yarrow.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, gazania.

Bedding plant French marigolds are dying out, and been replaced by much stronger reseeds.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small birds, geckoes, bumble and small bees, hornets, ants, grasshoppers.


Weekly update: A friend asked me this week if my yard was a show place. I said no, it always had weeds running loose.

I’ve since thought more about what characterizes the places in the area that would qualify for that label. Most have flood irrigation, and with it real lawns. One can snipe all ones likes about ecologically wasteful expanses of green, but they do keep down weeds. The dense roots of turfing grasses don’t provide harbors for most seeds. Dandelions, of course, are an exception. But, once you commit to a lawn, you don’t quibble at a few chemicals to maintain it.

Most of the nicer yards also have paved driveways. Weeds only colonize them when cracks appear. Weedeaters and lawn mowers can control whatever emerges in the run-off zone at their edges.

I suspect a great many also hire yard men, though I’ve seen people with lawns doing their own mowing and fertilizing. I don’t know who does the deadheading, but it has to be the owners unless they have daily or weekly gardeners.

What these wealthier gardeners buy isn’t labor. It’s time and energy. After all none of the work mentioned is arduous. But, unless you have money, you either spend hours a day maintaining a yard or you make choices.

In my drive, the car keeps its path clear by compressing the ground and running down things, but I still have to keep the crown clear of tall, woody stems. That’s a priority, but is it necessary to keep the edges clear as well?


Not all weeds are created equal. There are ones that must go like pigweed and goat’s heads, and then there are ones I’d rather not have like wild lettuce and horseweed. Only the one merits going out in the sun and stretching my hamstrings. The other isn’t worth the sore hand and leg muscles.

Then there are ones that are acceptable, so long as they keep their places and don’t attack. Tahoka daisies, sunflowers and áñil del muerto are not allowed in areas I water, but it’s not worth the effort to keep they away from the drive way edge.


After weeks of rain, everything needs attention at once. More decisions. Is it more important to keep the drainage ways clear or to fertilize? The question answers itself. I spent this week banging my knuckles on bricks that lined ditches, only incidentally tending the more desirable plants.

The friend who asked actually has a show place. But then he runs his business out of his home, and it has to be at least presentable. He’s in Santa Fé where lawns and water use are discouraged. The former owner installed black plastic and gravel to avoid maintenance. My friend hired people to break through the barriers in selected places and hauled in good dirt.

The display area is limited to the front between the concrete drives and the sidewalk, much like an expensive facing is confined to the first story on the front wall façade of a brick town house. It frames the entrance and defines boundaries that limit the width the eye associates with the building. Lawns and fences establish the same limits here. It doesn’t matter that the areas beyond have been degraded. All one sees are islands of beauty.


Without clean frames, one notices the weeds.

While I’ve known him, my friend has extended his attention to the side patches between the concrete drives. They were left to dirt and weeds, and he’s slowing reclaiming them. The back, he says, is unmentionable. There is only so much time.

When time is rationed, it’s the enemies that get attention and friends that get neglected.

Photographs: All taken, 3 September 2016.

1-2. Goldenrod. I had always wanted goldenrod, but it would never grow for me. Then, when I learned it was the preferred food for the locust borers that attack my tree every year, some came up. I thought about ripping them out, but remembered nothing I’d don’t to stop the insects from perpetuating themselves had worked. I thought why not let it grow? Things can’t get worse. The insect on the left is a hornet. I don’t know what the one on the right is, but it doesn’t look the photographs of borers.

3. Driveway with an áñil del muerto near the garage and some Tahoka daisies. The rest of the plants lining the drive path are horseweeds I’d rather weren’t there. But, it’s not worth the effort to remove them or the plants I’ve poisoned in the crown. That’s a task for winter, after they’ve done everything they can to perpetuate my problems. The drive is show place only in January.

4. Tahoka daisies have colonized the drive edge. You can just see the bricks edging the line were hoses carry water to the trees. They got unsightly during the summer heat, but revived with the rain.

5. So far I’ve only cleaned a few feet of the ditch that carries away water that empties from a down spout. I installed the side bricks when I established the garden. It was only after the winecup mallows took over the water course, that I put down the pavers. Of course they don’t fill the spaces the way they would in a show place.


6. I don’t let native sunflowers into my beds, but tolerate them along the drive. This one has chosen to spread outward rather than up. The only priority this week was clearing the space in front on an entrance that lies between it and some golden hairy asters. The low grasses in the crown and the dead stem will stay until I think to bend down sometime when I’m walking by.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Rain’s Slow Drips

Weather: Some solid hard rain Saturday.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, rose of Sharon, bouncing Bess, David and purple garden phlox, sweet peas, datura, Sensation cosmos, zinnia; pyracantha berries bright orange; apples falling.

Beyond the walls and fences: Scarlet bee blossom, white prairie and yellow evening primroses, velvet weed, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, goat’s heads, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, horseweed, golden hairy asters, goldenrod, native sunflower, áñil del muerto, Tahoka daisies.

In my yard: Caryopteris, garlic chives, hostas, large leafed soapwort, leadplant, larkspur, blue flax, catmints, calamintha, hollyhocks, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, white spurge, Mönch asters, cutleaf coneflower, Mexican hats, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Small birds, geckoes, bumble and small bees, ants, grasshoppers.

Weekly update: Atmospheric moisture has fallen into a self-defeating cycle. Clouds appeared most days around noon, often with great rumbles of thunder. No rain fell, but the clouds kept air temperatures from rising. The lower temperatures subdues conflicts between warm and cold air, which delayed the formation of storms. They’ve been coming, when they’ve come, after dark.

Then, as more disturbances formed off the coast of México this weekend, we got several hard rains.

Wet mornings have perpetuated the cycle of weeds and ants taking advantage of my unwillingness to go out. White sweet clover seedlings are suddenly 2' high, though they aren’t blooming. Goat’s heads appeared every day, and they were blooming.

It’s taken a while for the water and cool temperatures to effect other plants. Perennials like bouncing Bess and sweet peas that had gone dormant in the heat are back in bloom. There are fewer returning roses, probably because they were able to open most of their buds in the long cool spring.

Even with the water, the leaves on catalpa trees continue to fade. If that’s a consequence of the soil drying at the base of their roots where they absorbed dissolved iron, then it means the water hasn’t seeped that far down yet.

It’s taken a while for monsoon flowers to open along the roadsides. Today was the first day I’ve seen áñil del muerto and Tahoka daisies. Native sunflowers are still scarce, but the daturas are finally blooming. Their morning glory cousins are not.

The Russian thistles, ragweeds, and pigweeds are blooming in places, but aren’t yet plentiful. The broom snakeweed has taken advantage of their retarded growth to colonize more parts of my yard that have been resculpted by drought.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Two Sides of Clouds


Weather: Rain after dark most night.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, rose of Sharon, David and purple garden phlox, zinnia.

Beyond the walls and fences: Scarlet bee blossom, white prairie and yellow evening primroses, velvet weed, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, goat’s heads, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, horseweed, golden hairy asters, goldenrod.

In my yard: Caryopteris, garlic chives, hostas, large leafed soapwort, leadplant, larkspur, blue flax, catmints, calamintha, hollyhocks, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, white spurge, Mönch asters, cutleaf coneflower, Mexican hats, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbirds and other small birds, geckoes, bumble and small bees, ants, grasshoppers.


Weekly update: I tend to hibernate in summer, and nature exploits my lassitude. For years, I thought the reason was the heat, since my body has a low tolerance for high temperatures. That was a useful explanation when I was working, and could only work outside when I got home.

When I retired, I thought, now I can spend as much time as I like outside in the early morning hours before the sun becomes too high. The problem with that vision was that it was formed when I was younger. I’ve discovered I now can work outside for several hours, and then nurse sore muscles for several days, or I can limit myself to an hour and go out every day.

With new resolve, I set the timer and went out each day. Then, a couple years ago I cut my hand in July, and couldn’t do anything. Last summer, as I was cleaning some of the messes that developed, I vowed to find a way to work in the winter and not let the elms get away from me again.


All went well this year until it started to rain the end of July. I discovered it’s impossible to cut plant stems when they’re wet. If I waited until things dried a little, the sun was beating down. Since the Los Conchos fire, the rains have been carrying something from the canyons into the valley. When I go out in the morning, my nose shuts down. I begin breathing through my mouth, which diverts the toxins from the lungs into my stomach, which starts to complain.

So, just as I needed to be out, I’m finding new excuses to stay in. As I mentioned in last week’s post, this is the time when the ants multiply. So far, there hasn’t been a new crop of Russian thistles or pigweed, but the goat’s heads are back, and the weeds I hadn’t yet pulled jumped in size. I’ll have horseweed and white sweet clover and wild lettuce again next year.


It becomes a matter of setting priorities. I decided it was more important to spray and crop the elms, locusts and Russian olives that keep coming back than it was to cut the nuisance weeds. I thought it more important to cut back and weed the ditches that carry water from the house than it was to prune dead wood from the Russian sage and caryopteris. I just look at the powdery mildew on the neighboring lilac and think, maybe I’ll remember to spray it next year.

When it starts raining, I stop running water even though I have no idea how much actually lands in the night. I wondered if some trees that had yellowing leaves were getting too much water. Then, I checked the one on the back porch. Its soil was dry.


So I ran a sprinkler on those plants that aren’t getting enough, but don’t water others areas. I hope they like alkalinity. When I looked at a pool of water this morning by the house, it had that telltale white scum that water company I hired can’t explain.

Life is a paradox. All summer I fretted about lack of water, and now that the monsoons have arrived I complain.


Photographs: All pictures taken the morning of 22 August 2016.

1. Russian sage. Last winter when I lined the eroding path with bricks, I cut the stems that lay outside. I cut them again a month ago. Some are back.

2. Caryopteris. I haven’t trimmed the dead wood on this or other shrubs in more than three years. The last time was before I cut my hand.

3. Ditch that takes water away from the house. I’ve cleaned it twice this year, and started again this week.

4. Wild lettuce buds towering above the garlic chives.


5. Yellow leaves on the weeping cherry where the hummingbirds nested. They left last weekend, but I had gotten out of the habit of watering it every day.

6. Water just out of my hose. I assume what looks like soap scum is something alkaline. Every year after there’s been a lot of rain, my well pulls this up from the aquifer.

7. Powdery mildew on lilac leaves nibbled by grasshoppers.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Ants


Weather: We’ve gotten some rain this week, but have had more winds, thunder and lightening that led to nothing; last rain 8/13.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, rose of Sharon, David and purple garden phlox, zinnia, Sensation cosmos. Apples began showing color.

Beyond the walls and fences: Buffalo gourd, scarlet bee blossom, yellow evening primrose, velvet weed, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, goat’s heads, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, horseweed, golden hairy asters, goldenrod. Quack grass was up everywhere; goat’s heads and Russian thistles were beginning to emerge.

In my yard: Caryopteris, garlic chives, large leafed soapwort, leadplant, larkspur, sea lavender, blue flax, catmints, calamintha, perennial four o’clock, hollyhocks, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, white spurge, Mönch asters, purple and cutleaf coneflowers, Mexican hats, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbirds and other small birds, geckoes, bumble and small bees, hornets, ants. Grasshoppers continued to denude apple trees and more tent nests appeared in trees of all types in the village. Crickets have been loud at night.


Weekly update: I have a problem with ants. During the summer I have up to six hills of large black ones who deliberately bite. I also see them stealing the grass seeds needed to maintain a prairie ecosystem already struggling with drought and high heat. In addition I have more than a hundred hills in my driveway gravel inhabited by smaller ants who leave me alone, but who turn my hoses, block paths, and brick borders into highways.

Generally, I’ve ignored the one to try to eliminate the other. The first time I was bitten, the swelling and itch didn’t go away for several days. It’s not the kind of problem you can take to urgent care, so I tried the various itch and bite ointments in the house. None worked. For some other reason, I took an aspirin, and the pain disappeared within half an hour. I happen to have a very low tolerance for aspirin, and keep it only for serious emergencies. Ant bites should not be that emergency that may trigger serious stomach problems.


The answer isn’t buying the magic potion, which probably does not exist, but eliminating the underlying problem. Controlling the ants.

I’ve tried whatever was available in the local stores. A few years ago some powders containing permethrin stopped their activity for about three weeks. That product no longer is available, and the replacements don’t even shut down hills for a couple days. Often when I’m in the store someone in the line will ask if what I’m buying works. I tell them no, it’s only temporary. They say they haven’t found anything either.

Efficacy seems a simple enough requirement for a commercial product controlled by the EPA, especially when the poisons pose potential dangers to me and the environment. But no, all that’s offered is risk and cost.


In frustration, I went on-line. Bayer told me there were many types of ants, and each behaved differently. It said, if I wanted to control my insects, I first needed to identify them. I paged through their pamphlet and found the little ones were pavement ants. The larger ones were not included.

I finally learned the big ones were harvester ants. They come in several colors and species, and seem to be primarily limited to the southwest. Too regional to interest a big international corporation like Bayer, whose financial experts are dedicated to maximizing their resources.

Armed with that information I looked more carefully at the available pesticides. They target fire ants, carpenter ants, Argentinian ants. Not the common pavement ants and not the vicious harvester ants. Even though they can denude grazing lands, they are not a serious enough economic hazard to justify the costs of research to develop new pesticides.

Deterrence isn’t the same thing as eradication. For that, the experts say I need to destroy the queen.

Does that mean I have more than a hundred queens in my drive, and that I have to take serious action against each one? Or, are the hills like crack motels, with several outlets for a single source?

I wanted a simple answer to that questions, but all I found on-line were rehashes of what I learned in elementary school, when I first heard about ant farms. You could recite it yourself: there’s a caste system with female workers who farm aphids. The writers never specify which type of ant they’re talking about. Apparently the farms are Texas red harvester ants.


I didn’t want to burrow through scientific articles, in a new field, but had little choice. I did finally learn from Noa Pinter-Wollman’s team that black harvester ant colonies in California can have up to six unique sites, and moved eight times in six months. Which one houses the queen?

I also learned the generic fertile ants fly from their nests to set up new colonies. Somehow that piece of information makes eradication an impossibility, since my neighbors have either given up controlling them or never tried.

I settled again on shutting down hills temporarily. When I started in the spring, the pavement ants had recognizable low mounds made of red sand. Within days, new holes appeared a few inches away. They apparently moved their entrance just beyond the treated area. The second hills were often less conspicuous. By the third treatment, they were often nothing more than holes in rocks, sometimes camouflaged by whatever weed was growing nearby.


The harvester ants began with the characteristic large crater of coarse gravel. Since then, they have settled for holes in the gravel, often two or three in one area.

Since hills disappear in winter, I assumed their life cycle was like plants. Nothing in those generic descriptions connects the life cycle to the calendar. I was forced to observe something that only interested me for negative reasons.

The pavement ants were back in mid-March this year, and the first harvester hill appeared in mid-May. Then they seemed to multiply in summer. I saw a bunch of new red sand-topped hills August 4, the day after our heaviest rain. A red harvester ant hill appeared August 6.

When I reread some of the Wikipedia articles I discovered those first hills were last year’s colonies, and the mid-summer ones are from new queens who don’t emerge until the summer rains. They’re more like biennials than annuals.

There’s no point in treating anything right now. Rain washes away or congeals powders, just as the ants are multiplying. But soon, I’ll go out again, with whatever I can buy, and renew the Sisyphean task unaided by any of the experts who are paid to help. Their corporate employers are secure in the knowledge their monopolies give me no choice but to buy their marginally useful products, or get bitten.


Notes:
Pinter-Wollman, Noa, Deborah M. Gordon, and Susan Holmes. "Nest Site and Weather Affect the Personality of Harvester Ant Colonies," Behavioral Ecology 23:1022-1029:2012.

Wikipedia entries on "Ant" and "Harvester Ant."

Photographs:
1. Mönch asters with sun through their petals after yesterday’s brief rain, 13 August 2016.

2. Treated ant hills in drive area with few hills, 31 July 2016.

3. Black harvester ant and its hole in the gravel, 6 August 2016.

4. Ant powder congealed in the rain; pavement ants crawl over it unharmed, 26 July 2016. This is the product being sold this year.

5. Red ant hill opened after the rains began, 6 August 2016.

6. Pavement ant hole hidden by stones, sticks and Siberian pea pods, 26 July 2016.

7. Raised ant hill in area of #1 after the rains began, 6 August 2016; they look like pavement ants despite the different architecture of the hills.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Rain Water and Cool Temperatures


Weather: Rain every day for the last five days; water has seeped down more than the six inches my water meter can measure.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, rose of Sharon, hollyhock, purple garden phlox, zinnia, Sensation cosmos.

Beyond the walls and fences: Buffalo gourd, scarlet bee blossom, yellow evening primrose, velvet weed, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, goat’s heads, white sweet clover, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, wild lettuce, horseweed, golden hairy asters, goldenrod.

In my yard: Caryopteris, garlic chives, large leafed soapwort, leadplant, larkspur, golden spur columbine, sea lavender, blue flax, catmints, calamintha, perennial four o’clock, David phlox, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, white spurge, Mönch asters, purple and cutleaf coneflowers, Mexican hats, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, chrysanthemum.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Baby rabbits, hummingbirds and other small birds, geckoes, butterflies, small bees on garlic chives, hornets, ants, grasshoppers.


Weekly update: All week we had rain in the late afternoon or after dark. The sun was slow to break through each day, and temperatures remained in the 80s. The water was allowed to seep in.

The first things to exploit the weather were ants. With water forecast every day, it was useless to try to dust their areas. They multiplied.

The rains probably washed away the residual pesticide on the wild grasses and alfalfa. Grasshoppers were noticeably worse by mid-week. Not only were leaves disappearing from hollyhocks, but seed capsules were gone from the Rumanian sage and attacked on the baptisia.


Surprisingly, the first seeds to respond to the moisture have not been pigweed or Russian thistle, at least not yet in my yard. When I heard rain was forecast last Sunday, I planted the leftover morning glory seeds. Few had germinated in June, and they had stopped growing the first of July. They had only grown an inch in the past week, but this morning the new seeds were emerging in masses.


Every year, I get lured into some new experiment. This year it was melon seeds. The cantaloup and honey dew came up in a week. Their second leaves appeared, then nothing more. Like the morning glories, their development was arrested. Just before the rains started, I noticed the small plants were putting out their first flowers.

The watermelons were less successful. They got less water, and only six emerged. They never put out their second leaves. Three died in mid-July and the others were shrinking two weeks later. The first rain fell July 31, and the next day afternoon temperatures rose no higher than 86. The next rain was in the wee hours of August 3. When I went out in the afternoon, I found those seedlings not only had revived, but had resumed growth.


Today I discovered whole groups of dormant seeds had germinated.


Elderberries were my other experiment this year. The bare roots I planted last year were eaten immediately. This year, I opted for potted plants. I hadn’t bargained on the only ones in the market in mid-May being large, and therefore expensive. I kept them in their pots for two weeks until I found some tree protectors. I finally planted them when rain was forecast.

They did fine for two weeks. Then I saw a large mound between two. The leaves on one were brown the next week; the leaves were dead on the other a few days later. I replaced hoses that had been damaged by the ground squirrel, and ran more water. No response. Then, either the rain or the cooler temperatures prevailed. This morning there was new growth at the base of one,


and new leaves opening on the other. Of course, the grasshoppers were eating what they could.


Many other plants had browned out in July. The poppies always die back, and sometimes the golden spur columbine do. This year, the daylily leaves were turning yellow and the hostas were bleaching out. Last week when I photographed the fleabane I noticed all the ring muhly had died.


This is a native and the only grass that grows on the sloping hill. When it disappears, the winterfat and Russian thistles take over. This morning I discovered it too had recovered.


Photographs:
1. Self-seeded garlic chives, 3 August 2016. This morning they were covered with bees.

2. Hollyhock leaves eaten by grasshoppers, 3 August, 2016.

3. Baptisia seed pods, 3 August 2016. Last year the flowers were eaten before seeds could develop.

4. Heavenly Blue morning glory seeds, 7 August 2016. They were planted 7 July 2016 when rain was forecast, but hadn’t yet materialized.

5. Watermelon seedlings, planted in June, finally out their second leaves after a few days rain; 3 August 2016.

6. More watermelon seeds germinated after more rain, 7 August 2016.

7. American elderberry leaves coming up from the base, 7 August 2016. All signs of life disappeared in mid-July.

8. Red elderberry leaves coming back, 7 August 2016. They had turned brown in mid-July; the older leaves are being eaten by grasshoppers.

9. Ring muhly grass, 25 July 2016.

10. Ring muhly grass today, 7 July 2016, after five days of rain.