Blog

HEMLOCK HOWDY

April 1, 2018: It is refreshing in our know-it-all world to find something we didn't know about. Recently a new species of Hemlock tree was discovered on a remote island off the coast of South Korea. Now, I know that this probably isn't going to set off a tsunamis of tweets, but my heart is aflutter at the news. This new species, Tsuga ulleungensis, lives on the slopes of an inactive volcano on a tiny island and it became both the newest tree discovered in 2017 and the most endangered at the same time and already we have plans for it.

Along the spine of the Appalachians, the Eastern Hemlock is being decimated by a tiny pest called the Hemlock wooly adelgid. This tiny aphid-like creature sucks the sap from needles and it protects itself by exuding a cottony mass around its body. Just imagine thousands of Q-tips heads glued to the branches of a tree. Within a year most hemlocks die. It's a BAD problem.

Enter our new hemlock species. It's related to Japanese hemlock trees. The hemlock wooly adelgid (HWA) came from Japan (thank you kindly). The Japanese hemlock and HWA co-evolved, so Japanese hemlocks have the genetic makeup so that they're not as badly walloped as our Eastern hemlocks are. The hope is that the new hemlock species may have even more resistance genes in its DNA and that crossbreeding it with Eastern hemlock may give it some HWA protection.

Exciting, yes? Well, maybe if you're a forester or arborist. If you're the newly discovered species itself, I'm not so sure. Just imagine if you were Tsuga ulleungensis (that is if you're semi-retired and have time for such ludicrous musings). You've been standing on your volcano with your close-knit group of friends and family for millions of years and suddenly that isolation is shattered. You're discovered and the world has great plans for analyzing, breeding and propagating you. That's when I'd want to be the Howard Hughes or Greta Garbo of the plant world. I yust vant to be alone.

If there are any undiscovered species reading this, a word of warning. Lay low, keep quiet, don't be too showy or useful. We'd love to meet you, but you might not.

BUG OUT!

December 31, 2017: In the past, I have ranted on this blog about insect pests, and one might think I was a bugaphobe and entertained anti-entomological sentiments. But I keep bees, which can be a disheartening labor of love, and realize the problem of declining pollinator populations. However, it seems insect decline goes farther than just honeybees and monarch butterflies.

Malaise trap used in surveysMalaise trap used in surveysA recent article in a scientific journal has created a rather shocking revelation that perhaps most of the insect world may be suffering decline. The article reports the findings of a survey of flying insects in 63 nature preserves in Germany over a period of 27 years. It reports a decline of insect biomass (all bugs caught in the survey traps) of more than 75%. Now when you consider that 70% of the entire animal kingdom is comprised of insects, that 60% of birds rely on insects for food, that 80% of wild plants rely on them for pollination . . . well, that seems kinda serious. Like maybe a big change is happening?

What's causing this decline? That is not so clear and it seems evident, from the literature, that there is no one factor responsible. Of the usual culprits - habitat loss and change, climate change, pesticides - no one seems to stand out. The researchers found that decline in this survey happened regardless of habitat type, climate variations, or temperature and could suggest a larger overall reason.

There are some scientists that believe we are entering into the sixth mass extinction event. I guess we were out of town for the first five. Another recent survey of population declines looked at a much broader range of species and estimated that 30 percent of all land vertebrates — mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians - are suffering from dramatic population declines. Species extinction rate for the past 100 years has been 200 species/100 years. "Normal" extinction rate in the past has been 2 species/100 years.

The good news is that humans don't seem to be declining in population and I'm going to be giving thanks this New Year for not being extinct. What can we do for our other biomass brothers or sisters? That is an urgent question for us all, and I, for one, am going to go mix a stiff drink, turn up the heat and maybe watch reruns of the Brady Bunch while thinking about that. Happy New Year to you and your species!

For more info to dampen your revels:

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/05/where-have-all-insects-gone
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/11/climate/mass-extinction-animal-specie...
https://xerces.org/

Tags:

ALIENS INVADE CEDAR MILL!!

Nov 19, 2017: My fellow Oregonians, we have been invaded by aliens who come undocumented and uninvited and with a voracious appetite for our Oregonian landscape and agriculture. These invaders originally came from the Far East but probably more recently came from the Back East where they have been wreaking havoc for years. I speak of the Japanese Beetle and it's beachhead, for the largest invasion ever detected to date in the state, is in the Oak Hills/Cedar Mill area.

Spring and early summer of 2017 the ODA (Oregon Dept. of Agriculture) found 23,000 beetles in monitoring traps set up in the that area. Alerted by numbers caught in the year previous, the ODA set about a program of control and quarantine. With an estimated 2000 homes in the affected area, ODA sought permission of homeowners to apply a granular pesticide to lawn areas. The larval beetle live under sod surfaces from mid-summer to spring when they emerge as adults. 1700 of those 2000 homes granted permission to apply the insecticide Acelepryn. Acelepryn is listed as a "Reduced Risk" pesticide, which in my personal scale of toxicity means I have more to be concerned about the amount of sugar in my diet than the amount of Acelepryn in my garden.

As part of the quarantine component, the ODA is requesting from landscapers and homeowners that all Public Enemy #1Public Enemy #1landscape debris collected within the quarantine area be taken to a special yard waste collection site on Cornelius Pass Rd or put in your regular curbside yard debris can. For a map of the quarantine area, information on yard waste dumping, and updates from beetle control HQ, check out http://www.japanesebeetlepdx.info/
.
I can't overemphasize the threat of these #$%@!! beetles. They eat everything! Well, at least 300 types of crops and plant, including fruit trees. And guess what they're favorite is? Roses. Do this math: Japanese beetles + Roses + the Rose City = well, you get the idea.

Even if you're not on the front lines for the battle now, you can help in the war effort by reporting any Japanese beetles you encounter by calling the Oregon Invasive Species Hotline, 1-866- INVADER or there is an online equivalent also.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill (quite horribly, I'm afraid), "We shall fight in backyards. We shall fight in the front yards. We shall fight in the fields and in the orchards. We shall never ever surrender."

Tags:

I DON'T GIVE A FIG! - A DINER'S GUIDE TO THE LANDSCAPE

Oct.21, 2017: In today's divided and partisan world, I can stand up and declare "I don't give a fig!", literally, and, if you owned a fig tree, you would understand. I consider myself a reasonably generous person and when it comes to produce from my garden, I am a vegephilanthropist. I give away bushels of squash, chard,kale, prunes and other fruits and vegetables I have in abundance to friends, neighbors and even strangers, whether they ask or whether I have to force it upon them. But not figs! They are too precious to my palate. So, keep your hands off my figs and go grow your own, which I'm happy to tell you , out of my own self-interest.

If you live in the Willamette Valley of western Oregon, you can grow cold hardy figs outdoors. Easy peasy. If you are on the coast or Cascades. it's a little dicier. Figs require summer heat and the coast's summer often don't provide that and they also can't take temperatures of -10 F or solidly frozen ground, so the Cascades are too cold.

When I'm talking figs, I'm talking about the common fig, Ficus carica. The genus sports a plethora of tropical and sub-tropical species , some of which we use as houseplants, such as the rubber tree or weeping fig. There are over 200 cultivars of figs grown in North America, but in our area it dries down to about a handful. I myself have a Vern's Brown Turkey fig (named after Oregonian garden writer Vern Nelson). Other recommended varieties for our area are Lattarula, Desert King , White Dakota and Chicago.

As a landscape tree (figs can grow 15- 30' tall), the large lobed leaves give a tropical air to a planting. Figs don't have a compact crown (unless you're pruning alot) and can look a little bit gangly, but it's a minor fault when compared to its fast growth, pest free, low maintenance and drought tolerant characteristics. If you don't want to use an orchard ladder to gather your figs, then topping (which in this case is OK) can help to keep the height manageable.

Right now, fall, is a great time of year to plant. Pick a sunny spot with well drained soil. Organic matter or compost is nice to add, but not essential. And then you just wait. It took me about 6 years from a cutting before I started getting figs. Speaking of cuttings, it's easy to propagate figs. They are rooted from hardwood cuttings, simple layering or air layering (my favorite) and you can find out from somebody else on the internet the details of doing it.

Here in Oregon we get one fig crop a year. More southerly tropical locations will get two. Many fig cultivars produce 2 types of figs, a "main" fig and a" breba" . Brebas form in the spring on last season's wood. They sprout directly under a leaf. Main crop figs grow on current season wood and sprout directly above a leaf. In the Coast Range where I live, I get a crop of brebas in August and the mains never reach maturity to harvest. Brebas are said to be less tasty than main figs, but they're plenty tasty for me and no, you still can't have one.

Most of the cold hardy figs are self pollinating, which is good and bad. Good because we don't have to worry about having male fig flowers around, but bad because we miss out on the utterly fascinating pollination process involving tiny suicidal wasps. In fact, that's what I wanted to write about originally but I got wrapped up in telling you how to get your own figs. Stay tuned for a future series, "Sex and the Single Plant", in which I will delve , in erotic detail, into the kinky sex lives of figs and other swinging plants.

Knowing when to harvest figs was a skill that evaded me for the first couple if years. I always got overly excited and picked too early. Once picked, figs do not ripen. and they taste crappy. Figs, even when ripe, don't keep well. Maybe a week in the fridge. A ripe fig looks and feels like it's overly ripe. It's squishy to the touch and the stem attaching it is drooping. They will often also change color from green to yellowish, goldenish or brownish.

Since figs don't keep long, you have to process them quick. Fresh figs are great but dried figs, to me, is hog heaven. I'm also partial to drunken fig jam, which has lots of brandy in it.

I hope I've discouraged you from asking me for figs and encouraged you to grow your own damn figs!

FINDING YOUR INNER KITSCH: STUMP ART

July 11, 2016: As an arborist, I've had to deliver the sad news to a tree owner that their tree is dying and probably ought to come down. The aftermath is a stump, to which the typical solutions are to have the stump ground out or leave it standing like a headstone at Arlington Cemetery. I would posit a third solution - to turn it into a piece of outdoor art.

Northwestern Oregon is the Chainsaw Bear Capital of the World. . . . I don't actually have data to support that , but drive down any rural road where there's more than 10 people living and I'd bet you a latte that one of those 10 have a chainsaw carved bear on the property. Bears are the bread and butter of chainsaw carvers. "People like them. People want them. We carve 'em" , one carver told me, though I could tell his inner artistic self was frustrated by the crass public marketplace.

The possibilities for a stump are only limited by its size and the talents and imagination of the carver. Everyone has probably driven by a chainsaw carving roadstand. There are even "galleries" where chainsaw art is displayed and sold. Tres chic. But, fortunately for you and your stump, there are also onsite carvers that will come to your property and give that stump a new creative life, for a price. How much does stump carving cost? It's variable depending on size and complexity of the carving but rough estimates I've seen range from $100-$200 a vertical foot for carvings under 5' and $200-$300/foot for taller ones (they usually need scaffolding).

If you're a DIY kind of person, you can try stump carving yourself, though I would highly recommend that you have a good practical background in chainsaw safety, use and sharpening. . I, myself, have taken to stump carving and have found it to be relaxing and meditative. There's nothing like having a screaming chainsaw in my hand and breathing that outdoor air mixed with 2 cycle exhaust to bring out my creative inner self and be at one with the stump. Chanting "OM" over the top of the chainsaw also helps to enhance the awakening process.

I carve morel mushrooms. . . . that's pretty much all I carve, though I have begun a new and exciting project recently - a chantrelle. I'll never do a bear. There are enough of them and being the stump snob that I have become I would recommend that you not either. Should you be faced with the question of "What do I do with that stump?" Below are some eclectic stumps for thought to get your creative sap flowing. P.S. - If you want a stump carved, it starts before the tree removal. Have the tree service leave 4- 8' of stump (it can always be trimmed down to eventual height).

I hope this inspires you to keep the stump grinder out of your yard. And if it's a morel you want (or perhaps in the future, a chantrelle), you know who to contact.



By Guess Who?By Guess Who?

F & P