Monday, July 2, 2018

Natural Born Killers!

Our Tombstone rosebush was growing nicely. Then a few leaves went missing.  I love a mystery! I figured it must be lizards since I had seen what they did with the edible weeds and my startup squash.  Dan didn't think so. How could a lizard snip off the top branches? He thought it might be birds. Suggested that we get a surveillance camera to find out. But it was too late!  The next day they were all gone!

Then the cycle started with our biggest moringa! 

I saw a few ants climbing up the trunk so I poured some used coffee grounds around it as a deterrent. Unfortunately, most of it sank into the mulch. 

Later that night, Dan trained his flashlight on the sidewalk and spotted a trail of ants towing our precious moringa leaves towards this hole... Oh! So that's where all the leaves were going! 

By the next morning most of the branches were bare. I saw tiny ants scurrying up and down the trunk and branches - ready to snip them off and drop them to their friends on the ground. 

I had to work fast!  I did some quick research.  I discovered that some of the leaf eater ants cut the branches and let the leaves fall to the ground.  Then another group of ants carry them back to their hole.  That's exactly what was happening!  Last year I had some luck with cayenne pepper.  A very informative video mentioned mixing cayenne pepper with baby powder. But I didn't have either! Luckily the same video demonstrated a method they use in Guatemala. And it didn't involve any deadly chemicals! 

After watching the video, I looked around the shed for a trash bag. We had long since stopped using plastic kitchen trash bags in the house. There were still two left.

First, I pulled out the draw strap and cut it. 

Next I rolled one end of the bag around two times the size of the moringa trunk.

Then I cut it along that line (about 3 inches.) I made a 4 X 6 inch square.

I wrapped it twice around the tree to test it. It was too big so I cut some off.

I tied the red draw string around the bottom (not so tight as to strangle the tree...)

Then I pulled the plastic down, inverting it. It made sort of an upside down cone . The ants climb into the cone but can't get through. Be careful that the plastic on the sides doesn't touch the trunk of the tree or the ants will climb onto it.

I cut some more on the bottom to make sure it didn't touch the trunk. It was difficult because this plastic was much thinner than the plastic sheet in the video. (Did I say watch the video for better instructions?)

I made funnels on the two trunks coming up. It actually worked for a while. But the wind blew the thin plastic against the side of the trunk. If only we had sprung for heavy duty garbage bags! 

*Note, these are old plastic bags left over from my first marriage. Now we use thin biodegradable bags that wouldn't work at all. Hmm... I wonder if the leftover piece of the recycled sign would work better...?

Then I looked over at the other moringa. We had great hopes for this moringa.  It already had flowers that we hoped would turn into yummy pods this year.  With closer inspection I found that there were ants climbing all over it.  I started pinching them between my fingers. On the ground below there were already some leaves and flowers! How dare they! I ran into the house to get another piece of plastic and sat on the edge of the mulch swarming with ants. As sweat dripped down my head, I pulled off some branches to make room for the protective cone. I wrapped the plastic around the tree as ants climbed up my leg and arms. I started squishing the ants above the cone with my bare hands, suffering from several ant bites. This was all out war! 

Later I brought the branches in the house. Those greedy ants weren't getting these! Over my itchy body! 

I got some cayenne pepper from the store and poured it all over the stump and surrounding mulch. 

The next morning the trees were still there but there were ants climbing up the trunk and branches. Crafty creatures!

I went into the house to get some Vaseline.

I put Vaseline on top of the plastic.

And it worked for a while...

Only later did I register the irony when Dan reminded me that it was "petroleum jelly." Argh! Should I try margarine? Ants avoid it at picnics... 

But these two moringas lived to see another day.

And some new branches sprouted from the nubs left on the leafless branches....

But Vaseline melts. So....

the battle continues...

soap water to remove ant trail through cayenne pepper
That didn't work. I'm so tired of fighting the ants. Today I found an ant hole at the base of the trunk. That is the last straw!

Diatomaceous earth (hopefully) protects the new growth.
Got em! Until it rains at least! 

New growth after two days of Diatomaceous earth.

Information on natural methods to get rid of ants:

How To Get Rid Of Ants: Homemade, Natural Ways To Stop An Infestation

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Remnants of Hurricane Bud on our Yard: The Agony and Ecstasy

I wasn't sure how our moringa and edible forest would fare while we were away for a two week trip to Lebanon, Missouri. I had left directions on how to water the yard with my distracted son.  Saturday night we came home to this... Our littlest moringa had doubled it's size! The ground was still wet from two days of lovely rain - the remnants of Hurricane Bud.

The next morning I surveyed our terrain. The little moringa seemed to grow overnight. The wonders of a good downpour!

I was delighted to find the "dead" moringa stump (I had given up on after loyally watering it everyday with the rest of the moringa) had finally sprouted a branch! The palo verde/moringa mulch was holding the water nicely. The mulch, along with the native grass in the basin, had also prevented erosion! 

The tallest moringa had grown another foot! It towered over Dan's head. My reward for smuggling three dime bags of my moringa tea in my luggage for my mother? Now we have plenty! 

I found out later that Josh hadn't watered them at all in the two weeks we were gone...

Oh, no! Déjà vu!  Closer inspection uncovered some dead branches. Our old friends the ants were back again wreaking havoc on one of our moringas. 

But right next to it, the morning sun shimmered on some budding blooms offering me a ray of hope.

The effects of Bud's downpour on our desert landscaping caused a roller coaster of emotions!

While watering the young chiltepin, grape plant, and Tombstone Rose, I spotted a line of erosion from the rain dripping off the roof. Before monsoon season starts, Dan really needs to install gutters leading to water barrels to redirect and save that rainwater!  Funny, I never noticed a line of erosion before Dan dug out the Burmuda grass. It seems that the elaborate root system of the die hard grass prevented erosion.

Click on the photo above to see how the little patch of mulch and weeds (native grass and purslane) interrupted the erosion seen on either side of grape plant. (Note: Dan advised that you wouldn't want a big mound of mulch retaining water right up to the foundation of the house.) For the first layer of mulch I used clippings from the native grass I found in the front yard. I didn't worry about the seeds because I knew that the roots from the grass would work with the mulch to create a sponge to retain the water like it did in our street-side catchment basin. I was happy to discover that the sponge also helped prevent erosion.  

My daily watering was doing double duty by nourishing the edible purslane, too. Actually, it's doing triple duty since I planted some cowpeas to add nitrogen to the soil.

I have gleaned from this little patch of purslane three times - leaving the roots and some branches so it can grow back. And it did! Think I'll grab me a little snack now! Yum! Refreshing citrusy greens! (I wash it before I munch. At least I'm secure in the knowledge that there's no herbicide on the edible weeds in MY yard. Hear that city council!)

The nearby Tombstone rosebush is also doing well in it's bed of organic mulch, native grass and used coffee grounds. The cowpea seeds I planted to add nitrogen to the soil also help with erosion. 

Now it's time to water the backyard edible forest with the rainwater collected in our blue rain barrels! 

Unfortunately, the leaves of our loquat tree in the greywater basin got fried despite Josh washing some loads of laundry and dutifully hand watering it two times a day. Maybe I should have given the non-native waterhog more shade to survive the brutal June sun. Live and learn.  

The walls of the basin also suffered some flood erosion near the loquat tree. 

To be honest, there was already some erosion from the rocks Dan put in the greywater basin to slow down the flow. So many lessons learned! We really need more mulch in the basin. But the winter wheat we planted to infiltrate the floor of the basin is helping to prevent erosion and breaking down into mulch.

The heritage fig trees and pomegranate are doing great thanks to Josh for watering them and the welcome remnants of Hurricane Bud. Oh, the agony and ecstasy! 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Directions for Josh

Fill up the water cans at the outdoor spickit.
Double check to make sure you turned it all the way off. 

Water all the mulch in the kitchen garden by the blue water barrel. 
One can in the morning and one after it cools off in the evening. 

Go over the mulch between these two plants a 2nd time
because that's where the potatoes are planted. 


See there's a new plant coming up on the left of the squash plant. 

The squash plant has new flowers so it could grow some squash this year!
Don't kill it! 

Water the two curry plants and the loquat tree. Saturate the mulch like a sponge.
Three cans split between the three trees in the morning and at night.

 Be careful not to wash the mulch around the loquat tree into the greywater basin. 

If you aren't washing a load a laundry that day, water the fig trees one can each 
(alternating between them so the mulch won't wash away.)  

Water the mulch around the two tomato trees to keep the soil alive. 

They can share a can with the mint.  Water all around the mint. 

Water the garden behind the fence two times a day. 

Use one can for the two rows of chard and another can at night. 

Water all the mulch around the two new little plants but put more near the plants. It might need two cans to really saturate the mulch. Don't dump the water too fast. It will leave holes in the mulch. Also, don't pour the water directly on these delicate baby plants. Water it in the morning and evening. 

Now the front of the house...

Use one can of water twice a day on the grape, rosebush and chiltapine on the corner of the house.

Don't trip over the cactus rib on the way to the baby moringa in the roadside basin. 

Water the baby moringa one can of water at night.  Water all the moringa at least once a week. 

Don't forget to SLOWLY pour your dish water and rinse water on the hummingbird trumpets.

Pour your coffee water on the rosebush, the mulch around the tomato plants or in kitchen garden.


Make sure the animals have food and water. 
Take Pooh out with you when you water the backyard. 

Thanks for keeping our garden alive!