A cherry tree assault


unwanted windows in my cherry tree leaf

Something has been eating the leaves of my sour cherry tree (picture below). The tree is still in a pot, scheduled to be planted in a deer-proof fortification this fall. It has been happily growing since I bought it a few months ago. The damage is unsightly, but hopefully not detrimental to the tree. It looks like windows have been installed haphazardly through the leaves exposing the fractal-like veins of each leaf – very reminiscent of the leaf miner damage that has destroyed this summer’s chard. The difference is I caught the cherry assaulters red-handed. They look to me like little translucent caterpillars with the colouring of a fresh bird dropping. I took mug shots and sent them to be identified by a master gardener and an entomologist.

The gardener identified them as Western Tentiform Leafminers (Phyllonorycter elmaella), a leafminer big enough to see that prefers apple and cherry trees. They have a distinctive adult form with orange and white stripes – I haven’t noticed these, however I have not been looking.

The entomologist identified them as Pear Slugs (Caliroa cerasi), which is not actually a slug but a sawfly. This one also likes munching on fruit trees – including sour cherries like mine. The adult form of these look like a flying ant and I’d have to look really close to tell the difference. Since I assume all flying ants are coming to eat my house, I flatten them on sight.

To me the larvae forms of both the Western Tentiform Leafminers and Pear Slugs look exactly the same! When I noticed these caterpillars on the cherry tree, I picked them all off and squished them, so I can’t hold onto one and see what it turns into. Any idea what these pests might be?


pest mug shots

I wish I had a dilapidated pool…


Sunflowers for seeds, not oil

My almost fully homegrown lunch included my own fried purple potatoes and eggs with a salad made of tomatoes and cucumbers. I don’t produce any of my own oil, so I used store-bought oil to cook, plus I like a bit of salt on my tomatoes. For a little zip, I added someone else’s diced red onion to my salad – I’m not growing any onions this year because I got mad at them last year. I devoted a huge amount of space to bulb onions and only got greens, I’ll try onion growing again next year (cabbages are on my current hit list because they are buggy space hogs, so they won’t be grown next year). It is only one meal in my day, breakfast was totally not homegrown and dinner tonight of left over chili contains my own celery as the only homegrown ingredient.

I’m still actively working on getting more homegrown food into my family’s meals. In pondering how to grow more, I stumbled across this pool – an awesome conversion of a dilapidated pool into an food producing ecosystem including vegetables, tilapia and eggs that mostly feeds a family of four (another article is here).

The hens live above the deep end of the pool which is filled with water. Chicken waste falls into the water providing nutrients for algae and floating plants, tilapia eat the algae and excess floating plants (duckweed and azolla) get fed to the hens. The nutrient rich water is then pumped (solar powered) through a hydroponic growing system. In their video I spotted chard, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, various herbs and perhaps even taro. The plants looked fabulous and healthy.

They make a claim of ‘unlimited tilapia’, is that possible in the 1000 gallon* they have for them? I did a quick check on an aquaponics site. Their ratio of gallons of water to pounds of fish was 3:1. Which translates into roughly 300 lb of fish in a 1000 gallon pond. I don’t know how fast they reproduce, but it does seem like a lot of fish dinners are a possibility.

It looks like the Garden Pool produces lots of healthy food, perhaps a bit calorie light as they didn’t appear to be growing calorie dense stuff like potatoes (perhaps taro fits this category, I just don’t know enough about it), root vegetables, dried beans or corn.

My one criticism was that their operation was covered with poly – I see that as a great way to start, but if it was my pool I’d be looking to convert to a covering that is more permanent and ascetically pleasing. These clear solar energy collectors would make a great cover (how cool is that!), perhaps fashioned into a pyramid like this one suggested for living on Mars.

*feeling too lazy today to convert these units to metric

A Medlar Tree


my new medlar tree

I’ve been curious about medlar’s since I saw them on an episode of ‘Tales from the Green Valley‘ – a fruit to grow at my latitude that’s fruit is ready in the fall after the apples are done. According to a British* website the fruit are ready to harvest late October to early November.

Medlar fruit is described as looking like a huge rose-hip – which isn’t surprising as this tree is part of the rose family. Native to Iran and Turkey, medlars were moved around by the Greeks and Romans throughout Europe. They are even mentioned by Shakespeare.

This fruit is eaten after it is ‘bletted’ which is an almost rotten stage. Apparently, at this point they taste like a ‘really good apple butter‘ – but I have no idea because I’ve never had access to one of these fruit to try. I’ve also read medlar’s are good with port at the end of a meal, highly suitable for jam making with their high pectin content and can be made medlar cheese.

Yesterday at a local market, in the 20% off plant section I found medlar trees. The plants available at this market change frequently, so I couldn’t count on these trees being there for long. Since, I had no idea if they were self-fertile or not I bought two trees. Ironically, now that I’ve checked, many of my gardening books make reference to medlars. They are self-fertile so I’ll be giving one tree to my brewmaster friend as I’ve seen a few references to medlar wine.

They’re a nice looking small tree with very hard wood from which spear points, fighting sticks and windmill parts have been made from. An added bonus is bees love the flowers. I’ll plant my tree in the front yard this fall behind a deer-proof fortification. In three to five years I can expect twenty pound harvests – hopefully I like bletted fruit (I’m looking forward to trying them). If they aren’t to my taste, I can always fashion fighting sticks from it’s branches in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

*my island in the Pacific is at the same latitude as the British Isles, so I generally assume what grows there will grow here.

Book Review: Grow a Sustainable Diet


vetch among the weeds

At the bookstore, I was flipping through the garden books and noticed Grow a Sustainable Diet: planning and growing to feed ourselves and the earth by Cindy Conner referred to the Biosphere 2 experiment from the early 90’s, which is the primary reason I bought it.

This book gives clear instructions on putting together a plan to feed a group from your land. I think the planning aspect is this book’s strength. The author points out that feeding yourself entirely from your own land changes what should be planted. Getting adequate calories, protein and calcium become issues that need to be through through. She recommends multiple worksheets and maps to aid developing the plan.

In her own words: “In developing your plan for a sustainable diet, you will want to consider crops that will grow the most food in the least space.” It turns out potatoes produce the most calories per square foot (I assume this is out of the ordinary garden crops). She also mentions garlic as a good calorie producer, which confused me. I see no problem growing lots of garlic, however, I’ve only ever used it as a flavoring. Consuming more might keep vampires at bay, and probably my friends too.

I’ve now realized the straw I’m using as mulch is a big external input into my garden, plus I’m depleting the soil where the straw was harvested from. Her recommendation is to grow your own mulch. I do grow some and scavenge what I can from my own lot, but I don’t have enough space to grow the amount of mulch I would need. I’ll try growing more.

Grow a Sustainable Diet contains a lot of good information. I would recommend this book for anyone that is attempting to grow most of their own food. My main complaint about the book is it frequently provides general information then refers to other books to get the details – books I don’t have at hand.

On a final note, she has changed how I think about honey. It turns out 1 teaspoon of honey is the life work of 12 bees – put that way honey seems more precious.

Garden on the first of August


Raspberries canes have been cleared out and readied for next year, garlic has been harvested and the potatoes are ready to dig up.

Strawberries are still coming

Strawberries are still coming

The tomato harvest has begun

The tomato harvest has begun

Cucumbers are on their way

Cucumbers are on their way

This year's garlic - I think I'll double the amount I plant for next year

This year’s garlic – I think I’ll double the amount I plant for next year


This cabbage looks perfect – unfortunately, it’s only the size of a golf ball. The rest of my cabbages have been heavily damaged by insects. For the amount of space they take up and the trouble they give me, I’m not going to bother with them in the future.

another serving of salad


Arugula flower up close – beautiful!

June was a great salad month, now the July heat is coaxing many of my greens to flowers. The lettuce starts I bought in May produced tones – enough for me to give away bags and bags of lettuce. Now they are starting to bolt, leaving me unsure how much more I’ll be able to harvest from that patch.

Fortunately, I planted my own lettuce starts in the shady spots created by the broccoli and tomatoes (which are now tall enough to provide plenty of shade). The hidden leaves are almost ready to harvest. The variety ‘drunken woman‘ is perhaps the prettiest lettuce I’ve ever grown. It’s producing an open rosette of slightly crinkly leaves that start green at the base and gets light red, almost rust, flecks by the tips.

Another variety, ‘Gandhi‘ is forming lovely heads of light green, contrasting nicely with the lacinato kale it’s growing beside. Arugula is thriving under the tomatoes and New Zealand spinach is almost ready to harvest. So, I’m not at risk of running out of salad greens anytime soon.

Other greens harvested include: pak choi and misome (a cross between komatsuna and tatsoi). The misome was a dark racing green and turned out much better than the pak choi, so I’ve planted more for the fall.


drunken woman lettuce


Barnacle revenge


Low tide on a barnacle and seaweed covered beach

I took my daughter to a local beach yesterday. We arrived in the sun-dappled parking lot as a Pat Benatar’s ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot‘ finished playing on the radio. Only a light sprinkling of parked cars were in the lot and no one was on the path down to the water, a pleasant consequence of being there on a weekday. A short set of concrete stairs lead us out onto a mostly rubble beach broken up with a few patches of sand exposed by the low tide.

After we crossed the slippery seaweed and barnacle encrusted rocks, I showed my daughter how to look under rocks for crabs. The first one she picked up skittered out of her hand and vanished under more rocks. The hunt was on. She eagerly flipped more rocks, finding more crabs in the process. Then she looked closely at the rock in her hand. Like a miniature mountain range, a cluster of empty barnacle houses remained adhered to the surface. Why the barnacles weren’t there I don’t know. My daughter didn’t question their absence, instead she examined the structures then crushed the empty exoskeletons.

Most barnacles are sessile filter feeders, raking the water with their arms when the tide is in and closing up shop when the tide leaves them exposed to air. In most marine environments, barnacles can be found glued to any hard surface from whales to ship hulls to rocks. Due to their lack of mobility, barnacles have developed the longest penis relative to their body size of any animal (picture here). Probably for other reasons, Charles Darwin focused his research efforts on these marine invertebrates from 1846 to 1854.

For 7 years Darwin looked at the anatomy of different barnacle species. At the time barnacles were grouped with clams and mussels in the mollusc family (which is where I would have assumed they fit). Darwin went on to compare how barnacles develop with other families. He discovered that barnacles share common features with crustaceans like crabs, lobsters and shrimp. Barnacles were moved from the molluscan to the crustacean family and Darwin was awarded a medal.

Barnacles have a two stage life-cycle starting out as larvae free swimming for 10 to 45 days. In that time, they have to make the biggest decision in their lives – where to set up their permanent home. If other barnacles of the same species are already living somewhere, often they take it as a sign of a good place to live, which is why they can be found in such high numbers. On the beach, with each step I took, I could feel barnacles crunching under my sandals making me feel like Godzilla crushing the homes of those in my way.

Barnacles have had their revenge on me, hitting me with their best shot. As a kid, I loved to wade out on rocky beaches to see the marine life and to swim. I always went barefoot making crossing the ubiquitous barnacle colonies risky. I’ve cut myself on barnacles many times and the cuts plus salt water always stung. Unfortunately, I’ve now introduced my daughter to that family tradition. She left the beach with her first barnacle scraped knee – fortunately, only a minor cut.

Hummingbird vs Crow


An Anna’s Hummingbird sitting on her nest

Yesterday, I watched a hummingbird charge at a crow.

The crow strayed to far across her unmarked boundary line. She burst out of the holly bush like a bullet straight for the much larger bird. With a startled ‘caw’ (I tend to anthropomorphize animals in the yard) the crow jumped out of the way and flew to the top of the fir tree on the other side of our fence. Taking a page from a WWII dive bombing manual, the hummingbird made repeated passes at the crow, getting closer and closer. It wasn’t long before the crow had enough and flew away.

The little aggressive female Anna’s Hummingbird has lived, year round, in our yard since we moved in and it wasn’t the first time I’ve seen her chase off a crow. The yard is her territory and she actively defends it (I’ve seen other hummingbirds behave the same way around feeders).


My rather mutant looking bee balm just starting to bloom

Our yard is probably worth defending. I’ve planted an assortment of hummingbird friendly flowers, like bee balm, that provide nectar from early spring to fall. In winter we see her picking through the cedar hedge hunting small insects. Every summer we spot a few juvenile hummingbirds hanging out in the yard, so our Anna’s Hummingbird is very successful.

Hummingbird photo by G. Hanke

a funky ladybug


Calvia quatuordecigmuttata

I have a stereotypical expectation for ladybugs – red with black dots, like the anthropomorphized version found in kid’s books, rubber boots and clothes. Every time I step outside, I observe animal diversity, in butterflies, in pillbugs, in birds, in slugs and on and on. But I assumed the only diversity in ladybugs was the number of dots they had. I was wrong.

My husband found the pictured ladybug a few blocks from our yard and brought it home to show me. I had no idea that black with white polkadot ladybugs existed. My first thought was the beetle was a mutant, but it turns out to be Calvia quatuordecigmuttata, commonly known as a Polkadot Lady Beetle (also called Cream-Spottted Lady Beetle and Fourteen-Spotted Lady Beetle). After we took pictures, this ladybug was released on to my most aphid infested cabbage. I hope this one finds a mate and populates the yard.


Calvia quatuordecigmuttata

Garden on the first of July


Garden on 1 July 2014


Lettuce through the green onions – I now have plenty to give away


Sweet peas


And peas to eat – it has been a fantastic pea year


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