Posted in Room and Board

Wasp Warrior Princess of the North

One fresh August morning, I thought I’d get some air and sunshine into the place.  I raised shades and opened windows in every room.  In the bedroom, there is one we rarely open.  The shade stays down and if we want a breeze, we use the adjacent window.

But as this was a day for sunshine, I yanked on the shade to retract it on its roller.  And was immediately taken aback in horror.  Attached between the inner window pane and the outer storm window was a wasp nest the size of a tangerine.  Not quite an orange, not a clementine, but — you know — a tangerine . . . but not quite as sweet.

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Once I realized they had no access to the inside of the house, I stood perplexed.  It was like one of those bee hives you can watch from the safety of a glass pane.  Except I don’t want one of those in my house, and these things weren’t making honey.  They were making a home and they intended to stay.

I walked outside to view it from another perspective.  I posted it on Facebook, hoping for sage advice.  I texted friends.  I called my brother, who was on his way out of town.  Unfortunately, he said, he was not close enough to help.  I talked him through it, but he had little to offer.

My Facebook friends replied with everything from, “Walk back and forth muttering, ‘Tut, tut, it looks like rain’,” adding “It worked for Winnie the Pooh” to “Run!”  My text query produced the response, “Call an exterminator.”

There are a few things you should know about me if you don’t already.  I’m frugal.  I’m not going to pay someone to do something I can do myself.  I’m independent.  I’m not going to rely on a man for something that doesn’t involve brawn or . . . well . . . anything else I don’t have.  I’m resourceful.  If there’s a will, there’s a way, and I definitely had a will to get rid of this thing and all its little inhabitants.

My new outdoor perspective unveiled no answers.  I couldn’t see how they got in, nor could I see a way to launch an anti-wasp assault weapon at the nest.  As far as I could tell, the only access to the nest was from the inside.  I walked back inside and strategized.

The only safe way I knew to kill a nest was to shoot it with wasp and hornet spray.  The only access to the nest was to open the window.  In order to keep them out of the room when I opened the window, I was going to have to seal it off.

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Step 1:
I sealed the window with painter’s tape and lightweight plastic.

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Step 2:
Releasing a couple of inches of tape at the bottom, I used a pole to push the window up, pulled the pole out, and quickly resealed the tape.

Now, did I mention it was a very windy day?  No sooner did I raise the window, but a gust of wind came and puffed my plastic like a balloon!  I could hear the tape straining, then the wind sucked the plastic out as if taking a bigger breath, and blew against the plastic again.  I’d like to say I watched confidently chanting, “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin.”  But it was more like “Oh my God . . . oh my God . . . oh my God!”

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Because all the movement had agitated my little stinger-friends, they took to head-banging themselves against the plastic with fury.

Plan B was forming in my head, and it went like this:

  1. Run.
  2. Close the bedroom door.
  3. Call the exterminator.

But the tape held, and the wasps calmed.

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Step 3:
I released the corner of the sealed plastic, as far from the nest as possible (we’re talking maybe 18 inches, tops).  Aiming as carefully as I could through the semi-opaque plastic, I deployed my weapon of mass destruction.  Once.  Twice.  Then quickly pushed the tape back down against the frame.

Part of being strategic is being able to add tactics as they become necessary.

Step 3a:
When pushing the tape to the window frame proved unproductive, I realized the wet spray toxin had rendered it un-sticky.  Hastily, I dispatched more tape to the corner, while wasps buzzed, drunkenly defending what they mistakenly assumed was their turf.

It’s a cruel death, really.  As pollinators, I appreciate them.  As tenants, I do not, and alas they had to go.

Step 4:
After a reassuring period of time passed, the plastic, tape, and finally wasps were removed.  I found their access, and closed the gap.

Only one live wasp returned, probably coming back to his rampaged home to discover his loved ones had perished in a savage attack.  Yes, I imagine bugs think like this, and it makes my life traumatic sometimes —  when I do these little things one must do to secure one’s home from pests.

Anyway, it was a mercy killing.  One swift and final blow with a fly swatter brought the last one to his fate.

That afternoon — I’m sure it was karma — three wasps came in through the back door.  After my earlier adventure, I felt all-powerful.  Fearless, even.  Swat! . . . Swat!  Kill, kill . . . KILL!

I tweeted, “Call me Jean, Wasp Warrior Princess of the North.”

Peace . . .

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wasp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Room and Board

Minnesotans Grasp the Last of the Season

I love to watch the sun come up over houses across the way.  The neighbors’ trees stand high above their rooftops, and the sun lights them up like fire at this time of year.  How fast the summers fly these days.  Here in Minnesota, we grasp the end of the season like life itself is slipping through our fingers.

As I write, I see there is frost on the shingles.  It will be a good day to bring in the remaining tomatoes that might have ripened in the garden.  I made some notes for next year, entitled Garden 2016.  It says things like

No onions
More carrots
Lots of kale
Plant tomatoes in the side yard
Spread out herbs
Expand concrete block garden
Only two or three zucchini plants

Winter is as long as summer is short.  I tend to forget what it was I wanted to do unless I write it down.  Especially where zucchini is concerned.  Zucchini is one of those things that gives a gardener a boost of confidence.  If you’ve ever been offered an armload of zucchini, you know how prolific they are.  I don’t know how many seeds are in a packet, but there are several dozen too many for the average family.  Yet, planting two or three seeds from a handful of many seems somehow wasteful when it’s so easy to just pop a few more in the dirt.  And that’s where the zucchini takeover begins.

UntitledThe summer also brought me some really great luck with jalapeño peppers.  They started ripening at the same time as the zucchini.  One morning I began to harvest, stomach growling and mouth watering.  I thought to myself, “There has got to be something I can make for breakfast with zucchini and jalapeño peppers.”  And so I headed where all great cooks go . . . to Pinterest. I plugged “jalapeño” and “zucchini” into the search bar.  Lo and behold, my screen filled with tasty options.

The most delicious-sounding recipe was some type of zucchini-jalapeño pancake.  Unfortunately, I didn’t pin it, and I can’t seem to find it again to share with you here.  As I read the list of ingredients, I checked my mental pantry.  “Got that . . . yup . . . ooh, I have that . . .”  I knew I’d like it because all the ingredients were my favorites.  Then I read the directions.  It called for squeezing the hell out of the shredded zucchini no less than three times, separated by 15-minute intervals.  And I was hungry NOW!

Not being one to let the culinary arts get the best of me, I started to imagine something simpler.  Instead of grating the zucchini and squeezing the water out, I would noodle them with my Veggetti™ (which my kids maintain is a vulgar-sounding gadget), and sauté the water out.  Using all the same ingredients, minus the almond flour, I made the MOST delicious frittata.  It was such a mainstay of my summer breakfasts, that I want to share it with you here.

Ingredients:

 1 T olive oil
1 medium zucchini, noodled or shredded
1 finely diced jalapeño pepper
1 slice cooked bacon, diced
2 eggs 1 T cream (or milk)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/4 c shredded parmesan

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat oil in a medium oven-safe skillet over medium heat until a drop of water skitters on the surface.  Meanwhile, whisk eggs with cream, salt and pepper.  Add zucchini noodles and jalapeño.  Sauté until vegetables are beginning to brown and the water has cooked away.

Pour egg mixture over vegetables.  Sprinkle diced bacon over the top and place in hot oven.

When the eggs are nearly set, sprinkle parmesan over the top.  Return to oven until eggs set. Best enjoyed al fresco!

Experiment with your own herbs, vegetables, and cheese.  I made several variations of this frittata, and I couldn’t tell you which was my favorite.  Whatever is in the garden and fridge is fair game!

Peace . . .

Posted in Great Outdoors

What’s a Hugelkultur?

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!
–Sitting Bull

I’m keen on experimenting in the garden.  My friend Mary says I’m a horticulturist.  I like that thought, but I’m not sure I’d use that word to describe myself.  Maybe just a goofy plant lady who gets bored seeding in straight lines.

Last fall I planted eight garlic cloves for the first time.  In their place, eight tender green shoots reach up through the otherwise neglected soil.  There is something about coaxing nature that satisfies me.  One year I tested straw bale gardening.  If I can find some good bales, I’ll try it again.  I’d like to give keyhole gardening a shot in the front yard.  The one thing I can’t grow is grass, but grass is on the way out anyway.

I’m just ahead of the curve.

My yard could also use a few rain gardens.  I live in the middle of a big hill and there is an underground river that would like to flow right through the middle of my basement.

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Bubba helped me fix the drainage.

Bubba helped me fix the drainage so we no longer see any water in the house.  But here’s the deal.  If I and all my neighbors up the hill would do our best to keep our water in our own yard, fewer homes would have drainage issues.

The old adage is to divert the water away from the house.  This is sound advice, but to most homeowners this means draining it from the yard and eventually to the street where it flows freely through underground systems to our natural waterways, fertilizer and all.  We now know this has harmful effects on both the environment and those of us who live in it.

When I moved into my home, it was April.  After some unusually long hard rains, I realized I was now the proud owner of lakefront property and a couple of ducks.  My first instinct was to dig a little trench on the downhill side of the yard and let it all drain away.  That worked great.  This was the year of the foreclosure, and the houses on either side of me were vacant.  The growing pond below me was a great solution.

Then the house uphill from me sold.  A builder came in to flip the house.  He had no interest in neighborliness, only profit.  He used my water hose without asking and parked his trucks in front of my driveway before I had to leave for work.  He pointed rain spouts right at my house, and all of the pavement drained my way.  A call to the city resolved nothing.  After the first good rain, there was a river through my basement, the garage, and the backyard.  The little trench I dug out to drain the yard was quickly eroding and becoming a waterfall.

What’s more, I now had a neighbor downhill from me too, and I was feeling really guilty about draining into his backyard.  But it wasn’t just his yard.  Mentally, I mapped the route the water on my property had taken.  Twenty houses uphill were all emptying their run-off downhill.  Once it hit my yard, it went on to reach other basements, garages, the sewer and eventually our waterways.

Wishing the uphill properties wouldn’t drain into my yard wasn’t enough.  I was a neighbor to those below me.  A change had to occur somewhere with someone.  And that was when I decided it might as well be me.

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Mandi Bunny with an i

I stopped using chemical fertilizer and pesticides.  What used to embarrass me, is now an emblem of pride.  My dandelions feed the pollinators in early spring when other foods are hard to find.  I also have a rabbit who loves for me to forage the chemical-free greens for her breakfast.  As the gardens take over the lawn, maybe someday I can even get rid of my gas-powered lawn mower.

I filled in the drainage trench.  Even if it means living lakefront once a year, I want to keep the water that comes into my yard from leaving my yard.  If we all thought that way it would be an easier task.  And we would be better stewards of our neighborhoods, cities, and the planet.

I built a hugelkultur.  A hugelwhat?

A hugelkultur.  There are right and wrong ways to say it.  I say it hoogle coolter.  That, I believe, is the wrong way, but I’m sticking with it.

I suppose there are also right and wrong ways to do it, and things to plant in it the first or succeeding years.  As I am a dubbed horticulturist and stubbornly self-sufficient, I will learn as I go.

The word hugelkultur translates to the term hill culture.  Typically, a hugelkultur is a raised bed with an inner filling of rotting wood and other composting materials.  I highly suggest, if you have more than a bizarre interest in the word hugelkultur, you do your own research, and not use my trial as your reference.

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Here, the small impression is retaining some of the spring run-off that would normally run quickly through my yard.

Last fall I scooped out some earth to create an indent that will eventually become a rain garden.  The sod and dirt, along with dead wood, was piled on the down side of the indent as a type of dam for heavy rains or spring thaws.  The dam doubles as a raised bed with fertile, moisture-retaining compost inside.

I’ll plant the rain garden this year, making it larger after seeing how well it performed this spring.  Once I add soil and prepare the hugelkultur for planting, I’ll share more photos and you can all watch from your armchairs without getting dirt under your nails.

The hard part will be keeping the dog off of it.  The hugelkultur is in the direct line of Frisbee flight, and you may remember my past challenges with that.

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Peace . . .

Posted in Great Outdoors

Grassroots Movement

Last year at this time, I might have added “I can’t grow grass” to my list of can’ts.  You might have read a post I published way back when I started this blog, In Lawns as in Life, about my trials of lawn ownership.  Over this past summer, I read The Organic Lawn Care Manual by Paul Tukey and learned a lot.

Cover of "The Organic Lawn Care Manual: A...

The previous owner of my home used a lawn service, which is basically junk food for your grass.  It keeps it green and looking good, but underneath, it is sick and weak.  Once I took it off of that service, it didn’t have anything to fall back on.

Even worse, I threw some more chemicals on it without knowing what I was doing.  I burnt it out.  The soil eroded and the weeds found some awesome hard, lifeless gravel in which to germinate.  No matter how much I watered, it was a losing battle.

The brown eventually disappeared, but what was left was very weedy.  Early last spring, Bubba and I tossed some seed on it, as a start — I had only begun to read the book, and knew I was done throwing chemicals on my lawn.  The seed germinated and did thicken what grass was left.  I kept reading.

In September , I chose a patch — the worst patch — in the middle of a thriving crop of Creeping Charlie.  I took my metal garden rake to break through what soil was there.  As the vines of Charlie caught in the tines, I pulled up as much as I could.  I know there are still plenty of nodes that have broken off and are waiting to propagate next spring, but the hope is that I am making an environment that is less comfortable for them.

Next, I opened up four bags of good organic
compost I had purchased from my garden supply store.  Using my rake, I spread them out evenly to the depth of about an inch to and inch and a half.  I then spread a nice mixture of seed over the top.  By a mixture, I mean that your grass seed has to have a mixture of spreading and clumping type grasses.  It makes for a diverse community, which all work together to make a healthy lawn.  Of course Paul Tukey states it much better in his book.  If I could communicate it as well as he did, I would have written my own book!  So read his book if you really want to know what I’m talking about.

I used my garden rake to incorporate them lightly into the compost and watered religiously — and I’m not a religious person, so that is saying a lot!  In a week to ten days, my little grass babies were popping their heads up toward the sun.  It was perfect grass weather this fall — wet and cool.  Never one to think what I’m doing at the time is of any importance, I am sorry to say that I didn’t take any photos of the process.

Now I am here to say that I CAN grow grass.  Already I wish that spring was here so that I could check in on my little patch to see how it weathered the winter.

DSCN1843The idea is to stop feeding the grass, and to start feeding the soil.  There is still raking to be done, and next spring my little patch will receive another dose of compost.

It is important to note that Creeping Charlie has many culinary and medicinal uses.  In my midwest suburban neighborhood it can also be used to piss off your neighbors, which I am not inclined to do.  And so I will continue to battle the

I really don’t want a whole yard of grass which requires so much of our good water to be poured out on the lawn.  But it is good to know that I can grow grass, and do it without chemicals, in a few places where I would really like it.

Peace . . .

Posted in Fun, Great Outdoors

Wee Folk in the Woodlands, Part III

(Continued from Wee Folk in the Woodlands, Part II  which happens to be continued from Wee Folk in the Woodlands, Part I)

. . . Quite recently, I was enjoying a ramble around an oblong lake not far from home.  It was a grey lake, reflecting the grey sky of autumn on one of the last days before winter clasps its icy grip.  It was not the type of day one would expect to see delightful artifacts, and yet I could not deny my eyes.

08.2012.34.pThere, among the grasses were ruffled lavender petticoats, garnished at the hems with beads of gold.  How amusing was this to me, that I nearly forgot to snap a photograph before continuing my recreation.  I puzzled over why several lavender petticoats would be hanging in a group amongst the grasses, but relinquished my query to that of the elfin customs of which I would never be privy.

Along the way, there were birds that called, and rustlings in the leaves and other things that caught my ear.  Inasmuch as I would love to have heard a whisper or a miniature giggle, I did not.

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What I heard was a long, low groaning sigh.  My feet solidified in place.  My own beating heart pummeled against my chest.  I turned ever so slowly and thought perhaps I had distinguished a movement, a shifting, yet perhaps it was altogether nothing.  Crooking my head to the left, and then slowly to the right, in disbelief I realized a face, interrupted mid-yawn.  The old oak had a long nose and a toothless grin.  I had, undoubtedly surprised him the moment he surprised me.  I came to realize the woodlands were filled with all sizes of creatures, both hidden and obvious, if only to the eager eye.

There are other indications of the magical world, if you are open to receiving them; a washbasin of rainwater for a tiny sprite, made from a brilliantly colored fungus; an opening in the side of a tree for looking out of, or escaping into.

08.2012.69.pOne of my favorite finds was a landmark beneath my feet, in the middle of the path.  A marker.  A monument.  Perhaps of a great victory of battle.  Or a memorial of a considerable tragedy.  Perhaps a beacon, a proclamation of love won or lost.

As I draw to the close of my admission, believe or don’t believe, but know this about your narrator.  Of that which I have not seen nor heard with my own senses, there is little in which I regard as true.  Reader, I council you to keep a keen awareness of your faculties at all times.  This is, of course, wise advice for those interested in safekeeping one’s self from trauma.  It is, however, a requirement for those of us who wish to keep our heart open to the possibilities that surround us all.

The end.

Or the beginning, as it may be . . .

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Peace . . .

Posted in Fun, Great Outdoors

Wee Folk in the Woodlands, Part II

(Continued from Wee Folk in the Woodlands Part I)

08.2012.15.p copy. . . It wasn’t until I happened on a window, closed and latched from the inside that I began to realize the trees were, in point of fact, inhabited.  I knocked politely with the tip of my finger, and received no response.  The residents were either not at home, or waiting noiselessly inside until all uninvited guests had cleared.   I rapped on the window again, and called “yoo-hoo” to anyone inside.  Only the wind answered with its “whooo-ooo” suggestion to move along.  And so I did.

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Quite some time passed before I gave any more thought to the window and small openings I had found on my walks.  It was midsummer, while studying the crops at a local garden, that I was taken aback to see what appeared to be a pair of little wings.  Scrutinizing the fragile crescents posessing such a small wingspan, I surmised the owner could fit comfortably within the palm of my hand.  I wondered if they hadn’t been hung out to dry in the hot July sun after catching moisture from the morning dew.  There were, as I investigated, quite a few of the tiny pair, but to my dismay, not a faerie in sight.

With my mind’s eye awakened, you might think it quite likely for me to dream up all sorts of things that weren’t really there.  DSCN1467There might have, after all, been several pair of eyes upon me at any given moment.  Such as it was, I recoiled suddenly when an angry troll popped out to glare at me!  Envision my relief upon seeing that it was only a magenta flower, being worked over quite thoroughly by an orange bug.  I laughed at my foolishness as the insect crawled up and over the troll’s pointy head.  In my curiosity, I had let my imagination become completely unrestrained.  After watching the bug on its steadfast mission for a moment or two, I deemed it time to continue my hike.

DSCN1460Somewhere along my meandering another wonder drew me in.  To my astonishment, suspended from a vine, was a charming pair of the tiniest slippers made of the most delicate material, in a most exquisite shade of pink.  Remembering the troll I had conjured, I analyzed the slippers carefully lest I make the same misinterpretation.  Nevertheless, the two hanging drops of pink were indeed dainty pixie slippers, suspended on a tendril of green.

Please know that at no time did I lose sight of the fact that I had not, in reality, caught a glimpse of any wee folk in the vicinity.  The only rationale I would propose is that they are small beings and in danger of being snatched up by small children, or run down by plucky rat terriers.   We humans being human, perhaps it is in their best interest to stay concealed.  Man has a propensity to regard small creatures as insignificant until rendering them extinct, at which time he will finally understand the magnitude of their importance.

It was true, however, that had I seen one of the wee folk dodging furtively beneath a leaf, or escaping down a secluded burrow, it would no longer have taken me by surprise.  I had become a believer, and as such, a prospector of mythical creatures living alongside us, yet disguised from view.

(Wee Folk in the Woodlands, Part III)

Posted in Great Outdoors

April is a Fickle Month

Is it hard to believe all of these photographs were taken in April?  The ambivalence of spring can bring us to our knees in petition for warmer weather.  I don’t find the endurance of the winter brings any less beauty to the snow, but not many are convinced!  What do you think?